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Proformat News
No: 65
July 2011
July seminars
 4: Tracing your Scottish ancestors, Payneham Library, 6:30 to 8:30pm
 7: Getting started in family history, Stirling Library 10:00–11:30am
22: Identifying and dating old photographs Mt Gambier 12:00–1:00pm Unlock the Past Event Mt Gambier
22: SA's major archives for family historians 2:25–3:25pm Unlock the Past Event Mt Gambier
27: Introduction to FH research (over 7 weeks with sessions of 1.5 hrs each) 8:00–9:30pm WEA Centre Adelaide
30: Practical Genealogy for Family Historians Session 1: Accessing the primary research stream—the family 10:15am–4:45pm State Library for Flinders University

August seminars
13: Practical Genealogy for Family Historians Session 2: Accessing the secondary research stream—the paper trail 10:15am–4:45pm State Library for Flinders University
27: Practical Genealogy for Family Historians Session 3: Interpreting the record 10:15am–4:45pm State Library for Flinders University

See the seminar program for more details and bookings.

Unlock the past Expo
Readers in the SE part of SA and western VIC should note that Unlock the past is conducting a seminar at Mt Gambier 22/23 July. A strong program of speakers supported by a range of exhibitors including the NLA, GSV, SEFHG, ScotlandsPeople and FamilySearch has been developed and full details can be seen at their website. It is important that regions support such enterprises to encourage more of them!

In this issue:
July seminars
August seminars
Unlock the past Expo

Feature article
Online names
Surnames variants


Graham Jaunay
Adelaide Proformat

Glandore SA 5037

Tel: +61 8 8371 4465

Breaking news: fb

Drafting charts
Locating documents
Seminar presentations
Writing & publishing
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Ship paintings

Adelaide Proformat uses
The Genealogist - for UK census, BMD indexes and more online simply because it contains quality data checked by experts.

Proformat News acknowledges the support by awe AWE

Online names at
In 1997 Adelaide Proformat established a free web site called Online surnames that was designed to assist family historians link with others interested in the same surnames in the same location. Since then many hundreds of emails have been received from happy researchers making links. In this new century we have seen the rise of pay-to-use web sites, some of which operate a similar process and as a result Online surnames has seen a decline from over 300 postings a week to about 50.

[Ed: this site closed down 2015 and the information pages relocated to the Adelaide Proformat site.]

Adelaide Proformat has mulled over this dilemma for a couple of years trying to decide whether to discontinue the program and close it down. It seems rather strange that the general public would opt for a pay-to-use web site over a free site. Why would people surrender their material to a site that requires others to pay a fee to access it? This year a decision was taken and it was resolved to not only retain Online surnames but to spend some funds to revamp the site and make it much less clunky than it was and enhance the search engine. To support the new site and its operational costs a concession has been made and the site now has Google Ads portrayed.

The site previously covered Great Britain and Ireland and the main countries that received emigrants from these places, namely, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, United States and Zimbabwe. The new site allows postings from any country. Persons wanting to add a country to the list can simply do so! The site also accepts world-wide searches at the request of one-name researchers.

The site is now instantaneous with new postings going online immediately rather than waiting a week for a moderator to check. Another new feature is the ability to see every posting for a surname across all countries as well as undertaking a specific search.

A guide page also assists researcher to determine the changes in boundaries, recognise variants and similar issues that researchers come across. This section is very much a work in progress and currently has some brief notes on Australasia and the United Kingdom and Ireland.

We hope you and your associates will soon avail yourself of the service because the success of such a web site improves with the number of postings. The more postings, the more likely visitors will get a positive result.

Surname variants

The processes leading to the revamped website have rekindled my interests in surnames and their evolution and you are referred to two earlier newsletters on the subject. Nos 21 What's in a surname and 35 Surname dilemma.

This time I intend to address the issue of spelling variants we find in surnames and attempt to explain why some may have come about. There is some overlap in this article with that in Newsletter 21.

There is no doubt that some variants came about as the result action by the owners of the name while others were enforced by outsiders. The latter being more popular in the past when some people lost their name simply because they were illiterate. Clearly the former process has become more popular in modern times with individuals rejecting their name.

At school there was a teacher we called sheep’s bum. Mrs Ramsbottom did not deserve this treatment, but how could an immature school boy resist. Surnames with the suffix, bottom were still quite common in the 1940s and 1950s, but such surnames are few and far between today. Originally when surnames were being adopted, bottom referred to a valley and hence rams bottom or valley of the ram (where ram is in fact garlic) is a locational surname and certainly not a derogatory one. In this case even an English town scored the name. Many Ramsbottoms have metamorphosed into Ramsbotham, Ramsbottam and Ramsbotton. Some families named Bottom are now Botham. Shufflebottom and Longbottom are also in demise. Shufflebottom, also recorded as Shovelbottom, Shipperbottom, Shoebottom, Shoebotham, Shubotham and so on, another location name referring to a spring in a valley used as a sheep wash!

The writer once worked with a married lady named Cox who actually married a Mr Cock but just could not handle the vulgar connotations! The 1881 English/Welsh census listed more than 3000 Cocks but today records reveal less than 800 in the same region. Balls is going into extinction too as are Death, Daft and Smellie. Death has a multitude of origin explanations, one of which is locational French for a person from Ath in Flanders—de Arth, d’Ath, and so on. Ball/s originally a Viking given name, daft originally meant meek and Smellie is a Scots name correctly pronounced Smiley and indeed many of today’s Smileys have Smellie ancestors.

The irony is that some families unknowingly bear equally undesirable names—Prettyman can mean sly and conniving and Samways can mean foolish. While Messrs Asse, Bungler, Crapper, Hagg, Pighead, Rottengoose, Sillicow, and Vile may have long disposed of their names, the Kennedys, Celtic for Ugly Head and the Camerons, Gaelic for Crooked Nose have not!

Often families seek to improve their image by refining their far too common name. Changing ‘i’ to ‘y’ as in Smyth and adding an 'e' gains a level of sophistication as in Browne, Cooke, Brooke and so on. Retaining an old form of handwriting or version like, Ffoulkes and Ffrench which demonstrate a misinterpreation of the old form of uppercase ‘F’ that looked a little like ‘ff’ or Foord, an antique spelling format for Ford are encouraged as they drag a common name well out from the crowd.

The survival of one’s name could be subject to others. A number of these result from the holder of the name moving away from the area where the spelling was understood regardless of the local pronunciation. There are numerous such words and suffixes in English. How is Scottish name, Cockburn pronounced? Perhaps the variant spelling, Coburn, suggests the pronunciation? In a reversal the name Marjoribanks owes its origin to the name Marchbanks and indeed retains the old form when it comes to pronunciation.

Counterintuitive pronunciation can be far more subtle and result in the addition or loss of letters with names. Vowels can be readily swapped. Letter combinations with a level of pronunciation difficulty, some weak sounding consonants and vowels can encourage the loss of letters or the addition of supporting letters. Hemswell is usually now spelt Hempswell. Owle has metamorphosed into Howle and on to Howell. The change of ‘l’ to ‘n’ is common in Devon. Weaker letters can also be subjected to transposition as in Hagler and Halger.

The fact that English produces sounds using differing letter combinations has to be considered. Knight and Night demonstrate the silent letter issue where we produce names with different meanings and spelling but the same sound. When your illiterate ancestor approached a scribe and gave his name, the scribe decided on the spelling without thought of the meaning or origin. Your Knight ancestors probably went through life gaining and losing their ‘K’ at the whim of others! Silent letters are not the only culprits and indeed many of today’s silent letters were anciently pronounced. ‘C’ and ‘k’ are good examples as in Loket and Locket, sometimes (see following paragraph) the diminutive form for Luke as are Lucas, Luck, Look, Luckett, Lucock and Lukin. Kristen / Kristien and Christen / Crestien also demonstrate the same common issue but the matter is not restricted to ‘c’ and ‘k’.

It is always appropriate to qualify this material because inevitably one will come across differing origins of names and Lockett or Lockitt is just an example according to recent research of one such family from Ashill NFK where the local Lockett / Lockitts became Lockwood in the 1870s as demonstrated in the local church registers. Why this happened is not known. (Holmes & McCabe; Improving precision and recall for Soundex retrieval in Information Technology: International conference on coding and computing, 2002. Proceedings. ISBN: 0-7695-1503-1)
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