Should evidence of fact and/or DNA proof be required prior to editing or adding a biography for a person?

+5 votes
Requests have been made frequently from "Trusted" people to merge a relative to another relative that they have edited with biography information that appears to have sources but when checked, there is no documentation to back up what has been placed in the biography. In my research experience, anecdotal stories are only that and are not sufficient to create a biography with any integrity.

My question is this: can it be a requirement that either evidence of fact and/or DNA proof where it exists prior to editing or adding information to a profile?
asked in Policy and Style by Anonymous Anonymous G2G Crew (380 points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
When you see this can't you add [needs citation] like in Wikipedia?

3 Answers

+5 votes
I understand aggravating situations where evidence is very sketcy, or something is listed and then there really is zero evidence when you go check on it.

I was educated in the sciences and sourcing or generating data and then analyzing real data for real conclusions is part of the drill.

That being said, we cant stop the wheels while we wait for everything to be black and white. Even the good genetics needs inperpretation , and not everything that is countable necessarily matters. Scientific method also includes understanding the Principles from William of Occam/Ockham 14th Century.

I strongly believe that the word evidence is a propert tool, here. Inference is something that should remain in our tool kit. Show me your data but also show me your evidence and how the dots might be connected. Act like a good detective. No bogus or empty sources. Some people in the ancestor community are still entitled to say they personally dont believe in evidence and persuasive inference, that is OK. Keep the work product of a good detective in the system.

Simple example: if i have unbiased information that a household contains 4 individuals, all have same exact last name, and the ages for two of them are approx 20-25 years apartfrom the other 2, I make an inference about parents and descendants. and if living on the same street is another household just like that, I would infer, that perhaps there are uncles, aunts, cousins. all of that without the certificate of birth marriage etc. hopefully there will be some legal property records that connect them, attendance in same church etc.

I'll be interested in other viewpoints

answered by Marty Ormond G2G6 Mach 5 (53.5k points)
I do agree with you that unbiased reliable information can lead to some simple conclusions drawn from common sense. Where the process has become polluted is where anecdotal stories that are told over and over again and have no basis in fact at all. Those stories are now being represented as fact and being placed as biographies that include citations of fact but none can be found or are shown.

In my own personal experience, I have been told three such stories only to find, with searching and actually finding records, that those stories have been incorrect and misrepresented the individuals that they were about. The documentation was there but nobody ever bothered to look for it and took what they were told at face value.

My belief is that it is not in the best interest of inegrity or intellectual honesty to allow manufactured information to be placed as a biography on any profile. I too am interested in other viewpoints.

My experience is that 'undocumented' facts (family traditions and the like) can be a valuable research lead for people with access to different sources - In profiles I have worked on I have found erroneous and undocumented facts that at least got me started looking in the right places. Repeating a "fact" held by family tradition is surely no worse than citing a documentary source that contains errors, omissions, or even outright fabrications.

What is important is to ensure questionable information, regardless of it's origin, is presented in a way that makes it obvious it is not a fact that can be relied on. In writing narratives I often use phrases such as "Family tradition holds that...." or "Many unsourced genealogies claim...", "It has been speculated that....", etc.

Returning to your original question about making 'evidence of fact' a requirement: Wikitree operates on an 'honour system' (thus having an honour code) and the accuracy of additions to profiles are up to the individual contributors. As it stands, point 8 of the Honor Code already says "we cite sources". Thus the requirement to provide 'evidence' (of some sort) already technically exists - and it is up to members to abide by that since there is no way the system can automatically enforce this requirement - It would be nearly impossible for the system to differentiate what parts of a narrative are substance rather than 'style' let alone to evaluate if a particular source is reliable, associated to the correct individual, etc.


A prime example just happened... I had taken information from an unsourced online genealogy last night and added it to profiles I was working on, phrased along the lines of:

"according to unsourced genealogies ____ was married to _____ at _____ in _____. Evidence of these claims has not yet been found."

Today researching an entirely different family I was skimming through records and the names I added last night caught my eye - the dates were wrong by between 5 and 10 years in almost every case but the the names of the spouses and places of marriage were accurate. Had I simply ignored the unsourced info I might not have recognized the relevance of the records I was examining today.

And now those facts have sources for the next researcher :)yes

Hi Rob Ton,

I understand exactly what you are talking about. Has happened to me, also. That is what I call good detective work. I think there i a give and take. By no means should this community slide into a stiff totalitarian mentality. However, It cant be no rules, at all. if you get a geometic prowth progression of junk in the channels, then really bright and commited team players will throw in the towel. There probably is a way to benchmark the junk in the channels, and make sure it doesn't expand at a faster rate, than the people and process can tollerate.

Your story is a good one, that having some of the corrupted version in your brain cells wasn't all bad. You had a flash of recognition, about how the corrupted data could be salvaged. and Bingo as you said those facts now have value to the next researcher. You didn't lose your integrity by keeping the corrupted portions in your brain cells, and i'm guessing you didn't have to lower your standards
Rob-Your insight and recommendations are very much appreciated. Presenting information in this way would for sure alleviate much of the confusion of what appears and I'm sure is read by some as gospel. Thank you.
I think that identifying questionable, unsourced, speculative parts of a biography as such and keeping them in the biography may contribute to limiting the spread of these stories. If John Doe is supposedly related to some prominent historical figure or descended from royalty or such and this is simply deleted from the biography the next person with an or geni familytree will add it right back in whereas if it is there and identified as unsubstantiated it might actually start a learning process for some.
+3 votes

I believe the honor code forms a sort of decision tree we should consult, in the context of the mission and vision statements.

The collaboration should really begin after the profiles are merged, because "

There is not a problem in areas of agreement, but if the disagreement  is about a fixed field, in which only one value can be entered, one is chosen, and the disagreement noted in the biography. 

  • II. We care about accuracy. We're always aiming to improve upon our worldwide family tree and fix mistakes.

To me this means that the person performing the actual merge is not presumed to agree as to the accuracy of any fixed fields or something in the biography.

The scenario that this most likely occurs is when two people do not agree the other's information is accurate. To me, the profile is accurate if it contains text objectively describing the disagreement.

As a general rule, I believe if a  disagreement is not immediately resolved, that as a matter of general rule, I would keep the earliest profile information because the later profile should not technically have been created and the disagreement be noted in the Biography.

We should not be holding up merges because of a different opinion about a death date for example.  

  • III. We know mistakes are inevitable. We don't want to be afraid to make them. We assume that mistakes are unintentional when others make them and ask for the same understanding.

Having some rule similar to this will also help misunderstandings. I am certainly not against communicating what you are about to do, but it should be a matter of courtesy, rather than necessity because anything done, can be undone.

answered by Ken Sargent G2G6 Mach 5 (56.5k points)
While I do agree that mistakes are inevitable, when a biography references actual documentation that exists and then fails to provide as proof of what they've attached to a profile, it becomes problematic. This does and has created a web of information that is extremely difficult to untagle and is completely avoidable.

 It is compounded when a merge is proposed and then rejected and is then back doored to validate the information on the attached biography to make pieces fit along a tree that would otherwise not fit. It becomes obvious at this point and one can make no other assumption that the mistake was less than unintentional. It also compromises the value and integrity of that profile's information for everyone.
Just to give some context...

In the context of the Original Post, the proposed merge requests came from "trusted" people" but the source of the proposed merge request should not carry that much weight. It merely reflects someone identified two profiles as duplicates.

The potential problems caused by merging them verse not merging them should be weighed. In this scenario, it appears that the profiles are the same person with no conflicts as to the vital statistics. This disagreement is limited to the biography not containing sufficient informatoin to support the profile data.

When you merge these two, I would include a section "Disputed" that contains the biography section that is in dispute and some explanation as to the nature of that dispute.

I believe  "backdooring" is when, instead of merging two profiles, you change the associated profiles so that it reflects what the merge would have reflected. But this process is exactly what the person should have done initially. Instead of creating a duplicate profile, they should have edited the associated profiles referencing the profile that is now in dispute.

Leaving the profiles separate causes problems also. Not merging stops the flow of DNA information from crossing over from one side to the other. DNA may help to resolve some of these conflicts, but you can't compare with someone you don't know exists.

If I also try to add a profile and I find the one not documented, I might for example, connect the associated profiles to the one not well documented, not knowing the other duplicate existed.

The introduction of DNA has made increased the need to merge duplicate records. The profile I found may not have any DNA testers associated with it while the other may have many. I will probably find this out over time, but it would be better if I know about it sooner. I may being doing some needless work during he time in between.  

IMO, the most difficult scenario involves disagreements as to parentage. which is why I suggested the earliest profile as a guideline. But this guideline applies to those profiles that have conflicting supporting evidence, which I am guessing is uncommon. Most will probably not have any supporting evidence, or one will have supporting evidence, and the other will not. I would use the first in wins as a guideline for the former, and the best evidence wins for the later.

In my opinion, the reasons to merge carries more weight than not merging.
+1 vote

Hi Thomas!  Welcome to our one worldwide family WikiTree!

There are currently 10,267,398 profiles on the WikiTree, so working backwards to correct errors is not easy, but is necessary.  We pursue accuracy.

I have two mantras that I chant daily wink.  They are:

"Only one profile per person on the WikiTree."  and

"Free sources are better than pay sources;  any source is better than no source."

Sometimes just a bit of detail or information gives us something to work with that was missed before.  For example, I have known for years that Christopher Smith was genetically related by yDNA tests to "the four Smith brothers."  Recently a WikiTreer mentioned Chris' marriage record at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon.  Upon checking these records more closely, I found the baptizms for his known children, plus the "four Smith brothers" and their sister Mary.  Christopher was their FATHER(!) and they were all baptised in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon about every two years after Chris and Alice were married on 1 May 1616 (a week after William Shakespeare was buried in the same church chancel, 400 years ago next spring.)  

To me this means that a WikiTree profile is almost never finished or complete.  We never know when some little tidbit will unleash a flow of information that was missed before.  If Shakespeare was not buried in that church, I doubt that I would have ever seen a transcription of my ancestors' marriage, baptism and burial records in England. Luck of the draw perhaps, but in this case, a tiny bit of information led to big news.  

So I believe that any source used for information on the WikiTree profiles should be noted and retained, even the bad ones.  Without these notes, we can't know who has gained information from where or when.  

answered by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (463k points)

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