"Name Histories" and "Family Crests"

Probably the best known of the Genealogical Newsgroups is the CompuServe Roots forum managed by Dick Eastman. This supports and is supported by the Eastman Genealogical Newsletter and two Websites - the Roots forum and Dick Eastman's own.

The Roots forum was among the first of the genealogists' meeting places to protest against the spread online of the bucketshop "historians" and "heralds" whose frauds, in the days in which they claim to be experts, would have seen them hanged with other cutpurses. In his current newsletter Eastman writes of "Name Histories" and "Family Crests":

Several of the shopping malls near me have pushcart vendors who sell "certificates" and other merchandise that claim to be "the history of your family name" or "your family's coat of arms" or both. Unfortunately, they overlook a few facts. First, in the United Kingdom, Ireland and most of western Europe, there is no such thing as a "family coat of arms." Coats of arms or crests are issued only to individuals. Anyone who displays a crest that he is not authorized to use is, in effect, misrepresenting himself. The "family histories" are a bit fuzzier. These often are based upon facts, but no one should ever expect these "histories" to represent their ancestral origins without tracing lineage back one generation at a time. This is especially true in North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand where so many immigrants changed their surnames after arrival in order to assimilate into new cultures.

Various mail order outfits such as Halberts have been selling these bogus family histories and "family coats of arms" for years even though they have been vigorously prosecuted several times by postal inspectors. The National Genealogical Society and others have been very active in identifying these companies who advertise misleading products.

Of course, these scams are not only online. They are in shopping malls, airport terminals, department stores and hotels - almost anywhere the punters may be expected to browse for a few idle moments. The fury they arouse in genealogists and armorists is life-threatening, for the frustration factor is immense. Serious and honest historical research may be fatiguing, but it produces its rewards (although money is not one of them). Yet everywhere there are flippant and dishonest operators fleecing the unknowing public of a lot of money with no intellectual fatigue at all. And there is so little, it seems, that can be done to prevent this.

Elsewhere we have proposed the frauds be fought with publicity. We have tried to ridicule the "Distinguished Surname" merchants with parody, but although the risibility factor may prevent a few punters surrendering their money, it will not remove the nuisance. The law takes a long time to act. Publicity may achieve more a little faster.

Our readers can help. Tell your friends. Spread the word:



In the next issue of the Baronage magazine we shall examine the Halbert's product and reveal in detail just how shabby it is. (Of course, to balance our criticism, we may be able to praise the three-, four- or five-year-old telephone directory pages that fill most of the space between the Halbert's covers.)

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