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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Finding Francis -- More than one William Tanner

William is a very common English name. Tanner is a very common English, Swiss and German surname. Making an assumption that you have found an ancestor based on finding someone with the same name is the most common mistake made in genealogical research. This situation is commonly referred to as the "same name = same person" mistake. My own Tanner surname ancestors and relatives have been making that mistake for over a hundred years.

If I use program and do a search for all the people in England with the surname of Tanner in the late 1600s and early 1700s (1700 plus or minus) I get the following:

Here's how many of those were also William Tanners:

Here is the mess that is in the Family Tree with William Tanner:

As I have pointed out previously, there is also another complete duplicate of him in the Family Tree with even more information.

What is happening here? I have long suspected that the "traditional" interpretation of a limited amount of research had led to the combining more than one William Tanner into the same person. For years now, I have been searching for sufficient information to separate out the different William Tanners that lived in Rhode Island at the same time. I have now found four or possibly five different men named William Tanner who lived about the same time in the tiny colony of Rhode Island.

There are two main challenges: separating out the Williams who lived at the same time both into different families and into generations. From my research, the most plausible explanation for the problems reported by the Family Tree could be explained by adding in another generation of William Tanners. However, that explanation also relies on the unsupported assumption that there was only one immigrant to America named William Tanner in Rhode Island at the time.

In a future post, I will be outlining how I have now separated out the two main William Tanner families. Unfortunately, there is no way to know which of these was, if either, was the same as the "traditional" William Tanner. This clarification of the history of the Tanner family affects literally thousands of descendants of the John Tanner who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints back in the 1830s. As I have written previously, the lack of interest and involvement of any members the Tanner family in the basic research needed to solve these intractable genealogical challenges has always amazed me. The careless and inaccurate involvement of those who continue to add unsupported information to the duplicate entries for William Tanner already in the Family Tree also does not contribute to a solution of the problems.

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