When starting out in family history research I thought a different spelling of a surname meant a different branch of the family.
However it didn't take too much much looking into records to realise that prior to 1900 not too many of the ordinary folk who make up our ancestors could actually read or write. This is borne out by signatures on certificates being his or her "x mark". And yet they all had some schooling. Surely they managed to learn enough to write their own name? My children could manage to write their own first name before they went to school. But then they had me to teach them.
So they went along to register their births, marriages, deaths and give information to the enumerator on census night. The person recording wrote down what they heard. This is fine as long it was something familiar like Wilson. If it was an unusual name or an outlandish name from Ireland or England pronounced by the Irish or English owner then it was open to fanciful interpretation.
My favourite first name is the Cornish Emma being recorded as Emmor!
Next problem is when it comes to the transcription of the handwritten records. Some of the scans are faint and have ink blots over them or are squashed in tiny writing at the bottom of a page. Some of the handwriting is extremely flowery and you need to study the whole page, checking the way familiar words are written to decipher the crucial word you need.
I struggled to find a marriage of one Josiah (aka Joseph) Felvus and Mary Elizabeth Catherall in England using http://www.freebmd.org.uk/ for English and Welsh birth, marriage and death records from September 1837 onwards. I tried all sorts of spelling combinations and wild cards where you type an asterisk for a missing letter eg c*t*r*l. She was from around Chester just over the border in Wales and he was from the Dudley area. Their first child was born in Prescot in Lancashire. I was beginning to think they weren't married at all. Eventually I remembered that Scottish birth records include the parents' date of marriage and their last child was born in Scotland. That gave me a date and a place Wiston which seem to be in Wales but far from Chester. Nothing. Another person researching gave me the info I needed. It was Whiston near Prescot, Lancs and armed with the date and the place I was able to search for simply first names Jos* and Mary and bingo up it popped Caffril, Mary Elizabeth & Felrus, Joseph! No wonder I couldn't find them. Caffril was how Catherall sounded and Felrus would be a transcription error, a V read as an R.
What a great feeling when I found it and was able to send the details to the other less determined researcher!