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Buchanan Estate Scam: Detecting and Navigating Genealogical Hoaxes

Family Histories and Papers

A hoax in the family does not mean that everything ever written must be disregarded. You will be a better researcher by knowing the problem exists, so that you will recognize it if you encounter it. Published genealogies are excellent resources and handed-down family papers may provide one-of-a-kind clues. They should not be discounted or ignored. In fact, it is critical to acknowledge the hoax in your research and explain how you addressed contradictions and falsehoods. The overall point is to be conscious of what you read and make your own assessment.

As you review family histories and papers, look for:

  • Publication date, date of letter, etc.
    • Before, during, or after the hoax?
    • Keep in mind that even many years later, research may be tainted due to the rediscovery of scam paperwork by unsuspecting descendants
  • Recognizable elements of the heirship scheme
    • People, places, or themes common to the narrative
    • If the scheme revolved around a target ancestor, watch for mention of that person and provide extra attention to the review of that information
  • Acknowledgment of the hoax and/or explanation of how it has been addressed in the research
    • Did the author encounter the scam during their research?
    • What conclusions did they reach?
  • Source citations
    • Retrieve the cited records for your own review and compare your conclusions

About Local History & Genealogy Reference Services

The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications, numbering more than 50,000 compiled family histories and over 100,000 U.S. local histories. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.

Add biographical details and historical context to your family history through the vast resources of the Library of Congress Online Catalog, Digital Collections, specialized Reading Rooms, Exhibits, and e-Resources.

Subscription and Free Databases

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.