Genealogy’s Often-Misspelled Words

You might want to save this article someplace. I have no idea why, but many of the words used in researching your family tree are difficult to spell. I constantly see spelling errors in messages posted on various genealogy web sites. When someone misspells a word, it feels like they are shouting, “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Here are a few words to memorize:

Genealogy – No, it is not spelled “geneology” nor is it spelled in the manner I often see: “geneaology.” That last word looks to me as if someone thought, “Just throw all the letters in there and hope that something sticks.” For some reason, many newspaper reporters and their editors do not know how to spell this word. Don’t they have spell checkers?

Cemetery – The letter “a” does not appear anywhere in the word “cemetery.” You can remember the spelling by an old saying, “We go to the cemetery with E’s.” (ease)

Ancestor – This simple word is often spelled “ancester,” “ansester,” or “ansestor.”

Ancestry – This word is often misspelled “ancestory.” I often see errors when someone is referring to the ancestry.com online web site as “ancestory.com.”

History – More than once I have seen someone refer to their “family histroy” or “family histry.”

Descent – Perhaps not as common, but I have seen this spelled as “decent,” which sounds almost the same.

Descendant – it often appears as descendent, descentent and many others.

Grantor versus Grantee – In land records, the grantor is the one who sells or gives (grants) the land while the grantee is the one who receives.

Copyright – Then there is Copyright versus Copywrite.  Just remember that it is always right to copy, not write to copy.

Progenitor – I can never remember how to spell this word. I simply try to avoid it when I am writing!

Two other words often are confused: immigrant and emigrant. Another variation is immigration versus emigration. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary at http://www.merriam-webster.com, an emigrant is “a person who leaves a country or region to live in another one” while an immigrant is “a person who comes to a country to live there.” To repeat, an emigrant leaves while an immigrant arrives.

The late Dick Pence was quite a storyteller, and once he told of an online genealogy article he wrote in which he poked fun at common spelling errors by genealogists. He deliberately misspelled ten different words in the article, including most of the words I listed above. In the text of the article, he never mentioned that the article was a tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor.

Dick soon received an email message from an irate lady who apparently didn’t realize it was a deliberate attempt at humor. She scolded him for his spelling errors, writing, “Mr. Pence, you should be ashamed of yourself. I am an English teacher and I want to tell you that I found seven spelling errors in your article!”

30 Comments

Do you or anyone have Dick Pence’s misspelled article? Carl

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But you should also have noted that descendent is an acceptable alternate spelling for descendant as confirmed in my Merriam Webster Dictionary.

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    According to an English (the Oxford English Dictionary) dictionary as opposed to an American one they actually have slightly different meanings, descendant being descended from a particular ancestor, and descendent simply descending from an ancestor.

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    @Tony Knight …. descendent is a perfectly valid alternate spelling of descendant, as James Castellan notes. In fact descendent would be the expected spelling except that the French spelling descendant was adopted into English.

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ahnentafel, cavalry, …..

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    Yes, that second one is fun! Have heard plenty of references to things like the “8th Ohio Calvary” or “Cavalry Baptist Church.” But it trips me up too sometimes…it’s a bit of a tongue-twister and I have to think before I write or say either word.

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Thanks, you are so right with these words! At least I now have a quick reference for them! 🙂

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My favorite all-purpose rule of spelling, vocabulary, punctuation and grammar: “When in doubt, avoid the issue.” I confess to having trouble deciding between emigrant / emigration and immigrant / immigration, because every immigrant was also an emigrant, depending upon your point of view in the context of a sentence, so I avoid the issue by saying that the person “moved” or “relocated” from point a to point b.

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    I use emigrant or immigrant depending on what the source of the information is. For example, if it is a shipping record outgoing from say the UK then I use emigrant, but if it is a shipping record incoming to say Melbourne Australia then I use immigrant. If I have both of those records then I have an emigrating event and an immigrating event.

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    I remember the emigrant vs immigrant spelling by: emigrant “E”xits the country and an immigrant comes “I”n to the country.

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You left out “sir name” which I’ve seen used for surname.

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Some folks are confused about what a descendant is. I’ve seen examples of people calling their ancestor a descendant and then not spelling descendant correctly. Grrrrrr!

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I was always taught that immigrant was moving in as it starts with “i” and emigrant was moving out as in thinking of the leave. Immigrant = coming in to someplace, emigrant is leaving someplace

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“Emigrant” and “immigrant” are words worthy of an entire article, because they are used quite interchangeably. If your ancestors left (emigrated from) France, were they emigrants until they reached New York City, at which time they became immigrants?

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Easy way to work out emigrant vs immigrant. E is for EXITING a country and I is for INCOMING to a country. While I’m at it M is for MOVING as in MIGRANT.

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I sometimes see ancestors used when it should be descendants (or vice versa), usually in articles written in the popular press.

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I learned to spell genealogy when libraries went to computer card catalogues. No just getting close to finding the subject cards. You had to spell words correctly to find the information. I was in Kansas City at the time and can still remember trying to remember it correctly, so I could do the searches.

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Use “emigrate” with the preposition “from” and “immigrate” with the preposition “to.” So one emigrates from, and immigrates to.

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    I have no trouble remembering which is which. My problem is which to choose when using both “to” and “from” in the same sentence. I always have to think about it. From the point of view of the reader and in the context of the story I’m trying to tell, which end of the journey is more important: the place of origin, or the destination?

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interment – not internment
two very different things!

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Sometimes, I write the true words, but that auto correct comes in and changes the words! If you do not review what you wrote, this could happen to you.

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    You have reminded me of the spell-check program at one company I worked for, which used to automatically substitute “cannabis” for the woman’s name “Candace.” This became a serious problem when the company hired a spokesperson named Candace. I got so very tired of spell-checking spell-check, that I went back to manually proof-reading my work, even though I’m probably the world’s worst proof-reader.

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    But it is possible to turn off “auto correct.” Cheeky thing. It was the first thing to go when I got my latest desktop.

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Good informative. How about an article on punctuation. It seems that more than half of the population doesn’t know how to use quotation marks properly and puts the period, etc. after the quotation mark instead of inside.

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When I first started out using the computer for genealogy DOS wouldn’t let me use the whole name “genealogy” because it contained too many characters. So I had to improvise and created a file called genelogy, and used it for many years. Now I can never remember how to spell it correctly.

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I can spell it ok, but I pronounce it GENE eology, while as far as I can tell, the big boys say JEN eology. Which is right? I’ll probably stick with GENE as my friends do.

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I see “cemetary” rather often.

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bury or buried is often misspelled.

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For Robert Kirk:
If you pronounce it either way you have it spelled, NEITHER is correct.
The word is spelled “genealogy” and is pronounced jene e allo gee or jen e allo gee (with a sort of soft a), whichever way you like.
If you pronounce it as if is as “ollogee”, those hearing you will think it must be spelled with an “o”.
A couple of dictionaries I checked preferred Jene, with Jen as a second choice.

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