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My family has always always spelled our last name Wasmanski. On my grandfathers Declaration on Intention it is spelled Waksmunski. He was from Austria. I have seen so many different spellings of the name. I am trying to work on my family tree and can go no further until I get the correct spelling.

Can you help?

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  • Welcome to Genealogy & Family History SE! Did your grandfather emigrate before 1918? If yes, have you identified the region of origin? The Austro-Hungarian empire was large and encompassed many languages, cultures and ethnicities. – bgwiehle Feb 22 '19 at 14:42
  • Yes he came to the USA around 1888. He was 6 years old. He came from Nowy Tart Austria. His ship left from Berlin – Janice Wasmanski Baller Feb 22 '19 at 23:24
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There is no correct spelling of your surname.

Sure, there is now. It's Wasmanski. Unless one of your modern-day relatives spell it differently, and they might.

It is possible your current spelling is a change from another established spelling.

It is possible the other spelling is a mistake (also be sure you're looking at the original document and not a transcription).

But it's most likely that there were variant spellings.

People just didn't care about spelling in the past like we do today (at least officially). You got all sorts of versions of a name and, yes, some may have a slightly different pronunciation.

Then there is the issue of different alphabets. If you're converting to English from a non-Roman alphabet (like Cyrillic), different spellings are meaningless; they're just transliteration variants.

But even if you're going from one Roman alphabet to another, there are different letters and also markers on letters. It's not always so straightforward to translate these. Just to make it even more complex, the country and language changed multiple times. German and Hungarian don't pronounce letters the same and they have different markers, for example.

Don't think of it as something you have to know before you can go further. Just assume there will be variations and roll with it. Record every one and cite the source. And keep on searching.

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    Excellent answer. Just to supplement: when making the leap to European records, location is more important than surname spellings, and variant spellings are often regional. That is, both the family history research and most applicable spelling(s) depend on knowing whether the family came from. – bgwiehle Feb 22 '19 at 14:32
  • @bgwiehle Thanks. While you are correct about the regional spellings, I've found multiple spellings for the same family in the same town. Sometimes in the same document! For the same person! Not just post-immigration docs but original docs from the ancestral town, not translated from another language or alphabet. – Cyn says make Monica whole Feb 22 '19 at 15:05
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    Agreed, that's why I used "spelling(s)" in my comment. And people moved around, adapting to local naming conventions or even translating or changing surnames (or more accurately, accepting the new name imposed on them). But those trends can occur over generations. – bgwiehle Feb 22 '19 at 17:06
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In general you should ask native speakers of various languages, the names just sound right or they don't. This name sounds vaguely Polish-German, and there are various spellings possible - the names of your ancestors might have been mangled by someone.

Nowy Tart might be Nowy Targ in today's southern Poland (former region Galicia of the Austrio-Hungarian empire).

There are various resources which might help you in Poland - I'd usually start with cemeteries and PESEL database (database of living Poles).

My first try would be Wasmański, but that doesn't yield much in Google search, which likely means misspelling. Google suggests Waksmański, which indeed yields hits in the PESEL database (as of 2002), also in region of Nowy Targ:

http://nlp.actaforte.pl:8080/Nomina/Ndistr?nazwisko=waksma%C5%84ski

However I'd expect this surname to leave some bodies in cemeteries. When you try Nowy Targ's cemetery website it yields no hits (put waksmański in the "nazwisko" field, untick the "Zaznacz jeśli wprowadziłeś całe nazwisko" checkbox):

http://www.ecmentarz.nowytarg.pl/szukaj

But if you input "wak", there's lots of people with surname "Waksmundzki". It's a plausible spelling (dz would be perceived as a weird c by an English speaker). And it has a lot of living people in that region as well:

http://nlp.actaforte.pl:8080/Nomina/Ndistr?nazwisko=Waksmundzki

It might not be the name you are looking for (see the excellent response above), or even not a right region, but a good start nonetheless.

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