Once upon a search for my grandfather’s younger half-brother, I ran into such a situation.
I was told that their father, Robert, had remarried and had perhaps changed his name from “Saddler” to “Watson.” I was also told that Papa’s half-brother’s name was for-sure “Cecil Watson.”
Into the census records I dove. I found a Cecil Watson in the 1930 census record for the county in which we understood great grandfather had settled after giving Papa away and abandoning his brother, Jesse (a story for another time).
The only problem with this Cecil was that he was living with only his mother, Bertha. Where was Robert? Bertha was listed as a widow. Had Robert died? Or was this the wrong Cecil?
Delving deeper into the census records, I could find no Cecil in the 1920 census index for the county, so I searched instead for Robert Watson and found Robert and “Bertia” married with a son. Not Cecil, though. It was some 35 year-old man named “Secther”.
Who in the world was Secther? And how was he older than my Papa? And how was his mother seven years younger than he?
None of it made any sense.
In an effort to be sure I was reading the record correctly, I zoomed the page to the highest magnification and after my head stopped spinning, and I could focus again, I realized that the transcriber had made a mistake.
The age wasn’t 35. It was three. A large “X” had been drawn over that area of the sheet, apparently with a dull pencil. The transcriber mistook the line going through Secther’s age box to be the number five and listed his age as 35 in the index.
Back in the 1930 census record, Cecil’s age was listed as “14”. “Secther” being three in 1920 with Bertia (Bertha) and Robert make him my guy, but why did they have him listed as Secther? Was that his middle name? Cecil Secther? Or was it his given name? Secther Cecil? Say that five times fast!
Actually, say it over and over and you’ll realize that “Cecil” and “See-thur” is the same name. The person giving the census taker the information, whether it was Robert or Bertha, may have had a speech impediment.
You must think of phonetic variations. Otherwise you could struggle with brick walls far longer than you want.