Do you explain your changes?

+42 votes

When you add, delete, or edit information or sources, it is very helpful to other collaborators to know what you did.  WikiTree is all about collaborating on our one family tree.  A short explanation may prevent another collaborator from reversing the change you made.  Though others can read the details of what you changed by clicking on the Changes tab in the profile, it may not always be clear why you made the change.  I will admit that I do not always add an explanation (nobody is perfect!), but I try to remember to do this.

Here are a few of my own examples:

I just removed several good sources (birth, marriage, death, census) from a profile.  That’s what it shows on the Changes tab, so you can understand how someone could think “Star really lost her mind this time!” and add those primary sources back into the profile.  In the explanation, I wrote that I moved sources that belonged to his father-in-law to the correct profile, hoping to alleviate any concern someone might have. 

When I change a birth or death date, I write “changed birth date & added source for birth” to explain that I added a source for the change I made.  I try not to change birth and death dates and places without citing a source because I might have wasted my time if another collaborator reverses the change because my reason was not clear.

I write “changed state name to colony name” to alert a reviewer that the date of the event required the change, not a new source.  Maybe my note will remind others that Pennsylvania was not always in the United States and make them more aware of correctly listing locations based on dates of events.

Another helpful WikiTree member edited the county of birth for one of my family profiles and explained “county didn’t exist.”  When I read this helpful note, I added more information to the biography, stating that he was born in Northampton County (now Monroe County), Pennsylvania.  I also looked up when that county was formed and edited other family member profiles where someone was born or died prior to the date that county was formed.

in Policy and Style by Star Kline G2G6 Pilot (545k points)
retagged by Dorothy Barry
Nice Star! Thanks for this! Mags
Thank You Star. I very much appreciate you..

11 Answers

+13 votes
Best answer

In addition to trying to remember to add Change notes, I will often add a

=== Research Notes / Profile History === 

section where I will document any changed relationships, including links to the profiles that were disconnected. 

I think the hardest thing for new people to remember (or realize in the first place?) on WikiTree is that they are no longer working by themselves. Everything is shared, and you have to think about whether or not what you're writing is going to make sense to a complete stranger who comes along to work on a profile later.

A common problem I find is when people enter sources like

* FamilySearch

* Find-a-Grave

It's pretty critical to include the URL in additions like this -- a full citation is even better! I was working on a profile the other day that simply listed "Find-a-Grave," and when I went to search for the memorial, I couldn't find it. 

So, yes, the Change notes are really important, but it's also important to be extremely descriptive within the free-text area. It's so much fun to come along later and find that whatever you wrote really helped someone!

by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (395k points)
selected by C S

From the book Mastering Genealogical Proof

I doubt a comment on one line is enough space for others to understand your reasoning and conclusions....

+18 votes
I add explanations for changes (often a short public comment) when the profile has multiple managers and/or is part of a larger project.  For example - ancestors of U.S. Presidents.  I feel like it is a basic courtesy to explain why I am changing something that another person entered before.

But - for the vast majority of profiles that I work on, I am the only person who has ever worked on them (i.e. family members of mine from around Pittsburgh, PA).  As such, I don't feel a need to explain changes when I am the only person working on the profile.  I'm much more interested in providing an exhaustive list of sources that document the information.
by Ray Jones G2G6 Pilot (154k points)
+9 votes
I have to confess that I normally do not add a comment about why the changes. The reason is twofold. First over 90% of my edits are both adding sources, which should be a reason for the change that is easily checked, and second they are overwhelmingly profiles that I am the only one on the trusted list for.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
you will not be the only person on the trusted list forever. one day, someone else will carry on your work. you should leave them breadcrumbs about what you changed and why.

even adding brief comments about what would otherwise be an obvious change, is helpful, in that they don't have to click through the actual change to see what it was.
True,but as I said I am adding sources that can be breadcrumbs by themselves, and the overwhelming majority of the sources I add have links to free webpages where you can look at either the image of the original or at least a transcript.
+8 votes
Ditto for the other two answers.  I have only listed a reason for a change if someone else is PM or if I have some reason to remind myself in the future why I did something.  It's been rare so far.  But perhaps some other people could chime in on what sort of unusual things they put into their reason's for change?
by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (408k points)
+15 votes
I always add explanations for changes - even if I am the only one that looks at the profiles. My reasoning for this is to help a reader (or even myself someday) see the timeline of what has been learned about the person who is the subject of the profile. Sometimes it feels silly, but I add the brief comments all the time, even for typos and similar things.

For me, at least, it is an easier process to "just do it", than to look at whether there are others on the trusted list who might be interested.
by S Willson G2G6 Pilot (144k points)
+8 votes
I try to. I appreciate it when others do.  After three years I still consider myself a new person. When edits are explained it often helps me learn new things.
by Anonymous Roach G2G6 Pilot (185k points)
+6 votes
I check first to see if the PM is active, and if they have been active within the past 6 months, I send a private message stating the information that I feel needs to be changed with my sources for those changes, and asking their permission to make the change.  If the PM has not been active in a year or more I make the changes listing my sources, such as baptism records, marriage records, death certificate, etc., and I list the changes I've made.  

I don't list the changes I make on profiles that I'm PM for.  I've recently had people make changes to some of the profiles I'm PM for and I wish they had listed why they made the changes, it would have saved me time in researching their changes!
by Carol Wilder G2G6 Mach 4 (48.9k points)
+8 votes

Where do you explain your changes when you edit a marriage?  I just removed United States from an early 1600 marriage, but there was no place to explain the change.

by Michael Stills G2G6 Pilot (399k points)
Agreed. There are situations where there is no ability to make a comment on the changes. Removing relationships, for example.
You have to open a profile in edit mode to change relationships and edit marriages etc. When you click on the edit, it opens in a new tab, where you actually make the edit. The comment can be added to the original edit screen tab and saved. It's an empty change but it explains the changes made where there is no comment section.
That's what I do as well.
That's what I did.
+7 votes
With the DB_Errors project where we are all touching profiles that are "managed" by others, it becomes even more important to add the reason for your changes.   Especially, when you are CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS.   I just spent an hour going through dozens of changes made in relationships, no reasoning, no addition of sources, nothing.

Turns out the person was working the error code where the parent is also a spouse or sibling.
by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (707k points)

But when you change the parent (Edit father) you have no possibility to enter edit comment.

I. Replace father for ...

A.) To set someone who has an existing profile on WikiTree Help as the father of ... enter their WikiTree ID here:  <<GO>>
Also in option to remove parent

II. Remove father

To remove ... as the father of ... without providing an alternative, click here:

there is no box to enter edit comment.

True, but the suggestion to add an entry for that and marriage change has already been made.  When suggestions are not adopted we have to work around the limitations.  So, other places to add change info include in the bio, in the reason for change box on edit page, and public comment box.

I think it is equally important to specify why a parent and child are linked together but hardly anybody ever pays any attention to this, the most important point in genealogy.  When you build a tree without justifying the links, you have nothing worth having.
I add my voice to Robin's. I think we should always explain our edits. (I admit to imperfection on this.) and it's particularly important for people working the db_errors project.
The project isn't to blame for my offences.  I haven't got a badge of authority.  But I've now got a very nice mentor, and I promise not to do any more.

Incidentally, I offer a no-quibble full refund guarantee.  If Robin had told me she was going to have to check all my work, I'd have saved her the trouble by reverting it all.

For future reference, the generic explanations for 209

Case A

(The links will be useless if the trees get fixed)

The grandmother has been put in the mother slot, and the father's wife has disappeared from view.

Case B

The difference is in the dates.  Here, John Adam has the wrong father - he's the son of Jacob sr and the brother of Jacob jr.

No problem with Elizabeth here - her two sons are both correct, since they're brothers really.

Case C

Much rarer.  The mother has been put in the grandmother slot, although she's way too young.

Case D

This needs checking out, but the timescale is very tight for 2 Joseph Berrys and it's more likely there was only the one.


Note that in each case,

1- the genealogy is not at issue

2- the database fails to describe the genealogy as intended, because of some accidental slip or confusion when the data was entered.

So all we're actually doing is re-entering some item of the data the way it was intended to be entered in the first place.  It's not really changing relationships, it's more like correcting typos.

PMs usually get that what you've done is what they thought they'd done.

Of course there are more difficult cases, which need sources.  But I skipped all those - I only did the no-brainers.

Actually I'd guess that the large majority of corrections done so far are data-entry issues, with basically sound genealogy, and the hard work of dismantling the bad genealogy is all in the future.
+8 votes
I explain my edits, ad nauseum some might say, for my own use. I'd rather write it down once, while I remember the reason, rather than try to figure it out again a week from now.
by Debi Hoag G2G6 Pilot (319k points)
+10 votes
In-line sourcing is the most effective explanation.  The information in the data field is essentially fiction if it is not backed up by facts in the narrative documented with a source.  So if you change the birth date on the profile an explanation is nice, but having the new birth date in the narrative  followed by <ref> Narragansett Vital Records, 1874, p. 23 </ref> is a whole lot better.  Of course, having both is the ideal!
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (363k points)

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