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

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Impossible cancerous genealogical infections that are incurable -- Misidentified Photos

I refuse to post the offending photo one more time. I have a rather prominent ancestor, at least among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His name is John Tanner (b. 1778, d. 1850). As ancestors go, he is likely one of the more documented individuals in the world. He has tens of thousands of living descendants. As you can see from his birth and death dates, he lived most of his life before photography was generally available. Since the Daguerreotype was first introduced in 1839 which is usually marked as the date of the introduction of photography. You might note that John Tanner was already 61 years old when daguerrotypes were invented in France and England. See Wikipedia: Daguerreotype. Since John Tanner, by 1839, was living in Missouri in the United States, he probably had no contact with or knowledge of this new invention. As a matter of note, John Tanner was brutally beaten and hit in the head with a rifle while in Missouri as part of what has been come to be known as the Battle of Crooked River in 1838. He and his family were forced to flea Missouri in early 1839 and move to what later became Nauvoo, Illinois.

There is some possibility that daguerreotypes were made in Nauvoo as early as 1845, but by that time, John Tanner would have been 67 years old. I might also note that a recent movie about John Tanner portrays his as considerably younger while living in Nauvoo.

Some time ago a copy of a daguerreotype was circulated on Facebook with the speculation that the image was that of John Tanner. My daughter and I, after extensive research, concluded that the image could not possibly be John Tanner for many reasons including the fact that the individual claimed to be John Tanner would have to be in his late 60s or early 70s before daguerreotypes were possible and the individual pictured in the daguerreotype is much, much younger. See the following link for a more complete discussion:

Now here is the problem. I received the following from just recently:

The first listed link has the offending photo that is NOT John Tanner. I have blanked out the face so that my post cannot be used to further spread this image. As online genealogists we are constantly bombarded with invitations to connect with family trees on various online programs. This misidentified image is just one of the many problems with family trees, but is an indication of the most salient, that is, the inability to correct a viral error. Once a photograph has been wrongly identified and put out on the Internet, it is like scattering feathers to the wind, they can never be recalled.

I have often written about the inaccuracy of online family trees, but this is more insidious. Coupled with online photo programs and family trees, a misidentified photo can show up all across the Internet almost instantly and in genealogy, if the photo is of an ancestor, you might as well forget about correcting the error. It is virtually impossible. Here is another example with the offending photo showing up three times in Photos for John Tanner. Interestingly, I do not show John Tanner's photos in my People section of the program because the Family Tree has too many duplicates and I am not in the line that is currently being selected.

Once again, I blanked out the faces of the photo to prevent further spread of this disease. We need to be constantly on guard that we don't "jump on the band wagon" so to speak and copy and distribute unverified photos in our community.


  1. James, I could not agree more! Recent announcements by Familysearch worry me, as I detailed in my blog post here:

    1. It is not so much an issue with the online providers as with the users. You can't expect the providers to police the accuracy of the identifications.

  2. Regrettably, any tree-hosting site that allows uploading photos has this same problem. There are oodles of complaints on message boards about renamed photos (deliberate falsification of identity) and photos attached to wrong persons (whether right name or not).

    Just have to chalk it up to the same mentalities that have created so many trees-of-wrongness.

  3. Just as a side-note: One of the strengths of is that the offending photo *can* be removed and 'correcting' information added to his profile -- which can even be "locked down" if there is persistent mis-information provided.

    In theory, Geni should only have one profile of that person, so that can help to keep at least one 'referable source' correct.

  4. James,

    I'm a geni curator and have removed the erroneous link to the photo on John Tanner's geni profile. So in some cases things can be fixed.

    I also messaged the Tanner descendant who uploaded the photo to geni with a link to your blog so that they could review the info you present. They were last online on geni a couple of months ago so hopeful they'll log back on soon, see my explanation of why I deleted the image and can then correct it in their personal genealogy.


    Randy Stebbing volunteer curator