Searching online census records with the help of Soundex.
Census takers weren't known for their impeccable
handwriting, so you can understand why transcribers occasionally
misread names and entered them incorrectly into databases.
Unfortunately, that means an ancestor named Robert Cordes, for example,
could show up as Robert Cordis or Cordos or some even stranger
misspelling — and unless you try the right one, you won't find him.
Luckily, Ancestry.com and other sites let you search some spelling
variations automatically, using Soundex.
The 1880, 1900 and 1920
US censuses — plus parts of the 1910 and 1930 censuses — are indexed
according to the Soundex system, which is based on sounds in surnames.
(Although the federal government developed this indexing system for the
census, several organizations have adopted it for their own databases.
That's why you'll find the Soundex-search option for other census
years.) Every surname gets a four-character Soundex code (such as
G516), beginning with the first letter of the surname. The remaining
three characters are taken from the name sequentially, ignoring the
letters a, e, h, i, o, u, w and y (see the key at right). Letters with
similar sounds (such as b, p, f and v) are represented with the same
number. You'd code as one digit any adjacent consonants from the same
category (such as dd or sc). Once you reach the four-character limit,
ignore the remaining letters. If you run out of key letters before
reaching that limit, add one or more zeros. So the code for Cordes is
C632 — as for Cordis and Cordos.
Select the Soundex option on
Ancestry.com to search for all names with the same code as the surname
you've entered. A Soundex search for Cordes will turn up matches for
Cordis, Cordos, Curtis, Curtiss and other names. Of course, you'll have
more results to wade through, but you're less likely to miss your
From the April 2005 Family Tree Magazine