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Surname Sources - know the naming patterns of the ethnic area you are researching.
Surnames began in Europe about the 11th century. They developed as trade increased.
The four basic patterns of surnames are the patronymic (based on the father's name), landscape features or place names, action or nicknames, and occupational or office names.
When it comes to spelling variations, think out of the box. Often, clerks and government officials were unable to correctly record the names given them by immigrants unfamiliar with the languages used in the ports of entry, and in the parts of the country where they settled. Names were written down as heard and immigrants accepted this as the official American rendering of names.
Surname spelling standardization didn't begin until the early 1900s. Surnames may be found spelled differently within the same document prior to that time. Try many spelling variations when searching for your surnames.
Use "spellcheck" on your surname or Google it to find unusual ways in which it may have been written.
Learn about handwriting history to help you decipher names.
A "dit name" is an alias given to a family name. It is not the same as AKA, which is an alias given to one specific person. These names exist mostly in France and French Canada. "Dit" means "called." It is sometimes used to differentiate between two unrelated families of the same surname. The first family is the family's original surname, while the "dit" name is the name the family is actually called or known as. An example: Andre Hudon dit Beaulieu/