"Our Loose Ends" Genealogy Column
by Lynna Kay Shuffield
Houston, Texas

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Printed in the Taylor Daily Press - 9 August 2001

“Are We Talking the Same Language?”

Many times in my genealogy and historical research I have found the trail has taken me to countries where I do not speak the language. In my research for the Milam County War Dead Project, I have found documents in Japanese, Dutch, and German.

Sometimes as a genealogist and computer nerd, I will speak using a technical language and sometimes in my full-time job as a legal assistant, I will speak legalese.

Lastly, jargon and slang will also enter into our vocabulary! What we say and how we pronounce words can be totally different from other parts of the United States or even different countries.

For example, this week I was working on the 1880 Census, I found an 83-year old woman had an occupation listed as “superannuator.” Everyone around me at the library microfilm machines had a different idea of what that word meant. Some thought it was the “enumerator,” the person who was the census taker. No, wrong answer. Some thought it was someone who did fast mathematical calculations. No, wrong answer. According to the Webster’s Dictionary a “superannuator” is someone who is allowed to retire on a pension due to age or infirmity or to discard or set aside as old-fashioned or obsolete.

Be careful the next time you call an older retired pensioner in your family a “superannuator” because they may take you by the ear and wash your mouth out with soap!

Words and their meanings. Do you speak the same language when you are working on your family tree? I'm not just talking about English, Spanish, Chinese and other languages. Speaking the same language means using terminology that is understood by fellow genealogists and/or family members and meaningful to them.

In genealogy, we use terms that have specific meanings to us, but may be confusing to others. Family members we are calling or sending e-mail queries may not understand what is being asked, but don't want to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid. (Or because they just don't care. It's your job to teach them why they should care.)

Make sure you explain to your family members or in the query you submit to use clear language as to what you are seeking. Remember, just be you. Do not try to anticipate how others will interpret what you are asking! Trust me, no matter how careful you are others will always try to make something out of what you say. You can’t please everyone. You can’t be afraid you’ll offend someone, because you will. Hands-down, without question, someone is going to be offended by what you say, what you ask or how you ask your question or by the statements you make.

Some people say I’m blunt that I step on toes or that I should be more accommodating to everyone. That is an impossible task to require of someone. Remember someday you’ll be on the receiving end and temperance and acceptance go along way. Put the shoe on the other foot. Don’t be so judgmental when someone sends you a query or question. Don’t be so fast to be offended.

Lastly, no matter what you do or what you say, someone is not going to understand you or take exception to whatever it is you are doing. Just ignore the criticism and go on down the street.

In this column, I will be glad to highlight and review any family history, genealogy, county history, or similar book, free of charge, if you donate a copy of the book or item. After it has been highlighted and reviewed, on a space available basis, it will be donated to the genealogy section of a library. You will receive an acknowledgment of the donation from the library. Mail item or book to me at the below address.

Lynna Kay Shuffield has written several books related to Texas genealogy and military history. She has spoken before numerous genealogy and veterans groups. Also, is a County Coordinator for the Texas GenWeb Project. Regretfully, she cannot help with individual genealogical research. Please visit the website for this column at: http://www.geocities.com/lks_friday/COLUMN-001.htm or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions for column topics, genealogy or historical society announcements, please contact her at: P. O. Box 16604, Houston, Texas 77222-6604 or e-mail: lksfriday@sbcglobal.net

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This webpage was last created on 29 Aug 2001 and was last revised on ___________ 2001

Copyright © 1999, 2001 Lynna Kay Shuffield - All rights reserved.
P. O. Box 16604
Houston, Texas 77222-6604