How Careful Were they With Place Names?

Accurate spelling of place names is one way I quickly determine if the compiler of genealogical information (online tree, book, etc.) pays attention to details. Of course, the occasional typo is one thing (which can easily be avoided in most programs by the way), but if the database I find has some of these spellings:

  • Hartford County, Maryland–it is Harford.
  • Amhurst County, Virginia–it is Amherst
  • Schuler County, Illinois–it is Schuyler

then I am a little worried about the rest of the data. Call me persnickity, but genealogy is about details. If place names that are established and standard (as these are) are not spelled correctly, how certain can I be that names, dates, and relationships are entered in the way they should be? We should always double check any compiled information–correct spellings don’t mean that the data is correct. It just means that the compiler checked the spelling. From a probability standpoint, trees with spelling errors are more prone to have other errors. It’s simply about the numbers and if I have many compilations on a family to use as a starting point, I’ll start with one that’s not full of spelling errors.

It’s possible that someone simply chose the wrong spelling once and never noticed it–that happens. I also don’t write people nasty notes to correct their spelling. I use the correct one in any communication and leave it at that.

I’m not talking about someone trying to read the name of a German town on a nearly illegible death certificate–that’s something different altogether.