NOTE: This is an updated version of a story I wrote a couple of years ago. The company described apparently is still very active, according to reports received in e-mail. It seems appropriate to republish this information now.
A company in Colorado has been selling "family yearbooks" for years. They send advertisements for the "International [Surname] Family Yearbook" or similar titles. In this case, substitute your last name in place of "[Surname]." For instance, an advertisement sent to a person named Smith would be advertising "The Smith Family Yearbook" while someone named Clark would receive an advertisement for "The Clark Family Yearbook."
The producing company has several business names; for example, you can find them listed as Mountain West News Service or as the Mountain Pacific News Service. They also may appear as an organizational name, such as "The Smith Family Yearbook." However, all these "companies" have the same address: 1181 S. Parker Road, #105, Denver, CO 80231. The Better Business Bureau lists the parent company as MORPHCORP.
This company should not be confused with earlier purveyors of similar junk, such as Halberts. MORPHCORP is not related and was in business for several years before Halberts folded and went out of business. In fact, the Better Business Bureau's Web site says that MORPHCORP has been in business since January 1985.
Some time ago I was able to purchase a copy of one of MORPHCORP's "books." A newsletter reader sent me an advertisement he had received. I wrote out a check and sent it to the company, asking for a copy of his family's "book."
The advertising and the "book" could be for any family name. In the following paragraphs, substitute your own surname for "[Surname]," and you will be able to determine what product you would receive if you were to order a similar product from this company.
The advertisement starts off in large print, proclaiming, “The Year 2003 International [Surname] Family Yearbook – A yearbook celebrating the last 2,000 years of [Surname] History.” I find the claim of 2,000 years of [Surname] history to be a bit incredulous since nobody had surnames 2,000 years ago. Surnames were not used at all until 600 to 700 years ago.
The advertisement goes on to describe the “Year 2003 International [Surname] Family Yearbook” in detail. Some of the claims from the advertisement include:
Your family is in it!
Factual information about:
[Surname] marriages, like all about those [Surname] blushing brides and handsome grooms.
[Surname] births, birth information about [Surname] family members – when and where they were born.
[Surname] gathering places…
Also information about deaths, census records, Baptisms, immigrations, employments, occupations, retirements, 24 databases researched in all – all about [Surname] family members.
PLUS a complete revision of the classic [Surname] Family History…
The ad lists the regular price of this “yearbook” as $49.85 but then offers a “pre-publication reservation price” of $39.85. The advertisement also states, “Copies printed will be determined by the number of orders that my wife and I receive.” So, if they only print enough copies to meet the orders received, why do they list both a “pre-publication price” and a regular price? It appears that everyone gets the pre-publication price.
I wanted to see this “yearbook” and CD-ROM for myself, and I also suspected that I would write about them in this newsletter. I filled out the order form and wrote a check for $44.85. That price included $39.85 for the yearbook plus $5.00 for postage. The package arrived a few weeks later.
I ripped the envelope open and inside found a slim, 41-page booklet with a cheap GBC plastic comb binding. If you do not recognize the letters GBC, I can describe it as the plastic spiral binding you often see in business presentations produced on a photocopier. GBC binding systems are quite popular for home and small business use. You can see examples at GBC’s Web site at: http://www.gbcoffice.com/products/binding/index.html?via=GBChome
The cover of the booklet says, “Year 2003 [Surname] Family Yearbook.” A large color coat of arms is prominently displayed as a crest on the cover. However, it is a “generic” coat of arms that has nothing to do with this family name. A couple of pages later, the following words appear: “About the Crest (on the Cover) – This Crest is a graphic artist’s interpretation of the [Surname] Crest. Its [sic] of greater value as a work of art, then [sic] as a genealogical or historical document.” In other words, it is bogus. It is not a [Surname] crest.
The next page says, “My wife and I have been researching the [Surname] family (and other related families), genealogy and history since 1986. We have organized this book into chapters of booklets, each dealing with subjects about our history. We would like to thanks the readers of The [Surname] Family news who sent in piles of family information which made the publication of this book possible.”
Again, the page contains more typo errors. It also strikes me as a bit unusual to see words like, “My wife and I” when the author’s name does not appear anywhere in this yearbook. I’d bet five bucks that the author’s last name is not [Surname] and that he is not closely related to anyone named [Surname].
The first chapter of the book is “The [Surname] Longevity records.” This chapter consists of a cover page plus one page of text, listing 24 people named [Surname] (in large type) and the years of their birth and death. Ages at death varied from 23 years old to 89 years old. There was no explanation of how these people are connected to each other or to anyone else named [Surname].
The second chapter was “[Surname] Name that baby!!” It claims to show the most popular first names in the [Surname] family. Again, this chapter consists of a cover page plus one page of text listing 24 common first names.
The third chapter is “The [Surname] Book of Locations.” The cover page includes a picture of a dapper young man dressed in the fashions of the 1940s or 1950s but no reference as to his name. He may or may not be a [Surname]. The next page lists 18 states where the [Surname] name appears. The yearbook makes no reference as to where this information was obtained.
The fourth chapter of the yearbook is the “[Surname] – Book of Births.” The cover page is followed by a single page of text, listing 24 names along with dates of birth. It also lists Social Security numbers. Apparently this information was obtained from the Social Security Death Index, which is freely available in several places on the World Wide Web.
The next chapter is “The [Surname] Book of Deaths.” Again, it gives 24 names and dates, along with their Social Security numbers, all on a single page.
The next chapter is a bit thicker: “The [Surname] Book of Residents.” It lists four pages of mailing addresses of [Surname] families in the U.S. I suspect that this is a list of people who received advertisements for the yearbook, although that is pure speculation on my part. This kind of information is readily available online at http://www.switchboard.com as well as other locations.
Another chapter is called “The [Surname] Census Book.” It lists nine entries of people named [Surname] in the 1850, 1860, and 1880 U.S. censuses.
“The [Surname] Phone Book” contains four pages of telephone numbers and addresses of families named [Surname] with a published telephone number. Once again, anyone can find such information at no charge at http://www.switchboard.com or any of the other online telephone directories
Moving along, I encountered an even more worthless chapter: “[Surname] – Believe it or NOT!” The chapter’s cover page proclaims, “These are records you have always wanted but have been afraid to ask for.” A single page of text that contains exactly two listings follows the cover page: one for a mobile home park and another for a radiator repair business. Both businesses contain the word “[Surname]” in the business’ name. These appear to be extracted from the Yellow Pages. I have no idea why the chapter’s cover page claimed that these listings would be what I “have been afraid to ask for.”
The next chapter is “The [Surname] Jokebook,” which contains three pages of jokes printed in an even larger font than the rest of the book. I could read these pages from across the room, even without my glasses. The “jokes” are really dumb and appear to contain basic “fill in the blanks” jokes done on a word processor. The yearbook I received has [Surname] inserted into every joke.
Finally, I arrived at the last chapter and the one that looked the most promising: “The History of The [Surname] Family.” However, it was subtitled, “A summary of how it all happened. A Not so serious history of the family.” Indeed, it wasn’t very serious. The following eight pages contained very basic information about the history of mankind. It was full of generic statements, such as “[Surname] family members arriving in Europe at this time (3500 BC) were definitely high tech.” Four thousand years before surnames were invented and the author refers to them as “[Surname] family members”? There is no reference as to how the author knows that these ancient inhabitants were “high tech” for their times.
There is one small section in the last chapter with a promising title: “Where is the [Surname] family from?” Sadly, the author simply writes that there is “contradictory evidence about where [Surname] emigrants shipped from enroute to America.” In another section, the yearbook says, “In fact, little is known for sure about the earliest, colonial type [Surname] immigrants. The records have gotten very, very dusty.”
The “Year 2003 International [Surname] Family Yearbook” is obviously a mass-produced document. The databases used are all publicly available at no charge. The remaining text is simple, generic information written in a word processor. When a book about [Surname] is written, a word processor search-and-replace operation is used to insert the word “[Surname]” in all the appropriate places. If the next book to be printed were to be about the Eastman family, the word processor would again use a search-and-replace operation to replace the word “[Surname]” with “Eastman.” This is computerized mass production at its worst.
Let’s examine the yearbook against its original ad:
“Your family is in it!”
Well, technically that is incorrect. The recipient of the original ad is listed in the chapter entitled “[Surname] Book of Residents.” However, there is no information given about his parents, siblings, children, or other relatives. While the person who received the original advertisement is listed in the yearbook, the rest of his family is not mentioned at all.
“Factual information about:
“[Surname] marriages, like all about those [Surname] blushing brides and handsome grooms.
“[Surname] births, birth information about [Surname] family members – when and where they were born.
“[Surname] gathering places…
This one is mostly correct. Technically, there is a bit of factual information about a handful of births and deaths although no information is given about the relationships of those listed to others named [Surname]. Despite the claim of marriage records about blushing brides and handsome grooms, I didn’t find any marriage records at all.
“Also information about deaths, census records, Baptisms, immigrations, employments, occupations, retirements, 24 databases researched in all – all about [Surname] family members.”
Read those words carefully. They appear to be correct to this writer although the mental image they paint does not match the goods delivered.
“PLUS a complete revision of the classic [Surname] Family History…”
I’d rate this as a zero. No mention was ever made in the yearbook about “the classic [Surname] Family History,” nor did the yearbook contain any history information specific to the [Surname] family.
Even though this yearbook contains 41 pages, the fonts used are very large, and each of the “chapters” has a separate cover page. If set in a 10-point font with the cover pages deleted, this booklet would probably fill ten or twelve pages. Take out the jokes and a few other useless things, and the hapless buyer is left with about eight pages of listings from phone books and the Social Security Death Index, plus a few other publicly available free sources. That is not a good return for the $44.85 that I spent.
So much for the “The Year 2003 International [Surname] Family Yearbook – A yearbook celebrating the last 2,000 years of [Surname] History.” This is one “celebration” I could do without, even if my name were [Surname]. If you receive such an ad in the mail, I’d suggest you throw it away and save yourself $44.85.
MORPHCORP used to insert the Better Business Bureau's logo in the advertising they sent. Apparently, the company belonged to the Better Business Bureau of Denver. However, the Denver BBB's Web site at http://www.denver.bbb.org/commonreport.html?compid=11038&national=Y now states, "On April 24, 2003 this company's membership in the BBB was revoked by the BBB's Board of Directors due to failure to eliminate the underlying cause of complaints on file with the BBB concerning product quality."
MORPHCORP does not seem to have a Web page. However, you can read everything you need to know about them on the Denver Better Business Bureau's Web site at: http://www.denver.bbb.org/commonreport.html?compid=11038&national=Y
It is the buyer's responsibility to carefully evaluate advertisements. In this case, I’d say, “Caveat Emptor!” (Let the buyer beware!) If you have already purchased such a book from Morphcorp, note that you have 15 days in which to return it for a full refund. If you feel that the product did not live up to its advertised claims, you can always express your concerns to the Denver Metro Area Better Business Bureau at http://www.denver.bbb.org/complaint.html. In fact, you can file a complaint at any time, not just within the first 15 days.
To read about the experiences of other customers of Morphcorp, go to: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=morphcorp