Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Jesse Montgomery Seaver Genealogies

We had a discussion on the May 30th Mondays With Myrt (see video here) about fraudulent genealogies, and I mentioned works by Jesse Montgomery Seaver (1890-1975) that might be fraudulent.

Several years ago, I posted about the legal trouble that Jesse was involved in, see:

1)  Genealogy fraud has a long history (posted 8 December 2006):

Jesse Montgomery Seaver wrote many other surname books, some with very common names. Apparently he was one of the first genealogy scam artists, as shown at http://www.webnests.com/Chase/chronicles/genealogyfraud.htm.

A newspaper article in August 1930, quoted in the website noted above, includes:

"J. Montgomery Seaver, thirty seven, president of the American Historical-Genealogical Society, Broad and Norris sts., was confronted with State and Federal charges today.
"George C. Baker, superintendent of mails at the post office announced a fraud order against Seaver's organization had been issued at Washington yesterday. At the same time Seaver was being held in $500 bail for court on charges growing out of a collision.
Post office inspectors investigating the Historical Genealogical Society's activities reported he had arranged a plan for selling books purporting to give the records of various families back to the time of William the Conqueror.
"After the investigation Horace J. Donnelly, solicitor of the Post Office Department at Washington, reported the plan to be "a scheme for obtaining money through the mails by means of false and fraudulent promises."
There is more on the website - read the entire article if interested.

2)  "Family Trees Yield Big Coin" (posted 13 October 2009):

Here is the transcription of the article in the 20 March 1934 Spokane (WA) Daily Chronicle newspaper,on page 3:

"PHILADELPHIA, March 20. (AP) --
"Uncle Sam's agents say that J. Montgomery Seaver, 43, made $100,000 in five years by digging around the roots of family trees to report that they extended down to William the Conqueror, Richard the Lion-Hearted and other notables of yore.
"He had three offices in Philadelphia and one in Washington but it was a "racket." Postal Inspector A.T. Hawksworth testified in the U.S. district court yesterdaySeaver was given a 15-month sentence in the federal penitentiary.
"Twenty-two persons testified that they had paid Seaver $10 for a book of family history and $3 for a coat of arms."

3)  As I noted in my 2009 blog post:

Jesse Montgomery Seaver is fairly well-known in genealogy circles for producing a large number of really thin family history books for different surnames. He never did publish a Seaver surname book, but he did circulate a Seaver manuscript that is in several repositories, including the Family History Library and the NEHGS library. I have found few errors in the Seaver manuscript and it has been helpful to my Seaver surname research.

At $10 per book, he sold about 10,000 books, assuming that the word "made" means gross income and not net income. 

The scam must have been pretty odious if they prosecuted him for fraud. It probably took him several years to write and publish all of the books with some veracity, at least enough to fool his customers with their recent ancestry. Just think what someone like this could do these days with online databases and family tree software!

Full disclosure: To the best of my genealogy knowledge, I am not related by blood to this man.


Copyright (c) 2016, Randall J. Seaver

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1 comment:

Richard Van Damme said...

Not of my Seaver family either. I found him in 1940 census for Washington DC listed as a "canvasser of books."