Caveat Genealogist!

Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: July 26, 2002

Genealogist Beware! There are many unscrupulous individuals out there, ready to bilk you of your hard earned dollars by leveraging your desire to connect to your ancestors.

Family books

Chances are you, or someone in your family, has received a letter from a company offering to sell you the family history, specifically for The (insert your name here) Family. This limited edition, numbered book is a once in a lifetime offer so reserve your copy now! What you will get will be a rather expensive spacer for your bookshelf, of limited genealogical value. The standard book consists of a rather generic family history and story of the name, which may actually have some basis in fact, a section on how to do your own genealogy, complete with forms and diagrams for you to fill out and pages and pages of names and addresses of people that share the same last name. I have one of these that someone in my family bought many years ago, it actually has my father's name showing up in it at three different addresses in three different states. And the fact that the name has evolved into four different spellings is not mentioned anywhere and the other three are not included in the book at all.

Before purchasing one of these volumes, check with others and see what their experience has been. There are legitimate offers from individuals that have conducted a great deal of research that may be trying to fund the publication of a family history. These are well worth having and are usually accompanied by a request for information on your branch, to be included or verified with what the writer already has. You could ask to see sample pages or a sample chapter.

Web Services

Web services can be tricky! Let me warn you about what one company does. They are constantly being shut down by various consumer protection agencies, only to reappear under a different name a few months later. This organization simply creates a set of frames and allows you to access all of the free sites on the internet, after paying them a nice fee for the right! I'll be reviewing a number of the legitimate sites in an upcoming article. Please, before obligating yourself to a long contract, check the site out with other genealogists and see if it is worth spending money on. Some of the services provide valuable access to records and documents you may never be able to get your hands on otherwise.


There are numerous schemes out there to bilk money from people based on the hope that they are related to someone that left a large estate that was confiscated by the government. People are asked to provide personal information and a deposit of money to fund the law suits to retrieve their share of this valuable and non-existent estate. If it is too good to be true, it probably isn't true!

Black Sheep

A great place to visit on the web to acquaint yourself with the bad apples out there is the Genealogy Hall of Shame. Put together by the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists, this web site provides a list of known frauds and rip-off artists in the field of genealogy. This is no recent occurrence, there have been false family trees floating around for decades. The main page of this site includes a great deal of information about the past and present things to watch for. In fact, the warning signs listed are valid for spotting any type of a scam, not just those related the genealogy!

Be careful out there! Check with others before you pay hard earned cash for a dubious promise of generations of relatives.

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Updated on 10/25/2005