The origin of the surname Tanis has been a source of speculation for a long time. One of the Tanis family members discovered a hamlet in Normandy, France, named Tanis.
Others have suggested that the Tanis surname could refer to the Thames River Valley in Essex, England. In the Netherlands, the prime concentration of the Tanis clan can be found in the coastal village of Ouddorp, which is only a boat ride away from the Thames, they say.
Another tongue-in-cheek explanation places the Tanis origin in Egypt because it has a town named Tanis.
The village of Ouddorp is part of the municipality of Goedereede, which is home to 555 members of the 1,548 member Dutch Tanis clan. Include those residing in adjoining municipalities of the former island of Goeree-Overflakkee and the Tanis clan concentration reaches a subtotal of 668 members. (The clan saw many emigrate to the USA in the late 1800s, but that is another story.)
The earliest birth entries with the surname Tanis date from the mid 1550s, when three brothers named Tanis lived in Ouddorp, a village known for dependence on fishing. The other economic activity was agricultural, including growing madder, a root used for extracting dye for treating leather and textiles, including ropes and sails.
Ouddorp’s fishermen, like their contemporaries elsewhere, needed to protect their fishing gear from deterioration and treated the material by submerging it in a ‘taanketel’ (tanning drum) and boiling it in a ‘taanhuisje’ (tanning shed) although these fireplaces could also be in the open air.
Could the Dutch verb ‘tanen’ be relevant in the solution to the Tanis origin question?
Let us look elsewhere in the country. The Vollenhove, Overijssel local historical society periodical Kondschap of June 2010 featured an article titled, ‘Het tanen van scheepstextiel’ (The tanning of seafarer’s textile), which describes the process in detail although there is no direct reference to the madder culture because they used a certain kind of tree bark.
Is there a link with the tanner trade? The genealogical research available focuses too much on the bare data without detailing information on livelihood issues which tell so much more about ancestors.
Although I plan to keep looking for more references that may clarify the origin of the Tanis surname further and still more convincingly, I am not yet sold on the idea that the surname points to roots in England.
There are two noteworthty points about the Tanis tradition: for centuries there were no firm spelling rules but the this surname’s spelling stayed the course while many others in the area did not.
The other point, the given name Jacob, its female equivalent Jacoba and minor variations such as Jaap and Jack are still being used after nearly 500 years.
As for “tanen”, Wikipedia has a brief article (in Dutch) with an illustration listed at http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanen.
To read more about the Tanis and Ouddorp connection in North America, you may want to read: http://www.godutch.com/newspaper/index.php?id=469