Saturday, March 9, 2013

Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story [Updated]

This was originally posted on November 13, 2009. Since I have made significant revisions I am reposting it. Please note a 2014 summary of the state of the genealogical research in the family: (William Tanner Lives Again.)

Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story is a short film from director T.C. Christensen. It tells the story of John Tanner, a Mormon pioneer who gave his fortune to help establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its early days. It is a visually beautiful, emotional production, is fairly accurate to family accounts, and is easy to watch at about 20 minutes long.

Additional Media Resources

Here's a story about the movie from KSL [Utah filmmaker creates movie about his ancestor].

Here's a Deseret News story about the producer, T.C. Christensen [T.C. Christensen: the man, the movies and stories that matter.]

From time to time the film is shown on BYU-TV.

The film is available on a collection about the history of the Church [Doctrine and Covenants Visual Resource DVDs, item 08042000] and through Deseret Book and other retailers.

Short Biography of John Tanner

John Tanner was born in Rhode Island on August 15, 1778. When he was a child, his family joined many relatives on a great migration from Washington County, Rhode Island, to Washington County, New York.

The Lake George, New York, area in 1796.
Washington County is to the east of Lake George; Warren County is to the west.

Around 1800 he married Tabitha Bently. She died in 1801 after giving birth to their son, Elisha Bently Tanner.

John Tanner married, second, Lydia Stewart, and they had twelve children. Around 1818 the family moved to Bolton, Warren County, on the other side of Lake George. There Lydia died and John Tanner married Elizabeth Beswick. John and Elizabeth had eight children, making a total of 21 children in the Tanner family, fourteen of them living to adulthood.

John Tanner and his family were strong Baptists, but in 1832 he and many members of his family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They sold their homes and land in New York and moved to Kirtland, where they helped with the building of the Kirtland Temple, then to Missouri, then to Iowa (across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo), and from there to Utah Territory, where John Tanner died in South Cottonwood, Utah Territory, on April 13, 1850.

The Salt Lake Valley in 1852.

Additional Genealogical Resources

My father and I are continuing to add accurate genealogical and historical information to this blog about the Tanner family and other related families. (Some of the information I posted about the family in 2007 and 2008 may be based on questionable secondary sources and needs to be edited and updated.)

Here is John Tanner's biography from Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah with notes about what is correct and incorrect in the biography.

Here is a photograph of John Tanner's original hand-written birth record from Hopkinton, Rhode Island.

Here is information about the Tanner family in colonial times and going back to England: The Colonial Heritage of the John Tanner Family

The John Tanner Family Association

As discussed in the comments, there was previously a John Tanner Family Association. It appears to be no longer operational. It would be great if a group of descendants would start a John Tanner Family Association. It's a large and influential although very widespread family, and there should be enough initiative and resources to start such an organization to collect family information and finance genealogical and historical research since so much of the widely available genealogy and history is unfortunately inaccurate.

The Tanner Family Daguerreotype

There are no known photographs of John Tanner.

Don't miss my series about the Tanner Family Daguerreotype. (For an explanation, see here and here.)

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: We Meet the Tanners
Part 3: What is a Daguerreotype?
Part 4: Technology Meets the Tanners
Part 5: Woman at Right
Part 6: Woman in Center
Part 7: Boy in Back — First Possibility
Part 7: Boy in Back — Additional Possibilities
Part 8: Man at Left — John Tanner?
Part 8: Man at Left — Options
Part 8: Response from CHL about Fire Damage
Part 9: Conclusion

Please read the posts and comments to the final posts for details about the identification. As noted there, the most likely identification for the people in the following picture is:
Sitting, left to right: Myron Tanner, Elizabeth Beswick Tanner, Louisa Maria Tanner Lyman. Standing: Joseph Smith Tanner.


  1. I am a descendent of John Tanner through Nathan and would be interested in starting a family association if there is not one. When I google it, it seems there is an association that is credited for some articles and books, but I can't find a link to the actual association.

  2. I am a descendent of John Tanner through Louisa Maria and am searching for the family association to help with my project, which is to represent the Louisa Maria Tanner descendency for the Amasa Mason Lyman Organization.

  3. Supposedly there's still a legally organized John Tanner Family Association in Utah, but they don't seem to actually do anything, and it's possible that the organization is now defunct.

    A family organization would need to:

    Select a board of prominent family members and several family members with real expertise in genealogy.

    Organize as a tax-exempt charity.

    Raise money.

    Have the family lines researched by trained professionals or historians with specialties in Utah, Mormon, New York, and Rhode Island history and genealogy. (Yes, that would consist of four to eight different certified or academic researchers.)

    Be ready to find out new and amazing things about the family. Also be ready to see some of the legends and family stories disproved.

    Arrange to have the information published on the web. There is no longer much demand for expensive bound family history books full of fables and lists of descendancy. A model website is the Pratt family site:

    Check out the histories and photos and other materials. It's a great resource for the family information, and there should be something like that for the Tanner family.

  4. I am a descendent of John Tanner and my Mother has a picture of John and his wives.

    1. That would be an extraordinary discovery. So far, there is no documented photo of John Tanner. Additionally, you say his wives. If the photo shows more than one wife it could not be our John Tanner because he only had one wife at a time. We would be extremely interested in seeing a copy of this photo.

  5. I am a descendant of Sydney Tanner, John Tanner's son. My father Ralph Peterson helped put a Sydney Tanner book together that shows descendants, but was written in 1980. I am wanting to know if anything more has been found/written concerning the Sydney Tanner line. Christine Campbell

    1. Yes, most of the new sources will be added to his descendants on FamilySearch Family Tree as soon as FamilySearch fixes the merge issue by shutting down Keep in touch.