Learn about surname meanings and origins gas tax in washington state

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The establishment of permanent surnames for a group of people could have happened anywhere from the second century to the 15th century—or even much later. In Norway, for example, permanent last names started becoming the practice in about 1850 and was widespread by 1900. But it didn’t actually become law to adopt a permanent last name there until 1923. It can also be tricky to identify which person is whom in a search, as families may have similar naming orders for sons and daughters, for example, with the first-born son always named John. Spelling Changes

When searching for the origin or etymology of your surname, consider that your last name may not have always been spelled the way it is today. Even through at least the first half of the 20th century, it is not unusual to see the same individual’s last name spelled in many different ways from record to record. For example, you might see the seemingly easy-to-spell surname Kennedy spelled as Kenedy, Canady, Kanada, Kenneday, and even Kendy, due to clerks, ministers, and other officials spelling the name as they heard it pronounced. Sometimes alternate variants stuck and were passed down to future generations. It is even not that uncommon to see siblings passing down different variants of the same original surname.

It’s a myth, the Smithsonian says, that immigrants to the United States often had their last names "Americanized" by Ellis Island inspectors as they came off the boat. Their names would have first been written down on the ship’s manifest when the immigrants boarded in their country of origin. The immigrants themselves could have changed their names to sound more American, or their names could have been difficult to understand by the person taking it down. If a person transferred ships during the journey, the spelling could change from ship to ship. The inspectors at Ellis Island processed people based on the languages they themselves spoke, so they may have been making corrections to spellings when immigrants arrived.

If the people you’re searching had names spelled in a different alphabet, such as immigrants from China, the Middle East, or Russia, the spellings could vary widely among census, immigration, or other official documents, so be creative with your searches. Research Tips for Common Names

All the background knowledge about how names came about and could have changed is well and good, but how do you go about actually searching for a particular person, especially if the surname is common? The more information you have on a person, the easier it will be to narrow down the information.

• Learn as much about the person as possible. Birth and death dates are very helpful to narrow people down, and if you can add a middle name, so much the better. But even knowing his or her occupation could help separate your ancestor from another one in the same town.

• Learn about the person’s connections as much as possible. Knowing one person’s city address in a census year can help you find his or her children or siblings—or anyone else who lived in the same household—because old census records went street by street.

• Land and tax records can help narrow down the right person in a rural setting—or can help exclude the rural folks from a city dweller. Keep track of plat identifying information. Two cousins named Robert Smith may have lived near each other, so having land parcel numbers (and finding them on a map) can help separate the men and their family groups.

• Digging through scores of records can be frustrating, but staying organized with charts can help narrow down whether you’ve already crossed off one particular John Jones from your list or whether another from a similar age and city is actually the person you’re seeking.