Watch Out for Fake Family Trees

man-chopping-tree (1)

Many ancient, illustrious family trees are in need of pruning, if not chopping down. Fraudulent genealogies make their way into books which sit on library shelves, waiting to deceive a new, unsuspecting generation of genealogists. 

By James Pylant
Copyright © 2002, 2004, 2015 — All rights reserved
Do not post or publish without written permission

Several years ago, upon our first visit to Salt Lake City’s Family History Library, we found a microfilmed copy of a genealogy of the Van Meters in New York. It traced the lineage of this family back to Joost Jansen Van Meteren who married Sara DuBois. But it was the DuBois bloodline that never seemed to end. It started with Sara’s parents, French emigrants, and continued backward, giving names of grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. It concluded with the DuBois descent from the Plantagenet family. In just an hour we started our search with a seventeenth century New York family and ended with a royal bloodline.

There was no documentation, but we wouldn’t let it end there. After returning from Salt Lake City, a search was started on the newly found DuBois line. It did not take long to answer that question about documentation for the royal pedigree. William Heidgerd’s The American Descendants of Chrètien DuBois of Wicres, France, Part One (New Paltz, New York: DuBois Family Association, 1968), gave the sobering news. The illustrious lineage was widely published, but that didn’t make it accurate. A French genealogist hired by a DuBois descendant had, as Heidgerd wrote, “perpetrated upon her an outrageous fraud.” The French genealogist copied the lineage of a DuBois family of royal descent from a reliable reference and then grafted the noble branch to the family tree of his client. The French genealogist purposely combined the identities of Chrètien DuBois and Chrètien Maxmillan DuBois des Fiennes. He then conveniently omitted dates of birth and death, for Chrètien DuBois was at least 120 years older than Chrètien Maxmillan DuBois des Fiennes!

Heidgerd credits the late Reverend W. Twyman Williams for exposing the fraud. Although the Williams report was in 1935, many did not learn of it until the publication of Heidgerd’s volume—more than 30 years later. Sadly, this is often the case with fraudulent genealogies. They make their way into books which sit on library shelves waiting to deceive a new, unsuspecting generation of genealogists.

Robert Charles Anderson’s article, “We Wuz Robbed!,” in the Genealogical Journal of the Utah Genealogical Association, Vol. 19, Nos. 1 & 2 (1991), warns researchers of the genealogical pitfalls created by the late Gustave Anjou. It’s been nearly 60 years since Anjou’s death, yet his fraudulent pedigrees were incorporated into many published family histories. For an overview of the Anjou fraud, see Ron Wild’s article, “Beware of Fraudulent Genealogies,” in Family Chronicle.

In National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 2, editors Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills, on the subject of documentation, shared their experience with a well-known genealogical compiler who did not cite his sources. “Several expensive years later, we discovered that he disdained documentation: he had manufactured ancestors for us. As he later explained, he ‘liked to make people happy, and people don’t like dead ends or dull forbearers.’ The Millses added, “This man’s writings are still very much alive on library shelves, as well as on genealogy’s ‘swap-out circuit.'”

In “Early Nichols Genealogy Exposed as Fraud,” in American Genealogy Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 1, we wrote of George L. Nichols’s experience with the research of an earlier researcher named Leon Nelson Nichols. George L. Nichols concluded that the work of the earlier researcher was purely fictional. “It’s a shame that people think they have to invent glamorous backgrounds for a family or families,” he said, “but they do it.”