Monday, February 2, 2015

Guest Post: Peggy McCollester on the Tanners in Colonial America

For those who have been following the slow-motion discussion about the Tanner family genealogy here and on Genealogy's Star, here is a follow-up explanation from Peggy McCollester, who has been working on the genealogy.

I have other things taking my attention right now and cannot devote enough time and effort to this to be able to say much about the records one way or another, but I hope others do turn their attention to the puzzle. When you do, remember the basic standards of genealogical proof, and all the factors mentioned in the summary of the state of the Tanner research:


When doing work on a family with a name like Tanner, remember that it is a professional name. Many communities in England would have had a tanner, a skilled worker who used the products of the oak tree to make leather. Since it began as a profession name, there may be multiple Tanner families in England, all unrelated. A look in an English phone book confirms that Tanner is not an uncommon name.

So connecting the family in America to the family in England won't consist simply of finding a William Tanner of the right age and with similar family names in England but will consist of proof of origin, some kind of documentary connection proving place of origin or names of family members. 

Early immigrants can be tracked across the ocean by ship records, church records, letters and documents preserved at places like university archives, early community histories, etc. Tracing an early immigrant back across the ocean is not always possible, as is evident from the publications of the Mayflower Society: the origin of some of the Mayflower passengers is still unknown, despite the extent of the genealogical and historical research that has been done on all the families over centuries.

In short, remember the important genealogical principle that same name does not equal same person.

For those who are interested in tracing the genealogy themselves, note that many compilations of early Rhode Island records are available on archive.org. Here are those cataloged under the authorship of the dedicated Rhode Island historian James Newell Arnold (1844-1927):


Also, one more aside before getting to Peggy's notes. Rhode Island, small as it is, has a fascinating history. Born in the fight over religious liberty, it had deeply religious citizens, but its population had a rabble-rousing reputation and deep ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

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So, here are Peggy's notes. I have lightly edited them with her permission and have also added a few comments to her explanation, which will be in brackets, as follows: [added notes]. Many thanks to Peggy for all her work on the genealogy, and for being so willing to share her information. She will be following this discussion, so please ask questions in the comments.

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There is mass confusion out on the internet about William Tanner and Elizabeth Colgrove/Cottrell/Gardiner having children. 

William and Elizabeth had no children together. They did not marry until 1723/24, which is recorded in the Rhode Island Early Marriages. 


This marriage took place shortly after the death of Mary Babcock. George Clinton Tanner made the mistake of saying that Nathan’s mother was Elizabeth Colgrove, because the early Rhode Island records are very confusing. One must study the records so as to not get confused on who is who. 

This misinformation is now cleared up from this Rhode Island record of early marriages. Mary Babcock and William had twelve children together before her death. 

The last child was born in 1719 and is believed to be buried at the foot of William and Mary’s graves in Rhode Island. I have tried to clear this confusion up with the documentation from the state of Rhode Island, along with proof of William Tanner’s baptismal record from England, which shows his father was not Francis Tanner, but rather a John Tanner with William’s mother being an Elizabeth. This record shows where William was born and lists his siblings as well. 

[Ed.—Note that this is the major point of disagreement in the research, and the one which needs real attention.]

George Clinton Tanner made mistakes in his genealogy book on William. [Ed.—No one who’s familiar with the book could disagree about this.]

The information he gathered for his introduction came from hearsay and not actual fact. That’s something you cannot do when doing genealogy. I have studied and spent many hours on the early records from Rhode Island and finally understand what happened with George Clinton Tanner and why he and others have gotten confused. It was easily done for sure and even confused me for a while. 

I’m going to attempt to give you correct information on William Tanner’s line and his children with Mary Babcock and show who Elizabeth was married to before she married William in 1723/24. This information came from the Chipstead Parish Records in Chipstead, Surrey, England. I have this information in my possession and have attached it.

William Tanner’s father was:

John Tanner b. 14 Aug 1631 Bromley, Kent, England d. 25 Jun 1688 Chipstead Parish Records, Surrey, England. 

John married 6 Nov 1655 Bromley, Kent, England, Elizabeth Smith b. 9 Sept 1638 Maidstone, Kent, England. The surname of Elizabeth is thought to be Smith, but not really sure. Everything points in that direction from the genealogist I hired. 

Proof of marriage and birth for Elizabeth Smith follows:

England & Wales Marriages, 1538–1940 about Elizabeth Smith
Name: Elizabeth Smith
Gender: Female
Spouse’s Name: John Tanner
Marriage Date: 6 Nov 1655
Marriage Place: Bromley, Kent, England

Source Citation: Place: Bromley, Kent, England; Date Range: 1649–1725; Film Number: 1042453. Source Information: Ancestry.com. England & Wales Marriages, 1538-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: Genealogical Society of Utah. British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, copyright 2002. Used by permission.

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 about Elizabeth Smith

Name: Elizabeth Smith
Gender: Female
Baptism Date: 9 Sep 1638
Baptism Place: Maidstone, Kent, England
Father: Stephen Smith
Mother: Elizabeth
FHL Film Number: 1736876


The parish record shows William and some of his siblings (three sisters). There are two more boys from John and Elizabeth listed in another record. They are a John Tanner and a Thomas Tanner. By the way the baptismal record for William reads, Baptized 10 Mar 1657 and not 1660.

Here are the correct children for William Tanner from his second wife Mary Babcock, married in 1690 after the death of William’s first wife Hannah Avis Tibbitts:
1. Jane Tanner b. 1691. She is named after William’s sister Jane. See attachment from the parish record above.
2. John Tanner (twin to Benjamin) b. 24 Dec 1692, d. Dec 1692, and believed to be buried at the foot of William and Mary’s graves according to the Historical Society in Rhode Island. Named after
 William’s father John Tanner.
3. Benjamin Tanner (John’s twin brother) b. 24 Dec 1692.
4. John Tanner, b. 1694.
5. Mary Tanner, b. 1698.
6. Avis Tanner, b. 1699.
7. Francis Tanner, b. 3 Jul 1708. This is correct. Francis is the son of Mary Babcock and William, as are the following children.
8. Nathan Tanner b. 20 Feb 1709.
9. Anna Tanner b. 15 Mar 1712. Named after a sister of William. See Parish Record attachment
10. Rebecca Tanner b. 2 Jul 1714
11. Elizabeth Tanner b. 14 Nov 1717. Named after a sister of William. See Parish Record attachment
12. Abigail Tanner b. 17 Oct 1719. d. As a small child. Believed to be buried at the foot of William and Mary’s graves according the the Historical Society in Rhode Island.

[Ed.—Note that the listed children are born over the course of 28 years. This is outside the range of normal female reproduction—no matter when a woman starts having children her body usually stops after about 16 to 18 years—so the time frame would suggest that the children belong to more than one wife or even subsequent generations.]

[A question arose in another discussion about Nathan Tanner. There seem to be several, and I’m not sure yet if the one I would like to know more about, some kind of relative—cousin or uncle of John Tanner (1778-1850)—is the same as described below.]

The Nathan you are asking about is descended from John Tanner and Lydia Stewart (John’s second wife). They did have a son named Nathan... This John Tanner who converted from a Seventh-Day Baptist to Mormonism had a father Sgt. Joshua Tanner and mother Thankful Tefft. Joshua’s father was Francis Tanner and Elizabeth Sheldon. Again Francis was the son of William Tanner and Mary Babcock, not Elizabeth Colgrove/Cottrell/Gardiner.

Nathan who is shown as # 8 above is the following:

Nathan Tanner b. 20 Feb 1709 South Kingstown, Washington, Rhode Island d. 12 Sept 1807 Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island.

Nathan married 28 May 1734 Kingstown, Washington, Rhode Island. Married by Isaac Sheldon, Justice. Nathan Married Mary Cottrell, a daughter of Elizabeth Colgrove Cottrell Gardiner Tanner and John Cottrell. This John Cottrell was Elizabeth’s second husband.

The children of Nathan and Mary are;
1. David Tanner b. 25 Nov 1735 South Kingstown, Washington, Rhode Island d. 1782. David married Hopestill Worden.
2. Nathan Tanner b. Sept 1737 South Kingstown, Rhode Island d. 1790 Greenwich, Washington, NY. This Nathan Tanner married Elizabeth Thurston.
3. Abel Tanner b. 7 Sept 1740 South Kingstown, Rhode Island d. 23 Aug 1787, Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island. Abel married Phoebe Bent.

As far as Elizabeth Colgrove/Cottrell/Gardiner goes, she is descended from Francis Colgrove b. 1667 Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales, d. 1759 North Kingstown, Rhode Island. 

Francis married twice. His first wife was named Elizabeth b. abt 1670 England d. 1688 North Kingstown, Rhode Island. She married Francis in 1687 in England. Her surname is unknown. She died in 1688 North Kingstown, Rhode Island. She had one child with Francis before her death. This is Elizabeth Colgrove/Cottrell/Gardiner who was born in 1688, probably in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Francis Colgrove b. 1667 married shortly after his first wife’s death, Ann Black in 1688. They had five children. One son of Ann Black and Francis was also named Francis. This Francis was born in 1694. He married a Hannah Bailey and also had a daughter named Elizabeth who was a twin, who married a John Williams. This Elizabeth seems to be confused (sometimes mixed up with marrying William Tanner) with the 1688 Elizabeth and she is not the same Elizabeth.

The Elizabeth Colgrove/Cottrell/Gardiner who married William was first married to a George Gardiner in 1708 in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. She had one daughter with him before his death in 1708. The one daughter was named Elizabeth b. 17 May 1708, South Kingstown. She married a John Bentley.

Elizabeth Colgrove/Cottrell/Gardiner married second, John Cottrell 5 September 1712 in Rhode Island. They had four children together before his death in 1721. One of their daughters is the one who married Nathan Tanner b. 1709, a son of William and Mary Babcock. He is their eighth son listed above. Her name is Mary Cottrell b. 5 May 1715, North Kingstown, Rhode Island, d. 1708 Hopkinton, Rhode Island.

I’m hoping you can now see where the mass confusion has come in when trying to keep all the Elizabeth’s, Nathan’s and John’s straight. It’s hard to follow the Rhode Island records, which is what happened to George Clinton Tanner and anyone else who tries to follow who’s who from his book. 

It took me a few years to peace it all together by studying the Rhode Island records and to discover and unravel the confusion. It wasn’t George’s fault or anyone else’s for that matter. It was a very messy introduction he gave…poor George. 

I hope I’ve have cleared the air. Even the Rhode Island records contain errors. Many of the records are written in very poor handwriting. That’s the way the very early colonial records are. Being accurate is very important when doing genealogy…very important!

I’m here to help anyone who wants it. I’m eager to share with my cousins.

18 comments:

  1. Just a side note about Mary Babcock being past the age of having children. My own mother was 52 years old when she had my brother, who was born healthy. She was older than Mary, when she had my brother. So, it’s not unheard of. There may have been something wrong with Abigail when she was born because of her mother’s age. Perhaps that’s why Abigail is believed to be at the foot of Wm and Mary’s grave in Rhode Island. Elizabeth would have been 31 in 1719, but not married to William until 1723/24. Remember, William was a 7-Day Baptist. His religion was very strick in those matters of having children out of wedlock. It’s not like today.

    Just food for thought, it does happen.

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  2. Yes, there are definitely cases outside the normal bell curve, but they are the exception, not the rule.

    I don't have time to find the figures, so this is from memory, but in Western society before the advent of modern reproductive technology, a statistically-typical woman would start having children between the ages of 19 and 26 and if breastfeeding and in the absence of serial miscarriage, infant mortality, or maternal mortality/severe morbidity, would continue having children every two years until she had around eight to nine children.

    Those are the typical statistics. Women can have children earlier and later—the youngest documented mother is five years old and the oldest is 66 and some women have no children and some are super-fertile—but in genealogical research if you're seeing cases outside the normal range, you need to make sure you're considering other scenarios.

    Local conditions are applicable, too. In the early colonial days, New England had a life expectancy twice that of the South, so women in New England were more likely to have large families and live to see their own grandchildren.

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  3. I will work through all of this after RootsTech. It may take me some time to get back to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, I still do not see any mention of documentation connecting the English William Tanner with the one showing up in Rhode Island in 1680 to sign a disclaimer deed as a witness. Perhaps there is more that is not mentioned?

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  4. Somewhere, I think, you noted that William Tanner's first wife, Tibbetts, died in 1713 at 49. If Francis was born in 1708 wouldn't that make him a son of William by his first wife, not his second, and not, as you definitely note, of his third?

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  5. Hannah Avis Tibbitts/Tibbetts b. 1667 North Kingstown, RI died in 1687/89. She had one son before her death. There is misinformation out there that says she died in 1708 from Find A Grave and Family Collection-Individual Records says she died in 1713. Looking at the marriage record of Mary Babcock in 1690 (this is recorded), this record of Hannah dying in 1713 or 1708 isn't right. This doesn't add up. William Henry Tanner b. 1687 North Kingstown, RI. It would appear that his middle name was the same as his grandfather's name Henry Tibbitts. Mary Babcock and William Tanner were married in 1690. Again, this is recorded. Francis Tanner is the son of Mary Babcock, and not Elizabeth Colgrove/ Gardiner/Cottrell. Elizabeth had children from her other two marriages prior to William. All of this information is the result of close to 38 years now of researching, researching and researching William Tanner. There is so much information out there that is simply not correct. George Clinton Tanner, who published his genealogy book on William Tanner had no documentation to back up his information. It was mostly hearsay or his trying to understand the poorly written records of RI, which by the way, is in handwriting. You have to have the documentation to be accurate. It is there in RI, but one must be tenacious in studying these records to understand who is who. Then, you have the problem of some of the records being inaccurate. I can understand why mistakes where made in George Clinton Tanner's book. He states he didn't have the time to spend in RI to pursue the records which for him was very confusing, and it is confusing. George did the best he could with what he had to work with. It took me years to unravel the records. By the way, I have the recorded baptismal record for William Tanner. He was baptized 10 Mar 1657 in Chipstead, Surrey, England. Surrey is just outside of London. His father's name was not Francis but John Tanner, mother was Elizabeth.

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  6. Hi Peggy — Glad that you're still working on the genealogy! I know it's a complex research question, but how do you know that the William Tanner you're looking at in England is the correct person?

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  7. The genealogist who I worked with had checked all other William Tanner's born around the period of 1660? She also checked the whole of England knowing that there were many Williams and at great cost to me. It took her many years to do the research. This William was the ONLY William who came close to this year. All others were born much earlier, later or died before Wm immigrated or forced to come to US. I may also note, that she felt that the Francis Tanner was probably a uncle of William. Francis being the brother of John Tanner. This also came as a surprise to the genealogist and myself! Also, in the chipstead parish records are recorded the sisters of Wm. It was the custom, in the colonial days and England, to name children after parents and siblings. This naming convention clearly shows with Wm when he and Mary named their daughters/sons after Williams's siblings i.e. Anna, Elizabeth, Jane, John.

    Please don't be a "Doubting Thomas."

    The whole issue of poor William Tanner is complex, but it doesn't need to be anymore. This is really the right William Amy, it really is. The genealogist was a professional and put the same question to her on many occasions. I may add something else about William that I recently found in research. He may have been a undesirable, imprisioned by the lovely English, then shipped to Barbados and then on to the colonies. There is a William Tanner found in a book called FLHG_BondedPassengersAmerica1-0178 on page 54. This William just so happens to appear in the Fones record around 1680...hmmmmm. This could be him and may not be him. I have no record, other than the book, to prove it's the right William, but the arrival date sure looks interesting. Amy is this is him, then I think what happened with him being an undesirable (because of his religious belief of a 7-Day Baptist) got him into trouble with the Church of England. There were many people that didn't conform to this Church, thrown in prison and shipped out to the colonies. William was pardoned by the way. Interesting reading at any rate. I can send this record to you if you would like to see it.

    This whole in-devour has been very interesting and frustrating for me down through the years and it's taken me a lifetime to zero in on William. Sorry for the War and Peace txt.

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    1. Hi Peggy:

      I am glad you mention that reprieved prisoner, William Tanner, from Ducklington. I got a lot of flack when I first mention him way back in 2000. The term prisoner set the Tanner clan off but reading how the Baptist were persecuted by the Church of England back in those days, it didn't surprise me. It may just coincidental that he was shipped out in 1680 and our William suddenly mention two years later. A Jane Tanner was sent to the Colonies a year or so later, if I remember correctly. This reprieved William does seem to be the type that would associate with the likes of Randall Holden who was a supporter of Samuel Gorton. By the way, I can also trace my line back to Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer. No wonder I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid.

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  8. I think this is indeed our Wm Tanner, although, I have even received hate mail concerning this horrible notion.

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  9. Hi Peggy:

    I am sorry that you got hate mail over the possibility that our William Tanner was a reprieved prisoner. It seems kind of small for people to do that over someone who died way back in the 1700.

    I would think that somewhere in England, unless it was destroyed is some event; there is a record of what ship this William Tanner sailed on to the Colonies or Barbados and where he went afterward so that the English could make sure that he left England and that he doesn't try to return to England. If this is indeed our William Tanner, I wonder why he went all the way from Chipstead Parish, Surrey, England, Surrey, which I think is a good distance southeast of London, to Ducklington which is a good distance northwest of London. Maybe this is where they sent all the religious prisoners (if he was one) for holding for trial and punishment.

    If I remember correctly, awhile back you wrote that you were going to write a revision of the Tanner's genealogy. Did you ever do this and was it published? If it was and there are still copies available, would it be possible for me to purchase one? I have a copy of George Clinton Tanner book "William Tanner of North Kingston, RI, which he gave to my Great Grandmother (Hannah Miller) and she past it down to my Grandfather (Charles Allen Tanner, Sr.) and who gave it to my Father (Charles Allen Tanner, Jr.) who gave it to me.

    Thanks,

    John Allen Tanner

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  10. Hi John,

    I don't have an answer for you as to why William was in Ducklington. It could very well have been, as you mentioned, he was sent there as were all prisoners for shipment out of England.

    In answer to as have I published anything, I have not. Still working on the genealogy, meaning I'm cleaning it up. I would be happy to send you what I discovered about William if you would like. I have the names of his sisters, parents and grandparents, great grandparents. The genealogist I hired also mentioned that William may have had two brothers, neither of which were born in Chipstead, but in the London area. One Thomas Tanner who lived, married and died in Chipstead and a John Tanner. This John Tanner is found in the CT records, married 2x. This John did have a Thomas Tanner thought to belong to William. Awhile back, this Thomas was proved to belong to John Tanner and not William awhile back. William's genealogy goes back to the year 1589. The Jane Tanner mentioned in the Barbados records could very well be his sister who was named Jane, but I have no proof of this. It's just interesting to note that William did have a sister named Jane. Back in the colonial days, children were named after siblings of either the wife, husband or both. Note that William had daughters by Mary Babcock named, Jane, Elizabeth, Anna. This was common practice.

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    1. Hi Peggy:

      I would love to have any information that you feel comfortable sending me about William Tanner. Also, when you publish the Tanner genealogy, I would like to purchase a copy. I greatly appreciate the time, effort and monetary resources you put into answering the question as to where in England did William Tanner come from and who were his parents, grandparents and siblings. I am not sure as to where you live but I live on Cape Cod and am only a little over an hour from Boston and the New England Historic Genealogical Society of which I am a member. So if there is anything you would like me to look up for you at the NEGHS library, don't hesitate to let me know. It was in NEGHS library where I saw the Bonded Passengers book that mention of William Tanner and Jane Tanner. When I saw the information back in 1999 or 2000, I wrote about this finding on some of the Tanner chat sites (not sure as to what you call them) in hopes that someone would pursue this information farther to see if there was a possibility that this was our William. It just seemed too coincidental to pass up. Unfortunately, I didn't have the financial resources, nor the time to do that at that time. Then my wife got sick and after she passed away, I just didn't have the desire. So I am very happy that you took it upon yourself to take the baton and run with it.

      I am not sure if you have my e-mail address. If not. it is

      john.a.tanner@gmail.com

      Thanks,

      John Allen Tanner

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    2. I am also seeking accurate information on William Tanner. If you have made this information available to John or others, I would like a copy. I would like an accurate birth and death date for Mary Babcock as well. Do you have a tree for William Tanner we can look at posted somewhere?
      carolyn@freedomformula.us

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  11. Hey John,

    You ARE the fellow I contacted many years ago. The living in Cape Cod answered that question. I will put together something for you. I'm sorry for the loss of your wife and you stay focused, even though it's very hard and stay busy. It does help.

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  12. Peggy,
    I would also like a copy of the detailed relationships you mentioned above to John Allen Tanner. Do you have a family tree or information online that I can look at? My email address is: carolyn@freedomformula.us I can reimburse you for sending your information if you let me know what I owe and how. Thank you very much!

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    1. I changed by blog name to CarolynTAlder I made a new comment above.

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  13. How are you related to the Tanner's, if I may ask. I have not published anything as of yet, nor do I post anything on Ancestry.com, anywhere else. Reason is private. Info I sent to John was for his use concerning his line. Since he is living (privacy issue) you will need to contact him, for information that was given to him.

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  14. I am a direct descendant of John Tanner who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS and came to Utah. I was very grateful to come across your post in this Blog! I have been trying to figure out the William Tanner line for the last few years, (not 38+ years like yourself). My family all believe that we came through Francis, through Elizabeth Colgrove. When I found your information that we actually came through Mary Babcock, I wanted to find out all I can about that. I cannot find a birth date or place that I am comfortable with for Mary Babcock. There are so many different choices. Also finding her real parents are quite confusing to me. When I was asking for the information you sent to John, I was referring to your statement, "I would be happy to send you what I discovered about William if you would like. I have the names of his sisters, parents and grandparents, great grandparents." I was requesting the same information. Please let me know, if there is a charge for it. I did actually email John to see if you had sent him the information, but I have not heard back yet. Thank you very much for all of your expertise, time, and resources to research this William Tanner in detail!

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