RBOH: How do you spell “Bonniwell”?

Another short post in our occasional series of Random Bits of History.

On my way to doing more research on Henry M. Clark’s possible service with the Union army, circa 1863-65, I stopped to re-check some essential resources. One of these is the National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database. This is a very useful and handy resource when searching for information on individual soldiers and the histories of the units in which they served.

I thought I’d recheck the service info of some other Mequon-born or -related soldiers, including young Evander B. Bonniwell. As mentioned in earlier posts, Evander Bonniwell (1847-1930), was the son of Clark House neighbors James and Phebe (Capes) Bonniwell. Evander served as a bugler, rank of private, Company I, 2nd Regiment, Wisconsin Cavalry. He enlisted at age 14, and served for four years as company bugler.

[Unidentified soldier in Union uniform with bugle], photographer unknown, United States, c. 1861-1865, Library of Congress. Note: this is not a photograph of Evander B. Bonniwell, but of another young, unknown, Union Army bugler from Evander Bonniwell’s era.

Always check variant spellings

It’s no secret that 19th-century spelling of words and proper names could be wildly variable. Depending on the source and circumstances, the spelling of names—especially less-common names—could vary considerably. “Bonniwell” is such a name. For example? Here is how Evander B. Bonniwell’s surname is found in the various muster rolls and other Civil War records used to compile the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database1. In alphabetical order:

  • Boniwell
  • Bonnewell
  • Bonniwell (the correct, standard spelling)
  • Bonniwelle
  • Bonnwell and, finally,
  • Bonowell

Interestingly, all of these records seem to have had no problem spelling “Evander” consistently and correctly. Go figure.

The moral of the story?

When looking for historic records, always go beyond the “correct” or conventional spelling. Try all kinds of variants. And learn to use whichever wildcard symbols your database prefers. On several of my go-to databases, the ? symbol indicates “substitute any one letter or character.” So a search for Anders?n will yield useful hits for Anderson and Andersen, among others.

Another essential wildcard is the asterisk * , which substitutes for either zero, one, or several characters in a searched word. I use this all the time. For example, when looking for Bonniwell, I always use wildcard variants like Bon*l or Bon*ll, which will get lots of potentially useful results, including the correct spelling—and most-common misspellings—of Bonniwell.

And don’t forget to try the “final-e” variant. Looking for Clark or Turck, for example? Be sure to try Clarke and Turcke. Sometimes the original source actually spelled the name with a final e. And sometimes, the person writing Clark or Turck just added a little curlicue as a flourish at the end of the final cursive k and the modern indexer thought the word ended in “ke.” This happens more than you might think.

Happy searching!



  1. Evander B. Bonniwell’s muster roll cards (in the various spellings listed above) are found in the Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Wisconsin. These index cards are held by the National Archives and Records Administration, and were microfilmed by NARA and published as NARA M559. Evander’s index cards are found on roll 3 of NARA M559. The images can be accessed in various ways, including via Fold3.com (pay site).

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