Please can Spies be removed from the Black Sheep project.

+19 votes
Surpised she did not already have a profile I've started work on Odette Sansom. Really cannot bring myself to include her in spies and traitors. This has been discussed before but cannot find that any conclusion was reached.
WikiTree profile: Odette Brailly
in Policy and Style by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (346k points)
retagged by Traci Thiessen

Interestingly, the profiles of only a small number of the women on this list have been actually been  'awarded' the template. 

I think that an important point that needs to be seen here is that “a spy” or “a traitor” would be seen as a black sheep by one side but a heroic figure from the other. This makes them very different from most other things that have been put into this category. Most other things that would be called a “black sheep” would be things that are widely considered to be “bad” (though perhaps some might consider it not a big deal).

8 Answers

+13 votes
Best answer
We are currently in the process of reviewing the Black Sheep project set up. This will include revamping of sub-projects, etc.

I don't have an ETA at this time but please know that we understand the issues.


 Susan ~ Black Sheep Project Lead
by Susan McNamee G2G6 Mach 8 (81.7k points)
selected by Danielle Liard
Susan, Thanks for the update. Will be looking forward to seeing the new changes coming to the Black Sheep Project.
+16 votes
I agree she was a heroine!
by Living Poole G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+15 votes
I brought this up previously, and did not get a lot of support. I completely agree with you, there are numerous reasons as to why these individuals should be removed from the Black Sheep Project. Many of them spied for good to help their country and it was during wartime when it happened. I have always believed this should be placed under the Military and War Project, because many of them were members of the military.
by Dean Anderson G2G6 Pilot (815k points)
+16 votes

Absolutely. I still find it objectionable that this profile and others like it can be labelled with so and so was a 'Black Sheep and an accused spy or traitor'

The idiom Black Sheep according to the Oxford English Dictionary means  ' A disreputable or unsatisfactory member ( of a family etc). A bad character.'  The woman I linked to above died less than 10 years ago. When a member of the French Embassy was asked why he attended her funeral he said 'I owe her my freedom'.

A bad character, a disreputable member of a family? I doubt any descendant would feel that. They might feel very offended.

(maybe the whole concept of the project needs re-evaluating, they are a mixed bag of categories. How many of the  people within the subsets can be really demonstrated to be bad characters or disreputable?. Women convicted of witchcraft;  were witch trials in Salem similar to those in Pendle?   Who were the 'villains' those convicted or those who prosecuted? Who,if either, warrants a label saying that they were  disreputable. Should one label Sir Francis Drake  as a Black Sheep?  As a privateer with letters of marque from the English he was a hero to them but a pirate to the Spanish.  Even  convicted felons such as some from my own family might be considered victims of poverty, stealing perhaps to sustain their families.)

by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
edited by Helen Ford
yup, your linked profile definitely shows why the spies and traitors sub-project needs to split those terms up.

I look at Black Sheep fitting more of this definition:

Black Sheep means: to be the outcast, odd one out, unlike the others. You can use the phrase “Black Sheep” when describing someone who acts differently than the expected norm.

So not so much of a disreputable person or even unsatisfactory one, but one that chooses a path that may go against the grain of society, their family, and the like. I wouldn't even say that they were "wrong" in their choice - just different. Some, like the "outlaws" certainly would easily fit into the wrong category, although petty thievery (from your example above) wouldn't classify someone as an outlaw unless they started making a habit of it and became very successful at it - at which point it would become less about poverty and more about acquiring things.

Even the Merriam Webster definition uses  the word disreputable  together with the OED, that is two quite clear definitions from reputabledictionaries,  so I can't say that it is a cross Atlantic difference in meaning.

Do you really think a person working as a member of their countries forces in wartime should be labelled as such. Even if they hadn't looked it up, I suspect other people  outside of wikitree, looking at the profiles might have similar thoughts.

Slightly different in emphasis but would you really label Harriet Tubman, who is on the list of spies within the  Black Sheep project as a Black Sheep ? I suspect not.

Beyond that the other   subsets are a matter of history  and modern  interpretation. Who were the witches ,did they really fly or cast spells on others or were they victims of others prejudice or jealousy ?  What of the  (mainly men) who stole potatoes, or cut hedges  or poached a fish or rabbit  or even stole a horse or a cow  and ended up being transported to Australia. They were felons and thus 'black sheep'. 

Maybe these subprojects/categories  would  fit far better within other categories.


The average thief is not going to be recognized as Notable, and as such, wouldn't receive the template. However, I do get your meaning. If one of these individuals made a successful habit of thieving (a modern day Robin Hood, for example), then they could be labelled as such.

However, bringing this back to the spies and traitors - I get that the dictionary primary definition tends to be not very flattering (however, there are secondary definitions that could apply), and since there are always going to be two sides (winners and losers) in the spy game, someone will always see them as hero and others as the villain.

Either way, as mentioned below, I'm not opposed to separating them, but there are challenges with Military and War (not all spies are military, nor do they operate within the precepts of a war) and if keeping them within Black Sheep is not acceptable, then they almost would have to fit within their own subproject somewhere or possibly have no project at all (other than Notables, which would still be fine with me).
I have an issue with the scope of the Black Sheep project as well. The project manages a lot of profiles for notorious murderers, so the "spies and traitors" part of the project is inevitably tainted by the association, even without the "and traitors" part.
Intelligence work (including spying) is an occupation. Inclusion of this occupation in the Black Sheep Project applies a value judgment -- contrary to the usual directive to be objective in documenting people.
+9 votes
Just took a look at the sub-project of Black Sheep that deals with Spies and Traitors, and there appears to be a linking between the two terms in their definition of who fits in there.

I suggest you contact Black Sheep project and have them split the two terms up, a spy is not necessarily a traitor, although some were.  The project appears to have taken sides in the question from a US perspective.  Of course, to the other side, these people were good guys.  Tag them in your question.
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (701k points)
There are always two parties involved in spying... so it does depend what side you you feel part of what you would call someone. I hope Wikitree does not only advocate the USA perspective.
No indeed, the last time this was aired, an answer cited the case of the Rosenbergs,

If my memory serves me correctly, the Rosenbergs were US citizens who spied for others, thus qualifying as traitors.  The spying is incidental, their claim to infamy is their treachery.  

Thus the two terms need to be split.  James Bond would turn over in his grave were he to be termed a black sheep.  wink

Mmm.... what do you think the Russian/Soviets would use as a term for the Rosenbergs?
One man's national hero would be another's traitor. There's always going to be two sides to every story.

It's also one thing to have a foreign power send in their own people to gather intelligence, but turning one's own people against their own nation often brings up feelings of betrayal that you don't get (as much) with a foreign invader. It doesn't change the fact that someone infiltrated the defenses of a country and stole something not intended for them, regardless of the outcome both of the need or usage of the information stolen. We cheer for the so called "good guys" because we either felt the "bad guys" deserved to lose, but reality is that someone "won" and someone "lost".

Even people like Mata Hari can be viewed (provided she really was guilty, of course) as a heroine or a spy/traitor.
And for the record, I'm on the fence about removing spies from the project, but I wouldn't oppose it if there was general support for it. If Military and War felt that efforts of KGB/CIA or whatever other alphabet soup there are in the world fell under their jurisdiction, then that could be a logical place for them as well, although they don't completely fit into a true Military group nor a Wartime operation. But nothing's ever a perfect fit unless it's handled under a separate project effort, I suppose.
Maybe just as a separate occupation category?  While many are spies during wars, a whole lot are spies all the time.  All the spy agencies in the world (CIA/KGB/MI5...) don't stop operations during ''peacetime''.
Brilliant, Danielle, easy to do and utterly non-judgemental.
The definitions, as it applies to this subject, could be defined by where they’re from (home Country). I believe anyone supporting their home Country is a hero. If a person betrayed his home, then they would be labeled a traitor. If the same person betrayed an enemy of their home, then they would be a hero. A spy coming from Russia working for Russia would still be a hero, regardless of your approval. It’s the least judgmental option. That’s the way I see things, whether I support their behavior or not.
+11 votes
Many of these women were in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Surprised to find it wasn't part of the military, more like the St John's Ambulance.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (346k points)
I agree, however the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was technically made up of charity volunteers. The women you are referring to were recruited by the SOE because of special skill they had, such as being fluent in French or German as an example. Also, it was a way of getting some of the women into certain area using a cover story or a way or broadening their recruiting base for the SOE. Because of the FANY they were very successful.
+8 votes
Spies are typically honored members or agents of the military that they are working for in time of war.  It's a very dangerous job and they're putting their lives on the line.  Nothing black sheep about them.  I'd think they'd be sub-categorized under Military and War.  

The military values loyalty, and a spy is loyal to their own side;  it's when you get into double or triple agents that loyalty is questioned.

This is the opposite of a traitor.  Benedict Arnold betrayed his country and lost the respect of his own side, but although the British rewarded him, I suspect he got no respect from them either, because someone who betrayed his own people simply can't be trusted.
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
edited by Jack Day

As I said above, spies should just be under occupations, the professional spy doesn't stop when the war is over.  And there are also industrial spies for that matter.

They might be better called espionage agents, whether it is in war, peace, business or international relations.

A description of their activities would be considered a 'hero' or otherwise, or just getting paid for doing a job.

I often sent my retail staff to shop at competing businesses, it often provided valuable information, and there was nothing improper or heroic about it.
+6 votes
by Peter Roberts G2G6 Pilot (726k points)

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