When should "information" be deleted from a profile.

+12 votes
155 views
I am having difficulty with how the words "information" and "Sources" are defined by some managers. I have studied the "Certainty" and "Disagreements about Certianty" Help pages. When applied to the data fields, I think I understand the procedure: use the most certain information you have from the best sources you can find. If it is from a secondary source, it can be marked uncertain. If a better source is discovered, we can replace the information in the field. This is fairly easy for me to follow.

However, when we apply this concept to the narrative part of the profile, I get confused. An example: I use Geni to establish a DOB as Feb 1701. I enter it into the DOB field and mark it as uncertain. The Geni source is cited in the narrative.

Later, I discover a reliable birth record (say, 11Feb1701, from Sudbury Birth....). I update the DOB field and add the new Source to the Narrative.

Here is my issue: I believe that the original Geni source should remain somewhere in the narraitive. Generally, I include a description of what the Geni Source claims. I may also note if some of it is incorrect or if there are other sources cited. I think that every bit of information that can be found should be somewhere in the narrative, either as an uncited source, part of a "Research Notes" section, or perhaps as part of a "See also" section.

Unfortunately, some managers think these secondary sources are useless, and delete them. When I come back to the profile later, I don't see any of these secondary sources, don't recall if I found them before, and so spend unnecessary time tracking them down again.

I think that anyone interested in a particular profile should be able to see everything that has been found. (perhaps with an explanation regarding its value). An easy click on a hyperlink (which I always include, if possible), allows for an easy check: sometimes the secondary source has new info.

While we should replace the field information when something better is found, and while inline citations in the bio can also be replaced, the original (perhaps poor) source should not be deleted from the profile. It should remain somewhere in the profile, perhaps near the bottom. We should not use the same standard as would be used in a published book or article.

Of course, this is only my view of how it should be done. I would appreciate comments by others.
in Policy and Style by Steve Selbrede G2G2 (2.9k points)
Geni is a repository and not an actual source.  It's just a family tree from another website.  Once the Geni "source" has been gleaned for possible actual court records, official documents or accepted publication(s) you might just leave the link on a parent of this profile and again check for possible actual sources for that profile and continue on in this vein until any real sources are found.  Then leave the Geni link on the brickwall ancestor that should eventually be encountered.

I think Wikitree should have equal or even better standards than published books or articles.
If I go through a profile, replacing Ancestry Trees with primary or even secondary sources, I pretty generally remove the citation to Ancestry trees. It's clutter that the profile simply doesn't need.
I check the ancerstry link.  If it actually works, I'm inclined to leave it up.  75% of the time it's a dead link and I delete it.  

If ancestry or geni has bad information, it seems important to keep it, but in a footnote.  John was born 25 May 1682.  Footnote:  Salem, Massachusetts Vital Records, p. 25.  Ancestry, Geni and other sites frequently report a date of 25 May 1683.  This is an error based on misunderstanding of "Old Style" Calendars.  End of Footnote.
These are all terrifically helpful answers. It seems that we should leave the secondary sources somewhere in the narrative section, perhaps with a comment regarding the source.

I will also delete an ancestry source that leads nowhere. But I leave a Geni source since there is usually only one of them.

When I look at FamilySearch trees, I will sometimes write:

FamilySearch query, [http..] I found 168 trees for xyz, born 1701. Most of them have her birth as 1Sep1701. Her father is always referred to as John XYZ...and so forth.

I sometimes will add "checked all 12 trees and found no primary sources cited."  I think that should be helpful for other researchers.

I would love for someone to add a note such as "checked all Ancestry trees. The vital information generally agrees with the data fields for this profile. No primary sources were cited on any tree."

To me, this is all information. Even negative info helps me if it keeps me from wasting my time tracking it down.

6 Answers

+8 votes
Steve,

The problem you mention can be easily avoided by using the best sources as inline references and placing the poor sources after the See also: line.  I never use other family tree programs as a source, but at the same time I would never remove it but rather re locate it as I mentioned.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
I might even consider making a SOURCES section (generally there to start with) and then maybe something like a SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION section, or SECONDARY SOURCES section. Move these sources like GENI to that section, along with the various news articles or other links. I would think that if someone sees that you've acknowledged that you're retaining this information in an appropriate place, then they'd be much less likely to remove it.
+2 votes
When possible I place the sources for a single event in the same citation:

DoB <ref> [url document] date

: paraphrase

{url document] date

: paraphrase <ref/>
by James Applegate G2G6 Mach 5 (53.8k points)
+4 votes
I agree with you about the importance of secondary sources - especially in certain cases as supporting evidence.

For example, I have an ancestor named Theodore A. Kelley.  While I have found 7 different documents (marriage, census, SSDI, etc.) that list him, none of the documents lists his actual middle name.

Interestingly, I found an Ancestry public member tree which had no sources that lists his name as "Theodore Amariah Kelley."  While most of us are naturally skeptical about the reliability and validity of unsourced Ancestry trees, the person who made the tree was Lydia Kelley - who happens to be Theodore's daughter.

I know that Lydia is Theodore's daughter because I had the chance to speak with another one of Lydia's close family members who confirmed that Theodore's middle name was Amariah.  I have not yet been able to speak directly with Lydia to hear her confirm this fact.

So - I have two pieces of evidence for Thedore's middle name (plus the basic fact that Theodore's maternal grandfather was Amariah Jones) - a conversation with one of his descendants and the Ancestry public member tree entry of his daughter.

Bottom line - in cases like this - the Geni profile or Ancestry tree entry can be used as "the currently best known" evidence in support of a specific fact.  While it would be great to see documentation of Theodore's middle name in an official record, I don't currently have this documentation.
by Ray Jones G2G6 Pilot (153k points)

"Lydia's close family members who confirmed that Theodore's middle name was Amariah."

But that is a great source!  You could cite it as "Data collected by Ray Jones, ca. 2016, from relatives of Theodore A. Kelley who gave information on his middle name"

then additionally cite that Ancestry page as a work by his daughter citing personal knowledge.

I wouldn't directly cite the Ancestry tree entry as "the currently best known" evidence, because no one else will know WHY you think it is the best known evidence.

No - I wouldn't cite it as "the best known evidence", I would write up a citation which stated that my conversation on a specific date with his descendant and the specific Ancestry public member tree that was created by his daughter each independently states that his middle name was Amariah.

In a similar vein, that same descendant and another Jones relative each independently said to me that another one of our ancestors was a prominent vaudeville performer in Cleveland, Ohio.  While I have yet to find any newspaper articles or entries in books confirming this claim, I will eventually add this to the Jones relative's profile (probably in the bio), as I now have two different relatives who stated that our ancestor was notable in vaudeville in Cleveland, Ohio.
Yeah, and every member of my family said that Johannes and Regina married on the boat they came over on. So it must be true.

Until I found their marriage record in a church in Buffalo, New York.
But - until you found their marriage record, the word-of-mouth was all that you had to go on.  As I said, I have tracked down seven different records on Theodore A. Kelley - none of them happen to list his middle name.  The only sources I have right now are word-of-mouth.  I'm not going to abandon my search for records, but the secondary accounts by two of his daughters are better than no mention in 7 different records.

In the case of the family story of my Jones ancestor and vaudeville, I would have never have thought to look for him in vaudeville, as my family were all industrial workers (which is what you see over and over again in the records for him and his five brothers).

So - in this case - the family stories (from two distant relatives who have never met) might be the key to leading me to new information on my ancestor that doesn't appear in census records, WWI draft cards, a marriage record and his death record.
+5 votes

There are secondary sources and there are secondary sources... 

Actually, in my book there are no secondary sources; there are original sources, and derivative sources. But that's another discussion.

It's one thing to list (under "See also" under == Sources == ) published genealogies. But to list every single geni.com, ancestry.com or worldconnect.rootsweb.com family tree is just well, a bit nuts.  We don't need to see every single online family tree.

We do need to understand conflicts in sources. Some projects use a "== Disputed Origins==" section (or something similar) to discuss the problems related to a particular person.

So, for example, on a profile for one of my husband's ancestors, there was an 1885 book published about his ancestry. There are no sources cited, but a lot of the info is accurate. I may have used that as my initial source for the data I provided. THen, let's say I found the actual vital record for the person. I'd replace the 1885 source with the better vital record. AND I'd move the 1885 source down under "See also:" with a notation that the 1885 genealogy has been found to be in error in some cases. 

This alerts readers who might be over-relying on that late 19th century genealogy (there were a SLEW of them published and now available for free through google books and other online libraries) that we know about the book, we've referenced it here in the profile, but we are not relying on it as a source.

But am I going to list every online family tree I've found for this ancestor? ONLY if that's my only source for my data. Once I've replaced it with better sources, that online tree link is removed.

I might include a notation somewhere along the lines of "numerous online trees claimed that he married Alice Jones; but there has been no documentation or other evidence to support this claim." I might cite ONE of those online trees. 

by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (752k points)
I do list every source I find, but not necessarily multiple trees from the same source. So, I might have:

S1. [Geni.....], Bridget Smith, born ....

S2. [FamilySearch query], I found 15 trees for Bridget Smith, born 1701. They generally support the profile data. No primary sources are cited in any of these trees.

This last citation could be helpful since, if I saw it, I would be less incline to waste my time checking all the FamilySearch trees.
+3 votes

I like to leave links to "sources" such as familysearch.org birth certificates and the like, in a profile even when another person has entered other sources from Vital Records. My reasoning is that both the Vital Records and the related information shown in FamilySearch.org are usually transcriptions rather than actual source documents. The other reason I keep them is that it gives people something to look at vs., just a listing of - say - Vital Records, Essex Massachusetts, 1645.

If there are dead ancestry (or similar) links, I remove them.

by S Willson G2G6 Pilot (115k points)
I agree. If the ancestry "source" actually contains nothing that can be checked, I sometimes delete it. If it is the only thing there, I leave it.
+6 votes

The goal is to have profiles which are supported entirely by original (or primary) sources.  Of course, this is rarely possible, and especially while we are actively researching.  These wiki profiles go through phases.

There is a huge difference between a geni profile - without any sources and a peer-reviewed journal article - which cites the original documents and lays out a coherent argument.  Both are derivative (or secondary).

People will often say, "I looked online, and there were 82 references which said _____, so it must be true."

Actually with something unknown or confusing, it is usually the other way around.  Most of the online data bases will have the outdated, incorrect information, and only a few will know about the newly discovered, original record - or will admit that we simply do not know yet. 

Sometimes I make a (hopefully temporary) section called "User-contributed."  Of course, there is the occasional user-contributed web page which includes evidence (and where to find it), but these are fairly rare, so I add something like, "cites original sources."

The important thing is to make sure we are all "on the same page" during this research phase - and communicate our findings.  Research is more about critical thinking - and mining for that one special gem than just gathering any number of "sources."

Good question, Steve.  Really gets to the fundamentals.

by Cynthia B G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
I agree that we should use the best possible sources for data fields and Biography text. I also like a section that contains the less useful or trustworthy sources. I like putting the section near the end so that the early sections are not too cluttered.

You never know where something useful will appear. The Geni source, for example, may not have a primary source today. But some Geni members are just as enthusiastic as we are. One of them may track down a primary source, adding it to their Geni profile. Leaving the Geni source (with a link), allows me to periodically re-check Geni without much effort.

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