52 Ancestors,
in 52 Weeks
Week 3:
Unusual Name

Leferre to LaFara

Names in my family tree are, for the most part, fairly usual. Given names are mostly from the Bible and, more recent generations, from popular culture. 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. It has not always been spelled this way, only the past 110 years, or there about. If you meet someone with my surname, spelled in this manner, you can be sure they are a close relative of mine.

Having an unusual name has its benefits, but also some pitfalls. I have known both the positives and negatives first hand, but while doing genealogy research it becomes more amplified. The most challenging has been when my surname is made into two words, such as La Fara. The census indices sometimes interprets this combination as a middle name and last name. If I do not find an ancestor searching for LastName equals ‘laf*’ I then turn to ‘far*’. Also, using Soundex codes has been beneficial, L160 covers most of the spelling combinations, plus F600. (Discussing Soundex is beyond this post, but suffice to say it takes a name down to a numerical representation of the consonants.)

My immigrant ancestor was Johann Jacob Laffer of Niederlinxweiler (now in Saarland, Germany) in 1753. He was 19 years old when he arrived on the ship Edinburgh. I find his name being spelled Laffer, Leferre and Laffery [1,2,3]. None seem particularly German, his place of birth was in an independent duchy and bordered France.

1790: Lafaree
1800: Lafferrey
1810: Laffer
1820: Lafaree
1830: Leferey
1840: Lefary
1850: [Lee] Ferry
1860: Lafferry
1870: Leffry
1880: Lafary

[4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13]

For the first ten United States Federal Censuses taken, 1790-1880, my surname was spelled a different way in nearly every single one.

Perhaps the ever changing spelling was due to the family being illiterate and unable to tell the census taker their preferred spelling, if they had one. The 1850 to 1880 censuses asked if the respondents “cannot read” and/or “cannot write”, and sadly my 2nd great grandfather, George Lafary, and his parents, John and Sarah [Tucker] ticked off an affirmative to both questions. However, my great grandfather, John Lafary, was 16 during the 1880 census and answered in the affirmative the question of “attended school within the year” and the spelling of my surname continued to change. So was literacy a factor? I’ll never know.

Earl LaFara, 1908

Earl LaFara, 1908

Although there is not an 1890 census, I do have my great grandparents’ marriage certificate from 1887 and the name is spelled Lafara [14]. In the 1900 census my great grandparents and their children are listed with the name spelled Lafarra [15]. For some reason, long forgotten, the family changed the spelling sometime between 1900 and 1907 to the current spelling. In my grandfather’s 1907 Tipton (Indiana) High School yearbook the name is spelled LaFara [16]. And so it has been for over 100 years! I have not found documents for the family to narrow down when the change occurred, or why. But, my grandfather’s senior yearbook quote is “I’m Not in the Roll of Common Men”, which may give some clue to the why. The quote is from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV”, spoken by Glendower and meaning he was not ordinary, but rather extraordinary. I prefer a more modern interpretation, I’m not usual but unusual.



  1. “Pennsylvania German Pioneers: A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in the Port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808”, Vol. I, page 572. https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/48379/PAGermanPioneersI-004920-521/320397
  2. Entry for Johannes Laferre, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s, Gale Research, Place: America; Year: 1753; Page Number: 117. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=pili354&indiv=try&h=355135
  3. Entry for John Laffery, Pennsylvania, Septennial Census, 1779-1863, [database on-line] Box 1026, microfilm, 14 rolls, Year: 1786, page 9. https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2702/33017_263380-00218/524122
  4. Entry for John Lafaree, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1790; Census Place:  Fannet, Hamilton, Letterkenney, Montgomery, and Peters, Franklin, Pennsylvania; Series: M637; Roll: 9; Page: 321; Image: 176; Family History Library Film: 0568149 https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/5058/4440871_00176/313015
  5. Entry for Jno Leferrey, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1800;  Census Place:  Frankford, Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Series: M32; Roll: 38; Page: 101; Image: 108; Family History Library Film: 363341 https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7590/4440906_00108/405400
  6. Entry for John Laffer, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1810; Census Place: Franklin, Westmoreland, Pennsylvania; Roll: 51; Page: 785; Image: 00215; Family History Library Film: 0193677  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7613/4433289_00215/479367
  7. Entry for John Lafaree, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1820; Census Place: Brown, Ohio; Page: 407; NARA Roll: M33_86; Image: 225 https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7734/4093884_00225/311280
  8. Entry for John Leferey, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1830; Census Place: Perry, Brown, Ohio; Page: 496; NARA Series: M19; Roll Number: 127; Family History Film: 0337938 https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4093937_00990/269322
  9. Entry for John Lefary, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1840; Census Place: Perry, Brown, Ohio; Page: 337; Family History Library Film: 0020159  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8057/4093775-00688/1661710
  10. 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
  11. Entry for George Lafferry, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1860; Census Place: Scott, Brown, Ohio; Roll: M653_938; Page: 188; Family History Library Film: 803938  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4304697_00380/43677547
  12. Entry for George Leffry, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1870; Census Place: Rushville, Rush, Indiana; Roll: M593_356; Page: 448B; Family History Library Film: 545855  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263270_00364/18164136
  13. Entry for George Lafary, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1880; Census Place: Jackson, Hamilton, Indiana; Roll: 281; Page: 320C; Enumeration District: 035  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4240592-00290/26559783
  14. Entries for John Lafara and Minnie M Illges, 24 Oct 1887, Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 [database on-line] Tipton County, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2014. Vol3, p303, Film# 002315270 Years: 1884-1888, Volume 6.  https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=5059&h=1453869
  15. Entry for John Lafarra, U.S, Federal Census: Year: 1900; Census Place: Cicero, Tipton, Indiana; Page: 14; Enumeration District: 0120; FHL microfilm: 1240406 https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4118659_00186/23027019
  16. Entry for Earl LaFara, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012; [database on-line] Yearbook Title: Tipton High School Yearbook, 1907; page 34, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2010.  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1265/40146_b083921-00028/254650680