What's wrong with Jim White's Buckner Books

People who have done genealogy on the surname Buckner since around 2008 have probably run into a pair of internet-published genealogies called Buckner Book I and Buckner Book II by Jim White (early versions go by the equally inventive name Buckner Descendant Generations). The first was originally published on Lulu.com and priced at over $100, though it's come down over the years. I've called this book out many times on many forums, and at this point I've gotten tired of repeating myself about it, so I just want to summarize the problems with it on my own site so I can just refer to this and get it over with.

There are two main issues with it. The first is pretty serious, which is that Mr. White does not feel that genealogy requires source citations. Every once in a while, he will cite a source, but there are thousands of pieces of data in the books, dates, places, relationships, that are completely unsourced. Mr. White takes the stance that his sources are proprietary and that it's not his responsibility, as a person writing a genealogy, to tell you what his sources are. Of course, by any standard of genealogy, this is ridiculous, and this alone makes the books completely useless and invalid, "expensive doorstops" as one researcher I know put it.

I will provide a direct quotation of Mr. White's defense of his sourcing policy.

Many researchers always demand a bibliography and multitudes of data source citations, which can present honest problems for everyone involved. Researcher compiler authors are faced with the momentous task of proper location of footnotes and pagination where data matches citation. The point being, whenever an event takes place, the source begins at the place where the event took place; therefore, to cite the physical source location is redundant. If John and Mary married in Jones County everywhere, the source is located therein; Jones County marriage records if such records are extant. If Joe died in Smith County no place, his estate record is located in Smith County estate records, again if the record is extant.
It is not my responsibility to provide proofs and include them if a decision is made to publish data as compiled. If I provide those proofs, the reader or researcher is then wholly dependent on our research ... without expending one iota of self-effort to prove his or her family with the exception, purchasing a book.

- Jim White, posted on Ancestry.com 25 Sep 2009 - https://www.ancestry.com/boards/thread.aspx?o=0&m=599.1.1.1.3.1.1&p=surnames.buckner

This is a verbatim quotation, and the babbling incoherence is wholly typical. He doesn't provide sources because it's an "honest problem" to do it. I suppose he means that doing real research would actually require doing some work, so that's why he doesn't do it.

As bad as Mr. White's source-averse philosophy is though, the second issue is even worse. One of the main reasons he doesn't cite sources appears to be that he simply invents a lot of his data. If he can't find a birth date for someone born in, say, the 16th century, which is pretty usually the case, he just makes one up. That's really one of the biggest giveaways to experienced genealogists, that his data is far too complete. If you've done real research before the year 1800, you know very well that you're lucky to even pin down a birth year with most people, much less an exact birth and death date. Mr. White's profiles just have more complete data than anyone could possibly get out of real sources. As the expression goes, it's too good to be true.

What's more shocking though that when he does cite and directly quote sources in the book, many of those are fake as well. I always have trouble convincing people that someone would actually do this. "Why would someone write a fake genealogy?" they ask. Well, why do people usually write fake genealogies? It's been going on forever, and this isn't the first or last fake genealogy ever written. Now, I'm not saying all of it is fictitious. He does have some real data about real people, and he does cite a few real sources. The problem is that unless you know the sources really well, it's hard to tell which ones are real and which ones are just made up out of nothing. If you want to use it though, good luck guessing which is which. This is actually standard practice in the fake genealogy business - from Gustave Anjou to modern forgers. You just copy a lot of easily available data, which is pretty quick nowadays with digital technology, and for any place in the family tree that would require expensive and time-consuming research, you just make up something to fill it in. It always works, because people want to believe, and when they can confirm some of it, they figure the rest must be out there somewhere in some source, if only they could find it. Mr. White is particularly fond of referring to secret family documents that he has exclusive access to. I have spoken with him personally on a number of occasions, and he informed me that one of them was in a secret vault at the Sorbonne (a famous university in Paris). I should also warn that even when he's working with real data, many of the interpretations are questionable.

At this point, people are probably wanting to see the evidence. I certainly don't have the time or desire to find every fake thing in the book. I've confirmed dozens, and my rough estimate is that probably something like a quarter of the data in it is fake. If you're fairly knowledgeable about history and genealogy, some of the fakes are laughably obvious, and I'll just list a few of these here. If you still don't believe me after you read these, you're on your own, and good luck with that.

Before I get to them, I will make one other important point, which is that even if you're not working with White's books, you have to be very careful with unsourced data off the internet since a lot of other people have used them and copied the data into their trees on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Wikitree.com, WeRelate.com, etc. It's all over the place. When I've found it, I've tried to mark it or delete it, but the problem with fake genealogy is that once it gets out there, it never goes away. Even if the data is "sourced" though, it could be from one of White's fake sources, so the problem is pretty challenging. Personally, I never use anything unless I can confirm the primary source. Buckner genealogy is been subjected to three major fakes at this point, one by the infamous Gustave Anjou, one in a portion of Crozier's Buckners of Virginia, and most recently White's, so you really have to assume that anything without a source is fake until proven otherwise. And guess what? Jim White has also published Washington, Ball, and Catlett genealogies, so welcome to the club, Washingtons, Balls, and Catletts!

The Richard Büchner Marriage

One of the funniest examples is the "Richard Büchner" marriage (person 1 in the book; this highly professional tome doesn't have page numbers). He quotes this marriage record, supposedly verbatim, in the book. I leave it to the reader to ponder who did it, but when someone tried to forge the "record" of Richard's 1469 marriage, in what he imagined to be the original French, he made two howling mistakes. The first is that he wrote it in really bad but completely modern 21st-century French. I suspect he just used Babelfish to translate an English text because of the silliness of the mistakes, but obviously 15th century French is quite different. It's as if someone quoted a supposed 15th-century English marriage record that said "Yo, these two homies tied the knot today on February 30th, 1455." The second thing is where it says "au maire de l'agrafe de Calais." If you know French, it sounds pretty bizarre, because what it means is "with the mayor of the staple (agrafe) of Calais." However, if you know English history of that period, it's pretty obvious what he did. There's a largely obsolete sense of the word "staple" in English, which is not staple in the sense of the thing that fastens papers together but rather staple as a type of medieval trade establishment. In French, the expression for a staple in the merchant-stapler sense is "étape." However, if you're a semi-educated forger, you don't know that a paper-staple (agrafe) and a merchant-staple (étape) are totally different words in French. In the study of forged ancient documents, this is what they call an "anachronism" (combined with a malapropism), a detail which inadvertently reflects things known in the forger's time but not in the historical period when the document was supposedly created. This totally fake modern French-marriage record that was supposed to have been written in Calais in 1469 was obviously produced by a fairly ignorant wanna-be forger using Babelfish or Google Translate some time around 2007.

I should also note that this is the record that is supposedly in a "secret vault at the Sorbonne."

The Windsong Passenger Manifest

This came up in what is, to my knowledge the first time someone publicly called this stuff out as a forgery. Even before this, a lot of people had called the book's claims into question, but in a 2009 discussion on the Ancestry.com boards, https://www.ancestry.com/boards/thread.aspx?o=0&m=599.1.1.1.3.1.1&p=surnames.buckner, the genealogy world got to see that this wasn't just a matter of innocent mistakes.

White decided to make a historical person, Gerrard Buckner, into the immigrant ancestor of most Buckners in America. This probably seemed reasonable given the few real records he could find, since Gerrard is indeed mentioned in some 17th century Virginia records. In order to prove this, though, he claims to have found a passenger manifest or something like it (he is never very clear about what this document is supposed to be):

"Proof: 11 Jun 1634, Accomack County, Virginia. Gerard Buckner, his wife Matilda, sons William & John, Daniel Cugley and his wife Hannah, Hannah's two sons by her first husband Thomas & John Savage, and eight employess of Daniel Cugley embarked from Liverpool England aboard sailing ship, Windsong, Roger Smith master April 27, 1634. In addition to the sixteen passengers, the Windsong was laden with ordinance bound for Virginia. The Windsong landed at the Eastern Shore of Accawmacke Island June 11, 1634... the point of landing was inside Smith's Island Bay on the eastern shore opposite modern day Kiptopeke. The ordinance was offloaded at Accomack."

Despite direct questioning about the source, White refused to divulge the origins of this bit of information. Now, if you actually look at real manifests from this period, they never go into details like this. Why would they? Why would anyone care if the people on the ship were "by her first husband Thomas." It's such a juvenile attempt at forgery that it's hardly worth discussing. Another thing that seems a little strange about it is that in 1634, there was no such thing as "Accomack County." Accomack Shire was created in 1634, though there's probably not much point to nitpicking it. White's biggest mistake here though was that he didn't bother to check and see whether there was any real data on Gerrard Buckner before creating this whole fairy tale about him. It turns out though that Gerrard actually wrote a will which was probated in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (UK National Archives PROB 11/309/106) and is now easily available for download from the UK National Archives for (at the time of this writing) a modest fee of L5. I actually purchased a copy and transcribed it, which you can find at http://www.buckbd.com/genea/gbucknorwill.html.

It's readily apparent from the will that Gerrard died unmarried, without issue, and without even having set foot in America. The reason there are records of him in Virginia is that he was a merchant and sent a shipment of goods to Virginia in 1662. However, he died shortly after the ship left. (J.R. McKey, Accomack County, Virginia, Court Order Abstracts, HeritageBooks, (1996), Vol. 1, p. 110). He was actually accused of having stolen a tobacco shipment in London, and a lot of the records deal with aggrieved parties in Virginia laying claims to his goods. Unfortunately for Mr. White, Gerrard happens to be an unusually well-documented person for the time, so using real sources, it's fairly easy to show that almost nothing stated in the supposed passenger manifest is true, even if you were willing to overlook the obvious nonsensical nature of the thing.

The Author

I'm Ben Buckner. If you have comments about this page or have something to be added, you can contact me at my Spambot-proof mail link (won't work if you're paranoid enough to have turned off your JavaScript.)