Genealogy Resources

Gustave Anjou: An Intriguing Career of Genealogical Fraud

Are you familiar with the name Gustave Anjou? If you aren’t, you should be. He is a famous genealogical con man. Here’s his story, and how he did it.

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Gustave Anjou (December 1, 1863 – March 2, 1942) is an infamous person in genealogical circles. If you haven’t heard of him yet, chances are you will at some point as you go over old genealogical records in your research. He is one of the most well-known genealogical fraudsters in the world. A self-described professional genealogist, he made up hundreds, if not thousands, of patently false pedigrees for those who wanted an impressive family tree to show off to colleagues and the community. One of his specialties, and what he did the most, was creating illustrious family backgrounds for his clients, full of historically prestigious and brag-worthy names, usually for clients who were looking for some upward mobility.

Though much of his fraudulent work has been discovered and discredited, some of it is still out there, deceiving honest researchers who want to find the truth about their family background. Knowing about Gustave Anjou is something important for the modern genealogist because you want to be able to recognize something that might be his work, get it double-checked, and steer clear of it if it proves to be false (as all of Anjou’s work will).

Anjou was born in Stockholm, Sweden to parents Carl Gustaf Jungberg and Maria Lovisa Hagberg. It is unclear if his parents were married or not; his mother was the housekeeper of his father at one point. They may never have gotten married, and it is likely they didn’t.

Gustave made a name for himself in forgery early on in Sweden and served a prison term for it there in 1886. After getting out of prison, he changed his name to Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg but also used a series of other aliases. One of the most common aliases he used was Gustave Anjou. Anjou was the maiden name of his fiancée, Anna Maria Anjou, and it is also a historically prestigious name, as the founder of the English Plantagenet line of royalty was Geoffrey of Anjou.

After marrying in 1889, Gustave and Anna moved to the United States, arriving in 1890. They lived on Staten Island in New York, and Gustave became a naturalized American citizen in 1918. He and Anna only had one child, and both she and the child predeceased him. He is buried at Fairview Cemetery in West New Brighton, Castleton Corners, New York City, New York.

Gustave began his career in genealogical forgery almost as soon as his feet touched American shores. He began presenting himself to others as a professional genealogist, adopting a high-class look and way of talking that inspired others to trust him. Because he lived in New York City, he had access to some of the wealthiest families in the country. These are the people he sought out as clients, and he was employed by many of these well to do east coast families to “trace their pedigrees.” He always backed up his supposed findings with a lot of research, which made his work seem legitimate. The clients usually only wanted to see that research was done; they likely didn’t read it to learn if it was truthful, or even matched up with the pedigree he was presenting them.

Because his work was so thoroughly documented (through fake documents), and took a significant amount of time to do (presumably because he was actually doing genealogical work for his clients), he was able to charge high prices for the early 20th century and became a well-off person because of this fraud.

It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that anyone began to question Anjou’s work, and when they did, it became clear that he created these pedigrees with the intent to defraud his customers. There were scholarly examinations and investigations into Anjou’s work by respected genealogists in the field, and these investigations and their results were published in reputable genealogical journals.

The researchers discovered a unique, but recognizable, pattern to Anjou’s genealogies. They were usually represented by four clear features, present in virtually every pedigree he put together for his clients. These features include:

A lot of citations, often quite significantly more than a regular pedigree would produce, and those citations largely matched up with documents that actually existed and even contained the information Anjou said they did. This was to ensure his clients didn’t question his work if they delved too deeply into it.

A handful of made up documents, usually with no citations. These documents supported information listed in the pedigree. With so many real citations to wade through, most clients wouldn’t notice a fake one here and there. And, they didn’t.

A large number of connections to early New England immigrants, usually with royal connections in Europe, or ties to the Mayflower or other famous events, places, or people. The connections were so complex and dizzying as to be far out of the range of the normal New England pedigree, which usually contains a few interconnections between family branches.

Wild migration patterns for the people in the pedigree, way outside of the usual migration paths of early American families.

Anjou’s works are now considered unreliable in respected genealogical circles and are widely looked down upon, for good reason. Virtually nothing the man gave to his clients was real. He was only telling them things they wanted to hear and then coming up with both real and fake documentation to back it up. It was a brilliant scam in his day because there was almost no way for anyone to verify whether his work was real or not without re-tracing it themselves. And, because his clients were hiring him to produce pedigrees for them, why would they want to go back and do the work again themselves? That’s what hiring a genealogist is for, right?

The trust his clients placed in him is why it took so long for the fraud that was his work to come to light. In the modern era of the Internet, anyone could easily double-check most of his work without much effort, or even leaving home in most cases. This kind of fraud would be difficult to perpetuate on an unsuspecting genealogical market today. But, in Gustave Anjou’s era, it was just the right time for this sort of thing to go unnoticed.


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been involved in helping genealogy researchers for over 25 years through Ancestral Findings.