Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Anger and Spite on the FamilySearch Family Tree

Not everything is sweetness and light on the Family Tree. There are those people out there who cannot manage their frustration and anger. As a result, the comments we get on our family entries are not always cordial and civilized. I have a recent, very graphic example but it is so bad, that I do not feel that I can reproduce it here. It does not need any more notice and attention than it has already garnered.

For the past few weeks, I have been writing a series of posts that I call "Finding Francis." This series is chronicling my efforts to resolve a long-standing ancestral mystery: the parents of my fifth great-grandfather. We have been doing extensive research and as yet, have failed to find any record of his parents. Meanwhile, almost every week someone adds his parents back in from the unsubstantiated "traditional" family records. Almost all the contributors graciously accept the extensive explanations that we provide when we remove the unsupported additions. But there are some who react with anger and threats. Notwithstanding the ire and emotion, they still fail to provide any supporting sources for their repeated additions.

When I started this process, now several months ago, my daughter, who is working with me, warned me that I was starting a "civil war." That has proved to be the case. We have jointly prepared a long and very polite response to the repeated additions of the same unsubstantiated parents. The records that do exist, show that the parents being added were married in Rhode Island many years after the birth of Francis Tanner and could not be the parents. Here is a sample of the response we send to the contributors. By the way, we are still waiting for someone else to add even one more helpful source.

Thank you for your interest in Francis Tanner and the Tanner Family. Please look through Sources, Memories, and “Latest Changes” and read the following before making changes to Francis Tanner’s entry. As of May 2017, several family members are reading through Rhode Island and New York records to identify probate, property, tax, vital, church, and other historical records for the Tanner family. We are adding information to FamilySearch as we find it.
We have removed William Tanner and his supposed wives as parents of Francis Tanner. Around the start of the 20th century, Rev. Elias Tanner and Rev. George C. Tanner wrote books about the family. Over time, their speculations about the origin of the Tanner family were taken as fact and adopted in many genealogies and spread through online family trees, heritage society applications, etc. A close examination of the speculative genealogy shows problems such as one possible mother, Elizabeth Cottrill, supposedly giving birth to Francis when she was a little child. The problem is that although there is very good reason to believe that a man named William Tanner was Francis Tanner’s father, there may have been multiple William Tanners in Rhode Island, and no one has provided documentation *created at the time* showing which one was the correct father, and which of their wives was Francis’s mother. Again, as far as we can tell, no one sharing online or published family trees has provided documentation supporting these speculative relationships.
We now have access to many more records than did family historians of prior generations, so we have begun to build a case for Francis’s parents. We are finding clues in probates, property records, and the records of the Sabbatarian or Seventh Day Baptist Church. We are identifying how Abel Tanner and Nathan Tanner and others are related to Francis, since a document associated with a relative might provide the clue that could reveal the identity of Francis’s parents.
If you would like to help, here are a few of the things you could do.
* Look through the family entries on FamilySearch to see if something is missing if you’ve done research in the original records, and please share a copy.* Research related or possibly related families (Tosh, Sheldon, Tefft, Tibbitts, Babcock, Colgrove, Cottrill) using the original records of Rhode Island and New York, and add the sources to Family Tree.* Transcribe Francis Tanner’s fourteen-page will. This would require proficiency in 18th century handwriting. (See a copy of the will in “Memories.”)* Create detailed maps to show where each family lived during the 17th and 18th centuries based on original property deeds.* Research the history and records of the Seventh-Day Baptists and other Baptist denominations in Rhode Island and New York.* Find additional records or original copies of extracted records in archives or government offices.
We appreciate all who have added original records or photographs. FamilySearch gives us a remarkable new ability to collaborate, so this is a good time to try to confirm what has only been speculation for too many generations.

So what do we do about the rants that we receive? We try to answer them as politely as possible and continue to ask for further documentation. In the end, however, we are sometimes forced to merely ignore the rude and uninformative comments and, in some cases, delete them from our blogs. I realize that some people trying to work on the family tree cannot handle this sort of bullying pressure from others. We are well prepared by our background to face this kind of pressure. If you do find yourself in such a situation. It is best to go quietly about your research and develop a standard, nonconfrontational response. We have an appropriate selection in a Google Doc and simply copy the sections that apply and send them off to the contributor. Hopefully, someone will decide to do some real research and help us ultimately solve this problem.


  1. Would reporting the abusive rants to FamilySearch help or hurt?

    1. These are mostly comments made on our blogs so they could not be "reported" to FamilySearch. They are just an unpleasant background to working on the Family Tree.

  2. Some good news: I've been chatting with someone who has done actual research on the Stewart family and will start adding documentation and has plans to clean up the messes other people have created. Two steps forward, one step back. (Or something like that.)

    1. Good news is always better than bad news.