Monday, February 1, 2010

Accents and Name Variations

What do you think? Do accents affect name variations, especially in regards to the spelling of names before spelling was standardized?

I'd never really thought much about this until I began looking for my Bell relatives who lived in eastern Ohio, across the Ohio River from West Virginia.

The line from me to my Bell family goes like this:
me --> my mother, Audrey --> Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen --> Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff --> Lydia (Bell) Thompson --> Jacob & Lydia (Fithen) Bell
Finding Lydia (Bell) Thompson's death record in West Virginia led me to her parents, which caused me to look for her siblings.

Lydia Bell had a brother identified in various census records as Crusin, Cruson, and an illegible "C_ _ _ _ _ _" in one census record. From those records I learned that he was born between 1850 and 1853. In the 1880 census I found him living in Wells Township, Jefferson County, Ohio, with his wife, Mary, and son George. His age was not completely legible but could be 26. On the 1900 census, taken in June, he was living in Mingo Junction, working as a laborer in a steel mill, still married to Mary, with sons James and Walter. His age was listed as 47, born 1853. I did not find him on the 1910 census.

Through more searching, I found a city directory for Mingo Junction, Ohio, which is located in Wells Township. The date on it was November, 1900. In it I found
Bell, Mary, (wid of Crewson,) 213 n Commercial st.
So then it looked like Crewson/Crusin/Cruson died after June 1900 and before November 1900. I didn't think a death record should be too hard to find with a first name like Crewson/Crusin/Cruson (even though "Bell" is such a common last name). So I looked through the death record transcriptions for 1900 searching for Bell in Wells Township, Jefferson County. He was not there.

I continued to look through the "B" section, hoping perhaps the alphabetization was incorrect. I came upon
Beall, Robison Cruzen, mar., steel worker, born McIntyre Creek, died Mingo Jct., 20 Nov 1900 ae 47 years of inflammation of the bowels
Is it possible that this is my Crewson/Crusin/Cruson? It's such an uncommon name. Of course I have more research to do.

To any of you readers who may have experience with how accents change the spelling of names, or to any of you who may have Southern/West Virginia-ish accents: do you think that a northern "Bell" may sound like a Southern-ish "Beall?"

Thanks for any ideas, thoughts, or opinions.

1850 U.S. Census
1870 U.S. Census
1880 U.S. Census
1900 U.S. Census
Official Directory of Mingo Junction, November, 1900
Deaths Recorded in Jefferson County, 1889-1908

Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Messier.


  1. Nancy,
    Good research work and I think you are correct.
    My name is Beall and my ancestors came from the Virginia and later the Georgia area. We have always pronounced our name "Bell" even though it is spelled "Beall."
    Our business is retail stores, many in Florida where our family lives, and some years ago we changed the "A" in the store name to be instead the outline of a bell so that people would get the idea that our name was pronounced "bell."
    So I think you are definitely on to something there.
    If you want to see the logo you can go to ""
    Bob Beall

  2. Hi Nancy, you are definitely on to something here. One of my surnames is "Domelle" which you might think is pronounced "doh-MELL", but it's actually pronounced "DOM-lee". It is a tricky name to find in census records because most census takers wrote it as they pronounced rather than as it is actually spelled (dommely, domlee, dunnalee). Also, here's a link to a article on the subject of surname pronunciation: Good Luck!!!

  3. Bob, thanks for letting me know about the pronunciation of your last name, Beall. I'd never really thought about the closeness of "Beall" and "Bell" but it must be fairly common for them to share the pronunciation. I like your logo. Do people usually pronounce it "Bell" since you changed it?

    Leah, what a challenge you have! I'm so glad we've finally arrived at standardized spelling! Thanks so much for sharing the link to the article. It is very helpful.

  4. Nancy,
    I've learned that there is enormous variability in how visual people are. Some understand the bell logo immediately and perhaps 1/3 never notice.

  5. LOL How interesting! I'm from Texas and I guess I have a strong accent. As I was reading I was pronouncing the two spellings (Bell and Beall) the same - like a "bale" of hay! Gez I have to work on my pronunciations! I know the word Bell should be pronounced as in a church bell, but when I say it out loud it sounds like "bale." LOL I definitely think regional accents affect the spelling of names. Absolutely! :)

  6. Hi Nancy,
    I'm actually a distant Fithian cousin of yours from NJ. I was wondering if you had information on William Wade Fithen who married Nancy Bell :)


  7. Herstoryan, you make me laugh. I think you should leave your pronunciations alone! Aren't they just a result of where we live? I appreciate your writing to tell me how you pronounce the two words, and that they sound alike. That's very helpful. So I'm off to the library to see if I can find an obituary for Cruson/Crewson/Crusin.

    Andrea, hi! I keep seeing the names of William Wade Fithen and Nancy Bell in my research and have been wondering if they are "mine," but I haven't gone any further back than Lydia. Are William and Nancy Lydia's parents? You probably already know more than I do -- I'm still a beginner.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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