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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Finding Francis -- Part Four

My investigations of Francis Tanner and my attempt to determine the identity of his parents are turning out to be a classic genealogical challenge, usually and inappropriately referred to as a "brick wall." I just finished spending over 13 hours reviewing one microfilm and I have a long list of others to review. This is the detail part of doing genealogical research process usually minimized by those promoting the pursuit.

Why am I writing about this situation? There are several reasons. First, I want to illustrate the amount of effort needed for a difficult genealogical challenge. Next, I wanted to illustrate the need for careful evaluation of the sources and the documentation needed to support any conclusions about the individuals involved in the research. I felt that a concrete example of the issues involved in a complex problem would be helpful to those facing a similar situation. Last, I wanted to show the time involved in doing this type of research.

For those just starting to read this series of posts and for the rest of us who can't remember what is going on at all, I will do a short review.

Francis Tanner (b. 1708, d. 1777) is the last ancestor in the John Tanner (b. 1778, d. 1850) line. John Tanner was a prominent early member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and he has thousands of descendants. Since the late 1800s, there have been some very influential surname books that showed his ancestral Tanner line to end with a "William Tanner" whose birth date and place were unknown. The surname books have been mentioned in early posts in this series. Speculation about William Tanner's wives has usually closely followed the sketchy information in the surname book series. There is presently no documentation yet discovered connecting Francis Tanner to either of this parents. Although, the entries in the Family Tree regularly add parents with no supporting documentation. Here is the latest iteration.

Francis' will (attached as a Memory) names a brother Nathan Tanner. Nathan Tanner's birth record is available and attached to his entry in the Family Tree. The birth record states that his, Nathan's, father's name was William and his mother's name was Elizabeth. The present theory is that since Nathan and Francis were brothers then it is possible that Francis' parents were also William and Elizabeth. The question is whether the William named in the surname books is the same William and the father of the two brothers. One of the wives reported a married to William Tanner is named Mary Babcock. A marriage record from New England has a William Tanner marrying a wife named Mary in 1692. There is reportedly a will of a Job Babcock dated in 1715 which I have not yet found, that names Job's daughter as "Mary Tanner." This would rule out the William Tanner who married Mary Babcock as the father of Francis and William. By the way, all of these documents are attached to the entries in the Family Tree.

My latest research turned up a deed from Mary Babcock to George Hazard dated on the 18th of December 1696. This would seem to rule out the Mary named in the marriage record in 1692 being Mary Babcock or she would not have been able to convey property in her own name.

I have yet to find a connection between anyone named William Tanner with a wife named Elizabeth and Francis Tanner.

Regularly people add another William Tanner to the Family Tree with a wife named Elizabeth without adding any additional documentation. Here is one of our standard responses.
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.
The constant changes in this family will keep occurring as long as people fail to read the documents and sources attached and also fail to do any additional research before adding in a new set of parents.

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