Have you ever received a letter in the mail from a company who claims to have done extensive work around the world on the history of your surname? Perhaps they have produced a wonderful book on your family, something such as THE WORLD BOOK OF POWELLS' or POWELLS ACROSS AMERICA which traces the history of the Powell surname back to the 1500s? However these advertisements are worded, they all have one thing in common - they claim to be a 'one-of-a-kind' book and usually also claim to only be available for a limited time. Sound too good to be true? It is. These 'family surname history' books are little more than glorified phone books. Usually they will include some general information on tracing your family tree, a brief history of your surname (very generic and providing no insight on the history of your specific family) and a list of names taken from a variety of old phone directories. Real helpful, huh? Companies such as Halberts of Bath OH have been prosecuted and shut down for just such fraud, but there are always new ones to take their place.
Similar items to watch out for include family history and surname origin scrolls and plaques. These provide only a generic history or surname origin of some of the families that carry the surname in question, but nothing on your specific family. Basically, any company who suggests that a mass-produced item is part of a customer's individual family history is misrepresenting genealogy and family history and you should stay away.