November 30th, 2011

Using Soundex and Miracode

Soundex and Miracode are important tools for locating elusive ancestors in census reports. They originated in the late nineteenth century, and both versions were used to index census schedules between 1880 and 1930. They are similar coding systems which use the first letter of a person’s surname along with three following numbers which represent the next three consonants in the name. Sounds simple doesn’t it? They really are quite easy to use and are a valuable genealogical tool once mastered, but many people are intimidated by the technical sounding names. Hopefully after reading this post, you will not have that same fear, and will recognize the value of these straightforward systems and be able to use them to make your research more proficient, and less time consuming.

Let’s first break down the coding system used in Soundex and Miracode. A four-position system is used to make the recording of surnames in census schedules more efficient. The first position is the first letter of the surname, and the next step is to discard any vowels and record the next three positions – the next three consonants in the name. If the surname you wish to research has more or less consonants remaining than three, don’t worry, the system simply discards any consonants after the third, and replaces non-existent letters with 0. For example, if your surname is Doe, it would be recorded as D00. If it is something like Szczepanski, only the first four letters would be recorded. To further simplify these systems, only 7 numbers in total are used, 0-6. They are designated consonants to represent as follows:

0 – non –existing consonants

1 – B, F, P, and V

2 – C, G, J, K, Q, S, X, Z

3 – D and T

4 – L

5 – M and N

6 – R

As previously mentioned, all of the vowels – A, E, I, O and U are left out of the system along with the consonants H, W, and Y. Let’s break down a few surnames into Soundex and Miracode format to help you become better acquainted with their format.

Using the surname BARTLETT, we would record it as such:

Take the first letter “B”

Discard the vowel “A”

Keep the next three consonants, “R”, “T” and “L”

Keeping the first letter “B”, and then using the designated numbers for the remaining consonants; “R” = 6, “T” = 3 and “L” = 4, we would thus record the name in Soundex or Miracode as: B634

If you feel you have a grasp of the system already, hang on a second, there are a few special exceptions to the rule. Don’t be discouraged however, as they too are fairly straightforward.

Soundex and Miracode Exceptions

The following are exceptions to the general rule of Soundex and Miracode formatting, though rather than an impediment to grasping the system, they help to obtain a clearer separation.

  1. Double Letters in Surnames. The simple rule here is that you treat any double letters in surnames as a single item. Hence with a name like SUTTON, you would only recognize one of the “T”’s.
  2. Consecutive Letters with the Equal Soundex Values. When letters that are next to each other in a name have the same Soundex value, the two letters are considered as one. For example: BUCKLEY would be recorded as B240. The first letter “B” is kept, “C” and “K” have the same value – 2, so only one is recorded, “L” has a value of 4, the “E” is discarded (vowel), and “Y” is discarded and replaced with a 0. Thus BUCKLEY = B240
  3. Prefixes. Names that have prefixes such as DEL, DE, LA, and VAN might have been recorded as part of the surname or not, so they should be checked accordingly. Those having the prefixes MC or MAC have been recorded with the prefix as part of the name.

If you’re still struggling with understanding the system, there are many Soundex calculators available online. A simple Google search for “soundex calculator” will deliver a host of returns, but if you wish to be considered a bona-fide genealogist, try mastering the Soundex and Miracode systems yourself, it will give you a great sense of personal accomplishment as well. Happy ancestor search!