False Ancestors

by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG

Not even your family histories are safe from those who want to make a quick buck at your expense. Moreover, you might have been hoodwinked with a fabricated genealogy and your relatives might have been victims of estate frauds -- an old con game, and you might not even realize it.

Early in the 20th century, about 200 fabricated genealogies were produced by Gustav Anjou (1863-1942), a Staten Island, New York forger of genealogical records. Anjou developed a profitable business in mail-order ancestors for wealthy clients willing to pay about $9,000 for a family history. More than 100 genealogies compiled by Anjou have been located. They are widely accessible in most large libraries and have been reprinted many times, and probably are being used today by genealogists who are not aware that the pedigrees are false. Anjou, and others like him, simply grafted noble and royal ancestors onto their client's trees, sometimes by using invented European parishes and forged wills and vital records.

Not only did Anjou falsify many genealogies, evidently he fabricated his own pedigree and credentials, according to Gordon L. Remington, Fellow of the Utah Genealogical Association and editor of GENEALOGICAL JOURNAL OF THE UTAH GENEALOGICAL ASSOCIATION, in an article that appeared in Volume 19, Nos. 1 & 2 (1991) of that periodical. In the same issue also appears an excellent article on estate frauds by Helen Hinchliff, and one by Robert Charles Anderson on the Anjou pedigrees.

According to Anderson, a certified genealogist and Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, a typical Anjou pedigree displays four recognizable (at least to the more experienced researcher) features:

-- A dazzling range of connections among dozens of immigrants  (mostly to New England).

-- Many wild geographical leaps, outside the normal range of migration patterns.

-- An overwhelming number of citations to documents that actually exist, and include what Anjou says they include.

-- Here and there an "invented" document, without citation, which appears to support the many connections.

Among the genealogies compiled by Anjou are those for: BEACH, BELL, CALDWELL, DENT, FREEMAN, GRANT, HENDERSON, HOUSTON, MARSHALL, McCORMICK, NOWELL/NOELL, ORMOND, ROCKWELL, SEAMAN, TER BUSH, WELLING, and WHEELER. For an extensive listing along with the call numbers of the Anjou genealogies available at the Family History Library, see FRAUDULENT LINEAGES: http://www.linkline.com/personal/xymox/fraud/fraud223.htm http://www.linkline.com/personal/xymox/fraud/fraud224.htm

See also "Watch Out for Fake Family Trees," by James Pylant, editor of AMERICAN GENEALOGY MAGAZINE: http://www.genealogymagazine.com/watoutforfak.html

Estate frauds touched hundreds of thousands of American families. If you uncover references to a fortune or estate that some of your relatives tried to obtain years ago, be wary. Also, you may encounter family members who will not admit that they or their parents were defrauded and who still believe there is a lost family fortune out there somewhere.

The bulk of estate frauds has been associated with common surnames. These scams -- many of which occurred about 75 to 100 years ago -- worked like this. Confidence men sought "missing heirs" by placing advertisements in the personal ads or legal notices of newspapers. Then they planted stories in newspapers about huge estates that were soon to be awarded to rightful heirs. Naturally many people responded. Then these "heirs" -- at the urging of the swindlers -- would form associations as estate claimants, incorporate under the laws of their state and write letters to their cousins encouraging them to join the association, and pay the membership dues and special assessments for legal fees to fight for their "estates."

Newspaper wire services picked up dozens of such items about meetings of these various "heirs groups" in small towns. Eventually these stories began to appear in major newspapers such as THE NEW YORK TIMES. Naturally, appearance in prestigious newspapers gave credence to the stories of the estates. Among the well-known estate frauds are those for these surnames: BAKER, DRAKE, EDWARDS, EDWARDS-HALL, FISHER, HARPER, HYDE, JANS, KOHLER, MERCER, SPRINGER, and VAN HORN.

Read more about the "Baker Land Hoax," "Buchanan Estate Scams," "Halberts' Clone," "False and Faked Mayflower Genealogy," "Faked Seminoles in the Confederate Army," and "Hoax of the Century," by following the links from the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists' Genealogy Hall of Shame: http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~blksheep/shame/index.htm

See also: Baronage's "Caveat Emptor" http://www.baronage.co.uk/bphtm-01/caveat02.html   in re name histories and family crests; Cyndi's List: Myths, Hoaxes & Scams: http://www.cyndislist.com/myths.htm ; and Genealogical Web Site Watchdog, which lists many Web sites that provide misleading or inaccurate genealogical information: http://www.ancestordetective.com/watchdog.htm

You might want to take a closer look at your family tree to see if some illustrious or phony ancestors have been grafted onto it and, if so, by whom. Before you brag to your grandchildren about those noble or royal lines, or those famous connections, be sure you are not perpetuating a myth, passing along a hoax, or barking up the wrong tree.

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Written by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG; [email protected]. Previously published by RootsWeb.com, Inc., RootsWeb Review: RootsWeb's Genealogy News, Vol. 3, No. 17, 26 April 2000. RootsWeb: https://sites.rootsweb.com/

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