What is acceptable use for an ancestry profile as a source?

+18 votes
Because of time constraints (meh job!) I have been limited to helping merge profiles.  Many of the profiles I'm looking at have no sources listed, or simply an ancestry page or tree as the source.  These trees, in turn, rarely have sources linked.  If they include documents or sources for info such as census records that support the data, I leave the profiles in.

The question arises in those profiles that link to trees on Ancestry or elsewhere.  When those trees don't have any sourced info, I've been deleting the biography data and labeling it as unsourced, as, to my science and history trained brain, this is not a true source, and we need to find documentation for the data given.

Is this acceptable or should I leave the unsourced trees and STILL label it unsourced?  I think the tag should be used regardless as we need to corroborate data to avoid more of the incorrect trees that we've all encountered.

Thoughts?  Thanks!
in Policy and Style by Vicki Clements G2G1 (1.1k points)
retagged by Vic Watt

My vote review the meaning of unsourced template

Soon a link to the Wikitree profile itself is a sourced profile... now if an unsourced Ancestry family tree is imported to Wikitree the same profile will be sourced....  it makes no sense....

If a link to an unsourced Ancestry family tree is defined as sourced then we need to redefine what unsourced template indicates....

Maybe add a parameter to the Unsourced template

Why "primary" and "secondary" not used in genealogical research:


 Some do ! https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/genealogy/1/steps/59433

( sorry don't know if it will link if not logged into futurelearn) It's only a brief internet course but  Strathclyde is a providerof post grad courses in genealogy

I should have added "in the United States."  My bad.
grin !

Sometimes I feel G2G discussions are more a way of arguing than finding a solution..

Right now we have a definition that in Wikitree a sourced profile is

  1. An unsourced family tree at Ancestry
  2. Imported to Wikitree 
  3. A link is created from Wikitree to the imported Ancestry profile 
  4. ==>  We have a sourced profile in Wikitree
This is not genealogy....

"Reliable conclusions are based on the quality of sources, ideally original records, the information within those sources, ideally primary or firsthand information, and the evidence that can be drawn, directly or indirectly, from that information. In many instances, genealogists must skillfully assemble indirect or circumstantial evidence to build a case for identity and kinship. All evidence and conclusions, together with the documentation that supports them, is then assembled to create a cohesive genealogy or family history"
I have an extensive tree on Ancestry from preWIkiTree days and I often cite it, also a few other trees I am very familiar with.  I cite in part because some of the info on the tree is Ancestry copyrighted or I haven't had the time to move everything over yet.  So I put it down as a source and put "For cross-reference purposes only."
Ancestry Family Trees do  have sourced entries.  They have census data, Find A Grave data, military records, Genealogical book data. and many more.  They are just not required.  They are good enough to get started.  They give an initial direction and a new lead\ if you are stumped.  They also provide pictures and documents, stories and wills.  Sam
Got a 404 on that link
Deletion of unsourced materials bothers me. It seems to me that unsourced data should be considered as hints for further study. I feel the same with Ancestry trees, some of which have sources, Find A Grave, and other less than official sources.

Comment please.

7 Answers

+19 votes
Best answer

I think we all agree that a profile that has only a link to a family file is not sourced - so adding the category unsourced is correct.

I do not think you should remove the link to the ancestry family file - that is until the profile is sourced.  The link can be placed in a section below sources as == See Also ==

The reason - sometimes while the family file is not properly sourced there is some information that can be useful when trying to find sources.  Perhaps parents names are shown - no source perhaps but a name - that will give me enough to go look for a birth or marriage record  - IF I find it, and can find a little more it may become the basis for a well sourced profile.  So just like my grandmother's stories, often confused and a little mixed up there may be a bit of truth that can be tracked down.
by Philip Smith G2G6 Pilot (269k points)
selected by Kathleen Heath

I move things like Ancestry links that works and links to FInd A Grave to the See also section. It can be a breadcrumb to something better....

Links I find on a profile to a Ancestry family tree that doesnt work I add a comment

:::'''~~~~''' Link doesnt work 

==> I get my name and a  timestamp when I looked at the link and a comment link didnt work so its up to someone else to delete it... and if that is the only source n the profile I add 


IF the ancestry profile has primary sources I move them to the Wikiprofile

I completely agree, Philip. I leave Ancestry.com links -- I just shorten them to the [url Ancestry.com]. If that's the only thing there, I also add the Unsourced template.

Additionally, if there are references to other web-based family trees, I often will add: "NOTE: Does not contain source references" at the end of the citation. 

The information from sites like that is not useless because it provides hints, so I always leave it in place. It does warrant a "warning," though, so people realize they need to dig a little deeper.

+20 votes
I believe there are lots of previous threads that revolve around this specific question, but I'll throw out my 2 cents.

A source is something that should be:

1) Confirmable - in other words, it should confirm the data in the profile.

2) Official - links to news sites and wikis and such makes the profile interesting, but it doesn't substitute the need for official birth records, census records, marriage records, etc.

3) Accessible - Now while I'm not a fan of paid sites, I will acknowledge that some records can only be seen through those sites. So I'm not stating that you can't use a paid site source, but the link should point to the source and not the tree, which leads to...

4) Direct - the source link should point to the... well, source. Not an interim link, not a search page - the source - it's OK to also have the tree link, or other profile link (like with ancestry, familysearch and geni, for example), but you should back it up with a direct link to the source, wherever it might be

Now my preference is that the source should be available as much as possible to non-paid customers so that the masses can look at it as well. Free sites preferred over pay. Non-sign up sites preferred before those that require you sign up in order to use.

And to answer your question (which could have been lost in the above) - I would not consider an unsourced tree link to be properly sourced. And while I would grudingly believe that a properly sourced tree link is sourced, it is challenging to use the link if you have to pay to look at it.

A good deal of this is opinion based, so please feel free to fire away if you disagree.
by Scott Fulkerson G2G6 Pilot (902k points)
Scott, I'm not sure about other countries, but in the UK the information required is, by law, in the "Public Domain", and therefore I would question anyone's right to charge for that information.
+16 votes
I don't view it problematic to label those profiles as unsourced, but I'd be wary of deleting the content in the biography.  I think the criteria for sources listed by Scott make sense.   

Tho the ancestry links don't qualify by this criteria - they may be of use to the original contributor of the content, or those who may have access to their trees.

I have a lot of data that originated on Ancestry.com ... when I have free time I search for other sources, mainly on FamilySearch, and replace the ancestry data.  Having some of the ancestry data helps in this process, usually.  It's a time sink, and I have a lot of work ahead of me, but in my case, the ancestry links are mostly to real sources, rather than other trees, though many are interspersed with references to other trees.  If just the references to other trees were deleted, that would be fine.  I agree we need to validate the claims with sources.
by Michael Maranda G2G6 Mach 6 (66.3k points)
+12 votes

Assuming that I'm not going to spend the time finding real sources:

  • If the link takes me to a tree (sourced or unsourced) on Ancestry, I leave it. Even unsourced it may be helpful.
  • If the link takes me to what I call a "null" tree (nothings there) I delete it. leave a note that it was sourced with an unsourced Ancestry tree.
  • If there's no link I delete most of it, just stating as above from unsourced Ancestry tree
  • Then put on the Unsourced template. You can leave a note (at the top), that the linked tree has sources that need to be transfered to Wikitree.
  • Be careful not to delete the good stuff from Ancestry. Should go without saying, but I said it anyway. : )
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
On "Null" trees I add
:::'''~~~~''' Link didn't work

plus {{Unsourced}}
I do a lot of searching on ancestry for unusual tidbits. When I look up a person and they are on 15 ancestry trees and all the information is the same, I assume that most of them have been copied from one of them (rightly or wrongly). So I look for trees that differ in some distinct way and try to discern why.  The good quirk I most often find is when 14 trees have 9 kids and two trees have one child and not the same child. Often that child has been well-researched and has several generations of descendants. Its no guarantee, but it's a clue.
+9 votes

These problems will never go away until a tone of quality over quantity pervades wikitree's community and its technology.

One thing that happens today is that folks have to build a case against unsourced assertions just to take them down. Unsourced assertions that are not taken down lead to responsible people being left holding the bag to prove the non-existence of people or events. That's supposed to be ridiculous except that here, that's often the only way to get fake information removed.

by Daphne Maddox G2G6 Mach 1 (14.5k points)
On the other hand, Daphne, I have seen profiles that give a particular Parish Register as a source, a record that was written by a contemporary of the data subject, and doubtless had personal knowledge of that person. Yet, because someone has no access to those registers, possibly because they are in another country, they persist in adding the "Unsourced" label. This cannot be right, or acceptable. I feel too much credence is placed on third party transcripts, and we all know how prone they are to human error. Only the original document is as near to the facts as we can get, and 2 or 3 documentary evidences are preferred.
+7 votes
Vicki, My take is this,  I can not check the "Ancestry" sources myself so for that reason I feel they are poor sources at best. The definition of a source is "where you found the information" and by that broad reasoning it is a source so they should not be removed and you should not put the unsourced template on the profile. You should not change any information in the profile without a source so unless or until I find a source for my actions I would never change anything about a profile like that. I will at least try and find a better source and add it to the profile as well as change any information that is incorrect based on the sources I can find.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
And you probably also aren't in a position to check records and documents in my local repository and secondary sources in my  local history library  .I use many sources from there, they are no less valid as evidence just because they aren't online.

 In my opinion Ancestry is a repository and is a good source of certain records:censuses, sets of parish records, tithe maps, apprenticeship documents, wills, passenger lists. etc etc .They now even have tithe maps, poor law records ,quarter session records etc  for one of the areas that my family came from. The only other place you will find some of those  is  in the local records office where the originals are kept . In any case,  now  they are digitised ,it is only exceptionally that they will allow you to access  the originals .  I do think that the repository where the originals are kept  should be referenced,  in addition to the fact that it was viewed on Ancestry (or elsewhere) .

Ancestry and any other online trees, including on here,  are an entirely different matter, their validity depends on their sources. If there aren't any then it may well be a cobbled together work of fiction.  Sadly, I seem to have found quite a few of those in my first year on wiki tree.

Helen, That is why I say they should not be removed. Ancestry does not have the originals either, they do have digital images which are copies,  but they do not count as originals.  I do not think any "source" from ancestry should be removed, just treated with caution.

Please read my answer carefully. The original question wants to remove the ancestry "sources" and mark the profile as unsourced. I feel that is a bad move.

The person who asked the question has been removing these sources and the biography from these profiles and marking them unsourced, I DO NOT.

Sorry if I misunderstood you Dave. I was reacting to the idea that because you can't check a source on Ancestry, they are 'poor at best'. I don't think that is the case if a record on Ancestry is cited.

 But I don't think that adding a link to a vague Ancestry tree is much good as a source It should therefore definitely be marked  as unsourced . Removal is probably more down to aesthetics but they serve no value except perhaps to act as a warning. .
Like you, I try to find proper sources though it's impossible when you eventually realise that it's afictitious family cobbled together from several people  or someone inserted into a real  family, just no relation to the one that they've been put into.  

Here's one I think should be marked unsourced .It's a weed right in the middle of another family with quite another name. (  Ah,  I was going to link but won't because the person is still active! Have made another comment  on the profile though, I made one in February but so far no reply ) The ancestry gumph for this profile reads like this

" Source: S-2130359488 Repository:******* (cut that because it now takes you straight to the wiki profile!)Title: Ancestry Family Trees Publication: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network. Original data: Family Tree files submitted by Ancestry members. Note: This information comes from 1 or more individual Ancestry Family Tree files. This source citation points you to a current version of those files. Note: The owners of these tree files may have removed or changed information since this source citation was created. Page: Ancestry Family Tree Data: Text: "

The link takes me to the Ancestry join up page. That's not a source, it's an advert.
Helen, The simple fact that The ancestry tree is where the information came from to create the profile makes it a source, The fact that it just leads to an ad makes it a very poor source but that is not enough to negate the first statement. If we are going to be honest even with a poor source the profile can not be unsourced. We have far to many profiles on here already that are unsourced and in need of our attention without us taking sources off of profiles and adding that category to them  just because we do not like the quality of the sources that another put on them.
+5 votes

If an unsourced Ancestry tree still exists on the Ancestry site, I'll leave it as a WikiTree source. In theory, a WikiTree member could contact the owner of the tree to find out where they got the information they posted. I often do add the unsourced category in that case.

If the Ancestry tree has been removed, I delete it as a source, and try to remember to add "citation needed" for every fact that referenced it. I don't delete the facts themselves, which would be the right thing to do if we were conducting a double blind scientific study with a potentially bad source. However, we aren't conducting scientific studies here, but attempting to piece together history, and someone thought that piece of information was important. Until there's a better sourced piece of info to replace it, I'll leave it there.

I agree that whenever we have the choice, we should reference a free site instead of a paid one, but there's a reason that a lot of us have Ancestry. The access to images of original documents is why I pay their high fees. There's a huge difference between a reference to an unsourced tree and a reference to a high quality image of an original record from the 1700s. Deleting a reference to the latter would be completely inappropriate.

I do tend to delete Ancestry references to International and World Marriages, the Family Data Collection, and the Millennium File, all of which are highly derivative dead ends in terms of further investigation. In those cases, I'm pretty careful to add "citation needed" to every piece of data they were supporting.

Edited to change "primary source" to "original record" per Jillaine's link.

by Carole Partridge G2G6 Mach 7 (70.4k points)
edited by Carole Partridge
I definitely think the use of unsourced needs to be examined.  To me, unsourced means the is no data or proof for the information in the profile.  Referencing a tree without resources, another non-referenced tree, or a gedcom is, to me, an unsourced profile.  Perhaps a better tag would be "unreferenced" or "undocumented" indicating that although there is data in the profile, it has nothing providing support.


It's interesting that many of the trees linking to ancestry have a comment saying the profile is unsourced and needs to be edited, etc etc.  So on those I  put the tag!


And I agree that sometimes these discussions are a little contentious, but they need to occur.  As genealogy continues to grow worldwide, it is critical that we come to a common agreement on terminology and techniques to make our work more effective and "duplicatable".


It is critical that we come to a common agreement on terminology and techniques to make our work more effective and "duplicatable".

Yes!!! Thanks for asking your question.

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