News: Looking for females who are in the pure female lines (mother to daughter) from William and Sarah who are willing to do an mtDNA test. Such a person would be descended along an all female line from Mary DEVIN Biggers or Margaret DEVIN Reynolds. The hope is to identify the markers for Sarah SMITH Devin to help identify her parents. Contact the webmaster if interested.

Devin descendant, Stanley Wayne Devin, passed away at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2014. He was the last living child of Ira & Oleta Devin.
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What’s in a Name?

The Devin families of Pittsylvania County Virginia in the latter half of the Eighteenth century (1750-1800) were recorded in documents using many different spellings of their surname. This article is about the Devin surname variations you may encounter.

The most common surname variation out Pittsylvania County Virginia ended up being “Devin.” However, some of branches in Arkansas and Missouri use the variation of “Diven” or “Divin.”

The following surname spelling variations are commonly found for our Devin ancestors:


So what is in the spelling of a name? The short answer is “that sounds about right.” If your hobby is genealogy, you soon discover that most records were written by someone other than the Devin individual. The clerks spelled the name the way it sounded to them or the spelling with which they were familiar. Even today with Devin being a popular given name, I have to correct clerks because they spelled my name “Devine” or (horrors) “Debin” even after I spell it for them, “v as in Victor.” My step-daughter’s surname is “Bennink.” It is a constant issue because it is often written by clerks as “Bennick,” even when you spell or write it for them.

To someone of German heritage, Devin sounds like it is spelled "Dewin." In German, the "W" is pronounced as a "V." Karen V. searched for years looking for her “Cones” ancestors, to eventually find them where the clerk obviously mis-heard it as “Combs.”

Clerks often mis-read the handwriting when they were copying into the record books. "Diver" is a known misspelling because the "n" at the end sometimes looks like an "r." The "I" and "E" are misread because of closed loops on the "e" or a missing dot on the "i." I have seen “Dinen” and “Dewen” where the “v” was not quite perfect for interpretation. In one of my maternal lines, “Dawes” has been copied as “Davies” or even “Danes.” How often have we had difficulty differentiating an old style capital “L” from a capital “S?” It is little wonder we see Susan Nowlin’s nickname as “Lukey” just as often as “Suekey.”

If you do not find a surname in an index, check all possible spelling variations. Today, volunteers are transcribing records. It is through no fault that they may not interpret old, faded, or smeared handwriting correctly. Like the clerks of old, transcribers cannot take the time to verify and double-check every name to be sure it is correct just because the handwriting they are transcribing is a little sloppy. Who would think of Devin being transcribed as "Owen?" It has happened. A transcriber of the 1830 U.S. Census for Linclon County, Tennessee did exactly that. The stylized D used by the census enumerator looked an awful lot like an 'O.' Add in an 'e' and 'v' squeezed together and you cannot fault the transcriber for reading Owen.

You had to compare the enumerator's captial "Os" with his "Ds" to see the slight differences. Even still, it took many months of research to verify that Clayton Owen and William R. Owen in Lincloln County were in truth, Clayton Devin and William R. Devin. I am sure we may even find some transcriptions where Devin is recorded as "Davis." However, I am not going to look for that sort of research headache unless I find absolutely no other choice.

Many of our Devin ancestors were illiterate, so they just accepted whatever was written for them. Clayton Devin of Polk County Missouri (grandson of William Devin, Sr. of Pittsylvania County Virginia) could not write his name. His name was spelled at least four different ways in “official” documents.

However, even being literate does not mean the name was spelled the same way all the time. William Devin, Jr. of Pittsylvania County Virginia apparently could read and write, but his name is recorded eleven different ways in the pay and muster rolls of his infantry company during his three years service in the American Revolutionary War (Diven being the most common spelling followed by Devin). William’s brother, Alexander, was educated and was known to be able to read and write, but you find at least four spelling variations of his surname in records.

While looking for a Devin in any record, use all possible spelling variations. I know we all know this research fact of life, but too often a spelling variation gets over-looked. We may discount a record because we find it for a location outside of known migration routes for our families with a surname variation that is not commonly used for our ancestors. Later research shows the name is for a line that branched further up the family tree.

An example is a family that settled in the Watkins Glen area of New York with the spelling variation of Diven. I would see their name, a lot, as I researched other lines, but always discounted a possible relationship because:

  1. The name was almost always spelled “Diven” with a very few exceptions of “Devin.”
  2. No one from the Virginia Devin lines were known to have gone to New York in the indicated time frame, and most Devin lines of that time were accounted for.

DNA testing comes along, and guess what? The family group in New York and the Devin families from Pittsylvania County Virginia are closely related. The New York Diven families are not descended from William Devin, Sr. of Pittsylvania County, but the DNA matches are close enough to suspect they may be his first cousins if not his nephews and nieces. It is important to know because their family histories might contain the clues to where William Devin came from. The same DNA matches also link to families using the variation, “Devine.” While the genetic match is not as close as the Diven families of New York, our common ancestor is within genealogical history (12-17 generations).

It may take a little more time to check a document or index for every possible spelling variation. It may take even more time to determine that the record represents your ancestor. However, the time is well spent as the evidence falls into place. Our ancestors usually did not just appear or disappear; their name was simply spelled differently in the records.

Owner/SourceDavid D.

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