Roots to the Past

Diana Tibert
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The Great Heir Chasers

This is the time of year scam artists seem to choose to make their big hits. I guess it is because everyone is on heightened alert looking for deals or a way to get things done faster. But scams aren't new. And some specifically target genealogists.

One of the biggest scams in genealogical history was the Baker Hoax ( Early in the 1900s, a group of businessmen advertised in many United States newspapers looking for relatives of one Jacob Baker. Anyone who could prove they were related to the formal colonel and hero of the Revolutionary War could possibly gain access to millions of dollars worth of real estate in Philadelphia. The whole scheme was based on a will executed by Jacob Baker and dated Dec. 27, 1830.

It was all quite simple. Those believing they could stake a claim to the estate joined an Association working to have the will probated. Membership fees from one to twenty dollars were required and paid yearly or monthly depending on the Association's requirements. Members received regular updated on the progress. To support their claim, members researched their family history to find official evidence of their relationship to Jacob Baker. Some carried out the research themselves while others hired professional historians to trace their tree.

For an extra fee, the association assisted its members by conducting research and creating genealogical charts to support their relationship to the deceased colonel.

This scam reached beyond the U.S. borders as Baker (and Becker) families in Canada and England scurried to find and support a link to Jacob Baker. The demand in Canada was such that the businessmen set up the Ontario Baker Heirs' Association. In the end, thousands of would-be heirs, including many lawyers, judges and government officials, filed a claim. Stacks of files containing genealogical data were gathered including vital records, church records and even Bible pages certified by attorneys.

As they say, all good (and bad) things must end. Several individuals were charged and convicted of scamming the public in 1937, about 30 years after it began. Professionals examined Jacob Baker's will and discovered it was forged on paper not produced until 1880, 50 years after the colonel supposedly signed it! Further research discovered no wills with the Baker name were filed for this particular piece of property. In fact, after consulting military records, it was learned no person by the name of Jacob Baker served as an officer during the Revolutionary War, and no land grants were issued for the property.

All this sounds amazing, but the unbelievable part is, the Baker scam wasn't the first nor the last of its kind. The Buchanan Scam ( ignited interest from families all along the Eastern seaboard of Canada and United States, and overseas. Dubbed names like "The Great Heir Hoax" and "The Heir Chasers," this and similar scams have not only swindled honest folks of their cash, but have riddled the genealogical world with 'less than accurate' family trees. Unfortunately, some honest people stretched the truth to support relationships or paid those associated with the scam to produce family trees that turned out to be bogus.

Researcher's File

Who were Lucy Jewett's parents and where was she born? Lucy (c.1800 - May 4, 1850, King's County) married William McNamara (c.1796 - January 23, 1851, King's County.) Both were buried in the St. Francis Assisi, Wolfville. Contact: Roy Lipsett, 61 Townley Crescent, Brampton, ON, L6Z 4S9; email:

Diana Lynn Tibert is a freelance writer living in Milford. Submit a query. It's free!: RR#1 Milford, Hants County, NS, B0N 1Y0; email:

Geographic location: United States, Canada, Philadelphia England Ontario Milford Hants County

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