Friday, February 11, 2022

Love the Valentine, Puzzled By the Spelling

This is a lovely, still colorful Valentine's Day postal greeting sent to my husband's ancestor in Cleveland, Ohio on February 12, 1912. 

That's 110 years ago tomorrow.

It was signed by the recipient's Aunt Nellie Wood Kirby and Uncle Arthur Kirby, who lived in Chicago, Illinois.

Nellie repeatedly used the wrong spelling for her young nephew's given name. This mistake puzzles me, since the boy was the son of her favorite brother. 

I saw the incorrect spelling on every single one of her penny postcards to this nephew. There were a lot of cards: She sent greetings for Christmas, New Year's, birthdays, Easter, and more, for at least a decade.

Wallace or Wallis?

As shown in the image at bottom, the postcard is addressed to "Wallace W. Wood." His name was actually "Wallis W. Wood."

This was a common error, repeated by more than one Census enumerator over the years. The ancestor's official documents (birth, marriage, death, military) reflect the correct spelling of Wallis. I've checked! 

Naming patterns as clues

Family naming patterns can be helpful but not definitive in evaluating online family trees. Since I'm married to another Wallis in this family, I'm very familiar with the naming patterns in his tree and the supporting documentation. That's how I know that Wallace is completely incorrect and Wallis is absolutely correct.

Over and over again, I see the incorrect spelling for this ancestor on other people's online trees. That's an extra-gigantic warning sign to BEWARE. Of course I always view online trees as possible clues and not fact, but I really steer clear when the tree owner hasn't taken the time to view and attach official documents reflecting the correctly named spelling of ancestors. 

Research and cite your sources! But don't necessarily trust names in the family's correspondence, as Nellie's Valentine demonstrates ;)

My post is part of the fun February Genealogy Blog Party about love stories. In this case, it's the Valentine I really love!


  1. I wonder if nephew ever wrote to his aunt and signed his name correctly. Some people just don't notice misspelled words.

  2. Lisa, I have no paperwork from the nephew to the aunt, unfortunately. But I imagine there were letters back and forth between the grownups, talking about the children. Since the boy's nickname was Wally, perhaps the aunt never saw the full name spelled out.

  3. I must admit that I struggle with a couple names myself! My niece McKenzie, for one. I hope that's correct. I've scribbled Kenzie on cards when I can't think right. A nephew's middle name is JoArlen. Maybe. Joarlen? Jo Arlen? I have 13 nieces and nephews. Some have multiple middle names. No one sends birth announcements anymore!

  4. Love the Valentine! But it is confusing with the names. In my family, there are at least 5 different spellings of my last name. Very odd.