52 Ancestors,
in 52 Weeks
Week 41:
Family Finds Charter Oak

Name Changes

Several of my ancestors have surnames that change over time. Often, the name change was to conform to American characteristics. The surname changes I have documented are, for the most part, taking a German pronunciation and phonetically adapting it to American-English. There are a few methods that can be employed to find records of the variant spellings of surnames. Most search systems allow the use of so-called wildcards, usually the asterisk (*) and the question mark (?). Many indexed document databases, particularly genealogical and library systems, support the more sophisticated Soundex Code for surname searches.


I have successfully used the Soundex Code to search indexed documents and databases for surnames that have changed spelling over time. The Soundex Code is a 4 character alphanumeric, it consists of one letter and three numbers. The characters represent the first letter plus, up to 3 consonants of the surname. The table at right defines the number associated with the consonants. Notice that H, W, and Y are not included and will be ignored in the surname unless they are the first letter. If the surname has few consonants then the code is filled out with zeroes. [1, 2]

Soundex Code
1 B F P V
2 C G J K Q S X Z
3 D T
4 L
5 M N
6 R

These rules apply as well:

  • Treat double letters as singles, in other words, use one number for consecutive consonants that are the same.
  • Except for 0 (Zero), there should never be two of the same number next to each other in a Soundex Code, including if the second consonant has the same as the first letter.
  • Soundex Codes are always 4 characters, this means for longer surnames some consonants will be ignored.
  • Surnames with prefixes Mc or Mac are considered part of the surname. However, prefixes such as Van, De, La etc. should be considered both ways.

Schaffer – Shaver

My Shaver ancestor arrived in America as Andrew Schaffer on the brig “Lydia” in 1785. The name change to Shaver occurred at least by 1813 when his son, my 4th great grandfather, Peter Shaver enlisted in the War of 1812. [3, 4] Using the Soundex Code for this surname has helped me find military and death records. BTW, the German surname Schaffer is derived from the word for shepherd.

Schaffer is S160: It begins with an S, ignore c because it has the same code# as S (2), ignore h and a, ff = 1, ignore e, r = 6, and add a final 0 to complete the 4 character code. For Shaver it is also S160. This means, when searching for my Shaffer/Shaver ancestors I can use the Soundex Code to find many of the spelling variants, like Shaffer and Sheaver.

Haller or Holler

My Holler ancestor arrived on the ship “Samuel” in 1733. [5] The name did not so much change from Haller to Holler as it was, and still is, used interchangeably as either Haller or Holler. To this day the family reunion is Haller/Holler and semi-regularly held in Shenandoah County, VA. Fortunately, both Haller and Holler are H460 in the Soundex. And, that also covers the occasional Heller and Hawler spellings!

Sivey and Leiby

I have a brick wall ancestor named Mathias Sivey, 1740-1805. [6] While researching his property deeds I noticed a transcription for his name as Levy. That got me thinking how old-time cursive writings’ capital letter S looks a lot like capital letter L, and vice-versa. I then began using the Soundex L100 (in addition to S100 for Sivey) and found many records for a Mathias Leiby, living in the right locations, with family ties that match my Mathias Sivey. After that I checked my DNA matches and found MANY with an ancestor named Friederich Leiby. I have not yet found definitive proof to connect Mathias Sivey to Friederich Leiby, but the evidence is suggestive. Also, S100 and L100 cover many of the variations I have found, such as Leibi, Sivy and Sevy.

Laferre to LaFara

I wrote a post back in 2019 about using the Soundex Code for my own surname to find records for the many variant spellings. [7] L160 covers the earliest spelling, Laferre, and the current one, LaFara. Plus, it also catches many in between: Lafaree, Lafferrey, Laffer, Lafaree, Leferey, Lefary, Lefary, Lafferry, Leffry AND Lafary! Wildcards alone could find these, but it also finds MANY more surnames that I do not care to sort through. Furthermore, this is a case when I needed to consider that the beginning letters of my surname often sound like a prefix. Therefore, searching with Soundex F600 helped me find the 1850 census that has my 3rd great grandfather listed as John Lee Ferry. [8] This code eliminated any surnames beginning with F that had a consonant (other then H, W, Y) after the R.

These are many of the surnames in my family tree


Despite surnames changing over time, there are effective methods to search records and find the variant spellings. Using the wildcard method, L?f* gives me every result with a surname starting with Laf, Lef, Lif, Lof, etc. On the other hand, when you are certain of the first letter and a couple of consonants, then Soundex is a good choice. Give it a try and let me know if you make a new discovery.


  1. Webpage, National Archives: Soundex; https://www.archives.gov/research/census/soundex
  2. Webpage, Wikipedia: Soundex; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soundex
  3. Entry for Andrew Schaffer, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Year: 1785; Page: 13; editor: Filby, P. William, pub: Gale Research, Farmington Hills, MI, USA 2012. Online at Ancestry.com
  4. Entry for Peter Shaver, National Archives and Records Administration. Index to the Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812. Washington, D.C.: NARA, microfilm: M602, roll box: 186. Online at Ancestry.com.
  5. Entry for Peter Holler, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Year: 1733; Page: 77; editor: Filby, P. William, pub: Gale Research, Farmington Hills, MI, USA 2012. Online at Ancestry.com
  6. Profile for Mathias Sivey, ‘Osborn‘ family tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/12519377711/facts
  7. Blog post, Family Finds: Laferre to LaFara: Unusual Name; https://barblafara.com/laferre-to-lafara-unusual-name/
  8. Entry for John Lee Ferry, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1850; Census Place: Johnson, Ripley, Indiana; Roll: M432_169; Page: 240A https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4192474_00109/2289855


  1. Susan Blakley

    Name changes are hard to trace our ancestors. It’s tricky. You have so many creative post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. becky gouge

    Hello, I just came across your website today as I was trying to find information about my Adkins and Shaver family. My 2nd great grandparents were William Anderson Adkins and Mary Jane Shaver. They were married in Grainger Co Tn in 1869. Her parents were Peter Shaver and Catherine Miller. She is a sister to Jacob Isreal Shaver. Several of their siblings married Dyer siblings. My question is have you come across any Adkins? He has been a mystery, there is a John Adkins who married Winifred Dyer 1786 Virginia, but I cannot connect them with William Anderson Adkins 1839-1918 and Mary Jane Shaver 1836-1915. They are buried in Roane Co Tn Jonesville Cemetery. Thank you


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Remember Me and I Will Live

Frank Takeo Flucawa

Born Takeo Furukawa on 15 March 1883 in Tottori-Ken, Tokyo, Japan, little is documented of his early childhood. Family oral history stories say that the young Takeo experienced hunger, poverty and the loss of his family. Additionally, the stories tell of friendship, spiritual learning and scholarship.

David L. Osborne: His Indianapolis Homes

My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne, lived at over 20 addresses around Indianapolis between 1876 and 1942. I thought it would be interesting to see all the old buildings and homes where he lived in my hometown of Indianapolis.

The Marriage of David and Jennie Osborne

My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne (1848-1942), was a widower with two young sons in 1886 when he married Jennie Warbington (1857-1918) in Minneapolis on the 27th of May. I decided it was time to put sources to the story.

Do You See A Resemblance?

While working on a family photo project I decided it would be fun to compare side-by-side my father and his parents, at similar ages, to try and discover a family resemblance.

Probate of Jesse King 1868

Jesse King was born in Ohio (probably in the vicinity of Chillicothe) in 1805, he was a son of Philip King and Mary Leah Wright, both of Pennsylvania. Philip King was a farmer, he married Leah Wright in 1801 in Somerset, PA, they had six children, of whom Jesse was the third.

Letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary

A handwritten letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary to the then president of the United States, Grover Cleveland. It was her last appeal for a War of 1812 pension, sadly the pension was denied. The letter gives a glimpse of a woman who had no formal education, a poor farmers wife, then widow, mother of nine, she probably just wanted some independence through an income of her own.

Sarah Smith: Challenge

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Challenge
So much about genealogy research is a challenge, perhaps the most common challenge is the ‘brick wall,’ meet Sarah Smith. 18?? – 1846

Laferre to LaFara: Unusual Name

The surnames in my tree are typical of common western European names. However, the name that is unusual among these names is MY surname: LaFara.

Luella Pressell: Surprise!

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 6: Surprise!
Just when you think you know everything about an ancestor, surprise! I thought I knew most everything about my paternal great grandfather David L. Osborne, 1848-1942.

Rumple Family Photo 1895

For all of us who are procrastinating about labeling photos I have one thing to say, “Be considerate of the genealogist of the future!” My maternal grandmother was very good about labeling old family photos, and there is one, in particular, I found very informative.

Conrad Rumple: Bachelor Uncle

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 10: Bachelor Uncle
My uncles are the marrying kind, sometimes more than once!
I had to go back four generations for a bachelor uncle, my great-great-great uncle Conrad Rumple, 1833-1911.
Conrad was an older brother to my great-great grandfather on my matrilineal line, William Rumple, 1839-1912.

George Lafary and Catherine Landon: Large Family

My great-great grandparents, George Lafary and Catherine Landon, had a relatively small family, three of their six children survived to adulthood. However, they both came from large families of nine siblings and nearly all survived to marry and have children.

In The Paper

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 13: In The Paper
It’s fun to find articles in the paper mentioning one of my relatives. Mostly they are birth, marriage, divorce and death events. But, it’s the oddball articles in the papers I like the most.

Genealogy Brick Walls

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 14: Brick Wall
We all have a brick wall, that one ancestor who defies all research. I decided I would work at my brick walls by generation, I broke through the last of my 3rd great grandparent brick walls, now I am working on 4th great grandparents.

Catherine Landon: Out of Place

I realized I did not have a date of death for my great, great grandmother, Catherine Landon Lafary. A fresh search uncovered the date and much more. Out of place, but once discovered, everything fell into place.

Immigrant Ancestors, Fresh Start

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week1: Fresh Start.
The varied reasons my European ancestors immigrated to North America for a fresh start.

William and Uva Lafara: Favorite Photo

I have many favorite photos among my collection of family artifacts. Currently, my favorite photo is of two little children from 1916 who were a complete mystery to me until last spring.

Close to Home

My grandparents. Earl and Pearl, met at church, close to home, in 1914,

So Far Away

My great-uncle Frank immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1905 to further his education, so far away

Same Name

I get excited when I discover an ancestor with the same name as a friend, or co-worker, or neighbor. Maybe we are related!