This week I decided to publish a "reprint" of an article that I wrote several years ago. The reason that I am publishing it again is because of all the e-mails I have been receiving lately on this topic.
I have written a lot over the past few years about Halbert's, a company that claimed to publish "the story of your family name." Halbert's sent hundreds of millions of advertisements showing a Bath, Ohio return address even though the company was actually located in nearby Akron, Ohio. I even visited the building at Halbert’s address as listed on their advertisements; it was a tiny office building. Halbert’s was actually a division of the NUMA Corporation, located in nearby Akron, Ohio. The Bath address was merely a mail drop.
While the advertisements seemed to describe books full of valuable genealogy data, the hapless buyer paid $30.00 or $40.00 for a cheaply-produced booklet full of names and addresses extracted from telephone books, along with some generic information on how to get started in genealogy. Halbert's also sold so-called "family coats of arms" suitable for framing. They also sold coats of arms on coffee cups, golf shirts and even on key chains. (Please note that there is no such thing as a "family coat of arms" in the British Isles or in Western Europe, but people keep buying this junk anyway.)
Over the years, I wrote several articles about Halbert's. One described an announcement that the company was for sale, and then, a few weeks later, another article described the shut down of Halbert's. In fact, the company laid off all the employees in 1999 and even sold the office furniture. The parent company, NUMA Corporation, also ceased operations a few months later.
Ever since I wrote that Halbert's has been shut down, I have received e-mails from people saying that the company only moved or perhaps was sold to new owners. Apparently the Internet newsgroups frequently contain wildly speculative messages claiming that Halbert's has been reincarnated elsewhere. These e-mails report "new operations" from various locations in Colorado, Florida, and Canada. In fact, all of the companies mentioned so far were in business for several years before Halbert's was shut down and are not affiliated with Halbert's in any way. While Halbert's was the best-known or most notorious company in this business, they always had competitors, other companies that sell the same or similar "products." Some of these competitors have been in business for years.
I received an e-mail this week proclaiming, "Discover Your Family History - Rated 'Cool Site of the Week'." This was obviously an e-mail sent as "bulk mail," not a personalized message to me. But the e-mail went on and on:
Do you know WHO your ancestors are and WHAT they did? Do you know WHEN your surname first appeared? Are you curious about WHERE your family roots originate?
Now you can fill in the missing pieces of this puzzle. Join the satisfied multitudes who have discovered their complete Family Surname History.
All Nationalities. It's easy. Just key your last name into our online index, and in seconds we will tell you it's [sic] origin and much MORE. See if we've researched your complete family name history during our 25 years of professional research.
Well, I happen to know who many of my ancestors are and even what many of them did to earn a living. I do know where my surname first appeared. I also admit to being rather skeptical, but I just had to see this one. So I fired up a Web browser and looked at the site listed. I was soon looking at the "Hall of Names International," which obviously is trying to sell reproductions of coats of arms and the "history of your family name." The Web site has numerous graphics of coats of arms and pictures of medieval armor.
The site offers a surname search capability, so I entered my own surname. It said, "Eastman is of British and/or Irish origin." That's only partially correct. The name is found in England in the 1500s but not in Ireland until the 1800s, when an Englishman of that name moved to Ireland. And the Web site ignores the various EASTMAN immigrants to the U.S. and Canada who came from Sweden and Denmark and even one Eastman who came from Russia.
I then clicked on an icon for more information and was informed that:
Yes! We have researched your Family History! The history of this ancient Suffolk family traces its ancestry as a family of Anglo Saxon origin before the year 1100 and appears first in the ancient records in Suffolk.
Sorry, folks. Again I disagree. The name first appears around the year 1500 near Salisbury, Wiltshire, and not "before the year 1100." In fact, surnames were not yet common in England before the year 1100 A.D. Therefore, the claim that the name appeared prior to 1100 A.D. is obviously bogus. The Web site's text went on to say that the company could send a "completely researched parchment history of the Eastman family [that] not only includes in full colour the most ancient family name Coat of Arms but traces the surname origin forward from the 11th or 12th century. This beautifully detailed history includes the Eastman nobles & titles, the family castles, estates and manors, the battles, wars and feuds they overcame, the branches as they formed throughout Europe, pioneers and settler's and also the notables of this distinguished family who lived during this century."
Nobles and titles? Family castles? Estates and manors? Give me a break! These ancestors were farmers and basket makers. The wealthiest one I ever found was one who left a few head of sheep and some pewter plates in his will. Nothing else. I've been researching this name for years and have combed every piece of information I could find. I have never seen a single documented reference to an Eastman castle, estate, or manor. I have to question this "completely researched parchment history."
For "only" $14.95 they offered to send me this "completely researched parchment history." And free with every order is a key chain with my coat of arms. They even offer a golf shirt embroidered with "my" coat of arms for $25.95. I decided to pass up these "great offers."
If you really want to see this electronic equivalent of the stuff sold in mall pushcarts, look at: http://www.hallofnames.com, produced by Swyrich Corporation. But hang onto your wallet real tight.
The International Hall of Names also sells "franchises" to others. Apparently some of these are the pushcart businesses that you sometimes see in shopping malls. Private individuals can license the database and some software to make printouts on demand. A "franchise" costs $5,000, according the International Hall of Names' Web site at http://www.hallofnames.com/downloads/licenseinfo.pdf. I also found a number of other Web sites peddling similar products. While they were doing business under several different business names, every one of them had the statement "Copyright by the International Hall of Names" on their pages.
If you would like to learn more about legitimate coats of arms, look at The Baronage Press at http://www.baronage.co.uk or at the American College Of Heraldry Web site at: http://www.americancollegeofheraldry.org or at the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies Web site at: http://www.ihgs.ac.uk. The information found on these sites will be far more accurate than that from someone peddling coffee cups, key chains and golf shirts.