I’m beginning to think that I do.

When writing a recent blog post, I realized that I referred to my great-great-grandmother in two different ways:

  • Noentjelena Grass
  • Noentje Lena Grass

It was not just a typographical error. There are documents that refer to her name as Noentjelena and others that refer to her name as Noentje Lena. When I’m transcribing a record on her the transcription needs to be true to the record. But when I am discussing her in general (as I was in the blog post) I need to use a consistent spelling of her name. That’s why I think I need a style guide for ancestral names.

And really that style guide needs to be specific to the individual-not to the name in general. I may have another relative with the “name” Noentjelena who consistently uses a form different from my great-great-grandmother. The problem is more pronounced in my low-German families who were immigrants as they have their low-German name and, in some cases, their Anglicized name. Some immigrants may have even used slightly different versions of their first name that were “non-Anglicized.”

It’s not just my low-Germans for whom I have this problem. Sarah (Tinsley) Sledd of Amherst County, Virginia, and Nicholas and Fleming Counties in Kentucky is sometimes style as Sally Sledd. This is a well-known diminutive. However, for consistency, I usually refer to her as Sally. At least I hope that I have.

I always refer to my great-grandmother Neill with a first name of Fannie. Francis was her first name, but it’s used on only one record ever: her birth certificate.

And then there is Elam Blaine. I still haven’t figured out how to refer to him.

But I need to pick one way and stick with it to be used when writing about the individual. Records should be transcribed exactly as they are written—but discussions are best done using one consistent spelling.




2 Responses

  1. A style guide with source citations is a good idea.

    Which Elam Blaine? There’s Elam Blaine (aka Elam Blain/Elem Blain etc) the son of Alam Blain and Catharine Reed. Or the son of the aforesaid Elam and Sarah Cockrell. Or the son of Luke Blain and Mary Turpin. Or the son of Charles Blain and Anna Bell Linnaberry. There may be more. But “Elam Blain” should not refer to the Revolutionary War patriot. I have only ever seen his name spelled “Alam” or “Alaim” in Revolutionary War documents, and his grave marker spells it “Alam.” The only place I’ve seen his name spelled “Elam” is in Perrin’s History of Delaware County and Ohio, which is a derivative source containing secondary information.

    • I added the “Elam Blaine” reference more as an afterthought than anything else and didn’t really have a specific one of the individuals whose name sounds like that in mind. My children descend from the Alam who is the Revolutionary War patriot–through their daughter who married a Wickiser. Off the top of my head I cannot remember how that daughter’s name is spelled (she was named after her mother), so I won’t refer to her by that name here. I’m usually inclined to go with the tombstone unless I’ve got sufficient cause to use something else. . I’m assuming you’ve seen Alam’s Revolutionary War pension file. It’s a wonderful series of documents and is where I was able to document the Blain family’s connection to the Wickisers.

      I’m still thinking about how to format and structure the rationale for each name, but I’ll have to save that for another post.

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