April 20, 2018

Pages 3622-3623
Whole Number 150

"SPARKS ACROSS AMERICA"

by Mary Whitney
Another "Rip-off"



In the past, your editor has warned members of The Sparks Family Association regarding methods enployed by an unscrupulous publisher who is taking advantage of the popularity of genealogy to sell what purport to be histories of particular families. In the 1970s and well into the 1980s, a firm which called itself "Beatrice Bayley, Inc." mailed tens of thousands of postal cards, which were identical except for the family name, to individuals announcing the publication of a work which appeared to be a history of their family. The price was $29.85. The Sparks version of this book, which was announced in April 1982, was called The Sparks Family Heritage Book--the same title was used for hundreds of other printings of this book (including The Bidlack Family Heritage Book), except for a change in the family name. The contents were likewise the same, regardless of the name, except for a listing of names and addresses of persons bearing the name in question. These names and addresses were taken from a computerized data base which has been developed for advertisers by an entirely separate company. (Telephone books, city directories, automobile registration lists, etc., have been the source for this data base.)

Your editor prepared a detailed review of this 1982 "Beatrice Bayley" book for the Quarterly of December 1982, Whole No. 120, pp.2483-87, which was then reprinted in a number of other genealogical publications. It was pointed out in this review that, except for the list of names and addresses, the text of these "Family Heritage Books" comprised a third-rate "how-do-it" type of introduction to genealogy, with nothing pertaining to a particular family except the list of names and addresses. There were also numerous blank pages.

Because of the numerous complaints from unhappy purchasers of the Beatrice Bayley "Family Heritage books," the U.S. Postal Service, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania (in which state the firm was located), and the Federal Trade Commission eventually took action. The Council of Better Business Bureaus also investigated and reported that the president of Beatrice Bayley, Inc. was one Kurt J. Schneider and that a person named Beatrice Bayley Schneider was its director.

As a result of these investigations, Beatrice Bayley, Inc. was forced to modify its advertising, but it continued to mail out thousands of postal cards to thousands of individuals, and unsuspecting people continued to buy the books. The firm was required to refund the full price when a dissatisfied purchaser returned his copy, but a handling and mailing charge of $3.00 was introduced which was not refundable, so the firm still made a profit. The firm also changed the title. In 1985, Sparkses throughout the U.S. received cards from Beatrice Bayley announcing the publication of The SparksFamilyAlbum while others received the same card, but with the title The Sparks Guide. It was the same worthless book, however, regardless of the title. On April 15, 1985, your editor sent a letter to all SFA members warning them against this "new" publication.

In more recent years, the name Beatrice Bayley has been dropped, and the new purported author is "Mary Whitney." The price is still $29.85, but the shipping fee is now $4.00. A mailing dated April 4, 1990, has gone out under this new name, with the announcement of the publication of Sparks Across America. (Note the incorrect spelling of Sparkses.) The postal card has not changed much over the years, although the new one is adorned with a coat-of-arms, which, however, in no way resembles a Sparks coat-of-arms registered with the College of Heralds in England which we have reproduced in past issues of the Quarterly. The advertisement now begins; "Our book Sparks Across America represents our knowledge about the location of Sparks families in America. If individually researched, it would require you to spend thousands of dollars or months of work to search through National and State government and utility records. These records represent the households of over 200 million people." This statement refers, of course, to the listing of names and addresses of Sparkses in the United States, which is arranged by zip numbers, contained in the book. It is true, that if one wished to compile such a list, the cost would indeed be great, but a listing of 20,000 persons named Sparks is of little value to most people interested in the history of the Sparks family.

The advertisement for The Sparks Family Heritage Book by Beatrice Bayley mailed on April 21, 1982, began: "The Sparks Family Heritage Book is being published on May 19. It is a guide to the discovery and documentation of your personal and family history. I have spent thousands of dollars and months of work to research through 70 million families and I have located almost every SPARKS FAMILY in the United States. The Sparks name is very rare, and my research has shown there is only about one SPARKS family for every quarter million Americans."

A comparison of the 1990 postal card statement with that of 1985 shows that there is a greater degree of honesty in the new advertisement, thanks to the efforts of the governmental agencies mentioned above, but, unless one studies it carefully, one may well anticipate receiving something far different for his $33.85 from what he will get.

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