English Language Phonetic Matcher
Soundex match surnames that sound similar but have different spellings. It was originally used by the National Archives to index the U.S. censuses.
Since some online genealogy database search engines today are based on soundex and other sound-alike coding in their search algorithms, understanding how soundex works is a key to understanding phonetic searching. Basically, soundex searches are ways of searching for a surname the way it is pronounced, rather than the way it is spelled.
If you are using a genealogy search engine that allows a soundex search, use the chart below to understand what the search engine is doing.
If you type in the surname Smith, you will get surname sound-a-likes with the same soundex code, in this case, Schmidt, Smyth, Smithe, Smithee, Schmitt, Smead, Smit, Sneed, Smoote and many other variations. Notice the vowel variations and the how "t" and "d" (both with the same soundex code of #3) are used interchangeably.
Rootsweb's Soundex Converter
Enter a surname to find other surnames sharing the same soundex code.
Soundex has its limitations and many genealogy search engines now use a more advanced algorithm, but Rootsweb and others still offer a soundex choice.
RootsWeb World Connect offers a soundex search. If you use the pulldown box that says "exact", you will notice the other search choices are soundex and metaphone. These choices offer a way to search the database based on the way the name sounds rather than the way it is spelled.
Always start your genealogy searches with an exact search and only if that doesn't work should you extend your search to soundex,
, or other sound-alike searches.
The Soundex Algorithm
- Soundex codes always start with the first letter of the surname and are always followed by three numbers. The numbers represents the first three remaining consonants in the surname. If there are not enough letters in the surname, zeros will be added until there are 3 digits. If the surname is very long, the numbers will be truncated to three. No matter how long or how short the surname, a soundex code always will have one letter followed by three digits.
- Soundex Coding Guide (Consonants that sound alike have the same code)
1 - B,P,F,V
2 - C,S,G,J,K,Q,X,Z
3 - D,T
4 - L
5 - M,N
6 - R
- The letters A,E,I,O,U,Y,H, and W are not used.
- Names with adjacent letters having the same equivalent number are coded as one letter with a single number.
- Surname prefixes such as La, De and Van are generally not used in the soundex, although the prefixes Mc, Mac and O generally are coded.
- Surnames that sound alike do not always have the same soundex code. For example, Huff (H100) and Hough (H200) are pronounced identically, but have different soundex codes because although the different constanant combinations in English may produce the same sound, the soundex algorithm does not see the names as pronounced the same.
- Surnames that sound alike but start with a different first letter will always have a different soundex code. For example, the names Carrigan (C625) and Kerrigan (K625) have different soundex codes even though they sound similar. Surnames that sound alike but have different first letters will need to be searched for separately in a soundex search. However, a
search will find both surnames in the same search. This is one of the reasons to try a metaphone search if the genealogy database offers one.
- Since soundex is based on English pronunciation, some European names may not soundex correctly. An example is the French name Roux - where the x is silent. While Rue (R000) is pronounced identically to Roux (R200), they will have different soundex codes. This could be true of any surname that does not use English pronunciation.
- Sometimes names that don't sound alike may have the same soundex code and this will give false results in a soundex search. One of my family names is Powers (P620). I get soundex search results for surnames such as Prigg, Perrigo, Porreca and Park which all have the same soundex code, but do not sound similar to my name Powers. Yet the Irish Power (P600) surname, from which my Powers name originated, has a different soundex code. Keep this in mind while soundex searching. Soundex searching will not necessarily catch all variations of a surname.
When you are searching genealogy databases, do not assume that your surname was spelled many years ago the same way it is today, and that is the way it will appear on the census 100 years ago. The census taker, in a lot of cases, wrote the surname how he heard it, and not the way it was spelled. This is especially true if the person was an immigrant who spoke with an accent. Try listening out loud to the surname and thinking of as many spelling variations as you can think of. One of these may be how your surname was spelled in the census.
Today, we no longer have to use the government soundex cards on microfilm to search the census. The US census that have been released to the public are online and each has a unique database search engine. Many of the search engines use a soundex or similar formula to search for surnames. By understanding how soundex manually works will help to getting the best results from search engines
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