I am in Washington, D.C. until nearly the end of July doing research in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, for my master's thesis on marriage in Second Spanish Period St. Augustine, Florida (1784-1821). These documents pose a variety of problems, one of which can get downright amusing: the various spellings of names.
I just transcribed one record, the petition of a soldier named Francisco Macharely and Juana Salom. Well, that's how their names appear on the cover page of the file.
His name is also spelled Macarely, Machareli, and Bacharely.
The awful thing here is, he did not write or sign any of the documents in the file. One of the things I am attempting to do in my research on St. Augustine in this period is to determine just what people's names were, and what spelling did they themselves prefer.
This is made difficult, if not impossible, by the fact that a number of inhabitants of the town were illiterate. Or, in this case, by the complete absence of any input by the individual himself. So, with four choices -- none of which may have been how the name was actually spelled -- there is not much chance I can come to a conclusion in this case. For all I know, he may have been an Italian, and the proper spelling -- as close as there ever was in those days, at any rate -- may have been Macciarelli.
But I doubt I will ever know.
Even Juana's name appears in two different spellings: Salom and Soloma. Testimony in the file is given by her brother, Juan Salom -- who, according to the Spanish marriage law, the Real Pragmática de Casamiento, had to give his consent to the marriage. In that document, Juan's sister's last name is spelled as Salom. Salom is the generally accepted spelling among historians who write about St. Augustine during this time.
However, we really cannot know for sure if this was the spelling. Juan Salom was illiterate, as was his sister Juana.
The task of determining what is in a name in this time and place is made easier by the literate, who signed their own names to documents. Most of the time it helps, anyway. But not always.
For instance, there is one individual who was associated with the Minorcan population of St. Augustine, who rose to some prominence. His name is represented in Spanish documents as Domingo Martinely or Martinoly. However, he was literate -- at least, he could sign his name. He was Italian, and he signed his name as Domenico Martinelli.
The problem is when someone was inconsistent in signing his name. There is another marriage document in which one man's name is spelled three different ways: Juan Genopoly, or Gianopoly, or Yoannoply. He signed his name Juan Gianopoly. On one document. On another, he signed it as Giovanni Gianopoly.
So sometimes you just have to choose one!