Misspelled Names in Genealogy

Records used for genealogy research are, unfortunately, riddled with errors, especially the spelling of names. These incorrect names create major challenges for family historians as they search for earlier generations.

Name errors occur for varied reasons. Sometimes names have variations and individuals were not concerned which version was used. Sometimes names were written down incorrectly in the original record. Also, handwriting on old records is often hard to read or in old-fashioned script, leading to errors when the names are transcribed for a census or name index, for example.

Genealogists learn to spot names in the records that might be the ancestors they are seeking — even when outrageously misspelled –and then work to prove or disprove their theory.

My search for my paternal third great-grandparents – parents of Sherman A. Bradley — is an instructive example. To celebrate Father’s Day 2009,  here is a look at my quest for my Bradley forefathers, focusing on the challenges of misspelled names!

When my paternal second great-grandfather Sherman A. Bradley married in Milwaukee on 6 Jan 1859, he was recorded as born in Connecticut “near New Haven” with parents Leman H. Bradley and Mary C. Bradley. When he married for a second time on 11 Jan 1882, the official asked for a maiden name for his mother, so Sherman’s parents were listed as L. H. Bradley and Mary Simons.

An exhaustive review of all Leman, Lemon, Leming and Lyman Bradley men of the right period to have a son born in or about 1835 in Connecticut turned up no relevant results. Nor could an 1850 Census record with Leman, Mary and Sherman be found — anywhere.

Two intriguing records turned up, however, in Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut, a place about 40 miles from New Haven:

> Leaming Hawkins Bradley b. 10 Oct 1808 in Litchfield to Horace Bradley and Hannah Hawkins
> Seyming Bradley m. 18 Sep 1830 in Litchfield to Mary Simons.

The name Leaming could be mistakenly recorded as Leman — and there was a middle name starting with H. And if those who created the Barbour Collection of Vital Records for Connecticut towns misread the capital L as a capital S, then the marriage record could be Leyming Bradley m. Mary Simons.  Leyming is yet another way a clerk might think to write down Leaming, and marriage at age 22 was typical in those days.

This was the closest I had come to a match for the names Sherman gave as his parents. But could I prove this was right? Several records and books kept me focused on this family.

First, Leaming H. Bradley turned up in the 1840 Census in Washington Township, Litchfield County, Connecticut, with two sons in the 5-9 age range. Sherman would fit in that family.

Second, a Pedigree Resource File at FamilySearch.org for Leaming’s younger brother John showed that he, another brother Clark and father Horace were in Dodge County, Wisconsin, not far from Milwaukee, in the 1850 Census. Here was an exciting Wisconsin connection with a date not long before Sherman arrived in 1857-58.

Third, among the books on Ancestry.com I found one with the genealogy of this Bradley family line going back to New Haven in the 1640s. It showed that Leaming Bradley, the first child of Horace Bradley and Hannah Twitchell [her correct surname], had married Mary Simonds and they “had several sons.” Here was good confirmation of the Litchfield marriage record and a match to the two young males in Leaming’s household in the 1840 Census.

[The book is Genealogical and Family History of Central New York, Vol. III, by William Richard Cutter. See page 1224.]

Attempts to find a birth record for Sherman A. Bradley were not successful, even with efforts by the Litchfield Historical Society and the Town Clerk for Washington, Connecticut. Such a record is always the best proof. I was pretty sure I had the right family, but felt I need some added records for confirmation.

I turned to the Milwaukee City Directories for the 1860s and 1870s to see if Sherman’s father or parents might have come to Milwaukee as well. In the microfilms of those directories, on a day not long ago, I found the proof I was looking for: Leaming H. Bradley had come to Milwaukee where his son Sherman was married and working. You can imagine my excitement!

His name was recorded in various ways in the directories, and I share them all to show again the challenge of misspelled names:
> 1862: L. H. Bradley
> 1863: Leming H. Bradley, proprietor of L. H. Bradley & Co.
> 1865: Seamey H. Bradley, same address as Leming H. in 1863.
> 1866: Leaming H. Bradley, his name spelled correctly! 
> 1867: L. H. Bradley
> 1871-1872: Lyman H. Bradley

Leaming’s consistent use of his middle initial H. helped identify him, no matter how his first name was mangled.

The home address for all but one of these entries was on 8th Street, helping show that these are  listings for the same man, just various spellings of of his name.  And the location was about four blocks from the home of Benjamin Church where his daughter Hannah lived with her husband Sherman A. Bradley.

Also, in many of these years his occupation listed was pumpmaker, including the final listing when his name was spelled Lyman. Sherman A. Bradley had the same occupation. [Note: In that era, water pumps were made out of wood, so Sherman's career move to pumpmaker from carpenter makes sense.]

Two more clues helped confirm that Leaming Hawkins Bradley and Mary Simons were Sherman’s parents. Written on a Bradley family tree were two notes: one, that Sherman had an ancestor in the Revolutionary War and, two, the ancestral name Abernathy, connection unclear. Books showed the parents of Horace Bradley as Aaron Bradley — who served in the Revolution as a youthful blacksmith and guard — and Lorrin Abernethy, daughter of Dr. William Abernethy.

All the pieces of the genealogical puzzle fell into place, at last.

But why was a Bradley male child born in 1808 given the first name Leaming? That name honors his great-grandfather Leaming Bradley who first brought the family to Litchfield from Middletown, Connecticut, and also his third great-grandmother Jane Leaming, daughter of Christopher Leaming and Hester Burnet, who married the first in the line of men named Abraham Bradley. But those are stories for another day.

Using the surname Leaming was a given name did indeed honor our Leaming ancestors, but also created a genealogy brickwall that was very strong, but has finally tumbled down!

This is one in a series of genealogy and family history research articles to help you find your family and ancestors, often for modest or no cost.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.