How to use the Soundex coding system

SoundexBy Barry J. Ewell

I have found the Soundex to be very helpful in searching for names that sound alike such as Ewell and Yule or Steward and Stuart but are spelled differently.  It uses a numbering system for letters which allows the name to be indexed by the way it sounds and not the way it is spelled.

I have used Soundex for parts of the 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 United States federal censuses.  Soundex codes were used as follows in these Federal Census years:

  • 1880 census. All states but only for the households with children age ten and under.
  • 1890 census. No records exist with Soundex code because most of the census was lost by fire.
  • 1900 census.  All states are included.
  • 1910 census. Used the Mira code, twenty-one states were included: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia
  • 1920 census. All states are included.
  • 1930 census. Ten states were included: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  It was also partially done for the states of Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Soudex code is defined by a number and three numbers, such as R-251 for Rosenbaum.

Step 1 – Write the surname to be coded.  On line 1, write the surname to be coded.  For example:
Soundex Ex 1
Step 2 – Write the first letter. On line 2 write the first letter of the surname. For example:
Soundex Ex 2Step 3 – Slash through or highlight letters not be coded. On line 1, disregarding the first letter, slash through or highlight the remaining letters: A, E, I, O, U, W, Y, H
Soundex Ex 3Step 4 – Write number found in Soundex coding guide. On line 2 write the numbers found on the Soundex coding guide for the first three remaining letters.  Add zeros to any empty boxes.  Disregard any additional letters

Soundex Ex 4Key letters and equivalents

  •  1 – b, p, f, v
  •  2 – c, s, k, g, j, q, x, z
  •  3 – d, t
  •  4 – l
  •  5 – m, n
  • 6 – r
  • Note: The letters A, E, I, O, U, Y, W, and H are not coded. The first letter of the surname is not coded.

Special rules and instructions for Soundex coding
When last name does not have three consonants. If there are not three consonants following the initial letter, you should insert 0 to complete the three numbers. For example, Lee would be coded as L-000

Names with Prefixes. If the surname has a prefix, such as van, Von, De, Di, or Le, you are to code it both with and without the prefix because it might be listed under either code. The surname vanDevanter, for example, could be V-531 or D-153.

  • Mc and Mac are not considered prefixes.

Names with Double Letters. If the surname has any double letters, treat them as  one letter. Thus, in the surname Merry, the second R should be crossed out; in the surname Ewell, the second L should be crossed out.

Names with Side-by-Side Letters.  When a surname different letters that are side by side and have the same number on the Soundex coding guide; for example, PF in Pfister (1 is the number for both P and F); CKS in Jackson (2 is the number for C, K, and S). These letters should be treated as one letter. Thus in the name Pfister, F should be crossed out; in the name Jackson, K and S should be crossed out.

Native American and Asian Names. Sometimes a phonetically spelled Native American or Asian name is coded as if it were one continuous name. If a distinguishable surname was given, the name may have been coded in the normal manner. For example, Dances with Wolves might have been coded as Dances (D-522) or as Wolves (W-412), or the name Shinka-Wa-Sa may have been coded as Shinka (S-520) or Sa (S-000). If Soundex cards do not yield expected results, researchers should consider other surname spellings or variations on coding names.

Female religious figures. Nuns or other female religious figures with names such as Sister Veronica may have been members of households or heads of households or institutions where a child or children age 10 or under resided. Because many of these religious figures do not use a surname, the Soundexes frequently use the code S-236, for Sister, whether or not a surname exists.

Examples of Soundex coding
The following are examples of how the Soundex coding rules would be applied to various surnames

  • Allricht  A462
  • Eberhard  E166
  • Hanselmann  H524
  • Heimbach  H512
  • Kavanagh  K152
  • Lind  L530
  • Lukaschowsky  L222
  • McDonnell  M235
  • McGee  M200
  • O’Brien  O165
  • Oppenheimer  O155
  • Riedemanas  R355
  • Schafer  S160
  • Shaeffer  S160
  •  Zita  Z300
  • Zitzmeinn  Z32

Information found on Soundex cards
The Soundex card will only provide a summary of the information that is found in the actual census.  The file cards included the following information:

  • Name
  • Race
  • Month and year of birth
  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Place of residence by state and county
  • Civil division
  • Whereappropriate for urban dwellers
    • City name
    • House number
    • Street name
    • Volume number, enumeration district number, and page and line numbers of the original schedules from which the information was taken.

Three types of cards were prepared:

  • Household cards
  • Individual cards
  • Cards for institutions, military posts, naval stations, and U.S. flag vessels

Household cards. Household cards show the name of the head of the household with the following information about the individual

  • Race
  • Month and year of birth
  • Age
  • Birthplace
  • Citizenship status if foreign born
  • Street address may be included.

The card will then list each member of the household by name and then show the

  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Month and year of birth
  • Age
  • Birthplace
  • Citizenship status if foreign born

Individual cards. If there were individuals living in the home that were not part of the immediate family, an individual card was prepared for that person. Individual cards were prepared for persons

  • Living alone
  • Persons living with families who were not immediate members of the family
  • Members of an immediate family but who had different surnames
  • Persons in hotels
  • Boarding and rooming houses
  • Institutions

For persons on military posts and naval ships and at naval stations; and persons enumerated on U.S. flag vessels in all U.S. ports on the first day of the census only. These cards give the

  • Individual’s name
  • Month and year of birth
  • Age
  • Birthplace
  • Citizenship status
  • Address
  • Name of person or institution with whom enumerated
  • Any relationship to that person or institution

Cards for institutions, military posts, naval stations, and U.S. flag vessels. Institution, military post, naval station, and U.S. flag vessel cards show only the

  • Address of the establishment
  • Number of persons enumerated
  • Note: Names of the individual persons are not listed

Card arrangement. You will find the cards arranged by state or territory.  The following are samples of Soundex cards:

Soundex 2Soundex 3 Soundex 1Abbreviations and terms on Soundex cards
Following is a guide to the abbreviations and terms used in Soundex cards:

  • A – Aunt
  • Ad – Adopted
  • AdCl – Adopted child
  • AdD – Adopted daughter
  • AdGcl – Adopted grandchild
  • AdM – Adopted mother
  • AdS – Adopted son
  • Al – Aunt-in-law
  • Ap – Apprentice
  • Asst – Assistant
  • At – Attendant
  • B – Brother
  • Bar – Bartender
  • BBoy – Bound boy
  • BGirl – Bound girl
  • Bl – Brother-in-law
  • Bo – Boarder
  • Boy – Boy
  • Bu – Butler
  • C – Cousin
  • Cap – Captain
  • Cha – Chamber Maid
  • Cil – Cousin-in-law
  • Cl – Child
  • Coa – Coachman
  • Com – Companion
  • Cook – Cook
  • D – Daughter
  • Dl – Daughter-in-law
  • Dla – Day laborer
  • Dom – Domestic
  • Dw – Dish washer
  • Emp – Employee
  • En – Engineer
  • F – Father
  • FaH – Farm hand
  • FaL – Farm laborer
  • FaW – Farm worker
  • FB – Foster brother
  • FF – Foster father
  • Fi – Fireman
  • First C .. First cousin
  • FL – Father-in-law
  • FM – Foster mother
  • FoB – Foster brother
  • FoS – Foster son
  • FoSi – Foster sister
  • GA – Great aunt
  • Gcl – Grandchild
  • GD – Granddaughter
  • GF – Grandfather
  • GGF – Great-grandfather
  • GGGF – Great-great-grandfather
  • GGGM – Great-great-grandmother
  • GGM – Great-grandmother
  • GM – Grandmother
  • Gml – Grandmother-in-law
  • GN – Grand or great nephew
  • GNi – Grand or great niece
  • Go – Governess
  • God Cl – God child
  • GS – Grandson
  • Gsl – Grand son-in-law
  • GU – Great uncle
  • Gua – Guardian
  • Guest – Guest
  • Hb – Half brother
  • Hbl – Half brother-in-law
  • He – Herder
  • Help – Help
  • H.Gi – Hired girl
  • Hh – Hired hand
  • Hk – Housekeeper
  • Hlg – Hireling
  • Hm – Hired man
  • HMaid – Housemaid
  • HSi – Half sister
  • HSil – Half sister-in-law
  • Husband – Husband
  • Hw – Houseworker
  • I – Inmate
  • L – Lodger
  • La – Laborer
  • Lau – Launderer
  • M – Mother
  • Maid – Maid
  • Man – Manager
  • Mat – Matron
  • ML – Mother-in-law
  • N – Nephew
  • Ni – Niece
  • Nil – Niece-in-law
  • Nl – Nephew-in-law
  • Nu – Nurse
  • O – Officer
  • P – Patient
  • Pa – Partner
  • Ph – Physician
  • Por – Porter
  • Pr – Prisoner
  • Pri – Principal
  • Prv – Private
  • Pu – Pupil
  • R – Roomer
  • S – Son
  • Sa – Sailor
  • Sal – Saleslady
  • Sb – Stepbrother
  • Sbl – Step brother-in-law
  • Scl – Step child
  • Sd – Stepdaugther
  • Sdl – Step daughter-in-law
  • Se – Servant
  • Se.Cl – Servant’s child
  • Sf – Stepfather
  • Sfl – Step father-in-law
  • Sgd – Step granddaughter
  • Sgs – Step grandson
  • Si – Sister
  • Sl – Son-in-law
  • Sm –  Stepmother
  • Sml – Step mother-in-law
  • Ss – Stepson
  • Ssi – Stepsister
  • Ssil – Step sister-in-law
  • Ssl – Step son-in-law
  • Su – Superintendent
  • Ten – Tenant
  • U – Uncle
  • Ul – Uncle-in-law
  • Vi – Visitor
  • W – Wife
  • Wa – Warden
  • Wai – Waitress
  • Ward – Ward
  • Wkm – Workman
  • Wt – Waiter

Note:  This article was adapted from the articles published by the National Archives entitled related to the Soundex coding system.

Related posts

Join Genealogy by Barry Newsletter