Wedding Chapel Wednesday: The crazy way names are spelled

Recently, I’ve heard several Portuguese Hawaiian genealogist lament trying to find their ancestors in records because there are so many variations with the names.  It’s true.  No matter where your ancestor were originally from chances are you are going to find them in records under at least a handful of different names and spellings.

It can be confusing.  But, it is the reality.  You have to accept it then make room for it when you research.

I thought this marriage license from Kauai, Hawaii is a good example of how messed up names could be.  Someone (not me) wrote the real surnames above the names making it easier to identify the couple.    The groom was Jose Simao, but he is noted as Jose Simanch.  The bride is Maria Jesus, but she is noted as Maria Joesu.

How can someone get it so wrong?  Let’s think about this a bit.  Let’s say whoever reported the information was illiterate or let’s say the person recording the information wasn’t familiar with Portuguese names.  The names are going to be recorded as they were heard, phonetically.

Simao sounds a lot like Simon (the ao making a on sound in Portuguese).  Given accents Simao got recorded as Simanch.  Maybe the person reporting this had a speech impediment.

It’s easier to understand how Jesus became Joesu.  I have a distant cousin whose grandfather used the surname Jesus.  Later he switched to Santos for no reason that anyone can put together.  She pronounced it “Jeh-zoo”, similar to Jesuina (Jeh-zoo-ee-na).  When you say that out loud you can see how it could become Joesu.

Let’s look at some of the other names on this.  Joe’s parents were Manuel Simanich and Maria Ezabell.  Ezabell clearly a strange way to spell Isabel/Izabel.

Maria’s parents are given as John Joesu and Juon Rose.  Her mother’s real name was Joana Rosa.  You can see how Joana can become Juon.


marr lic for post


Next time you are having trouble finding your ancestors in the records, try sounding the names out phonetically.  Say them out loud.  If you don’t know how they would have sounded in your ancestor’s language, find a resource online that will give you the audio or use a language learning book or dictionary to get the sounds.  Once you hear it, you can come up with different ways to write it.

In some ways, I like finding these different spellings.  Okay, I don’t like it that much.  But, if the person giving the information was my relative, I’ve gotten a tiny window into the way they spoke.  I can visualize them saying the words to the person recording the information.

Try not to fret when names don’t match up perfectly.  Remember to keep variations in mind.  And, if you can’t find them say their names out loud the way they would have said them.  You might come across a spelling you hadn’t considered.


The Satisfaction of Finding the Right Record

[This is an entry in my series Wedding Chapel Wednesday.  This is the search for my grandmother’s cousin’s marriage records.]

I’ve taken a detour from San Francisco deeds, which was my detour from Azorean church records.  I became possessed with the desire to find San Francisco marriage records.  So, I decided to work on those for a few days.

I wanted to find my grandmother’s cousin’s first marriage record.  I don’t know when he was married but figure 1919 would be a good place to start.  John J. Burke married someone only known as Frances.  It always bothers me when I have no maiden name for females.  It is my personal mission to get as many of my ??? (my way of noting surname unknown) women their rightful maiden names.  Today was the day to figure out who Frances was.

The records can be found at under San Francisco County Records, 1824-1997.  Select Marriages.  FamilySearch does not provide an index to these records, however, there are index books within this collection.

Finding marriage records in this collection will be a two or three step process–even if you know the marriage date.  First, you need to search the Groom or Bride index.  The reason is that this entry will give you the marriage license book and page number and/or the state certificate number also referred to as the local registered number, depending on the year you are searching.  Earlier entries do not have the state certificate number.

Your next step depends on the era.  If this is an early entry (I’m not sure what the breakdown is yet), you will need to search the  marriage license book by page number.  This is the stamped number at the top of each page.  The marriage licenses will have some information that is on the marriage certificate but not everything a genealogist could ask for.  The name of the parents is missing from the marriage license, for instance.

On the marriage license there is a No. field at the bottom of the record.  Or, with earlier records, a number will be typed or written on the record.  That number refers to the number of the marriage affidavit (on early records).

If your entry is later, you may see the state certificate number written in the Bride and Groom index entry. This is the number in the “no. _____” field at the bottom of the license.  It is the same number as the local registered number on the marriage certificate.  If you have a later entry, you can skip the marriage licenses and go directly to the marriage certificates.

Their are many books for each year of marriage certificates.  You’ll have to guess where to start.  They are in order by state certificate/local registered number, so that is a help.

Let’s follow the trail and see how I found John and Frances in these records…

I began my search in the groom index for 1919.  You might have guessed it.  There are several John Burke’s listed.  I made note of all of them since I am not entirely sure Frances is Frances real name.

It took me quite awhile to find the right entry for John J. Burke and Frances ???.  The B’s start in the proper section, but evidently the transcriber ran out of room and decided to continue them at the back of the book.  Of course, the entry I needed was in the back of the book.

Here is the Groom index entry for John J. Burke and Frances Barry:

This gives me the state certificate number and the book and page of the marriage license.  I could jump directly to the marriage certificates, but I want to have the marriage license for my files, too.

The marriage licenses are organized by page number.  You see it stamped in the upper left hand corner (154).  This is the marriage license for John and Frances.   You can see that the no. field at the bottom of the certificate refers to the state certificate number.

Next, I went off to find the marriage certificate.  There are eight books that cover 1919.  I picked the second to last one since the marriage took place in October.

The book is in order by certificate number.  And, it doesn’t seem like all the numbers are there.  I flipped around until I found the certificate number 5449.  This is the certificate for John and Frances.  Once I saw the name of the parents, I knew that this was my couple.  John’s parents were John Burke and Gertrude Jones.

Did I learn anything from these records that I didn’t already know?  Actually, yes.  I didn’t have their exact date of marriage to begin with.  I have that now.  I knew that John was divorced, but I did not know that he was divorced before he married Frances.  Now I have to figure out if his other wife, Mae, was before Frances or if he had another wife.  I also figured out Frances’ maiden name and I got her surname from her first marriage to boot!  Her parents are listed as well.

I feel some satisfaction from going through this process and finding the record I was looking for.  A lot more satisfaction than finding nothing, that’s for sure!  I can fill in a few blanks in the Burke family group sheet.  I’d say it was an evening well spent.

Helpful hint:  The organization of these books on is daunting and confusing.  You will find that some indexes start, then there are other marriage records, and then more indexes.  Also, some entries are labeled Marriage Certificates/Licenses, but then there is a separate section labeled Marriage Certificates and another one labeled Marriage Licenses.  Also, there are the Marriage Affidavits, which are the early equivalent to the marriage certificate.  Be prepared to open several links to find what you are looking for.






Wedding Chapel Wednesday: Koch and Meincke Marriage License

Recently, I’ve been working with the San Francisco County Records at <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>.  This collection includes marriage licenses, certificates, and record indexes covering roughly 1906 to 1975.

This week I located the marriage license of Carl Koch and Winifred Meincke.  Winifred was born in 1886 to Mary Ann (Kelly) and Frederick Meincke.  Carl was born in 1887 to Katherina (Beck) and Ernest Koch.

Winifred graduated from Mission High School in 1903.  Both Winifred and Carl lived with their parents in an apartment building at 19 Cotter in San Francisco in 1910.  Winifred worked as a stenographer for a wholesale company.  Carl work as a moulder at the foundry.

The couple was married on the 12th of January 1915 in San Francisco.

This is the first part of the marriage license that was on file in the San Francisco County Records Collection.  It sets out the legal contract of marriage and states that with the license they may be married by any of the officials recognized as being able to legally perform marriages.

The first part of the record gives their basic information.  The license shows that they were of the legal age to take out a marriage contract.  The number in the upper right hand corner, 35201, is important.  This is the number of the marriage affidavit that is on file.  The affidavit was the equivalent of a marriage certificate.

The second part of the license tells us that Winifred and Carl were married on the 12th of January 1915 by John. J. Hunt at St. John’s Church.  St. John’s is a Presbyterian church.   It has an interesting history.  It was founded in the 1860s on Post Street.  In 1888, it moved to California and Octavia.  There was talk of disbanding the church at the turn of the century.  Instead, the congregation was moved a third time to the Richmond District.  The first service in this new location was held on 15 April 1906, just days before the infamous earthquake struck.  The church was heavily damaged and needed extensive repairs.  There are some neat photos of the original churches on their website.  According to the website, in the 1930s the church became a haven for those seeking food and jobs.  It remains at the same location today.

It’s interesting to note that they were married on the 12th, but Mr. Hunt requested that the record by recorded on the the 18th of the same month.  I do not know if this delay was normal.  From what I’ve seen,  people got married within a day or two of getting their marriage license.

The document also tells us who the witnesses were:  Mr. and Mrs. David Garibaldi.  This was Winifred’s sister, Frances, and her husband, David, who were married just two months earlier.

This document tells us a little bit about the married couple, but doesn’t provide some of the details that are on a marriage certificate.  Notably missing are the names of Winifred and Carl’s parents.

Now that I have the marriage license I can look for a marriage certificate or affidavit.  That number at the top of the document will definitely come in handy!