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Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Geneology," and Other Crimes Against Genealogy

I once received an email about a family history I had posted online, the purpose of which was to inform me that I had misspelled geneology. The message was written in a cordial tone, so I resisted the urge to respond. I rarely welcome unsolicited advice, especially when it's incorrect.

Anyone can misspell a word, and "genealogy" is a doozy. We all had to learn the correct spelling as newbies, and we all should forgive the beginner who mistakenly spells the word like it sounds (a foolish mistake in the English language). But what of those who profess to know what they're talking about, and yet persist in the mistake?

A search in Google for "geneology" turns up 748,000 results. Many of these are intentional misspellings—I myself have placed "geneology" among the hidden keywords of a website, knowing that people will be searching for it. The sponsored ads to the right of the Google search results belong to companies who have paid cash for the term "geneology." After all, even poor spellers might subscribe to Ancestry.com.

Some of the top search results, though, belong to websites that are not targeting the orthographically impaired. Take, for example, Genealogylinks.net, a site which claims to have been in service since 1997. The titlebar of the main page reads "Over 30,000 Genealogy Links; geneology for US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ" [emphasis added]. Dozens of pages within the website repeat the misspelling. Another website, Genealogy-Geneology.net, attempts to turn the mistake into an acceptable, alternate spelling.

There are worse crimes against genealogy—plagiarism, failure to cite sources, dependence on secondary or tertiary sources. But writing "geneology" on a message board or personal website will broadcast to the world that you are inexperienced. Nobody wants that—even if it's true.

Kimberly Powell suggests a mnemonic device:

Genealogists
Evidently
Needing
Endless
Ancestors
Look
Obsessively in
Grave
Yards
Mark Howell's device is similar:
Genealogists
Examine
Needed
Evidence
At
Lots
Of
Grave
Yards
Or, you can try my trick. Learn the correct spelling.

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