A. Our ancestors weren’t as careful about the niceties of spelling as we are today, and even varied the spelling of their own names. Soundex is one system for overcoming such hurdles. Created for indexing the 1880 US census, Soundex combines commonly confused consonants, such as B, P, F and V.
Soundex doesn’t account for all possible spelling variations, but you can use it to help come up with “misspellings” to try in your search. Dickinson ancestors, for example, might be found as Dickens, Dickins and Dickenson (all Soundex code D252) But think outside the Soundex box and try other variations, too, such as Dickerson (D262) and Dixon (D250).
On websites that allow the use of wildcards, such as Ancestry.com, you can expand your search using characters such as ? (replaces a single character) and * (represents any number of characters, including zero).
From the October/November 2013 Family Tree Magazine