Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Creative Spelling


Sometimes, it takes building someone else's tree before you can get down to the business of building your own.

Right now, I'm racing the calendar to see if I can find an answer to my impromptu research question for this waning month of November, but it looks like several record keeping clerks have conspired against me through their secret weapon of creative spelling.

Taking that batch of Marilyn Sowle Bean's family photos rescued from a local antique store as my cue, I'm trying to discover just who might have passed the genetic malady, Marfan Syndrome, into Marilyn's husband's family. After all, losing three close family members at young ages—not to mention several cousins in the extended family—is more than enough to make someone sit up and take notice that this family had inherited something alarming.

So far, we've pinpointed the tendency to someone in Marilyn's mother-in-law Maude Woodworth Bean's line. Of Maude's four grandparents' lines, we've already explored the Woodworth and Williams lines, finding many long-lived ancestors, but not much of significance other than the devastating deaths of Maude's sons and her brother's sons.

We've yet to explore two more lines. One, representing one of the most common surnames in the English-speaking world, we'll reserve for consideration tomorrow—if, that is, we're able to correctly pinpoint the right Smith line for that task. The other we will face today.

The challenge right now is that frustrating clerical conspiracy to employ creative spelling when certain, assured spelling eludes the hapless governmental worker. Despite that risk, let's see what we can find on Maude's maternal grandmother, Elizabeth.

We've already noted that when Maude's mother Effie Williams married her father William Woodworth, the 1890 event in Sioux City, Iowa, was recorded in the register showing Effie's father to be Eugene Williams. It was also fairly plain to decipher the handwriting for Effie's mother's given name, Elizabeth. But for Elizabeth's surname? The best I could figure was either Ferrara or Ferrard.

Finding Elizabeth in her parents' household might have been easy, had it not been for the snare of that challenging surname. It was far easier to locate "Lizzie" as the wife of Eugene Williams in Dakota Territory, where the couple had raised Maude's mother Effie and her siblings after their dad, Eugene, obtained the land following his service in the Civil War. From the 1880 census, we can calculate that Elizabeth was born about 1844. That, plus her place of birth in Illinois to parents from New York, was about all we had to go by in finding Elizabeth in her parents' household—whatever their surname might have been.

It didn't help, unfortunately, to look at Effie's siblings' marriage records. Her brother Ernest, for instance, had a marriage record written in the clearest hand one could hope for—with a mother's maiden name duly noted as "Fairfield." Hardly a name beginning with F-e-r-anything.

There was, however, this throw-away entry in the Woodworth family's household in the 1910 census. There, living in the household of her son-in-law, William Woodworth, Elizabeth Williams was included along with two others who were not part of the immediate family. One, listed simply as a lodger, was a thirty two year old single man by the name of Calvin D. Farrand. Sure, he was identified as someone renting a room at the Woodworth's place, but could there have been any other connection?

Over years of reading census records, I've seen signs of "lodgers" and "boarders" listed as such when they actually turned out to be relatives of the head of household—but of too complicated a relationship for the enumerator to be bothered with the details. Granted, I've seen some enumerations in which cousins or uncles have been listed as such, but there have also been many where that familial fact turned up for me only because I pursued a hunch.

This is one of those cases.

Step by step, I looked for an unmarried Elizabeth in census records for a "Ferrard" or "Ferrara" surname—or anything similar. All I needed was a daughter born in Illinois about 1844, with a surname that started with F. Wildcard time.

In 1860, the most recent census in which Elizabeth would have been living with her parents, I found a fifteen year old Elizabeth living in the Iowa home of one Orren Farrand—same surname as the "lodger" in future Elizabeth's son-in-law's household. Orren and his likely wife were both noted to have been born in New York.

But then, that creative spelling conspired to work against us. Reaching back to the earlier decade, the 1850 census had a scribbled seven (?) year old Elizabeth in the home of—what was that?—Orin Farnd. The only consolation was that the location in 1850 was Elizabeth's birthplace of Illinois, the two supposed parents were born in New York, and three of the other siblings' names—Abram, Franklin, and Lyman—seemed roughly to match the 1860 report. It was time to start building a tree for this possible Farrand family.

Long story short, it turns out that this Elizabeth's brother Abraham did indeed have a son named Calvin. Though his year and location of birth didn't quite match up to the 1910 report in the Woodworths' household years later, following that Calvin's line may provide additional confirmation. It was encouraging to note, in a twisted sort of way, that this family, too, had their surname's spelling creatively rendered: Ferrand. Getting ever closer to the Ferrard that started me on this search.

So, the "lodger" named Calvin Farrand in William Woodworth's 1910 household may more correctly have been identified as William's mother-in-law's nephew. I can't say I blame the enumerator for taking a shortcut in such a case. But discovering that connection still doesn't answer my question about the actual spelling of Elizabeth Woodworth's maiden name. Was it Ferrara? Ferrand? Farrand? The impossible spelling shorthand "Farnd"? Or maybe that marriage record had it correct at Fairfield and we're chasing the wrong rabbit.

Too late to have saved me this wild chase, I realized that, though the Ancestry.com collection only provides transcripts of California death records, sometimes it is well worth the effort to track down the same record at FamilySearch.org—which is exactly what I did.

There, thanks to the fact that I had signed into that website with my own account, I was apparently rewarded with not only a transcription of all the pertinent information on her death certificate, but an image of the actual record. Preserved in a clear hand, that digitized gift revealed without question what the reporting party—Effie Williams Woodworth, herself—asserted were Elizabeth's parents' names: Betsey Baker and Orin Farrand.      


  1. Whoopeee!!! Success. I, too, chase those spellings through the records. I am pretty sure most of my most challenging names belonged to illiterate farmers, who if asked or presented with a spelling, said "sure".

    1. That sounds like a pretty convincing scenario to me, Miss Merry.


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