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Genealogical Writing: Serial Commas

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

Commas are one of the most abused punctuation marks. One of the more confusing is the serial comma. Also known as a series comma or the Oxford comma, a serial comma is used before the conjunction that joins the last two elements in a series. For example:

 

Chris, Michael, and Henry gave many consultations at the last education program.
My great-grandfather’s main crops were barley, peas, and turnips.

 

When the elements in the series have internal punctuation, it is usually easier to separate the elements with a semi-colon instead of a comma:

 

Their children were Steven, b. 1862; Jonathan, b. 1864; Mary, b. 1866; and Louisa, b. 1868.

 

For more information on the proper use of serial commas, see the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition.


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