Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Favorite Name: The Good, The Bad, and the Mis-Indexed – 52 Ancestors, #58

The good thing about an ancestral line with a rare and/or unusual surname is that your ancestors are not readily confused with unrelated people of the same name. As I pointed out in Andrew Sukeforth: A Hessian in the Family, I can be virtually certain that anyone named Sukeforth, anywhere in the U.S., is my fourth or fifth cousin, or perhaps second or third once or twice removed. This is, to put it mildly, a great advantage over my Murphy forbears. That makes Sukeforth my favorite surname.

The bad thing about an ancestral line with a rare and/or unusual surname is that it confuses everyone else, including census enumerators, town clerks, and present-day record indexers, all of whom can seriously mangle such a name in diverse ways. That makes Sukeforth sometimes my ... less than favorite ... surname.

Andrass Suchfort, 1790 census
To begin with, the name started out as the German surname Suchfort. One of the very few times this family appeared in the records in that form is the 1790 census, before beginning its Americanization, first to Suchforth, then to Suckforth, and finally to Sukeforth.

Ebenezar Suchforth, census   E.G. Suckforth, census
So these three versions are all legitimate spellings; generally speaking, Andreas's children spelled it Suchforth or Suckforth, and their children transitioned to the standard modern spelling of Sukeforth. It was probably always pronounced with a long "oo" sound, i.e., "Sue-kforth" (not "Suck-forth"), and I wouldn't be surprised if the Sukeforth spelling evolved precisely to avoid the pronunciation that (you'll pardon the expression) "sucked."

Those legitimate spellings have spawned a wide range of misspellings and transcription errors over the years.

Wrong Spelling, Faithful Indexing

Sometimes the name was misspelled in the record by the census taker or clerk. This could be a case of phonetic spelling, like the first three examples, or a slip of the pen.

Leaving out the "e" is a fairly common phonetic error, as in Ernest Sukforth (census).

Less common is a misspelling of the second syllable, such as Frank Sukefourth (census).

My favorite phonetic spelling is this marriage register entry for Rachael R. Sookforth.

Here it looks like the census taker tried unsuccessfully to convert an "a" into a "u", resulting in Charles H Slakeforth.

The census takers in Alga Sukeforth's neck of the woods had a hard time with the name. One year he got carried away with the letter "f" and produced "Alga Sufeforth."

Another time they got it almost right, just missing an "h": Alga T Sukefort.

Right Spelling, Wrong Indexing

More frequently, the name appears to be correctly spelled in the record but an indexer, confronted with an unfamiliar name and bad handwriting, misinterpreted one or more easily confused letters.

Another rare instance of the original Suchfort spelling was mis-indexed as Andrew Suchford.

I think this was probably spelled correctly, but in such dreadful handwriting that the indexer came up with Arthur Sevkaforth (census).

Possibly written as Soukeforth, the ascender on the k was obscured by a descender from the line above, generating an index entry of Mary L. Soursforth.

More sloppy handwriting turned Lucius M. Sukeforth into a Sukefath.

In this census record the indexer morphed "fo" into "p" and "r" into "e", yielding Charles Sukepeth.

Easy to mistake a cramped "e" for an "i" and see Gertrude Sukiforth in a census entry.

That "k" masquerades as a variety of other letters, such as "h" in Carrie A Suheforth (marriage record)...

... "ln" in John Sulneforth (census)...

... and even as "r" in Benjamin Sureforth.

Or the "k" may be read as a "b", giving us Fred Subeforth (census)...

... Peasley [sic – Pearley] Suberforth (census)...

... or Racheal P. Subreforth (marriage record).

If the downstroke of the "k" is too long, it may even look like a "p" as in Lincoln A Supeforth (census).

This entry for Anna Sukeforth may actually have started out like Lincoln's, with the census taker misreading his own original "k" as a "p" to make another Supeforth in this final copy.

Wrong Spelling + Wrong Indexing

Finally, an original misspelling may be compounded by an indexer's mistakes.

The census taker misspelled Bessie Sukford, who was then indexed as Bessie Sukeford.

Probably that's a "k" in the "e"-deprived census listing for Sadie Sukforth, but the indexer saw a "p" and she became Sadie Supforth.

L = D = Z = P = S ?

A special case of the "misread letter" type of error is a misreading of the initial "S", resulting in such constructs as Lukeforth, Dukeforth, Zukeforth, and – my personal favorite – Puckforth. The most common of such variants by far is Lukeforth (or Luckforth), as a script "S" and "L" may be very similar, depending on the clerk's handwriting.

Earl L Luckforth [Suckforth], census   Thomas Lukeforth [Sukeforth], census
Harry I Dukeforth [Harry T Sukeforth], census   [Illegible] Zukeforth [Sukeforth], census
Eben. Puckforth [Suckforth], census

Not all instances of Lukeforth are due to a modern indexer's misreading. At least a few of them sport a clearly handwritten "L" on the census sheet or vital register page. Since the two examples shown below each include another L in the name for comparison, it's hard to believe the initial letter of the surname could actually be a misread S. I suspect these stem from transcription errors when a census taker made his final copy, or a vital record was copied from the original marriage license or register into a compiled register.

Earle L Lukeforth, census
[yes, his middle initial really was L]
   Harold Lamont Lukeforth, birth register
And then there are the cases where the clerk's "S" and "L" are so similar that it's a toss-up whether the name as written is actually Sukeforth or Lukeforth. In this example from a marriage register, the bride two lines down from Maud E. Sukeforth (indexed as Lukeforth) conveniently has both letters in her name for comparison. I think Maud's name is actually spelled with an L here, but it's hard to tell for sure.

Unfortunately, those "Lukeforth" entries sometimes get carried over to compiled indexes and printed city directories as well, making it impossible to find the hidden Sukeforth either in an OCR index of the source or by looking at the page images, unless the researcher thinks to check for "Lukeforth" every time.

Gardner E Lukeforth, death index   Abraham B. Lukeforth, marriage index

Harriet Lukeforth, city directory
Sukeforths That Aren't

Of course, this can work in the other direction, too – occasionally some other name somehow gets interpreted and indexed as Sukeforth.

Here, an overwritten census listing for Preston Cutsforth was indexed as "Ruston Sutsforth", and then had an "alternative" interpretation as "Huston Sukeforth" added by a user.

The most bizarre name I've found indexed as Sukeforth has to be Cozette Evangeline Zikefoose.

So that ancestral line with the rare and/or unusual surname can be a blessing... or a curse. But on balance, a name like Sukeforth is a pretty good one to have in your family tree.

(This post was inspired by the "Favorite Name" prompt in Amy Johnson Crow's 2018 "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge.)

  1. All image snippets clipped from Ancestry ( : accessed 6 Feb 2018).

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