The Family Name
Swartwout, Swarthout, Swartout or Swartwood
What's in a Name?

If we are all descendents of the same Tomys Swartwout, how did we end up with so many variations of the spelling of the name?   There are a number of factors that could have affected the spelling that your branch happens to be currently using.

A footnote in Chapter 1 of the Swartwout Chronicles provides the following:  Zwarte, also written swarte, a Dutch adjective, meaning black, and agreeing with the neuter substantive woude, also written wout, of the same language, signifying a wood or forest. There is also a Dutch noun, hout, expressing wood or timber as  material. The Dutch words woud and hout are closely allied in meaning to the German terms wold or wald, and holt or holz.

It was the early census takers that really split the family up. They used their phonetic capabilities to write down the name as the head of the family said it. Dutch accents would have their impact on what was heard. And once they wrote it down for one family, they would use the same spelling with any of the related families they  ran across. Of course, the census taker on the other side of the village or county may have written it differently, splitting the family on the spelling.

The first several generations of the family spoke Dutch and their records are recorded in that language. Some of the earliest written records we have in English are found in the 1790 census. In many of the following generations the number of individuals that may have been illiterate would have been higher, and many still would not have been comfortable speaking English. What the census taker wrote down could have been the first time they saw the name in print. It would have been this spelling that people would have used when applying for their Veterans' and Widows Benefits from the Revolutionary War or copied down in the family Bible.

The spelling Swartwout when heard in the Low Dutch Tongue, sounded like Swartwoudt and anyone not familiar with the Low Dutch Tongue, could easily hear it as Swartwood. In the early days of America, many people spelled words as they sounded. So the name Swartwout was often translated and written down as Swartwood. Given the close meanings and the very similar sounds, it's pretty easy to see how a census taker could have readily chosen any one of the four options. A breathy h or w would be easily missed, or the writer may have been attempting to Anglicize the name by changing the word to its English equivalent of wood.

Zwartewoude or Zwartewold, the present tract of land bearing that name, is described as lying in the canton of Holwerd, arrondissement of Leeuwarden, district of Ferwerderadeel, quarter of Oostergoo, in the province of Friesland, bordering northwest on the highway from Hijum to Hallum, northeast on the Hallum canal, southeast on the Hallum meadows, and southwest on the Hallum lake, and having an area of five English acres and certain fractions of an acre.

Some families changed the name for convenience. I have heard a story of one man that was tired of his mail getting mixed up with the Swarthout down the street, so he dropped the H to make it easier for the mailman! And I have now communicated with an individual who changed her name from Swartwout to the literal translation of Blackwood!

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