By Teresa Ambord
Senior Wire 

Even your family history isn't safe from scams


December 1, 2017

Delving into our family history has become a big pastime for many Americans. TV is full of ads about finding long lost relatives, discovering connections you didn’t know about, and even testing your DNA. So of course, this trend caught the attention of thieves who tap into any interest they can weasel into. A few years ago, scammers were busted, using well-known genealogy sites as a way to glean details they could use to steal identities – of the living and the dead. Now, they’re working on a newer (but not new) set of schemes.

Who’s your granddaddy?

You may remember that years ago, a company called Halbert’s based in Bath, Ohio, grew rich selling what they claimed were books of personal family history. They sold them through snail mail mostly, offering a detailed, one-of-a-kind collection of information about your family, available for a limited time only. Turns out they were “little more than glorified phone books” (according to a site called They had grandiose names, such as “The Wonderful World of Smiths” or “All About the Smith Family.”

Eventually, Halbert’s was prosecuted for fraud and shut down. But that didn’t stop other scoundrels from taking advantage of a money-making idea. These days, the scams are perpetrated by email or through social media ads. They offer books about your family, scrolls and plaques, a family crest or coat of arms, that claim to tell the origin of your family name. In truth, they contain scant details that are verifiable and usually available for you to find yourself easily.

Tip: According to, don’t seek your family coat of arms, because, with rare exceptions in Eastern Europe, they were rarely granted to families. A coat of arms was granted to individuals, and a family crest is one small part of a full coat of arms.

Consult a genealogy specialist? Not so fast

There are bona fide genealogy specialists, and it can be a great resource for digging deeper into your family history. Many honest people make a healthy living helping people this way. But as with everything else, beware the scoundrels.

Truth be told (and scoundrels rarely deal in truth telling), anyone can claim to be a genealogy specialist. There is no licensing involved, so any amateur family historian can hang up a shingle and charge a fee for doing what you can do yourself. Now, that’s not necessarily a crime, as long as they don’t pretend to be more than they are

– amateurs. A person with drive and diligence can be a very effective researcher and you may find such a person very helpful. Just be aware of what you’re getting.

How can you avoid the scammers? Before plopping down a fee, check with the Association of Professional Genealogists (at, to see if the name of the person you are dealing with is registered. Click on “find a professional.” You can enter a name to see if it comes up as a professional. Or if you’re seeking a professional in your area, enter a location. Once again, keep in mind that a person does not have to be certified to be great at what he or she does. The problem is in falsely claiming to have credentials.

Try a church

The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) is famous for its genealogy skills. And many offer classes and an abundance of resources. If you’re interested in a deep dive into your family history, check out a local church or community college.

Courtesy of a website from the LDS church in my county, here are several sites you can use to do your own research and/or become a specialist.

Become an actual Family History Specialist

The world’s interest in family history is not going away any faster than history itself is going away. If this is a strong interest, why not become a specialist? You can use your sharpened skills to dig into your own family tree, and if you are so inclined, offer your services to others for a fee. The resources to do that are abundant, and sometimes free. Here’s one:

You can also read articles for free at

Once you’re on your way, check into joining the Association of Professional Genealogists ( That enhances your credibility.

Check locally for genealogy groups that can help add to your resources and your knowledge base. Just go to a browser such as, and type in “family history” or “genealogy” and your geographic area.

Find an area of specialization, for example, birth certificates or probate records. According to Jessica Taylor of Legacy Tree Genealogists, you can also specialize in a geographic area.

Here’s a tip: Taylor says there are two geographic areas where finding information is most difficult: the southern United States, and Eastern Europe. Of course that means that becoming a specialist in one of these areas would require extra diligence, but it could mean your services are in great demand.

Something to think about? If family history is an area of interest for you, dive in. Who knows? You may love it enough to turn a hobby into an income. Or a labor of love, if you prefer.


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