What might alternative spellings be for my father's surname of Swider?

His father, Andrew emigrated from Poland in about 1907.

I cannot find his name on immigration lists and so I suspect his name is spelled differently like it was for my maternal grandfather.

  • 1
    Hi Pat, welcome to the site. I think you may be approaching this the wrong way. Rather than looking for specific spellings to try, instead try using wildcards or Soundex. Try searching with no surname entered at all. The problem is there are a hundred ways that the name could have been spelled or mistranscribed.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 19:05
  • You may want to look for "Andrzej Świder" or maybe "Andrew Shwider". As for Soundex "Świder" doesn't really sound similar "Swider".
    – tsuma534
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 8:49
  • I've added a section to my answer in case you want to request a search for his naturalization records or other papers via the USCIS' genealogy program (The USCIS is the agency that used to be the INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Services)
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 7:23

5 Answers 5


If Andrew had emigrated from Poland, then his original surname quite probably was "Świder".
By simply dropping diacritics we get "Swider".
Someone who would care for phonetics, could make "Shwider" out of "Świder" so this spelling is also possible.


One option is to look for some soundex options using RootsWeb's Soundex Converter. This will give you what computers think it may sound like.

Glancing through familysearch gives quite a few options, the most likely to me being Switzer. In this search I used Russia as a source because at that time Poland was under Russian control. You may find it indexed either way...

Using the wildcard search with the * lets you see variations that almost match.You can adjust the position of the wildcard in the search to get farther or closer to the target name, and see the various options coming up in the search.

Good luck.

  • 1
    I've edited to take out your label of "here" and put in the name of the page being linked to, for clarity and transparency.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 21:24

While this is not a direct answer to your question in the title, sometimes the route lies down another path.

You're trying to find on which ship Andrew Swider (or variant spelling) arrived on in about 1907. There's a route to locating this information, if he became a US citizen.

From 1906 onwards, a standardised form was used for declaration of intention (the first stage of naturalization) and petition for naturalization (the second). Both of these, as can be seen in this blog post from Elizabeth Handler's A Jewish Genealogy Journey for a man who arrived 1908, contained details about the name of the ship, the date of arrival into the US, and which port the person arrived from. The authorities then looked for this record ('certificate of arrival') - you will sometimes see markings on ship lists cross-referencing naturalizations.

It doesn't always work out - the linked example is one in which the genealogist (and apparently, the US authorities) couldn't find the arrival from the information given.

To locate a US naturalization record for this time period, the easiest is to start by looking at the censuses. There is a column for naturalisation status, which will be blank for US-born persons and should contain either 'Al', 'Pa', or 'Na' for foreign-born persons.

Al = Alien. This person has not started the process of naturalisation. Pa = Papers. This person has filed for naturalisation, but the process has not been completed. Na = Naturalized. This person is a US citizen.

By checking your grandfather's status on subsequent censuses (1910 through 1940), you should be able to estimate when and where he naturalized, and then track down his records.


Besides looking for variant given name & surname spellings,

  • Your search parameters need to be flexible enough to deal with the changed borders of the last 100+ years. Depending on the region, post-WW1 & WW2 "Poland" was Austria, Russia or Germany in 1907-1908, and the passenger lists of that time period should show both citizenship and ethnicity.
  • Remember too that people's memories of dates may not be perfect on censuses and other records, and would depend on who is the informant
  • Also the right entry on passenger lists is sometimes harder to find because people did not necessarily board a ship at the closest port and head directly across the Atlantic. They might travel to a cheaper location, even work a while to accrue more money to pay their fare, and the ship might stop at another port (European or North Americian) before docking in the USA.

If your grandfather was Andrew Swider, 1890-1971, wife Mary, living in Utica New York from at least 1913, then

  • In his 1913 New York marriage record & marriage license affidavit, to Mary Szejygrel, his name is recorded as Andrzej Swider, 23 years old and born in Spytkowice, Austria [now Spytkowice, Wadowice County, 21 miles from Kraków]
  • In the 1920 US census, he was recorded as born in Poland Austria and arrival was recorded as 1908, and he had filed a his first papers (PA), a Declaration of Intention [to naturalize]
  • In the 1930 US census, he was recorded as born in Poland and arrival was recorded as 1907 and was a citizen.
  • In the 1940 US census, he was recorded as born in Poland and a citizen.
  • Yes, all above is correct. I am trying to find what ship he was on.
    – pat rinne
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 21:20
  • I am still confused on how to find out what ship he came on and when he was naturalized. Thanks again all.
    – pat rinne
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 23:15
  • I've fixed the reference to the first papers in the 1920 Census. (The "second papers" = the Petition for Naturalization.)
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 7:03

I think it's a great idea to make up a list of all the variant spellings that you find for anyone in your research -- including mistakes that happen because of weird indexing and bad OCR.

When we are searching online, we aren't looking directly for the records -- we are searching computer-readable pointers to the records.

Tools for better searching

For searching passenger lists, the gold standard is Stephen P. Morse's One-Step Webpages. Some of the forms offer options to search without the surname at all, or to choose between "starts with or is", "sounds like", or "is phonetically". The latter option has a label which is a link -- click through and you'll find the page Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching (BMPM) which has the source code for developers. The three links at the bottom that page -- the table of tokens, and the two articles on better Soundex, are papers where Beider and Morse explain how it all works.

This paragraph shows which websites have implemented Beider and Morse's improved phonetic matching:

There currently exist several implementations of Phonetic Matching. It is on several databases on my website (http://stevemorse.org) -- namely the Ellis Island database, the Dachau Concentration Camp Records, a database of Jewish surnames, and various naturalization databases. Other websites that have implemented Phonetic Matching are http://sephardicgen.com, http://jewishgen.org, http://jri-poland.org, and http://rtrfoundation.org. In addition, there are several other sites that are currently considering adding Phonetic Matching to their search applications.

Make your own phonetic chart

James Beidler (not to be confused with Alexander Beider cited above) makes up a worksheet when searching for German surnames with all the possible consonant variations and wildcards for vowels. Check genealogy guides for searching for Polish families to see if other researchers have used the same methods. Keep an eye out for software, too -- I once found a wonderful little surname generator (for German surnames) that would make up the kind of list you're looking for.

Misspelled OCR

You may come across a printed index of passenger names that has been converted to computer-readable form via the process of OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Kenneth Marks of the site The Ancestor Hunt has a series of articles that are a tutorial on how to get around bad OCR when searching old newspapers, and a tipsheet showing letter pairs that are often confused.

Hunt's site is well worth exploring if you can't find passenger lists -- very often you can find clues to arrivals of other family members by searching in the social pages of the newspapers, or can narrow down the date of someone's arrival in the US from clues in their obituary.

The set of letter pairs that can be confused in handwritten passenger manifests will be different -- you might be able to find a similar table in articles on reading old handwriting. If I can find a table, I'll link it in here.

Resources and Further Reading

Since we know from your comment on bgwhile's answer that we are looking at the right family, the census records tell us that the naturalization took place between 1920 and 1930. This may not be the case, because the census records may not be accurate. However, if your grandfather did naturalize after 1906, the federal government should have copies of his papers, and the papers may give the name of the ship he arrived on. That information may not be accurate, but sometimes you'll find, as in my husband's family, that the ship name is remembered but the date is not quite accurate -- in any case, it narrows the search window.

To save yourself a tedious search through the area's court records looking for his naturalization, you could request an index search from the USCIS's genealogy program. If they find files about your grandfather, they will send you a letter describing what they have, with instructions about what you need to do if you want to order the actual files. There is a description of the process on the website -- you can also look on the Webinars page to see the dates for the webinars USCIS Genealogy Program Overview and Genealogy Program Index Search Process, which will explain the records held by USCIS, and walk you through the process of making an index request.

Unfortunately there is no way for researchers to search the index online -- there are multiple indexes involved, and the search must be made by the USCIS staff. For a quick overview you can keep on file, download the Genealogy Brochure.

If you make a request, it's in your best interest to do so soon, because the fees may be going up shortly. See Judy G. Russell's post Heads up: fee hike coming.

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