Happy National Grammar Day!

04 Mar 2013

Today is March 4th, and in America, that means National Grammar Day. Founded in 2008, National Grammar Day is a day to celebrate English grammar. Good grammar is extremely important in clearly communicating your thoughts to a reader. Following are some rules to keep in mind when doing your genealogy writing.

1. Apostrophes

Which of these two sentences is grammatically correct:

Although an exact date has not yet been found, evidence shows that John and Martha were married in the 1890’s.

Although an exact date has not yet been found, evidence shows that John and Martha were married in the 1890s.

Apostrophes are use for contractions and to make things posessives. Apostrophes are never used to make something possessive. To make things plural (as in more than one year), one uses an s or es. Therefore, only the second sentence is correct.

2. His/her, or their?

In genealogy, we are often at a lack for a name. Worse, sometimes we have a name, but not a gender. When this happens, we tend to use the words they and their instead of him and his (or her and hers). This is completely incorrect. There are two solutions. The first is to try to rewrite the sentence to not need the pronoun. The other is to write him/her or his/hers. The slash indicates the gender indertminacy, but continues to indicate only a single person.

3. At vs. In

There is an age-old question in the genealogical community. When writing about locations in your family history, is it correct to say that something occurred at a place or in a place? The answer is: both are correct, so you may use either one. You will find that some scholarly journals may use one, the other, or both. Personally, I use at. This way I can say that someone was buried in a cemetery at a place. One should avoid using repetitive words, such as buried in a cemetery in a place.

4. Which comes first: place or date?

Much like the old chicken and egg controversy, genealogists often wonder which comes first in a statement, the date or the place. Once again the answer is either. It is not, however, necessary to use the word on. One can simply say

John Jones married Mary Smith 27 January 1723 at Boston, Massachusetts.


John Jones married Mary Smith at Boston, Massachusetts, 27 January 1723.

While it is not grammatically incorrect to use the word on, it is not necessary, and a great amount of space can be saved by omitting it.

5. Which is it: i.e. or e.g.?

These poor abbreviations are abused more than any other. In most instances, this arises from a lack of understanding of Latin. The abbreviation i.e. stand for the Latin phrase id est. Literally translated this means it is. The other abbreviation, e.g., stands for exempli gratia. The English translation is for example (literally “for the sake of example”). So, when you are clarifying a point, use i.e.:

John had a long career as a prognosticator (i.e., a fortuneteller).

When providing examples, use e.g.:

There are many different words for those who plied the trade of carpenter (e.g., housewright, ship’s carpenter, cabinetmaker, joiner). Each of these practiced a different specialty within the trade.

Also, please note that these terms are not italicized in general use.