Profile's Biography Content / Structure

+8 votes
Shouldn't all profiles start with a very short summary followed by a timeline?

All profiles are works in progress.  Information is added & modified.  The easiest, most simple, most understandable method to organize & present the biography is a chronological timeline.  A timeline makes it easier & faster to see what information is already included & what information is needed.

A very short summary should start the biography.  Only the most important facts of someone's life would be given.  For example, "Tom Jones (1650 - 1740) was a farmer, soldier, father of 15 children, and husband of four wives."
in Policy and Style by Living Boynton G2G4 (4.5k points)

5 Answers

+22 votes
Best answer
1.  My first rule for biographies is that EVERY fact must have an inline source.  I don't always manage to follow the rule, but that's the rule.  A fact without a source is not a fact.  So I'm suspicious of summaries which simply force me to look elsewhere to see what the documentation is.  Although I've been known to do a summary if the bio seemed to require it.

2.  Personally, I organize biographies AS biographies -- that is, an account of the life in chronological order.  I use paragraph headings to cover birth, marriages, death, and children.  By putting a date in the paragraph heading, the Table of Contents becomes a timeline.

3.  There are many, many styles and opinions about what makes a good biography.  We've got the summary information up in the data field.  I think we should as much as absolutely possible honor the various styles and creativity of the people who donate their time to working on profiles and hamper them as little as possible.  Beyond documenting everything with inline sourcing, and making sure everything in the data field is matched with a fact in the narrative, I think we need to live and let live.  

4.  We have many, many biographies that are absolute crap because they started out with a GEDCOM and haven't been edited since.  I regret to say that there are profiles with my name on them that resulted from a GEDCOM.  I will never do a GEDCOM again.  It's worth the extra effort to create profiles one by one.  Our primary efforts should be devoted to getting the GEDCOM nonsense turned into real profiles!
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
selected by Natalie Trott
I'm with you on the GEDCOM thing, especially ones from ancestry with sources/refs that lead nowhere. Now I'm going through the profiles and fixing every one, but it will take time.
I will only add to Jack's excellent answer that wikitree has a style guide for Biographies that you can find here:
Jack -- I would love to see one of your profiles that includes the headings as you described them. I'm intrigued! :-)

And I agree that we need to allow for creativity -- we don't all see things the same way.

I do like that we have a style guide to follow, though, because people who are new to this will often need some inspiration to get started.
Hi, Julie -- try my great-grandfather:

I love it, Jack! I'm going to see if I have any profiles that will work well for. Great idea. :-)

Now that you've taught me something, I wanted to return the favor and share a tidbit with you. You may already know this, but you can use a "name=" parameter within the <ref> tag to reduce the number of redundant footnotes you end up with.

So, for the first reference you have that says:

<ref>  Roby F. Day, Remarks to Jackson Day family reunion, Montgomery Chapel Methodist Church, Claggettsville, 1940. </ref>

You can make a small change to:

<ref name="Roby">  Roby F. Day, Remarks to Jackson Day family reunion, Montgomery Chapel Methodist Church, Claggettsville, 1940. </ref>


 On the subsequent uses of this reference, all you need to put is:

<ref name="Roby" />

Then, you will have just one line for that reference in the Sources section, and it will have a link to each of the locations where you used it in the biography. 

If this is something that you already know and chose not to use ... then please disregard. It won't hurt my feelings!! ;-)

Darn, you caught me -- that was one of the first profiles I did in WikiTree and I incorporated a biography I'd previously written, and didn't know then what I know now.  I didn't know the <ref name= stuff then.  But this morning in answer to your question, since the rest of the bio was relatively complete, I went in this morning and put the dates in the paragraph headings, where they actually hadn't been!  

What I haven't figured out yet is the alternate method of footnoting with the word SCAN in it.  It basically refers to a complete source in the source section, but from what I can tell is most useful when you're citing different pages from the same work.

What I do now when I'm adding sourced material to a profile is start with all the material in one place, and do the master foot note just as you'd suggested, and then add the <ref name="roby"/> to every single fact.  Then I move the material around and add it in chron order.  Otherwise I would never have remembered what fact came from where.
Not SCAN. SPAN.  I seem to have an emotional block about it!

You're so funny, Jack! :-) I didn't mean to call out your ommission!! rofl

Also, I'm pretty familiar with the SPAN tags, but I don't want to derail Michael's thread too badly here. The good news is that I wrote a post about how to do this back in March. You can see it here.

Let me know if you have questions! :-)

Thanks, Julie, for the link.  Very helpful write up.  Also good to see the discussion.  I don't think it's wrong to assume some people on WikiTree are just starting out and others are experienced learners, we're all learning new stuff daily, and therefore some profiles are going to end up with more sophisticated stuff than others -- and as long as each change to a profile adds more sourced information, it's all good!

You're welcome, Jack, and thank you!

+11 votes
Your mileage may vary, but I figure that the data section of a profile provides a summary of a person's life facts, so it shouldn't be necessary to re-summarize the same facts in the first sentence of the biography section.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
+7 votes
For the most part, on the profiles I manage I start with Birth, Marriage if it applies, death, and burial. I use inline sources for these events. I list any other sources under the See also: line in chronological order and may add other information if it presents itself later when I have time.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.7m points)
+12 votes
Most of our biographies aren't so long that I feel the need to summarize at the beginning. I don't think I've ever written a summary at the beginning, although I have worked on some that had them.

And although I think a timeline is a perfectly good way to present a biography, for some of us, sentences just work better. Part of the beauty of Wikitree is that we can create bios with different characteristics, depending on what works for the profiler and the profile.

9 July 1935: born to John and Lisa Smith, in England<ref> Source </ref>
30 Aug 1962: died in the United States.<ref>Source</ref>

is really not that much different from

George Smith, son of John and Lisa Smith, was born 9 July 1935, in England.<ref>Source</ref>
He died 30 Aug 1962, in the United States.<ref>Source</ref>
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
Anne --

I can't remember if it was you or someone else I was conversing with regarding this on a similar question from last week.

I tend to use a hybrid of timeline with a narrative approach. I'll have a paragraph for a particular year where I will add narrative that discusses the events of that year, and I include in-line references within that paragraph.

You can also add additional sections outside of the timeline to address things like wills or research notes that don't fit nicely within the timeline.

I really enjoy these discussions where people share their different ways of handling things. I've learned so much!
+9 votes
There is no simple answer to this. The Biography or TImeline should certainly include facts that do not fit the birth, death, marriage, children, etc. data at the top of the Profile. Occupations, places lived, military history, wills and probate, surrounding historical events, etc. It does not always need to repeat the facts above, but since there is no way to add sources to the facts above,they need to be repeated if we are to give specific sources for specific facts - a desirable approach whenever it is possible.

In a lot of cases, all we know is the most basic facts. In those cases, the short Bio may be the full story. But even then, if you know from a study of local history that the basic events occurred at the time a community was first settled, or it was disrupted by events like King Phillip's war, adding this information can certainly make a Profile richer. A Timeline that includes such historical events is an excellent format, but it takes a lot more work and study to do it well.

I'm not sure how you see using the Timeline approach. It doesn't fit all cases, Suppose you know the names of 10 children, because they appeared in a will, but you have no birth date information. I don't think this fits a timeline, but it belongs in the Bio narrative and sources.

Your question is an excellent one, and needs to keep being discussed. Your concern for best practices is very welcome.

Walt Howe
by Walter Howe G2G6 Mach 1 (17.6k points)

Related questions

+11 votes
7 answers
+9 votes
2 answers
551 views asked Oct 23, 2022 in WikiTree Tech by Francesca Murphy G2G6 Mach 6 (61.8k points)
+9 votes
1 answer
3.7k views asked Feb 23, 2017 in Policy and Style by Norm Lindquist G2G6 Mach 7 (76.6k points)
+15 votes
10 answers
+15 votes
14 answers
+7 votes
3 answers
+16 votes
5 answers

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright