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Scottish Clan Research and Events

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Clan Buchanan Estate scam 1930s - Found on Internet

Paul Black (View posts)
Posted: 27 Sep 2005 6:38PM GMT
Classification: Query
Edited: 3 Aug 2006 6:59PM GMT
The Buchanan Estate Scam
by Patty Hopkinson

The first part of this article (the section titled "The Great Heir Hoax"; was originally titled "The Heir Chasers," by Jerome Ellison and Frank W. Brock. It was originally printed in the November 1935 issue of Reader's Digest. Dr. Arren Buchanan discovered the article and it was reprinted in The Buchanan Banner in Spring 1992. It is reprinted here with additional comments.

The Great Heir Hoax

The article begins: "To open you mail some morning and discover that you had just been left a fortune would certainly be a jumbo edition of a thrill. But when you reply, enclosing the small sum asked for 'litigation expenses.' You are probably joining the army of heir-chasers' victims, which now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Somewhere in the U.S. mails at this moment are several bulging sacks of letters bearing the bogus 'good news' to prospective dupes."

"A preface warning from the general manager of the National Better Business Bureau in this 1935 article says: 'Millions of dollars contributed to 'heir chasers' by thousands of victims could have been saved by a letter to any Better Business Bureau. If you have any information about any scheme, tell us about it,'" says the BBB chief. 'If you want information, ask for it.' But, the Buchanans didn't need any advice, as they thought they were in line for a piece of the fortune of a long-dead wealthy Texan. Here's how it happened:"

"While heir schemes appear preposterous on first reading, they seem to have an irresistible allure when they actually strike home. The hubbub created by the Buchanan family and its branches illustrates the proportions of the thing can attain. It started with simple announcements in newspapers through the North, the East and Canada, that a Buchanan in Texas was preparing to probate the $850,000,000 estate of William Buchanan (died about 1930) and would like to hear from heirs."

"Buchanans all over the continent were electrified. The clans gathered to check their genealogy and mail in their claims-and contributions-Air Mail Special Delivery. Soon the Texan was receiving 2,000 letters daily, with the volume of mail constantly increasing."

"Buchanans in remote cities took up collections and sent delegates to Texas, and as many as 35 arrived in one day. When the total mail had reached 200,000 letters the Texan got a bit worried, and, as he told the press, 'decided to let the whole thing drop.' But have you ever heard of a Scotsman 'dropping' a trifle like $850,000,000? All Buchanania was up in arms: A Detroit lady was expecting a $500,000 check 'by Christmas." Some of her husbands relatives had mortgaged their homes and bought new cars on the strength of it. Seventy Spokane Buchanans sent a joint telegram, and an Indiana clan member wired the governor of Texas."

"Los Angeles, Cleveland and New York chimed in. To thousands the idea of inheriting part of this vast fortune became a mania. Finally the post office was instructed to return all mail to the senders. The postal inspector reported: 'My investigation showed no evidence of the existence of an estate.'

"But a Cincinnati lawyer, himself an 'heir,' still clung to the theory that there was an estate. So he received 7,000 letters from claimants. The money was now rumored to be, not in far-flung real estate as the first story had it, but in hard cash in the vaults of New York banks."

"This put the full brunt of Buchanan wrath and mail on New York State. Franklin D. Roosevelt, then governor of New York, was impelled to issue a public warning 'so that people who believe they have some claim to any part of any of these estates will not be persuaded by lawyers or other promoters to advance money in a hopeless cause."

The Effects of the Scam Today

Why does this article bear repeating? The effects of the scam on Buchanan genealogy are still being felt today. I get at numerous requests every year from people who find copies of the original letters their parents and grandparents received back in the 1930's. The letters I receive usually state that their ancestry is stated in these letters their parents or grandparents received. Often sworn affidavits are found bearing their parents signature testifying to their ancestry. Sometimes, genealogists were hired and reports exists from the searches (I will address later how to handle these reports). After my first article on President James Buchanan's ancestry appeared in the last eidtion of The Buchanan Banner, I received several letters from people with incorrect genealogy from as a result of the estate scam. They wanted to know why their ancestors were not included in the article on the Presidents line. It is due to the large number of responses that I have devoted this second article to the scam and its effects of Buchanan genealogy.

The original letters sent in the 1930's usually contain statements about 5 brothers who came from Scotland to America in the middle 1600's. These brothers were prosperous and bought up land in America (including Long Island!). Money and lands from these original 5 brothers was supposed to have been put into the 'Clan treasury.' By this time there was not way to verify clan holdings because there was no formal Clan Buchanan (thus there could be no holdings!). The last Laird of Buchanan died in 1681 and the lands of the Buchanan Clan were sold to pay his debts. Supposedly the lands acquired by the 5 brothers were leased out on 99 year leases, which began to run out in the 1930's. The 'estate' was to be liquidated and distributed to heirs (an heir constituted anyone who could claim kinship to a Buchanan in Scotland). Letters even stated that President Buchanan was the 'head' of the Clan (clearly untrue). Rumors existed that showing close kinship to the Presidential line would mean a larger piece of the 'estate.' I strongly suspect that this is why there are so many people who claim that their lines tie in closely with the Presidents line when if fact it is clear they do not. The letters also stated that a man in Texas was the current head of the clan. I will leave this man nameless and I suspect that he was the perpetrator of the entire scam, but I have only circumstantial evidence to support this.

The original letters also contain 'descendants' of the 5 brothers. Generally, the person the letter was addresses to and a 3 or 4 generations prior to the addressee were included and tacked on to one of these 5 brothers. This made it seem legitimate to those who received letters. They would see their parents and grandparents names on this genealogy and assume that the rest of the genealogy must be correct. Sincere people took out sworn affidavits claiming the genealogy in these letters was their true genealogy. Hundreds of these affidavits still exists today. It is not unusual to hear of people going through some of their parents papers and they find copies of these affidavits. The genealogy contained in these affidavits are as suspect as the letters that they derived the information from. A few generations of information is likely to be correct, the rest being inaccurate.

Where to Begin

Of course people are disappointed when I inform them that the genealogy they have in their possession is incorrect. The question they ask is "Where do I go from here?" What is fact and what is fiction? The remainder of this article will discuss how to continue given the amount of misinformation as a result of the scam.

What was once considered adequate documentation in genealogy is not longer acceptable. The reports from genealogists in the 1930's as a result of the scam are questionable. The standards genealogists use have changed. Today, to conclusively state someone is a descendants we require formal proof. In the days of the scam, the letters received in the mail were often considered proof enough. Today, we must document with records. Circumstantial evidence can be used, but only as a last resort when no other documentation exists. The conclusions from circumstantial evidence are obviously not as assured as formal records and must be stated to be assumptions and not proven fact.

The first thing to do is verify the information that you 'know' to be true. For example your own birth, your parents marriage and births, your grandparents marriage and birth, etc. Write county clerks to obtain the more recent birth and marriage records. Older records are available on microfilm and can be obtained through LDS (Church of Latter Day Saints) Family History Centers. These Centers are invaluable and contain a great deal of additional information as well. Verify as far up the tree as you can go in this manner.

The first thing to do is verify the information that you 'know' to be true. For example your own birth, your parents marriage and births, your grandparents marriage and birth, etc. Write county clerks to obtain the more recent birth and marriage records. Older records are available on microfilm and can be obtained through LDS (Church of Latter Day Saints) Family History Centers. These Centers are invaluable and contain a great deal of additional information as well. Verify as far up the tree as you can go in this manner.

Census and probate records are also very helpful. Some census' contain more detailed information than others. In the U.S. they go back to 1790 when Head of Household enumeration was taken. Probate records are one of the most underutilized records that are available to us. Often wills contain information regard siblings, spouses, children and even their children's spouses. Some counties have their older probate records indexed making it very easy to conduct searches.

All the advice I have given so far is working backwards from yourself. When you hit dead ends, as we often do, sometimes working forward can lead to useful insights. By working forward I mean establishing what I know about other Buchanan families and try and work forward to see if you can obtain circumstantial evidence link your family to a known line. There are many sources available to us on Buchanan genealogy to assist us in this endeavor. The sources I recommend are:

1) A Historical andGenealogical Essay upon the Family and Surname of Buchanan," by William Buchanan of Auchmar. This book that is considered to be the 'bible' of Buchanan genealogy is. First published in 1732, it lays a good foundation for Buchanans genealogy. It is available in recent reprints. This book also contains accounts of some of the septs of Buchanan, including MacAuselan, MacMillan, MacColman, MacMaurice, MacAndeors, MacChruiter, and MacGreusich. Auchmar does an excellent job of stating where he obtained his information. If his information was heresay, he stated it. If it was deduced from formal records, he states that was well. However, it DOES contain errors.

2) Strathendrick and Its Inhabitants from Early Times; An Account of the Parishes of Fintry Killearn, Drymen, Buchanan and Kilmaronock, by John Guthrie Smith. This book was published in 1896 by James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow. Guthrie Smith corrects many errors made by Auchmar. He seemed to have more documents at his disposal than Auchmar did He also does an admiral job of updating the tree to the 1890's. I believe this to be the most accurate account of the Family of Buchanan. This book is very difficult to find. At one time there were copies available in the Library of Congress and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

3) The Buchanan Book: The Life of Alexander Buchanan, Q.C. of Montreal, Followed by an Account of the Family of Buchanan, by A.W. Patrick Buchanan K.C. This book was published in 1911, Montreal (for private circulation). This book is can be ordered on microfiche at LDS Family History Centers. This is also a good book to update various branches of the Buchanan tree. He however has some of the same errors that Auchmar had. He does a particularly good job with documenting his own line.

The above named sources are some of the more accurate sources for working forward. This method can be very time consuming and leave you no closer to finding out your own line of Buchanans. You will if nothing else get a good history lesson on the Buchanan Clan. However, in some cases, by process of elimination, you can rule out some known lines and that in itself can be helpful. It can tell you where not spend your future resources.

Genealogy research is time consuming and it can take years to find documentation for various links when you have accurate information. I personally searched for over 15 years for a particular link on my Buchanan line before I was able to conclusively document it. The misinformation as a result of the hoax only magnifies this problem that we already face. Feel free to contact me (pattyh@vantek.net) and I will do my best to assist you in your searches.
SubjectAuthorDate Posted
jahansen 7 Dec 2001 4:03AM GMT 
henrybuchanan... 27 Dec 2002 12:46PM GMT 
Judy Franklin 28 Jun 2004 3:44AM GMT 
henryb49 2 Jul 2004 4:24PM GMT 
Janet Gervin 3 Jul 2004 4:23AM GMT 
@@Sparrow2pb@... 14 Sep 2004 8:22AM GMT 
photo1294 20 Aug 2011 11:26AM GMT 
Paul Black 28 Sep 2005 12:38AM GMT 
Amy Davidson 2 Aug 2006 7:47PM GMT 
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