Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A mystery revisited -- Who was Ralph Carum Tanner?

Apparently, every year about this time I get back to the mystery of Ralph Carum Tanner. Today's episode of this ongoing saga begins with a look at the Family Tree Maker's suggestions from's Family Trees for the family of my Great-grand Father, the highly inaccurately documented, Henry Martin Tanner. A year ago, I noted that the elusive Ralph is chronicled in that most reliable of sources, the Ancestral File and thereby carried over into  In case you don't want to go back to my post of April 21, 2010, Ralph is shown as born in 1904, when Henry, his listed father was 52 years old and Eliza, his wife was 57 years old. Actually, the last child born to Eliza and Henry was Donnette Tanner in 1899. New FamilySearch show three more children; a Mary Tanner born in 1901, the elusive Ralph Carum Tanner born in 1904, and Paul Moroni Tanner born in 1906. None of the three show up in the Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates. But so much has changed since last year, maybe they have suddenly appeared in some record.

This year he shows up in The Sprague Project, as dead with a date unknown, but as a child of Henry Martin Tanner and Eliza Ellen Parkinson. This source has the cryptic note, "At least one living individual is linked to this note - Details withheld." A Google search shows only The Sprague Project citation and my own blog posts. Outside of Family Trees, New FamilySearch and the Ancestral File, there doesn't seem to be even on other reference to this individual on the Web. 

What about all the millions of records in both and I draw a complete blank in on Ralph and Paul. There are too many Marys to make a decision. I strike out again in So far I have still been unable to find even one record referring to Ralph Carum Tanner, other than the original Ancestral File record, now in However, he has manged to spread to dozens (perhaps hundreds) of family group records for the Henry Martin Tanner family by virtue of his inclusion in that record. One commentator last year called this an "incestuous narrative," one in which a number of people have fed off of one source generally without inquiring as to whether or not that source is substantiated.

But that leaves the mystery, where did this rather unique name come from? I not only do not find a "Ralph Carum Tanner" in a Google search, but I also do not find "Carum Tanner." In fact, "Carum" is a genus of the Apiaceae family and includes plants like caraway. There are about 120,000 results for Carum, which is understandable if it is a plant. The word "carum" also appears in some languages, like Latin. It is also a name in India. None of these uses of the word seem to be compatible with someone born in a very small town in Arizona in 1904. 

So we have any number of alternatives:

1. There really was a baby born in 1904 to Henry and Eliza named Ralph Carum Tanner.
2. The person with the name is misplaced and there is someone else with that name who was not a child of Henry and Eliza.
3. The name is made up entirely and the person does not exist.
4. The name is a misspelling of some other name. 

Since there is absolutely no evidence of a later born child to Henry and Eliza, it would seem that the possibility of the first option is remote. But which of the other options (or something else altogether) is the real possibilty?

The point of this post is that entering information about individuals into databases, without giving any source information creates the type of problem set forth above. Even if the person is legitimately included in a family, without documentation, there will always be a question as to the validity of the information.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the child was born to someone in the family or a close friends and Henry and Eliza took him in, I find this happens a lot.

    My next idea would be that the child died in infancy or early childhood, thus no records with his name.