52 Ancestors,
in 52 Weeks
Week 15:
Spell That
Family Finds Charter Oak

How Do You Spell That?

This is a good week to review the search for my 4th great-grandparent brick wall with the surname Koontz. [1] My Koontz ancestors have consistently spelled their surname as it is now for at least 150 years. But, the 4th great-grandparents I am seeking lived 200 years ago and the variant spellings of their surname is a challenge. I suspect these ancestors often heard, “How do you spell that?” However, I also suspect that functional illiteracy kept these ancestors from conveying a consistent spelling of their surname. I believe universal literacy programs over the last 100+ years have made a significant contribution to the standardized spelling of most proper names and surnames.

Koontz 4th Great-Grandparents

For this years’ week 5 post, “Branching Out”, I described using DNA matches to track leads for my brick wall, 4th great-grandparents named Koontz. [2] Unfortunately, those leads have not led to conclusive proof of who my Koontz ancestors are. One of the difficulties is the multiple spellings of their surname. These various spellings are phonetically very similar and I have leaned heavily on using wildcards (?, *) and the Soundex system when searching databases.

Koontz surname cloud

Variant Spellings

I have identified at least 26 different spellings for Koontz. However, I have been able to group them in such a way to improve search results. One group has the spellings with the “T” sound in the name, the other group does not. To my benefit is the fact “C”, “S” and “Z” all share the same Soundex number, “2”. I did a fairly complete explanation of the Soundex system for the week 41 prompt last year, “Changes.” [3]

Group 1 – Soundex = K532 and C532
Koontz, Kuntz, Cuntz, Kuntze, Cuntze, Coontz, Counts, Kountz, Countz, Cuntse, Kuntse

Group 2 – Soundex = K520 and C520
Koonce, Coonce, Coonse, Koonse, Counse, Cunce, Koonse, Kunce, Coons, Koons, Coones, Coonze, Koonze, Kunz

Using the Soundex codes led me to a surname I had not previously considered: Kuhns. Kuhns has the same Soundex as Koons, Koonse, Koonze, etc., K520. This spelling led me to a genealogy article of early transcriptions that traces many of these variant surname spellings in early America, “ Kuhn Ancestors”. [4] This article is part of the Rescue the Records project of the Orange County California Genealogical Society and has no attribution for the author! The OCCGS has done a great job digitizing and posting their surname files. [5] The Kuhn family article is a wealth of information about the families with this surname, and variants. I am still drilling down on the information but have already found several possible leads for my brick wall 4th great-grandparents.
Kuhn Family article pg7


So, the next time you wonder, “How do you spell that?” Try using wildcards and Soundex to expand your search. I have discovered many useful records using these methods and being open to the idea that a name can be spelled in unexpected ways.

These are many of the surnames in my family tree


  1. Blog post, Family Finds: Brick Wall; https://barblafara.com/genealogy-brick-walls/
  2. Blog post, Family Finds: Branching Out; https://barblafara.com/branching-out/
  3. Blog post, Family Finds: Changes; https://barblafara.com/changes/
  4. Website, Orange County California Genealogical Society: KUHN Family; https://occgs.com/projects/rescue/family_files/files/KUHN%20Family.pdf
  5. Website, Orange County California Genealogical Society: Rescue the Records; https://occgs.com/projects/rescue/rescue.html

1 Comment

  1. Marian Burk Wood

    I like the way you used Soundex to find new clues for further research! Wishing you luck with those brick walls.


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