Something that makes tracing documents of our ancestors challenging is that people recorded their surname with several different spellings. The first reaction by some family members has been to assume our ancestors couldn’t spell their own name! With the 2015 discovery that James McDonald signed a petition to the Nauvoo City Council in 1844 that assumption is proven false.
Reading some of the newspapers printed in that time by well educated contemporaries reveal that spelling was not as exact in the 1800’s as it is in the 21st century. The following list of various spellings of their surname, the sources, and attached documentation show how important it is to keep an open mind as we do family history research.
“McDonnell” from the 1825 Register of Marriages in the Bangor Presbyterian Church, Ireland
“McDaniel” from the 1843 LDS Certificate of Membership filled out by an American Elder in Crawfordsburn, County Down, Ireland for those who were baptized.
“James McDonald” clear signature on a petition to the Nauvoo City Council June 8, 1844
“McDaniel” on August 1844 list of recent arrivals to Nauvoo (they actually arrived April 13th). The names listed correspond to the Membership Certificates issued in Ireland. There was a James McDaniel family in Nauvoo also from Ulster, Ireland, but the given names of the wife & children were all different. The original document shows our ancestors as “McDaniel” from Crawfordsburn and all the same given names, and in the same order of birth as our McDonald family.
“Jas. McDonald” October 1844 Willard Richards’ Daybook of store purchases
“David H. McDonald” buried Old Nauvoo Cemetery Aig (sic) 5, 1844 (there were really 2 children-David & Hyrum buried there within a year of each other listed under one name).
“Sarah McDunn” proxy baptisms for her Alderdice and Ferguson ancestors in the Nauvoo Temple Baptistry 14 July 1844.
“Jane McDonough” did proxy baptisms for Ferguson and Cargo ancestors in the Nauvoo Temple Baptistry with her mother 14 July 1844. Jane entered the font a few minutes after her Mother (only William Smith between them) yet the recorder wrote down two different names!
“McDonald” in both James McDonald & Sarah Ferguson McDonald’s Patriarchal Blessings given in 1845 by Patriarch William Smith.
“McDonil” from the 1846 Nauvoo Temple Record of Washings & Annointings for James McDonald.
“McDowil” from the 1846 Nauvoo Temple Record of Washings & Annointings for Sarah McDonald.
“McDonald” from 1846 Nauvoo Temple Endowment Record of both James & Sarah
“McDonnel” from Springville, Utah rebaptism records & John McDonald’s 1856 Patriarchal Blessing. He received a second Patriarchal Blessing when he was later called to be a Patriarch in the Wasatch Stake. That blessing listed him as John McDonald.
The clerks usually wrote the name just as they heard it. The various spellings most likely reflect how familiar the various clerks were with a Scots/Irish accent. Since Sarah’s surname is more often “misspelled” the logical conclusion is that she had a much thicker Scots/Irish brogue than James. I served a mission in Scotland 50 years ago and I still remember my companion had to tell me when the Scottish were saying “Elder McDonald” because I initially didn’t recognize my own namethe way they said it. That Sarah had a thick Scots/Irish brogue is attested to by the many Scots/Irish sayings her children attributed to her that require “translation”!