Friday, March 1, 2013

There Is One Born Every Minute -- Scamming the Greedy

The Report to the Jennings Association USA made by Columbus Smith and C M Fisher in 1863 includes this wonderful passage:

The house of the Jennings' is an extensive house. It has many branches and the announcement of a fortune caused them all to stir their stumps. The transatlantic Jennings pricked their ears; the Jennings of America cocked their eyes. In Virginia they held a convention and by solemn resolution invited all persons resident in the state claiming to be heirs of William Jennings to face the music. The convention was to reassemble of the first of this month at Riceville, in the Old Dominion, when it is believed the congregation will be more numerous than select.

New England Jennings Association Constitution
Since few individual Americans would be able to finance a search, agents frequently encouraged the formation of family associations which would share expenses, information and, hopefully, the treasure. James Usher, putting himself forward as the respectable face of the profession, denounced their tactics:

The agent deputed to discover the "broad acres" on arriving in England, spends most of his time at the Probate and Registry offices, endeavoring to connect the dead with a member of the Association. After a prolonged and useless search, he returns and makes an alleged report that is intended to buoy up the hopes of the members' notice of a second meeting is given, and if sufficient funds are raised, another visit to England is made, another report is issued and so on until the funds and patience of the persons are exhausted.
And that was the actions of the more legitimate agents, such as Smith and Fisher. The more unscrupulous ones simply took the money and ran. So how did they make out, using the Great Jennings Fortune as bait? Very will indeed!

But by far the most overseas claims came from America.  The "gold rush" seems to have gotten underway in the 1840s. My Amelia County clan claimed their descent through Humphrey Jennings, the Ironmonger of Birmingham's, grandson, John, who emigrated to Virginia, married and had a great number of children. In their version of the Jennings family tree, John's brother, Robert, was William the Miser's father. My ancestors pursued this claim quite tenaciously and a Mrs. Bartlett was still trying to claim the fortune in the 1930s.

A description of the Amelia County Jennings supposed pedigree
The story is great fun to read about, but frustrating to someone who is just interested in exploring their family's past. The historical records and genealogy reports housed in libraries all over the country are simply wrong and it's nearly impossible to discern the truth. So I stopped trying and used this cautionary tale about greed as my consolation prize.

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