Listen to your elders -- and avoid the family heraldic history scams

You may have seen TV ads for a customized personal history of your family name, printed out on faux-parchment and hallway-display-ready (the commercials are about as cheesy as Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Obama's). You may have found your way to the MyFreeScroll.com Web site, typed in your personal information (note the "free" scroll costs $7 in shipping and handling -- big bucks for a computer printout -- and fended off the half-dozen or so attempts to get you to buy add-ons before placing your order.

But if you were expecting warm finding-your-roots feelings from your printout, er, scroll, hoping to learn you were descended, say, from a long, dignified line of Bavarian pretzel-bakers or Alsatian goatherds, you'll be disappointed.

At least I was, when my free $7 scroll arrived. Instead of a detailed history, there was a two-sentence summary of basic info any grandparent worth their salt would have passed on to you already, or that you could have found through the quickest of Google searches. (Or, while you were at it, you could have checked out the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation's search site. It's free.)

The rest is all boilerplate about the history of, well, why family names have history behind them.