It's not unusual to find an ancestor's name spelled multiple ways over his or her lifetime. Sometimes this is the result of a government official writing down what they thought they heard. In other cases, it may be someone other than your ancestor providing the information, including spelling, for records. In still other cases, your ancestor may have been the reason behind the name variation. If you aren't alert to the possibility of name variations, you could very well miss a record, possibly a key one, because you overlooked it.
The Name Thesaurus is an excellent tool for this purpose. With this free gneealogy resource, you simply search the forename or surname of your ancestor. The results will be displayed in three columns. The first column is the results found using NameX. The second column is the results using Soundex. The final column is the results found using Metaphone.
To understand the results, you need to understand how they are arrived at. With Metaphone, the program removes vowels and maps common consonant variations. While this can result in more matches, it is also less precise.
Soundex transforms words by taking the leading letter and adding up to three digits. This allows it to match names with similar Soundex codes. The problem is that the code may cover several unrelated names in addition to potential variations. It also fails to address names that begin with a different leading letter.
With NameX, name variations are found and weighted. A higher weight indicates a closer match. Unlike Soundex and Metaphone, NameX also takes into account the probable gender of a forename.
If you've hit a brick wall in your genealogy research due to not being able to find certain records, it's definitely worth giving the Name Thesaurus a shot. I searched a few of the surnames in my tree to see how well it worked and managed to come up with several new variations I hadn't considered yet.