Names are not always spelled the same, even on official, government records, a fact of life all genealogists are familiar with. However, when referring to a person in a narrative, or when entering the primary or ‘official’ name in a genealogy program or family tree, which variation of the name do you use?
Here in the Netherlands, that’s actually a pretty easy decision to make. I’m sure not many people realize it, but the only official name you have in the Netherlands is the one that appears on your birth certificate. I found out about this when my mother applied for a passport, about eight years ago. She gave her name as she’d always known it – and as it appears on most, if not all, of the records pertaining her – with one of her middle names being Johanna. However, her birth certificate said Joanna, a spelling error from either the clerk or her father, whichever one wrote it down. And that’s her official name, and that’s also how it appears on her passport. The name Joanna is actually a mistake, as her parents meant to name her Johanna, but since no-one caught the mistake when the birth certificate was made, it’s now Joanna.
Now, in the case of my mother, it means that most record would have a different name on them than her birth certificate. That can also be true for many of my other ancestors. But, since the government considers the birth certificate name as the official name, that is the primary name I use for my ancestors – all other spellings (no matter how often used) are spelling variants.
Of course, this gets harder if the ancestor is born before 1811, as no birth certificates are available before that date. Then I use the baptism information instead. This consistency makes things clear for everyone involved.
So, how do you handle spelling variants?