I have found that spelling errors in records are often because of transcription errors – the style of writing has changed drastically through the years and reading the flowery script made by fountain pens is definitely an acquired skill. But sometimes even records which we think should be ‘official’ often have spelling variants for the same family name and even the same person. Here is one example in my family tree – Syphers, Sypher, Sifers, Syffer, Cypher, Seyfer all have been given for the same family of my 2nd great grandmother, Marian Henrietta Syphers.
Here we can see clearly in the 1870 census for Houlton, Maine, the spelling is Syphers:
She is living with her widowed mother Sarah and her three brothers look like they are working the farm. Her father David is here on the 1840 census for Houlton, Maine but the transcription on Ancestry.com lists his name as Fypher. I can clearly see the difference between the “S” script and the “F” in the name Folley from above – can you?
David’s uncle John Tompkins was born 16 Aug 1775 in New Hackensack, New York – his baptismal records from the Dutch Reformed Church Records from New York and New Jersey show a spelling of Seyfer for his father.
Here is another example of the permutation of the name from the Civil War pension files of a William Sypher (I honestly don’t know YET where this guy fits in my tree, there are so many Williams and Sarahs)
Unlike some researchers, I’m not disturbed at the fluidity of names – I don’t get caught up too much into the semantics, as long as the other vitals line up with the person, then it is all good. Just part of the fun of digging into the past!