Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stole This From a Reliable Source

Just the other day—and just to make sure—someone checked in to say, “You know how to pronounce that, don’t you?” It was fellow blogger Wendy, who stops by to compare D.A.R. notes occasionally. We share an ancestral Virginia in our databases. The main difference between us is that she is still there, while my family left the plantation, oh, say, two hundred years ago.

The pronunciation Wendy was concerned about had to do with a family surname: Taliaferro. Admittedly, when I first heard my mother mention that name during my childhood attempts at drilling her for genealogical contraband (you know, all those family secrets), I remembered the spelling, not the phonetics. That was probably a good thing; it was the surname Taliaferro that I first researched as a newbie who got that early chance to go to one of those big league genealogy libraries. If I had gone by what I would have heard, I never would have found that book with my grandmother’s genealogy printed in it.

As it turns out—and I can thank my Genealogy Angel regarding the education on this matter—what your eyes perceive as “Taliaferro,” your colonial Virginian ears would have received as “Tolliver.”

Go figure.

Believe me, I certainly doubted it the first time I heard it.

Perhaps it was all in the plan of some Genealogical Big Picture for this to happen on my behalf, but shortly after I was educated by The Educated Genealogist, this gospel truth was confirmed by an online messenger. Of course, to which online resource the credit is owed, I cannot say at this point, thanks to an (ahem) overtaxed memory system.

However, in penance for my lack of giving credit where credit is due, I yesterday undertook to retrace my digital steps, and discovered that there was not just one resource to which I owe credit, but two. I have come to the conclusion that, since the race to the finish line for these two online resources was so close, and since I cannot remember which one I stumbled upon first, I need to doubly give credit to whom credit is due.

Sometime during that first cup of coffee on the morning of October first, I noticed a mention about the pronunciation of colonial Virginian names—and then another mention. Both were on Facebook pages—the one belonging to someone we mostly know as Ancestry Anne, the other the domain of the person behind DearMYRTLE. (Now that I look back on the history, the Finding Forgotten Stories Facebook page credited the discovery to DearMYRTLE's Facebook entry. See, I still needed more coffee.)

What each of these genealogy bloggers was referring to was a post on the blog. Quite timely for my case, the title sure caught my eye: “How Did They Say That Name in Colonial Virginia?”

Yeah. That’s what I wanted to know.

In that blog, Nathan Murphy posted a short explanation on September 27 about a piece he had found in an 1895 issue of The William and Mary Quarterly explaining the difference between the spelling and the saying of over one hundred thirty surnames, Virginia style. Handily, to illustrate the point, Mr. Murphy included a chart detailing the variances. He wryly added, “No wonder clerks had problems spelling people’s names!”

No wonder, indeed.

Above right: Adelaide Labille-Guiard, "Portrait of a Woman," oil on canvas, circa 1787; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Well, this post woke me up! Here are 2 more for you: Merica and Mowbray. Would you believe "Murky" and "Moo-berry"??? I think the latter is probably restricted to the Shenandoah Valley.

  2. Wendy, your mentioning this made me realize there may be scores more out there, just waiting to be discovered by unsuspecting genealogy researchers. Hazards of the calling...

  3. Replies
    1. You're certainly welcome, Anne. I really appreciate your tweets and Facebook posts. Lots of valuable info there!

  4. Well I am proud of you that you didn't just take my word on the pronunciation of Taliaferro (especially since I don't specialize in Virginia research) and you went and had it confirmed in other places. That is due diligence to the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard) That and I also have Taliaferro's in my collateral and learn about the name a long time ago. LOL We are due for coffee soon!

    1.! I believe I have a "due diligence" headache right now...I believe caffeine would be just the remedy!

  5. Interesting..who would have thunk it? :)

    1. I certainly didn't. I'd still rather be singing opera. I don't speak Virginian well. ;)


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