We've all experienced the frustrating nature of ancestors changing the spelling of their surnames. For instance, some of the Pennsylvania Koenigs changed their surname to King. Today, Internet search engine algorithms offer alternative spelling choices for names. Prior to the advent of the Internet, Robert C Russell developed the Soundex index system to aide in alternative name spelling microfilm and physical searches.
The Soundex conversion process is fairly straightforward with some nuances. Basically, the first letter of a surname is retained and the subsequent consonants are numbered. Similar sounding consonants use the same number, and the maximum number of numbers is three. For instance, the name Stewart has a Soundex designation of S363. Because Stuart sounds the same, it also has the S363 designation.
Why is it important to understand this system? Some Pennsylvania records are not alphabetically indexed. They use the Soundex system and getting to theinformation source will require usage knowledge. There are two ways to determine a surname's Soundex designation. A genealogist can convert the name or use an online converter. The conversion is not difficult and can be fun. To convert a surname, I recommend reading the short Family Search article at https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Soundex. It will assist you in the conversion. If you are looking for a quick conversion, an electronic converter can be used and found at http://www.searchforancestors.com/utility/soundex.html.
Lastly, when reviewing Pennsylvania Soundex index cards, basicinformation will be available, but it is select information. If you will go to the source of the index card, more information will be available. An example of a Pennsylvania Soundex index list can be found at http://www.archives.gov/research/census/publications-microfilm-catalogs-census/1910/part-02.html#pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Soundex census indices were used in 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920. Book index volumes are available for the 1790 - 1870 census'. The 1910 Philadelphia census has its own index.
Soundex card example:
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