Monday, October 04, 2010

Confessions of a Nitpicker, Oct 4

The bond that links
your true family
is not one of blood,
but of respect and joy
in each other's life.
~Richard Bach

Hello Shepard Family and Friends,

I sometimes find myself being a nitpicker. Is that a trait commonly found in our family? Is there something in our genes that I can blame it on?

In my small part of our larger family (see picture of our son Nathan and his wife Chenda), we have a tendency to relish those times when one of us misspeaks, which is a form of nitpicking. We point out the mistake with a certain glee. For example: "Aha! You just said 'soot', when you meant to say 'shoot'!" 

Truth be told, however, with a daughter-in-law whose first language is not English, we have toned down the gleefulness a bit, thereby showing a little compassion. But the proclivity to nitpick is clearly still there and rears its ugly head on occasion.

That explains why a particular blog caught my attention one morning not long ago. It has the catchy name "Throw Grammar From the Train - Notes From a Recovering Nitpicker." (You can find the link to that blog on the front page of this blog, down the right hand column a ways where several links are listed.) The nitpicker who wittily writes that blog is focused on minor grammatical errors that she finds irksome. If you too are a nitpicker, you will enjoy reading it.

The nitpicker's life is not easy for someone who does family research. Annoying misspellings of family names are very common, even by those who should know better.

The first time I came across this problem (at least for a nitpicker it's a problem) was when I researched my GGgrandfather William Shepard (1835-1862) (see the picture on the left of his grandson and namesake, in about 1935). In the county history book of Wabash, Indiana the elder William is listed among the Civil War Veterans with his name misspelled William "Sheppard". In Evansville, Indiana where he is buried, the cemetery office has his name as William "Shephard". If you go to his headstone in that very same cemetery, you will find his name spelled William "Shepard" (correct at last!). Misspellings like that are among my pet peeves.

The other day I got an email from cousin Becky Davis of Bartlesville, OK. She asked me about the spelling of one of our Davis ancestors, born about 1755. Becky: "Steve, do you know the correct spelling of 'Maramaduke' Davis? [with 3 a's] Or is it 'Marmaduke' Davis?" [with 2 a's]  

The middle man in the 1925 picture on the right is Marmaduke's Ggrandson Charles E. Davis, next to his sons James Brooks and John.

Becky's email continued: My niece is progressing nicely on the history book of our family and we need to be sure the names are spelled correctly. The first spelling is what I have in my notes, but it doesn't sound right."

Becky is a nitpicker after my own heart. I don't know about Nancy Bushong, the niece Becky referred to. But if she has asked for help in spell checking her book, there must be some nitpickiness in her.

Like any good nitpicker, after reading Becky's email, I felt the need to find the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God. So I went immediately to and searched for GGGGGG grandpappy Davis. I found 18 different historical references to him. 15 of those references have his name spelled "Marmaduke" (just like the cartoon dog). But there were 3 misspellings, none of which matched Becky's misspelling:

-Marmiduke Davis (in the 1830 U.S. Census)
-Mrmeduke Davies (in the 1840 U.S. Census; last name also misspelled!)
-Marmaduk Davis (in the 1850 U.S. Census)

How is one suppose to do credible family research when Census takers make mistakes like that!? It's enough to make a grown nitpicker cry.

Okay, okay, maybe I am taking this thing a little too far. Even I must confess that, when all is said and done, there is more to family life than getting the details exactly right. The greatest meaning lies not in right spelling, pronunciation or grammar, but in the right spirit. The quote at the top of this post suggests as much.

But surely spelling counts for something, doesn't it?
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