Not Even a ‘Jenious’ Can Trace My Family Name. Help!

Tracing Your Roots: Finding the origins of a unique surname can be tougher than expected, but don’t give up.


One might assume that it would be relatively easy to find records of your Jenious ancestors, but as you can see in the documents you already collected, the name is spelled Jenuious, Jenuis, Juanna and Jeanious. In previous columns at The Root, we have described how to deal with names that are misspelled. Here are a few specific ways that you can overcome these challenges in your own search.

First, as you may already have noticed, most genealogy websites will return a variety of possible responses to your query. For example, just typing in the name “Jenious” into FamilySearch or might give you responses for people with the surnames Jenus, Jennous, Genus and so on. Just because these websites are giving you a variety of responses doesn’t mean that they are always picking up every possible record of your ancestor. That’s why it’s important to type in spelling variations of the name you are researching in the search box.

So how do you know which spelling variations to use in your search? If you already have several documents of your ancestors in which their name is spelled differently, you can start by typing all of those variations of the name into the database that you are using. Also, think of how the name sounds, and type in a phonetic spelling of the surname into the search box. For example, you could try searching for records of Genious, since “j” and “g” have a similar sound. gives you the option of searching using Soundex, a system that was created to group together names with similar sounds. FamilySearch has a more detailed explanation of how the Soundex system works and how it applies to genealogy research.

Searching Vital Records for More Detailed Information

Census records are really useful to get big-picture information about your ancestors, such as the state and year of birth and other details of the family, but sometimes they lack specific details or can be inaccurate. For this reason, it is always helpful to find original birth, marriage and death records (or vital records) whenever possible.

Fortunately, from the 1940 census records that you shared with us, we know that your grandfather (Otto) and both of your great-grandparents (Mack and Marion) were still living in 1940. This means there is a good chance that official records of their deaths exist, since most states had mandatory registration of vital records by the early 20th century.

Because the death record for an individual often lists his or her parents’ names and places of birth, let’s start by searching for a record of Otto Jenious’ death. A basic search of the genealogy sites and FamilySearch did not return any results for the death of Otto, but don’t be discouraged.

Record coverage on most genealogy websites is variable, and just because you don’t find the record you are looking for doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; it may just take a little more searching. Since we know that Otto was living in St. Louis, Mo., in 1940, a good place to start is to check the death records for the state of Missouri. Fortunately, the Missouri State Archives has digitized most of its death records that are over 50 years old.

If the state you are searching in does not have digital records online, the state archives or the department responsible for recording vital records (usually a Registry of Vital Statistics or Department of Health) may have more information on how to obtain the record you need. Also, the Family History Library has many vital records that are microfilmed and available to be borrowed through a nearby Family History Center. You can search its catalog for the state or town in which you are doing research.