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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Finding Francis -- A Major Breakthrough

I spent the entire day at the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library looking for records and after hours of searching, I found some crucial references that open up the entire issue of Francis Tanner's parents. Here is the summary of the situation.
Francis Tanner (b. 1708, d. 1777) of Rhode Island is my fifth Great-grandfather. A revered family tradition links him to a "William Tanner" as his father. Recent contributions to the Family Tree have this "Willam Tanner" birth on 10 March 1657 in Surrey, England and his death on 23 December 1740 in South Kingston, Rhode Island. William would have been 49 years at the time of Francis's birth, assuming he is the father. However, there are as yet no records indicating the name of Francis Tanner's father or mother and further, there are no records connecting the William Tanner born in Surrey, England to anyone in America. Additionally, the Family Tree shows the 1657 William Tanner married to "Mary Babcock" during the time period that Francis Tanner could have been born.
The crux of this tradition is a series of conclusions reached by Reverend George C. Tanner in a book he published back in 1910 and now accepted as "fact" by the Tanner family. Here is the reference to the 1910 book.

Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn.: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

A complete digital copy of the book is available on the Hathi Trust website. The book outlines three and possibly four marriages for the person identified as "William Tanner."

  • Marriage to Hannah Tibbetts derived from a deed to William Tanner's presumed son, William Tanner that refers to the son's grandfather as Henry Tibbetts
  • Marriage to Mary Babcock based on a reference in Job Babcock's will to his daughter Mary Tanner
  • Possible marriage to Elizabeth Colgrove based on a reference in a later will of a John Tanner (not the John Tanner known to the Tanner descendants) that Francis Tanner is a kinsman. 
  • Possible marriage to Elizabeth Cottrill who married a "William Tanner" in 1722
None of these conclusions were based on Reverend Tanner's own research. As he states in the book, he based his conclusions on the research of others that is not cited or disclosed. Reverend Tanner makes the conclusion that all of these references to William Tanner are the same person who was born about 1560 and who signed a disclaimer deed in Rhode Island in 1680 as a witness. 

My research has been directed at accumulating all of the possible records about Francis Tanner because our research back through the Tanner line is well documented to Francis. But heretofore, no one seems to have found the records of Francis Tanner's parents, despite the references in the Tanner book. 

At the time of the writing of this post, the Family Tree provides confused and contradictory information about the marriages and descendants of William Tanner LH2G-FGG. There is a duplicate entry for a William Tanner L5TC-D7V also. 

The Family Tree entries show his birth in 1657 in England and death in 1740 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island, United States (sic). The marriages shown for William Tanner LH2G-FGG only roughly agree with the Tanner Book.
  • William Tanner and Hannah Avis Tibbetts in about 1680
  • William Tanner and Mary Babcock with no marriage date
  • William Tanner and Elizabeth Cottrill  with no marriage date
  • William Tanner with an unknown spouse and no marriage date
The children are rather randomly assigned to the wives without regard as to their date of birth or the identity of their mother. In addition, the Family Tree shows two sets of parents for William Tanner in England with siblings born in several different counties. 

There are 128 sources attached to William Tanner LH2G-FGG.

The wives and details for the William Tanner L5TC-D7V are equally confusing. There are only 40 sources attached to this duplicate entry. Here are the wives.
  • William Tanner married about 1686 to Hannah Avis Tibbetts
  • William Tanner married in 1707 to Elizabeth Colgrove
  • William Tanner married in 1722/23 to Elizabeth Cottrell
  • William Tanner with no marriage date to Mary Babcock
Again, the distribution and identity of the children are rather random. The basic flaw in the Tanner Book and in all the subsequent entries based on that book's speculation is that there was only one William Tanner in Rhode Island in the time period covered by these entries. By the way, even with over 100 sources listed, there are no records yet cited substantiating a connection between Francis Tanner and any of these supposed marriage couples. 

Now to the present. I have been reviewing my efforts to find Francis' parents. I have found four different "William Tanners" living in Rhode Island during the time period that could be Francis' father. As the image above shows, there is probate file with a William Tanner who had a son named Francis and a previously deceased son who is probably Nathan Tanner who died before his father as shown on the same page. 

Here the dates start to become crucial in separating out the families. This William Tanner with the wife named Elizabeth and a son named Francis died in 1757. If he was the same William Tanner that is featured in the Family Tree, he would have been about 100 years old when he died which is not impossible but unlikely. This image came from the following book:

Another of the unsupported assumptions made in the Family Tree entries is a marriage between Mary Babcock and a William Tanner based on the speculations of Reverend George C. Tanner back in 1910. Here is an entry in another book that shows a marriage record for Mary Babcock, the daughter of Job Babcock.

The entry does not identify the Tanner who married Mary Babcock, but the date is significant. Presently, the Family Tree has 11 children listed for the undated marriage of Mary Babcock and William Tanner. The marriage date in the record says that Mary Babcock married a "Mr. Tanner" in 1715. This is after the birth dates of all of the children listed except the last two. Francis Tanner, who is listed in the William Tanner will shown above, was born in 1708 and his brother Nathan Tanner was born in 1709/10. Nathan's birth record and will both state that his mother's name was Elizabeth, not Mary. William's will shows a wife named Elizabeth. There are two possibilities:
  • Mary Babcock did not marry a man named William Tanner
  • Even if Mary Babcock did marry a man named William Tanner, he is not the same William Tanner that had a wife named Elizabeth at the time of Mary Babcock's marriage
I still need to find the original copies of the wills of William and Nathan, if they still exist. But I am now certain that Francis and Nathan Tanner's parents were a William and Elizabeth Tanner and that Mary Babcock was never married to Francis and Nathan's father. I think the burden has passed to those who are living with the disastrous mess on the Family Tree to clean up the duplicates and read all of the "sources" and acknowledge that there are multiple William Tanners in Rhode Island and start cleaning up the mess. 

I remain amazed at the total lack of genealogical proficiency and even basic interest shown by the descendants of John Tanner of New York who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you are a descendant of John Tanner, perhaps it is time to get beyond the erroneous conclusions of the Tanner books and start doing some research into the records in Rhode Island. I spoke to one of my Tanner cousins just recently and tried to tell him about the new research and he showed not the slightest interest. This is the general response I get from the Tanner descendants.


  1. I find the lack of interest, by Church members, in finding the correct family members amazing. As long as there is someone in the spot and it takes their line back it is okay. How would they feel if someone had their incorrect parents listed? I'm sure they would change that!I seem to spend a lot of my time on FamilySearch cleaning up the messes other people have make but I feel that is time well spent. Thanks for all you do to help the cause.

  2. Most people who ask me for assistance with Family Tree just want to "find a name to take to the temple." Their attitude is that if the temple work is done, why spend all that time "just cleaning up the records?" My response is that they aren't names,they are your family, and deserve your best effort to document their lives and relationships, to actually know them. In some future day I want to look them in the eye and have them know that I gave them my best effort because I loved them.