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

Monday, January 21, 2013

On the accuracy of surname books

Over the past hundred years or so, there have been a slew of books written about the William Tanner family which is my direct family line and includes some notable members including John Tanner. But as I have written about in the past, these books are poorly sourced and can be inaccurate and incomplete. This fact has recently been pointed out again by my daughter, Amy Thiriot, in her recent blog post, "John Tanner: Greenwich and Argyle, New York." In this case, as in others, the errors consist in attributing the location of events to places that did not exist at the time the event occurred. This is a serious issue for researchers, not only because the wrong information gets passed on from generation to generation without question, but because when further research is warranted, researchers begin looking in the wrong place.

Here is a list of a few of the books containing information on the family:

Tanner, George C. William Tanner of North Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants. [Minneapolis?]: The author, 1905.

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

Tanner, Maurice, and George C. Tanner. Descendants of John Tanner; Born August 15, 1778, at Hopkintown, R.I., Died April 15, 1850, at South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah. 1923.

De Brouwer, Elizabeth. Sidney Tanner, His Ancestors and Descendants: Pioneer Freighter of the West, 1809-1895. Salt Lake City, Utah (4545 S. 2760 E., Salt Lake City 84117): S. Tanner Family Organization, 1982.

Nelson, Melba Madson, William Smith Tanner, and Emma Elena Tanner Madson.Descendants of John Joshua Tanner: Born December 19, 1811, at Greenwich, Washington County, New York, Died 9 September 1896 at South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah. [Salt Lake City?]: John Joshua Tanner Family Association, 1979.

Tanner, George S. John Tanner and His Family: A History-Biography of John Tanner of Lake George, New York, Born August 15, 1778, Hopkinton, Rhode Island, Died April 13, 1850, at South Cottonwood, Utah. Salt Lake City: John Tanner Family, 1974.

These books are notable for their lack of documentation. The later books copy verbatim the information in the earlier books. Having these extensive surname books is certainly both a blessing and curse. Correcting the errors perpetuated in these books is well-nigh impossible. Some of the stories and incidents contained in these books has passed into legend and interpretation and will likely survive long after the true facts are documented. 

So what are we, the researchers, doing about this situation. We have the documentation. Fortunately, we now have a venue where to put that information where it will likely reach the people who are most likely to copy the information from the books without question, that is,'s Family Tree. Unfortunately, right now, the Tanner family information in Family Tree is so messed up and is not available for merger or correction. So we wait. 

1 comment:

  1. Their is another, very useful, alternative. As you wait for Family Search, why not provide a copy of your current, more correct, information to the Allen County Public Library for their collection? Not only will a copy go on their shelves, but it will go into the on-line catalog as well, for researchers to locate and use.

    There are many 19th century genealogical books that were written by family 'experts' who had no corroborating evidence for the 'facts' they set to paper. It's up to us as research veterans to express to less knowledgeable researchers that care needs to be used when reviewing any secondary source (compiled genealogies) including and especially on-line sources such as Family Search, GeneaNet, Ancestry, etal.