Finding Alternate Surname Spellings for Index Searching

Finding Alternate Surname Spellings for Index Searching

There’s a death date and place mystery associated with the surname “Macaluso” that I would dearly like to solve. And, there’s a microfilmed index that might help me solve it. But, it has to be skimmed the old-fashioned way and the name I’m looking for doesn’t appear under the obvious spelling.

Before I leave the index behind, I want to make sure I’ve been thorough, so this morning, I tried to see if I could come up with a comprehensive list of spellings I should check.

I started by substituting vowels: Macaluso – Mocaluso – Mocoluso.

And also played with consonants: Maccaluso – Moccaluso – Moccoluso.

And then I wondered if there might be an online tool that would generate possibilities for me. I Googled into Alternate Spelling Finder which uses “highly probable character substitutions to find similar spellings” and gave it a try. [1]

It was easy. I typed “macaluso” into the “Word/Name to Alter” box and suggestions appeared below. And, I experimented with the “Minimum Spelling Similarity Level” slider on the right.

Screenshot showing search results

The results were helpful. For example, I realized that “Makaluso” should be on my list. And I saw that “lu” might be spelled “leu.” And I was reminded that even very unexpected spellings like “Mahkaluso” might make sense.

What the tool didn’t do was generate spellings that had “o” as the second character–until I typed in “mocaluso.”

Was it helpful? I think so. Did it generate a list that I could take back to the index? Not exactly. But it was a great way to easily come up with useful variations that I might not have efficiently pulled out of my head.

Hats off to Sarah Tyler for making the “Alternate Spelling Finder” so easily available!

  1. Sarah Tyler, data yze ( : accessed 13 June 2019), “Alternate Spelling Finder” found under “Writing Assistance Apps.
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