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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Buyer Beware
by Rhonda R. McClure

May 23, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

As I sat talking with an acquaintance this past week, talk turned to genealogy. It doesn't often with this individual, like so many of the others I talk with, so I was surprised. She mentioned she had received a mailing for a book on her husband's surname. I was good and didn't rant and rave. I did, however, ask if she still had the letter in question.

As I suspected it was from one of those notorious groups that prey on the many people who have a passing interest in genealogy. This happened to be a group out of Colorado, who appear to have picked up the torch from the infamous days of the company in Bath, Ohio. I did find this latest letter more disturbing, though, because it sounded like you would get more real genealogy.

There are many genealogical scams out there.

Get it All for $49.95

What is that old saying? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Ok, that's two old sayings, but when it comes to genealogy both of these apply.

Genealogy is a lifelong hobby. It is one of the reasons so many of us are attracted to it. It is never ending. For every question that we answer on the pedigree chart we have two more questions that now need answering. At any given time, most of us are researching in many different generations on the pedigree chart.

The computers we now use have made researching easier in many ways. I know that when I am compiling genealogies of some individuals for Celebrity Roots, the tools available through the computer often give me a major jump start. However, I then take that information one step further by going to original records, such as census and vital records, in addition to published family histories. This research takes on the same approach as the research I have been doing for years on my own family tree. I go from generation to generation, though some generations are kinder than others.

There are some out there though who will promise you what sounds like the moon when in fact they aren't even delivering a moon pie. Genealogy in its very nature is not something that can be compiled for $49.95. It takes time and it takes patience (sometimes more patience than you'd like). It also takes some money as we order records and subscribe to databases and incur other costs on this trek through the family tree.

Database Scams

Letters such as the one my friend received are mailed to individuals all over the country. It may look like you can have learn all your answers on the (fill in your surname here) family, the reality is that what you get is far from what you expected. Another more recent (but as unscrupulous) trend involves online databases and subscription sites.

The problem is that many of you are educated enough not to fall for that letter that arrives in your mailbox. You are, however, savvy enough to know that at times it is necessary to subscribe to databases to get the information you need. It is sad, though, when you subscribe to a database only to discover that the information supplied to you there is available for free. In fact you have probably used those free sites and now this new company comes along and charges you a fee to access the same information.

This is becoming more and more a problem online. Unscrupulous individuals are setting up Web sites to which you pay a fee thinking you are getting new information or access to special databases that you have not seen elsewhere. Instead, you are actually paying for the privilege to search databases you were already searching for free.

This is a scam through and through. You thought you were getting one thing when instead you were getting something totally different. You can search those sites already for free. You expected, when you subscribed to these others, that you were getting original data as you find when you subscribe to things such as the various subscriptions found here at

In Conclusion

As consumers and genealogists we need to be up to date and informed on such questionable business practices. You can find out more about these types of sites by visiting the Genealogical Web Site Watchdog.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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