Family Search profiles should not be allowed as the initial source for a profile [closed]

+12 votes
i propose that we formally state that Family Search profiles can not be used as the initial source for creating a profile on WikiTree.

We are required to provide a source when creating a profile on WikiTree. This is very important for the health of the tree. People are by passing this requirement by using unsourced profiles from Family Search to create unsourced and likely false profiles.

An example of the damage that is done by this is the creation of a father for William Shattuck.
WikiTree profile: William Shattuck
closed with the note: Based on the responses, no change in policy is needed.
in Policy and Style by Bill Pease G2G6 Mach 3 (31.7k points)
closed by Bill Pease

We already say as much here:

And some projects have specific guidelines:

Unfortunately, people don't read the help pages (there are hundreds of them...)

I know PGM and Pre 1700 have this policy, but it needs to be more universal on the site. I was recently in a G2G discussion where it was implied that not listing Family Search profiles could be considered a violation of the Honor Code. I feel that if information is found on Family Search, the source on Family search and not the profile should be cited. If there is no source suggested, then we should not use that profile from Family Search. In short the profiles on Family Search are not sources, the archived sources on the site are. If this will require a clarification added to the Honor Code, then maybe it is time for that.

William, I read that other thread and do not see where it says that not listing FamilySearch profiles is a violation of the honor code. Please clarify.

Instead, I read general support for your claim that other online trees-- including those on FamilySearch-- are not considered reliable sources.

Now... if you want to get greater enforcement of reliable sourcing to post-1700 profiles, that will require a new proposal. I believe someone started such a proposal recently. Sorry I do not currently have time to find it. But I know it's there.

Like every other internet family tree website I have ever seen, including WikiTree, Family Search/Family Tree is of variable quality. Some of the posted research is quite good, and some is not. 

Like every other secondary source, you have to evaluate it, and make a judgement as to its quality and suitability.

I am currently working on the descendants of a family that lived in Momax and Tlaltenango in Mexico. I am using primarily the church records. However, I have also used Family Search/Family Tree in conjunction with the published church records, and have found virtually all of the families I am interested in sourced with primary records.

In short, I would not support such a broad proposal.

In reading this thread, I hear very stern "Thou Shalt Not" tones.  I agree that Family Search family trees by themselves are not a source and therefore shouldn't be included as primary sources.

I also know that we want to attract more genealogists to the site, both experienced and beginners.  When I first started working on WikiTree, I had not been keeping any kind of a list of sources.  It took some kind mentors to teach me what to look for and where to look for it.  If I had simply been presented with a wall of "Thou shalt not use this as a source" comments, I would have felt intimidated and probably wouldn't have continued here.  

I guess my question is, what is the best way to include things like Family Search family trees in a list of things not to use as sources and at the same time gently guide our new people to be able to find genuine sources, rather than overwhelm or intimidate them?

Well said, Bertram.  yes


I must have read too much into what Melanie meant by “according to WikiTree” in her response.

But she still leaves me wondering: When I click on the sources tab in Family Search and find a source connected to a profile I cite the source in the Family Search database, not the profile. Am I failing to cite my sources?

William, I'm going to give you an example of an instance in which I cited a FamilySearch profile just this morning. 

Merle (Rowe) Chancey

In particular, the second paragraph... There was some information in Merle's FarmilySearch profile regarding her possible parents. I cited the FamilySearch profile as a source for that information. I examined all the sources attached to her profile. There was only one source, a census, which somewhat backed up the assertion of her parents, but not completely because it did not give her father's full name nor her mother's maiden name, but I added a citation for the census as a corrobative source, leaving the FamilySearch source citation in place because I still didn't have a source for the actual names of her parents nor one that definitely connected the child to the parents. Later, I located an article in a heritage book in which her daughter stated the name of her parents--that's when I added what is now the second sentence in the paragraph and the article as a source. I could probably now delete the reference to the FamilySearch profile, as it is no longer necessary, but I wanted you to see it in place so you could see how I "built up" the paragraph and the evidence. If I didn't have this heritage book in my personal library (source 4), I would have been left with only sources (2) and (3) and I would have had to cite the FamilySearch profile or leave the complete names of the parents totally out of the narrative because I didn't get them from anywhere else except the FamilySearch profile. If it were you, would you have included the names and not told where you got them from or would you have left them out completely?

Edit...P.S. I did not start this profile with the FamilySearch source citation, so this more refers to the previous discussion thread and what this one also seems to be evolving into as to whether FamilySearch profiles should be "allowed" as sources at all.


Very nice Bio, and your way of citing the FS profile is very well done. I think I would wait until I could find some better source before creating the parents. My experience with Family Search profiles is what pushed me to WikiTree. I created my tree and connected with FS larger tree and tried to go farther, but work I had done to establish relationships was being erased and replaced behind me without explanation. One  profile that I spent hours fixing with sources on FS was wiped out the very next day. Now when I look back at FS I see profiles with 25 children and three sets of parents and you can't fix it because the duplicate parents have been merged so many times it is strongly discouraged and would be very complicated with so many duplicated children to sort out. I don't want WikiTree to be like that. I am concerned that profiles are being created too casually like they are on FS. I can see that you are considering what to include in your profiles and based on your experience with your family lines you make good considered judgements about which ancestor to attach next. Based on the responses I am reading here, our current policies may be good. Maybe We just need to encourage people to read them.

When I click on the sources tab in Family Search and find a source connected to a profile I cite the source in the Family Search database, not the profile.


Even those citations need to be evaluated.  I have lost count of the number of sources attached incorrectly on fs.  It's not just the multitudes of duplicates that get wrongly merged, thus creating massively conflated profiles; it is the number of sources attached because the name is the same, without any thought as to whether it is the correct person being referenced.

I recently worked on a line where there were same-name cousins, a decade apart.  The sources for one were attached on fs to the other.   I have detached sources for a person who lived in the mid1800s to early 1900s, because the person to whom they were attached lived in the 1600s.  I have detached spouses / children for the same reason.

This is why ALL sources need to be evaluated as per WT guidelines : "Our requirement for modern profiles is only that you say where your information comes from. We do not attempt to enforce any standard of reliability for sources or any method for securing pre-approval except on pre-1700 profiles.

This does not mean that WikiTree members do not need to evaluate the reliability of sources. Evaluating sources and the evidence they contain is part of the science of genealogy. As genealogists, we all need to do it. And as collaborative genealogists, we need to tell each other our sources so that we can work together to evaluate their relative reliability. For help evaluating the reliability of sources, see Help:Uncertain or ask in G2G."

(Bolding is mine.)

A source, according to WT, is where you find the information.  Ensuring it is reliable comes after that- and often only after education, and / or assistance.

(It's why project "Trails" are a good thing.  They help to educate.)

William, I would not have created profiles for the parents based on just on the sources I have as (2) and (3), but that is not what I asked you. Would you have mentioned the full names of the "possible parents" in HER profile (requiring that the FS profile be cited) or would you have not made mention of their full names at all (in which case, the FS profile would not be cited)? (Would it make a difference if the paragraph--before I had source 4--were moved under "Research Notes"?)

(I probably will never create profiles for her parents, anyway, since she is an in-law and they are not in my direct line, but the "clue," as sourced as I can get it for now, is left there for someone who might eventually.)

I agree with you about how the FamilySearch tree can get "tangled." I frequently have to de-tangle some family groups over there. At least, over here, I have a better place to write about everything I find. I do occasionally use the "Life Sketch" area over there to put information and sources which I feel conflicts with that on the FS profile.

Are you saying we should all go back and add FS profile references to profiles? I already read sources carefully and only use the sources that make sense. What more do you want people to include?

I would not include the names of the parents if I had no reliable source for them.
@ William - you are trying to have me say things I am not saying.

I withdraw from this conversation.
Fair enough, William. Then, in my opinion, you would not need to cite the FamilySearch profile at all.

I guess that is the difference between us and what we do here. If one only includes information in a profile for which one has "reliable" sources, then one only needs to cite the "reliable" sources where that information was found. But if someone (like me) wants to include as "research hints" or "clues" a bit of information for which my only source might be considered "unreliable" then I have to cite that "unreliable" source and I have to spend time in my narrative writing about why that bit of information might or might not be correct and the source where I found that bit of information, which I'm willing to do because I hate to leave out any potential "research hint" or "clue" because I have found so many of them valuable in the past. I present both hypotheses and confirmed theories whereas someone like you only presents the confirmed theories.

6 Answers

+4 votes
I have the mixed feelings about the Wikitree policy that "where you got the information " even if it is an unsourced tree is an adequate standard for adding a profile.   I still avoid doing it.  I don't have parents listed for my 3rd ggm.  I have a suggestion based on Find A Grave that gives the names of the couple that I often see used as her parents.   I did a quick search and still have not found a source that proves the relationship.  I am sure some helpful member will come along and connect them...but it won't be me.  In effect Wikitree is promoting unproven connections with these potential parents suggestions.
by Cherry Duve G2G6 Mach 7 (71.6k points)
The suggestions are just that, suggestions. The system is helpfully drawing attention to something that may or may not be true, but should be investigated (much like all of FindAGrave data or any source really). If you find that it is untrue, simply mark it as a False Suggestion (after researching, of course).

To that end Wikitree listing FamilySearch profiles as sources is really the same as anything else. All sources require critical evaluation for their quality. Once other sources have been found, then it could be moved to a See Also section. But it is helpful to connect the two sites, so that anyone researching can find whatever information is available on that person.
+8 votes
Huh? Why in the name of all that is holy would you want to do that?

People can and do create incorrect/false profiles from anywhere, citing all sorts of things that look like sources but don't actually support the person. At least if they cite an FS FT profile, it's a freely-accessible site containing well-organized input, with a contact mechanism for the person supplying each input. (Yeah, yeah, sometimes finding said contact info is non-trivial. Nothing's perfect.) I would vastly prefer that to a list of uninformative paywalled links that I have no means to follow up on.
by J Palotay G2G6 Mach 9 (91.2k points)
You seem to misunderstand. I use Family Search all the time, and cite what I find, but never consider the profiles to be a source of information.
+5 votes

Lets start at the very beginning; the Home Page has "Welcome to The Free Family Tree, growing stronger since 2008.

  1. Together we're growing an accurate single family tree using DNA and traditional genealogical sources."

A Family Search profile is NOT a traditional source therefore we don't use it.   You can add it under a "See Also" section if you wish, but the profile remains Unsourced.

by Joe Farler G2G6 Pilot (154k points)
edited by Joe Farler

Derivative or second-hand information such as a family tree that was handed down to you or a tree found on another website may be used to create a profile of a modern person (but even with modern family members, it should be a priority to find and cite original sources.)

From here (bold added  by me) : 

Nobody is saying better sources should not be found / added afterwards, but every profile needs a starting point.

That is totally misleading - the question is about somebody born in 1595 ie not modern ; and the same section goes on to say: "A family tree on Geni, Ancestry, MyHeritage, Family Search, or any other user-generated tree (like WikiTree itself) is not a sufficient source for creating a pre-1700 profile. " 

Your answer did not state pre-1700, so I was responding to your answer.

In the case of pre-1700, it is clear that the sources must not be fs profiles, ancestry trees, and the like.

The original post for this thread does not state it is only for pre-1700, even if the profile used as an example is.

The opening post states :

i propose that we formally state that Family Search profiles can not be used as the initial source for creating a profile on WikiTree.

We are required to provide a source when creating a profile on WikiTree. This is very important for the health of the tree. People are by passing this requirement by using unsourced profiles from Family Search to create unsourced and likely false profiles.

Then it cites the example.  The post does not, however, say that the proposal is only for pre-1700 -- which would be redundant anyway, as the requirement for pre-1700 is already "you need a reliable source, these are not considered reliable: A family tree on Geni, Ancestry, MyHeritage, Family Search, or any other user-generated tree (like WikiTree itself)".

As I read it, the proposal is to make the pre-1700 requirements also for post-1700 aka "modern".

+7 votes
When there are sources attached to a FamilySearch profile, you can go to them and use them as sources. In case there are no sources attached to the profile, you can turn to the WikiTree-profile and add the {{Unsourced}}-template. That way the profile will show up in the Unsourced lists and Sourcerer's will see it and perhaps find a source for the profile.
by Jelena Eckstädt G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
+6 votes

This section in the help pages is pertinent to this discussion...

Why are unreliable sources allowed for post-1700 profiles?

The paragraph referenced above is saying, to me, it does not matter what source you "start" a profile with, what matters is what sources you then use to build the profile and attempt to prove each piece of vital information and each relationship. If a piece of information or a relationship cannot be supported by more reliable sources, it should be noted as such. That does not negate that the (alleged) piece of information or (alleged) relationship was first contributed to FamilySearch (or any other family tree on any other genealogical site) by a someone just like you or me and that is where you saw it and where you saw it which qualifies it as a "source." The information may or may not be true and the source may not be reliable. It is up to us, as genealogists, to dig to determine which. Should an alleged piece of information or an alleged relationship be ignored because it does not initially have what might be considered a "reliable source" attached? I don't think so. I do think it should be mentioned and identified as unconfirmed (in Research Notes or elsewhere in the narrative) because it could be an important clue. Those bits of "unsourced" information have often led me to important discoveries later on in my research even though I might not have been able to find anything at the time I first saw the "unsourced" information. Other times, I have disproven the "unsourced" information. When that happens, I try to make a note wherever I saw it and also write about it here. Whichever, I don't discard the bit of information. More and more records are being added to online repositories every day and, someday, either I or someone may be able to confirm or disprove that bit of "unsourced" information with one of those new (to us) records.

I was involved in the discussion you linked so I read the first couple of chapters of Evidence Explained this weekend to gain better perspective on this matter and I highly recommend it. On there are a few discussions of citing trees (which I believe would be the equivalent of citing a profile) which some of you may find interesting and relevant, as well. I never implied or wrote that "...not listing Family Search profiles could be considered a violation of the Honor Code." (I don't think anyone did.)

Having said that, I do try to avoid starting any profile without a good source which contains at least one bit of accurate vital information. I'm not one of those contributors who creates a profile, slaps one so-called "reliable" source on it, and calls it done. I'm not here to rack up points or contributions. I'm here to honor ancestors and other relations so I take much time with the profiles I create and spend hours researching each one and writing a narrative biography. I do believe that quality is far better than quantity and I hope my work will exemplify that belief.

by Nelda Spires G2G6 Pilot (588k points)
+4 votes
Based on the above discussion I don't think we need to change the policy at this time. Clearly there are differences of opinion about the value of the FS profiles. And just as clearly, everyone responding here take great care when creating profiles, so any change is likely only to reach the people who are doing their best already and therefore the change would not be helpful.
by Bill Pease G2G6 Mach 3 (31.7k points)

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