Although the concept of a dictionary goes back into antiquity, the idea that words should be spelled a certain way evolved only slowly. The earliest English language dictionaries were essentially word lists, sometimes with other language equivalents. The earliest dictionary is usually attributed to John of Galand (Johannes de Garlandia). His Dictionarius was published in about 1200. But the first dictionary to use alphabetical order wasn't published until 400 years later in 1604. It was the
Table Alphabeticall (shown above) by Robert Cawdrey.
I selected this example to illustrate the fact that focusing on the "correct" spelling of any word, including the names of our ancestors, ignores the historical reality: English and all other languages were and are in state of constant flux. If you would like to see an interesting analysis of this issue as reflected in the 1790 U.S. Census records, see the following:
American Council of Learned Societies. Surnames in the United States Census of 1790: An Analysis of National Origins of the Population. Baltimore, MD: Clearfield Co, 1990.See also:
Matheson, Robert E. Special Report on Surnames in Ireland: [Together with] Varieties and Synonymes of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1988.See Wikipedia: Surname and Wikipedia: Family name.
A good example of the process of the adoption of specific surnames comes from Denmark. Here is a summary of the process from Wikipedia:
The first naming act in Denmark was issued in 1526 and made heritable names compulsory for nobility. Other higher class people took heritable surnames during the following centuries, clergy often Latinized names (e.g. Pontoppidan made from Broby) and artisans often Germanized names. Naming acts applying to all citizens were issued 1771 (for the Duchy of Schleswig only) and in 1828. The rural population only reluctantly gave up the traditional primary patronyms. Several naming acts replaced the first; in 1856, 1904, 1961, 1981, 2005. The result of the first act was that most people took a patronymic surname as their heritable family name, with the overwhelming dominance of a few surnames as a consequence. Later acts have attempted to motivate people to change to surnames that would allow safer identification of individuals.Slavish insistence on a particular spelling of any name from the historical past (or even the present) is one of the most persistent obstacles to genealogical research. I have instances in my own family where my ancestor's surname was spelled one way before immigration. another way after immigration, changed back to the original spelling by one or more of the immigrant's descendants and then changed back to the changed form by the next generation.
Many times, in examining old documents, you will find the same person's name spelled in more than one or two different ways. One of the most famous examples of these variations is the name of William Shakespeare. Here is a quote from Wikipedia: Spelling of Shakespeare's name as an example:
The spelling of William Shakespeare's name has varied over time. It was not consistently spelled any single way during his lifetime, in manuscript or in printed form. After his death the name was spelled variously by editors of his work and the spelling was not fixed until well into the 20th century.All I can say further is you need a very liberal attitude when looking for people by name.