When a person cannot read or write, their name may appear in official records with many different spellings not just because of recordkeepers' carelessness but perhaps also because the individual simply doesn't know. Many months ago, I saw a photo shared on Ancestry.com of a Black woman, Prisilla Gridlier, whom the 1920 US Census listed as living with two of her Pruitt grandchildren, following their mother's death in 1919. However, searches turned up no other "Gridlier", and the tree from which the photo originally came had no other clues to that surname.
I set that mystery aside and worked on other families, then came back to it after I noticed in some searches of Independence, Kansas, newspapers at Newspapers.com, references to a Gridiger family that had children contemporary with the Pruitts. A lot of searches later, and I'm now certain that Prisilla Gridlier is actually Pricilla née McFarland (abt 1850-after 1920), who married Alex Harle (abt 1844-abt 1885) in Rusk County, Texas; moved to southeastern Kansas along with other "Exodusters"; and then, after Alex died, united her family in 1886 with that of Washington Gridiger (abt 1852-1911), also recently widowed, eventually bearing two Gridiger children.
Pricilla or Cilla's first name sounds roughly the same through all these permutations, but the surname definitely morphs from Harle -- as her husband Alex Harle appears in the 1867 Texas voter roll and 1870 U.S. Census -- to Hoyle, at least for her son James Hoyle and daughter Lula/Lou Hoyle and from there to many versions of Gridiger.
1870 Paessilla McFarland 1870 US Census
1871 Sylla McFarland Marriage record (transcript); groom’s name Harle
1880 Pricilla Harle 1880 US Census
1885 Ciller Harl 1885 Kansas Census
1885 Sally Hearl 1885 Kansas Census
1886 Cilla Hoyle Marriage record (transcript); groom’s name Gridieur
1886 Cilla Hoyle Newspaper account of marriage; groom’s name Gridicus
1895 Silla or Zilla Gridiger 1895 Kansas Census
1905 Mrs Wash Gridiger Newspaper account of visit to daughter
1910 Sila [??]idager 1910 US Census (first letters of surname illegible)
1911 Gridigar Probate records for Washington Gridiger
1913 Pracilla Grittiger Newspaper account of Wash Gridiger estate partition suit
1913 Priscilla Grittiger Legal notice of Wash Gridiger estate partition sale
1920 Prisilla Gridlier 1920 US Census
1951 Gridiger California death index for son James Hoyle
Sometimes, though, I wonder about the literacy of the census takers themselves, especially those working on the Kansas censuses. Some of their name spellings are very creative! As a practical matter, that means that a researcher may need browse through records page by page, looking for a familiar name rather than relying on the indexing done on the images.
This article is part of a project to document the family trees of a few of the early Black voters in Rusk County in east Texas. Cilla is the link among several of these families: Her father, Orfee McFarland, and first husband, Alex Harle, were among those early registered voters. Her daughter, Alice Harle, married Pink Pruitt, son of Riley Pruitt, another early Rusk County Black voter.
I am tracing the family trees of a few early Black voters from East Texas because in our time, when people can move many times in a lifetime, being registered to vote and exercising the opportunity to vote is perhaps the greatest active tie between people and place.