Wednesday, May 2, 2018

When Spelling Becomes
the Villain in the Story

If someone in Montreal spelled his surname Hallée, how would people pronounce his name, once he moved to California? Would the resultant mispronunciation still be spelled the same way? Or would mispronunciation lead the unsuspecting hearer to mangle how the name is written?

I've seen that metamorphosis occur in the case of other immigrants, arriving on American shores from a place where English was, at best, a second language. Americans have not, historically, been the most careful to listen to nuances of other languages. Nor were government officialsI'm thinking census enumerators herethe most careful at replicating proper spelling as it might have been rendered in the fatherland.

So how would a census taker write down a name like Hallée? Would it be reasonable to expect that Hallie would be the result? How about Halley? Or Hally?

In trying to find the source for the hundred year old photo postcard of the two adorable children, Emile and Lucien Hallée, it occurred to me that their adoring mama might have sent the card off to a relative in California who also might have possessed the same surname. Just in case, I looked to see whether there were any Hallée families in California.

The result? While there was indeed one Raoul Hallée, born in Canada in 1912, he lived far from the northern California hills where I first discovered the photograph.

There were, however, several other spelling variations for that same surname here in California. I'm tempted to broaden my search from the properly-spelled Hallée to the wide world of spelling permutations, out in the wild westor at least a vicinity closer to the west coast region where that darling photograph ended up abandoned in an antique shop.

Such a task, though, will complicate matters. Yes, I can use wildcard symbols in my searches, but that widens the universe of possibilities quite a bit—maybe even a bit too much. Spelling can indeed become the enemy of the unassuming researcher who just wants to find the right answer.

Maybe spelling isn't the only adversary in this search, though. To see clearly to an answer, it takes being careful about how to choose one's assumptions.

Of course, this is an example of one of my assumptionsthat the photograph was sent to a family member with the same surname. Perhaps it was sent to a former neighboras we saw in the case of Thirza Browne Cole's collection of memorabilia from her childhood home in Greeley, Colorado. But in this case, it was encouraging to discover that there was, indeed, such a name as Hallée, both in Quebec, and in California. And yet, it will take far more than just that encouragement to be able to send the photo of P. Emile and Lucien Hallée back home to family, no matter where they live.


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