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Genealogy: Cracking the Soundex Code

Soundex Puzzlers

There are some nuances to Soundex coding that affect names that may be on your lists. Men and women in religious orders were usually coded as if Sister, Brother, or Mother were their surnames. Indian and Hawaiian names may be coded as if they had a surname. Running Bear may be coded as B600 and then alphabetically as if his first name were “Running.” For more information about special situations, consult Kathleen Hinckley's Your Guide to the Federal Census and Tony Burroughs article “The Original Soundex Instructions,” published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Names that sound the same, but begin with different letters such as Courll and Kurl, or Fillip and Phillip, can give researchers problems because they will be coded differently. In cases like these you may need to use both codes to be successful.

Genie Jargon

Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System is a modification of the Soundex System used to accommodate Eastern European names in some indexes, but not those for the census.

Eastern European names did not always fit the Soundex coding system. Same-sounding names might be spelled differently enough to code differently, making it difficult to find the individual sought in indexes. Names such as Moskowitz and Moskovitz sound the same, but their codes are M232 and M213, respectively. To remedy this situation, two researchers devised a modification of the Soundex known as the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System. It is not used for the federal census indexes, but reading about the system may provide new ideas on what variations of your surnames you need to know for successful census searches.

Shortcut Coding

Many genealogy programs will generate the Soundex codes for every surname in your database. Also, there are Soundex code generators online in which you enter a surname and the code is generated for you. One (http://resources.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/soundexconverter) is a RootsWeb page that will return not only the code for surname you enter, but also a list of other names with the same code. Some online code generators such as www.stevemorse.org/census/soundex.html will return the surnames with both the Soundex and Daitch Mokotoff Soundex codes.

Math teachers often express concern when students use calculators for all their arithmetic work, wondering if they understand the underlying concepts. The same is true of using these generators. They are convenient to use, but it is important to understand the basic systems of coding as well.

Soundex Codes and Online Indexes

Although Soundex codes are not necessary to use online indexes to censuses, understanding the Soundex and applying it to the surnames on your list is still important. You may be unable to find your surnames with a simple alphabetical search, in which case you will want to use the Soundex code search option. Also, other online indexes, particularly those for ships' passenger lists, use Soundex codes to increase the chances of success in finding the person whose name was not spelled the way you thought it was.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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