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Soundex and United States Census Records

All the information for Soundex codes is here in one place so you can easily understand and use it in your genealogy research.

Soundex, a special phonetic code, was developed originally for the 1880 census to aid the name-searching problem people ran into in looking for anyone in the United States Census.

Searching census information in the United States can be challenging because your family's name may not appear there as you expect it to. For instance, take a German name such as Roszel.

Now imagine an English speaking census-taker spelling that name based on what he heard. Many of your early family members did not read and write, and did not know how to spell their names. So, on the various censuses, Roszel becomes Roszel, Roszell, Rossel, Rossell, Rozel, Rozzel, Rozell, Rowswell and even Rawsel.

When you search for it in the census indexes, which one do you use for the search? Or do you do multiple searches, each for one of these?

How to Use It

The Code is always made up of an initial letter followed by exactly three (3) digits.

The initial letter is always the first letter of the name you are coding. Next, you look at the following letters of the name sequentially, beginning with the second letter. Sometimes letters are ignored completely, including vowels.

Use the code chart below to assign the appropriate code to each letter in the name in succession, or ignore the letter according to the rules chart below.

Code Letters
1 b p f v
2 c s k g j q x z
3 d t
4 l [el]
5 m n
6 r
no code a e h i o u y w - except as the first letter of the name


Rule# Rule
1 If the letter falls in the no code group, ignore it.
2 If the succeeding letter falls in the same group as the previous letter, ignore the second.
3 When you reach the total of 1 letter followed by three digits, you are done, even if you have additional letters in the name not coded.
4 If you reach the end of the name before you have reached the one letter plus 3 digits, add zeros until you reach the four character length.
5 If your name has a prefix (Van, De, Le, dela, etc.), you should code it both with and without the prefix to be certain of finding all variations.
6 Mc and Mac are not considered to be prefixes, so both McDonald and MacDonald will code the same (M235).

An Example

Let's take Roszel as the name to code.

Letter Coding
R use R - initial letter of name
o ignore according to rule 1 in the rule chart
s use a 2 according to the code chart
z ignore according to rule 2 in the rule chart
e ignore according to rule 1 in the rule chart
l use a 4 according to the code chart

Since you have reached the end of the name with only a 3-character code (R24), you add a zero to bring it to the required 4-character code. So, Roszel, in the Soundex Code, is R240.

If you do the same coding with all the other variations mentioned above (Roszell, Rossell, Rozell, Rowswell, and Rozel), they too will all code to R240. Even Rawsel will match the same code.

The big advantage of using Soundex names in your searching is it will retrieve all the variations in its single search.

The greatest disadvantage is it will return many names that are not your family and have different spellings from all of the above, such as Russell.

Which Censuses Have Soundex Indexes?

Make Your Life Simpler With Soundex



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