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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Surname books and the Reed's Corner Mystery

Many genealogists would think they had died and gone to heaven if they found an entire book about their ancestors. It is true that some of my earliest memories of "family history" came from various books my father had accumulated over the years, but as I have done more and more research about my family, I have discovered that surname books are a mixed blessing at best and misleading at worst. 

One recent experience with an ancestor book came from the venerable Tanner family book cited as:

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.

The copy of the book I have is a revised edition cited as:

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.

These books are helpful in giving an overview of the family and supplying dates and places not otherwise easily available. Unfortunately, few of this type of book were written when the academic standards included adding source citations for the information contained in the book. Often, however, the author was personally acquainted with some or all of the older people in the book. The Tanner book is 698 pages long and includes a reference to my own father and his family. 

The detail of the information given lends credence to the contents, but the lack of source citations is frustrating when even a minimal amount of research begins to reveal discrepancies and inconsistencies in the narrative. As with many surname books focusing on the descendants of a certain ancestor, the Tanner book has only a very brief reference to the ancestor's progenitors.  

I recently focused on John Tanner's father, Joshua Tanner (b. 27 July 1757, d. 12 September 1807). These dates have been copied by literally thousands of family trees on the Web without questioning the authenticity for years. I have verified the birth place of Joshua Tanner in Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island but his death and burial are more problematical. The 1923 edition of the Tanner book is available online. Here is the excerpt of the book on page 9 referring to Joshua Tanner:

From this short account, you would be led to believe that Joshua Tanner died in or near "Reed's Corners, located in Washington County, New York with an exact date of death. As I previously noted, there are no sources cited for this information. Nearly all of the online family trees I have examined have copied this information without question. So when and where did Joshua Tanner die?

He does appear in the 1800 U.S. Census living in Argyle, Washington, New York. Here is a copy of the U.S. Census record:

Year: 1800; Census Place: Argyle, Washington, New York; Roll: 26; Page: 253; Image: 249; Family History Library Film: 193714.

Is there a "Reed's Corners" in Washington County near to Argyle? Apparently, none of the thousands of descendants of Joshua Tanner have questioned the Tanner Books authority on this subject. This seems to be the common theme among the vast majority of family tree gatherers; snatch the information from a book without question. 

Here is a screenshot of Argyle, Washington, New York from Google Maps:

As you can see, the place isn't very large. Here is the historical description of the town from Wikipedia
The town was formed from the Argyll Patent of 1764 while still in Albany County, Province of New York and became a town in Charlotte County when it was created March 24, 1772. Following the American Revolution, in 1784 the State of New York renamed Charlotte County as Washington County. Since many of the original settlers were from Argyll, Scotland, they adopted the name of their native land to the town. Although population growth was slow, the town was the most populous in the county by 1790. 
In 1803, part of the town was used to establish the new Town of Greenwich.
Joshua Tanner's daughter, Thankful Tefft Tanner Barber died in Greenwich, Washington, New York. Here is a reference from RootsWeb citing sources:
Thankful's actual death date was 30 May 1832 as shown by gravestone inscriptions from the "Alpheus Barber Farm" 3 miles north of Greenwich, Washington County, New York as follows:"BARBER, Tefft T., son of Alpheus and Thankful, d. of consumption, June 16, 1827, aged 25 years, 2 months and 5 days.""Thankful, wife of Alpheus, d. May 30, 1832, aged 51 years, 5 months and 12 days""Louisa M., dau. of Alpheus and Thankful, d. April 25, 1838, aged 25 years, 8 months and 24 days."Alpheus, d. Jan. 10, 1858, aged 83 years."(see
 There is a further reference to the Alpheus Barber Farm in the Washington County, New York NyGenWeb. Here is the entry:

Alpheus Barber Farm

location: Spraguetown, 3 miles north of Greenwich.

BARBER, Tefft T., son of Alpheus and Thankful, d. of consumption, June 16, 1827 , aged 25 years, 2 months and 5 days.
Thankful, wife of Alpheus, d. May 30, 1832, aged 51 years, 5 months and 12 days.
Louisa M., dau. of Alpheus and Thankful, d. April 25, 1838, aged 25 years, 8 months and 24 days.
Alpheus, d. Jan. 10, 1858, aged 83 years. 

Published in the NY Genealogical & Biographical Record, April, 1917.
Contributed by Willard's Mountain Chapter, DAR.
Archived in the Greenwich Free Library and the NYS library.
Transcribed by Mr. O.W.Tefft.

However, I find no reference to Josua Tanner's death or burial. In fact, the Geographic Names Information System of the United States Geographic Survey shows eight places in the U.S. with the name Reed's Corners and none of them are in Washington County, New York. Here is a screenshot of a search:

You will have to click on the image to see the detail. So what are we to conclude? How useful is the entry in the Tanner book? It would be helpful if we had a burial location for Joshua Tanner, but I have yet to find that information.

If you are fortunate enough to find and use a surname book, a word to the wise, use the information with discretion.


  1. I am surprised that you didn't mention the date of birth of Thankful as mentioned in the excerpt from the book. According to the excerpt, she was born in March, 1775 and married in December, 1775 and gave birth to all ten children before she was 23!! But that might be another issue to blog about. Thanks for all you do.

    1. You are right. That issue is a whole blog post in itself.

  2. I found in a book about Washington County what now is North Greenwich earlier names were Antioch and Reids' corners

  3. Joshua and Thankful and a number of their grandchildren were buried at what was called in 1917 the William Hartshorn Farm, undoubtedly previously the Tanner farm. It was about four miles outside of Greenwich.

    A look into the land records should allow a pinpointing of the exact location of their deaths and burials. I can't find the cemetery on BillionGraves, since it the website doesn't seem to be working right now.

    Here's the 1917 transcription of the gravestones:

    [Page 10]
    William Hartshorn Farm, North Greenwich, 4 miles from Greenwich.
    Turner [Tanner], Joshua, departed this life the 12 day of Sept., 1807, aged 50 years, 1 month and 17 days.
    Tanner, Pardon, son of William and Lydia, d. June 11, 1821, aged 5 months and 23 days.
    Wellwood, Elizabeth, d. March 31, 1816, in her 10th month.
    Wellwood, Joshua, son of John and Esther [Tanner], d. March 5, 1818, in his 5th year.
    Wellwood, Thankful T., dau. of John and Esther, d. Nov. 20, 1819, aged 1 year and 1 month.
    Wellwood, John, Jun., d. March 12, 1820, aged 34 years, 3 months and 26 days.
    Wellwood, Mary Ann, dau. of John and Esther, d. Sept. 17, 1826, aged 16 years, 3 months and 1 day.
    James W.
    T. T. [This could be Thankful Tefft Tanner, buried beside her husband.]
    Several slate stone markers with no inscriptions.


    Willard's Mountain Chapter, D.A.R., "Graveyard Inscriptions from the Towns of Easton and Greenwich, N.Y.," The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 48, (1917), 5-10. See also pages 104, 299, 399.

  4. There was a Joshua Tanner that owned land in the Bayne (Bean, Bain) Patent in White Creek in 1774, but that is all I know about him. His land is mentioned as adjoining a plot mortgaged to John Munro in 1774.

  5. I found in the book "History and Biography of Washington County and the Town of Queensbury NY" published 1894 on page 103 - "North Greenwich is on the Argyle line, and was formerly known as Reid's Corners, from William Reid, an early settler there. The place was settled before 1800..."