Charlatans and Thieves Steal the Fun from Genealogy
by Bob Brooke
The study of genealogy has been plagued with those who are unwilling to require
accuracy in their research. Many have accepted improper or unproven links with a
person of noble birth as fact. Thus charlatans and thieves have practiced successful
schemes to bilk the gullible public.
A scheme that has met with success and profit has been the "missing heir" racket.
Although this scheme is probably less commonly practiced today than 50 years ago, it
still victimizes many. Persons purporting to represent interests in an inheritance
have claimed that the inheritance has been tied up for some time due to lack of
contact with missing heirs. They entice people, even of modest means, to employ them
to seek the legacy. They take the person on many so-called research visits and
overseas conferences, supposedly designed to establish the person's right to the
inheritance. After the person's funds are depleted, the case is declared hopeless and
the person is left financially drained.
Another form of profit making which is often dubious is the practice of some
companies to offer a report or a booklet to the public of the lineage of a
particular family. The report is a mere compilation of surnamne extracts from
censuses, county histories, compendia, and random sources. Such a compilation is of
little value, and hardly deserves its name. The buyer gets much less than he
expected, but the advertising is carefully worded to prevent legal action.
Yet another misleading practice is to establish a business under the name of an
organization that's similar to a well-known professional organization and to
advertise professional services. The buyer gets less than he pays for, and the
genuine professional organization is burdened with the task of taking any legal
action necessary to force the business to change its name.
In recent years, organizations have sprung up in Washington and Utah which employ
questionable schemes. Some of these offer to provide workshops for local genealogical
and historical societies at no charge. Assuming that the offer emanates from a
respectable organization, the local genealogical society doesn't suspect anything
amiss and sometimes proceeds with the plans to have a workshop. The workshop turns
out to be primarily a high-pressure sales campaign designed to sell expensive,
over-priced literature. This information, usually reworded to circumvent the
copyright laws, may already be readily available in genealogical manuals.
And then there's the perennial fake herald scheme. A letter saying that a company can
produced the herald of the addressee for a certain price. Worded in such a way as to
make anyone think it's authentic, some unsuspecting addressees are taken in and order
it. Only families directly related to noble families in the Middle Ages are eligible
to claim heraldry.
As with so many popular interests, there are unethical practitioners and unscrupulous
enterprisers among the honest practitioners. The serious researcher interested in his
or her proper family history should make every effort to avoid these traps.
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