Sep 14, 2022

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 online web site.

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.

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 Merriman-Webster Dictionary at, 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!”

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