Ole Larson's Folks

When I ask a librarian to look up the surname “Myers” in some index or other, and to include alternate spellings, I can almost sense a silent cringe at the other end of the phone line. It is a particularly thorny example of the lack of spelling uniformity in old documents.

The name is fairly common, both in the British Isles and in Germanic regions of Europe. It is thought to come from the same root as our common English term “mayor,” and originally designated a civic official, or the offspring of one.

“Myers,” by far the most common spelling today, is of English origin, as are “Myres,” “Mires,” “Miers,” and others. German speakers never include the “s,” and have their own set of variants. The most common (in 18th-century documents, anyway) seems to be “Meyer,” followed by “Mayer,” “Meier,” “Moyer,” etc., etc.

Of course, when Germans immigrated to America, English influence began to make itself felt, and most of the immigrants with this name eventually became “Myers.” Most, but not nearly all of them. Worse, a single family, or even an individual, is likely to turn up spelled differently in different documents, sometimes within the same document!

For example, my most recent project involved the Frederick County land holdings of Michael Myers (1768-1815). In reviewing a dozen documents, all undoubtedly referencing the same individual, I found “Myers” nine times, “Myer” twice, and “Moyer” once.

In terms of lookups, the ending “s” is of little consequence, as “Myer” and “Myers” will be adjacent to each other in the index. But the other variants require searching under “Ma…,” “Me…” “Mi…” and Mo…,” in addition to “My…” One thing is certain: a name spelled differently is in no way evidence of a different individual.

Madison Myers, the Link
Martha Bennet Myers, Historian