Should We Start Putting the Unsourced Template on Profiles With Only Online Family Trees as Sources?

+64 votes

This question has been around for a long time. It has been noted in G2G conversations that we should not be adding the {{Unsourced}} template to profiles if they have a "source," EVEN IF THAT SOURCE IS AN UNSOURCED ONLINE FAMILY. I propose that that practice be changed. 


1. If someone comes across a profile that has only online family trees as sources, it should be considered unsourced and the {{Unsourced}} template should be added.

Note: I am NOT proposing that the template be added to profiles that use  records or databases from popular websites that are based on records. Only those profiles that cite only Ancestry or other online family trees as sources be templated.  You would have to look at the type of source. If the individual who spots the profile does not have access to Ancestry or whatever online source is used, the person should not add the template.

2. If the only source is a GEDCOM. the {{Unsourced}} template should be added.

This currently happens when GEDCOMs are imported, but there are a lot of old profiles on Wikitree and were imported before that change.

asked in The Tree House by Vic Watt G2G6 Pilot (300k points)
retagged by Robin Lee

In the G2G discussion Chris Whitten, Wikitree Founder, makes it clear that his "understanding is the same as others who have posted, that "Unsourced" means no sources."   So, my understanding is that at this time, the template should only be put on profiles with Nothing as a source.

Robin, I understand what the current guidelines say.  I am proposing a change.
I added the leaders as a tag

And, Chris Whitten makes it perfectly clear in the same G2G discussion that is referenced by Robin Lee, above:

"The Sourcerers info page I know is explicit about derivative family trees not counting as sources." Quoted from Chris Whitten's post referenced above.

I will definitely be adding that to my comments when I add the "unsourced" category.

I tend to add the Unsourced tag when I encounter these profiles though not all the time. If I add the tag I always add the location(s) so they might be picked up by regional sourcerers during Source-A-Thon.

OK I have one apparent cousin that has several profiles I have come across - and she thinks mentioning a source is sourcing - I mean she puts 1830 census or death record in such and such place but has no quote of what the source says, citation of the source OR link - just says what the source was - so you have to wonder why she thinks that is good enough - I was really tempted to put the unsourced on the profiles I saw but then I thought I ought to send her a mentor to steer her toward better practices - Now I can not remember where on my tree she is - I do know I have to get her on the right track but I am not experienced enough to do that


I understand the frustration, but what she's providing is better than what many people place as sources (either nothing, "family records" or -- the subject of this thread-- online family trees). In any case, adding the Unsourced template would not be appropriate in her case.

What you might do is demonstrate by example the quality of a strong source.
Jillaine, I have seen this often myself.  I have not put unsourced on these profiles because I think the WikiTreer is probably a newbie and simply doesn't know better.  But really, when there is simply 1900 United States Census or Death Record with no location mentioned, it's really no better than saying Smith Family Tree.  Now if there is a location-- that is a proper source.  We still have to search for it.  On some profiles where I have seen this type of reference listed, I have not been able to find that record through research, so I don't even know where they got info that it is a source for that person. We definitely need to do a better job of educating our newbies.
Edie, wholly agree with you about educating newbies (and even some "oldbies").

14 Answers

+32 votes
Best answer
I agree with Vic that profiles be marked {{Unsourced}} if the only sources are other peoples' GEDCOM uploads, or other people's family trees (double down on this statement if they are stashed behind a paywall).

I have been shocked, SHOCKED to learn how readily Wikitreer's accept false evidence. We are still mired in the world of copy and paste, armchair genealogy. Wikitree promises to be different. Let's be different!

I think it is the profile managers' responsibility to go to a 3rd-party source and bring the actual evidence citations forward if they can be found.  An unexamined source cannot meet evidentiary standards.

It will be a long slow process, but without our leaders coming together and unifying around evidentiary standards, there is no hope.

Fight on.
answered by Weldon Smith G2G6 Mach 1 (13.2k points)
selected by Edie Kohutek
As a "leader" on Wikitree, I was surprised to find out that having any source is "good enough" to remove the unsourced tag.   I agree that there are so many poorly sourced and overly copied family trees out there, that I had thought Wikitree was really committed to "real sources".
Having only a short experience here on Wikitree and with Wikitree being the only online tree that I have entered and shared any research undertaken by me at all, I am feeling unsure after the complete mess I have witnessing on occasion as to proper sourcing for the information added to this site.  My hopes were to have sound trees with easy to follow sources.   I agree with Vic that there needs to be a change as it is heading in the wrong direction with GEDCOMS of humungus size being imported with improper or no true sources at all.  The larger this site becomes, the more difficult it becomes to control.    It takes so many years to have a clean tree, free of errors.  Your fingers do the walking as well as your feet with your brain in full motion mood.  Never was it meant to be so easy as dumping files into this program never having any feeling for what is being added.  My 2 bits worth is to change the rules to smaller generational GED 's that can easily be checked before new generations are added.
+31 votes

It is not a source if you cannot access it or it is not a source if it is only a single person's tree(s) that are not properly source.  Just looked at two profiles that will/have resulted in a broken ancestral line because all the faith is in the work of one persons.  They did do a lot of work but none of it supports who the parents are.  The names of the individuals are common and easily confused in the lineage of the family.
answered by Sharon West G2G6 (7.3k points)

I agree that another unsourced tree is not a source and that if you can't access it you can't make any judgement as to whether it is  based on evidence. There are many citations like this on wikitree that just say ancestry trees or  I believe that this is not valid evidence  ie I agree with Vic's post.

If however someone puts a  reference to a  record such as a census or a parish register that they have viewed on ancestry that is perfectly valid (and I don't think Vic is referring to this sort of citation)

 I also don't agree that a documented source that you cannot access is not valid. There are very many such records, including parish registers which are not online and can only be accessed by visiting the repository.

Very often, especially when we move to earlier periods,  we may need to rely on secondary accounts compiled by researchers who had better access than us  Indeed some parish records used by 18th and 19th historians no longer exist or have become illegible so can never be consulted. We have to judge such authors by their overall output and standing.

Nice well rounded comment Helen! Well said.
I use "Richard Stout Descendants in West Virginia" often because it has info about the first Stouts who came here and located her.  Their children, grandchildren went across and continued to grow our nation so off to Family Search and Findagrave.  A picture of a tombstone with a message "widow of David Stout" "wife of John Doe" has meaning put together with supported facts.  It is the unsourced tree.  By the way Just found out Russel Ray Stout's Mother, father and a cousin lived with him in 1930 than knew his Stout''s Mill anvestors.  First hand info but found on a 1930 census.  Sharon

This is why quoting the relevant part of the source in our citations is so important. That way, someone without access can see the relevance. Here's an example from a microfilmed church record that I don't think is yet online:

Evangelische Kirche (Schwenningen, OA Rottweil, Germany), Kirchenbuch, 1651-1875; Microfilm of original church books as researched by Jillaine Smith, Washington DC. FHL #1658745, Band 15, Deaths 1779, p 92: "19 Marty 1779 nact zwischen 7 und 8 uhr starb an der Waßersucht, Anna, Christian Schlenker, Mändlis, vidua, und wurde ... begraben; etat 69 jar weniger 8 monat, und 27 tag."


Liked that reference--versten ein weign deutche.  and yawohl.


many of the actual original documents for Québec genealogy are accessible on line, but only by subscription, so that you yourself cannot access it does not mean it is not sourced.

Sorry I narrowed my world to the USA.  Our wikitree is world wide of which I am reminded when there are messages from Holland, England, France.  However, the source is available if directions are given of where it can be found.  I have a book under copyright I use in WV, USA.  I cannot copy, etc but Give tiltle of book and email address so they can get from a library or buy it.  So like Q'uebec order a copy.  Thanks for the comment.

–2 votes
I have to say NO to this. I do not like Ancestry as a source but just because I do not have an account there is no reason for me to discount it as a source. If I really wanted to I could go to the Library and check it out. I will always try and find a source that is not on Ancestry to replace an Ancestry source or put on an unsourced GEDCOM import but I think it would send the wrong message to just put the unsourced template on a profile just because I can not view the source or do not like where it came from.
answered by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Dale, You didn't read my post carefully.  I specifically said that I was NOT talking about records, databases or other reasonable sources.  I am only talking about unsourced family trees and GEDCOMs.  I also said that those people wsho cannot view the info because they don't subscribe should not add the unsourced template.
And, Dale, you are such an excellent genealogist.  I completely agree that just because a source is in a bad format or I can't access it (Fold 3, etc.) that it is not an unsourced profile.  I think what Vic was really saying is that if you find a profile that has only Ancestry family trees as the source that we should consider that unsourced.  When I'm working on sourcing profiles or cleaning up some old gedcom -- I retain that the original info came from Ancestry Family Trees and the specific link if possible.  The link will take you to just but the actual info in the link may be helpful to someone with a subscription.  Still, the profile is "heresay" without documentation and should get the "unsourced" template.
+8 votes
Vic, I have to agree with Dale. I do not agree with Sharon's comment "it is not a source if you cannot access it." A number of ancestry trees do in fact have sources (more than there used t be.)  For that reason, I would not apply the 'unsourced' tag to such files. Nor would I accept as a source without the underlying source. I happen to have an ancestry account, and before deleting an source I will visit it and see if it has an actual source (which I will then cite), or if the source is simply "family tree" -- then I will count it as unsourced. Frankly, many of those unsourced family trees have given me names, places, and times to search, which have then yielded actual sources with a little research.
answered by Jim Parish G2G6 Pilot (113k points)
Again, I am talking about UNSOURCED family trees.  If you can access the family tree and see that the information has no source except other family trees, then it should be deemed unsourced.  If you can't tell, then you don't apply the template.
I agree Jim...those trees if you can access them often give enough clues to find actual sources.
My Trees are in both Ancestry and My Heritage and you can bet they are sources.  I made them public profiles when I left them.  You know why I left--found gross errors--tried to correct but if it is in there it stays in there--and they have the disclaimers.  Thank God for Wikitree--we collaborate, correct mistakes, and all those good things to make a great World Tree.

+21 votes
Vic, I am in total agreement.  The Sourcerer's challenge allows us to count as unsourced any profile that just cites an Ancestry family tree or a family tree.  Other unsourced profiles that count are profiles where the source is the gedcom upload.  None of these are sources in the terms of another genealogist being able to evaluate its worth.  Additionally, we've been allowed to count profiles that just use the generic or as a source.  Not specific sources within those sites -- just the generic source.  

I try to look through all the gedcom cruft and duplicated lines to see if there is really a reference to a real source -- like a census or birth record.  If there is, I'll clean it up and find a good citation for the source if possible.  But it's not unsourced.  

But, I am all for marking anything that is just an online family tree as unsourced.
answered by Kathy Zipperer G2G6 Pilot (182k points)
edited by Kathy Zipperer
Kathy, should your second sentence say "unsourced"? We count profiles as unsourced if they only reference a tree?
Yes, Karen.  Goodness.  Editing now.
I knew what you meant. : )
I've been making a lot of similar errors in my own writing lately. : (
+11 votes
I have added the "unsourced template" to some of the profiles I personally added and manage if all I have is an unsourced ancestry tree as my source. I include a "research note" to explain what I did and why, hoping that in the future I or someone else can prove or disprove the information. So my vote is unsourced ancestry trees on their own do not count as a source.
answered by Brett Rutherford G2G6 Pilot (118k points)
edited by Brett Rutherford
+10 votes
A source in my humble opinion falls into one of these criteria:

a,  Interview with a primary person (the individual themself, a close relative like a spouse or child or parent).  

b.  Written records that include govt or church records, family memoirs, family documents like diaries, letters, awards, and the like.

Trees that are on the internet without a source like those listed above I do not think of as reliable but they can be useful in pointing you to do more research.  So perhaps a category of needs additional validation would be better than unsourced.  

I would note that many of my sources simply state something like Scotlands People OPRs because it is a copyrighted source and you have to pay to access the records.  There are not citation numbers so while these are bona fide records to the uninitiated they may appear to be a general statement.  I have the back up images but am not able to add them to a site such as this.  So sometimes we have to live with a source that is not well defined except to give the basic repository of where you found that info.
answered by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (382k points)
That sounds like a good idea to me Laura.
Copyrighted sources  can be used under the fair use doctrine. the trick is to give the full credit to the book,author, page number and  any pertinate data relating to that book, Was it part of a quarterly publication or newsletter?

And the quote can be a small portion, maybe a paragraph or two.  Quoting the whole chapter without getting permission from the author or publisher would be wrong.

I did Jester-333. I called the magazine this story appeared in. They asked me to email. I specifically asked to use the story verbatim, in its entirety, simply because it was better written then I could have done.

The permission was granted as long as I gave full attribution to the mag. I made my research notes at the bottom.
Thanks for the info on copyrighted work can apply to use of Russell Ray Stout's work "Richard Stout Descendants in West Virginia".
I used to buy rights and permissions and I disagree that citing a source covers you on copyright.  As a matter of fact the sources I am using state specifically that no part of the documents can be publicly displayed without prior written permission.  Because they and WikiTree are in the same industry I doubt they would allow us to put up their copyrighted genealogical images.  They are owned by a foreign government on top of that.  

Also international copyright law is very different than the laws in any one country.  So I am not going to venture into getting a copyright infringement slapped on me or on WikiTree.
Remeber also, Public data cannot be copyrighted. Census records, court records, wills, tax lists not copyrightable.

So if a person writes a genealogy book, using public data, the only copyrightable stuff is original intellectual content, Preface, Foreward, Family stores and other anecdotes and other content not directly related to the public data.

Here is the link to fair use, and yes, I am talking about US law.
Thanks, for the heads up.  No copying and pasting, direct quoting just "it can be found here.or such.  overview of the information then source.where it can be confirmed.  No plagerisum here. Oh well cannot spell it as well as not use it.  


Specifically relating to Scotland's People...their policy is that you can use up to 20 "images" without asking for specific permission. However if you have a lot of Scottish ancestors and their descendants (like I do) I have hundreds of BMD, baptism, burial & census images downloaded to my PC...but each image has a Scotland's People Reference number along the top. When sourcing I quote the document type Year, place, County, pg No., entry No, followed by the Scotlands People Category (eg. Statutory Births) followed by the Scotland's People Reference number (which should match the index entry) followed by the web link to Scotland's People. This "source" information is then an actual citation to the Source Document rather than just the Repository
Michelle, I must have some really old images then because some of what I have does not have a number just a date at the top. I think they actually came from what it was before it was Scotland's People which was Scots Origins.  I think the Scottish govt did not renew its contract with Scots Origins and instead gave it to Scotland's People which is where those images now reside.  I looked at the dates on those files and realized they were before Scotland's People existed!  And I have far more than 20 images thus not able to post them.
Image of Censuses from England and  Wales a remain  crown copyright whatever their date.(it might change in 2040!)
Thanks for your comments.  This is what is done with one reference used that is copyrighted--url so that they can purchase and with citation give page # of remark.
+6 votes
Yes, by all means.
answered by anonymous G2G6 Mach 1 (16.8k points)
+6 votes
I agree with Vic on this, with one condition. Before adding the Unsourced tag, check the tree for a valid source for the person in question.
answered by Bob Keniston G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
+9 votes
Ancestry by itself is not considered a source by sourcerers.  If the Ancestry links cite source names, such as Drouin or census reports, that's another story.  But when they simply refer to family trees, that is not a source as such.  I've had some fun with ancestry through my cousin S. Tynan, who gave me access to hers when we discovered the relationship.  One of my ancestors on there was listed as married before her birth, with no corrections at all.  So I always examine such before saying yea or nay to it being a source.
answered by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (129k points)
+2 votes
Any of my profiles that I've come across and found the only source is Ancestory, I put unsourced. I've also started putting all the information from the website that is listed on a profile because I have come across older profiles that just have website sources listed with no other info. When I check out one of those sources, the website is no longer active. If I've found a family that doesn't have legitimate sources, I will normally pick a father and put all the sources I can find on it. That way it will have a profile to see what information there is and I hope that they will carry that information into the rest of their tree. I know that sometimes I live in a dream world, lol, but one day it will happen!
answered ago by Sherry Wells G2G6 (6.1k points)
I also check the link to the tree. I think that I've found more than half the trees referenced to not have a valid link.
Just being an Ancestry tree doesn't mean its bad. Now if the only source is "", well that's no better than "familysearch" with no details.

As Doug noted, you can maybe find about half the trees. And when you find a tree, it's only sources may be other trees. When you look at those trees, you can quickly see the number of sources (usually trees) and records (usually good stuff). So sometimes an ancestry tree will lead you to another ancestry tree that will lead you to a whole slew of good source records.

Another thing I've noticed is the image gallery for the Ancestry trees; some have images of wills, marriage licenses and pictures of people. The trick is to find the original submitter of that information who probably has good sources.

Well, I've digressed but maybe not... how an ancestry tree can lead you to the information found on a profile.
If I find a link to a web site that has gone down, I check to see if there's a copy stashed at, and if it does, I put in a link to the archived site so people can see what the site used to say.
+3 votes
I would propose that we need another template like {{insufficient source}}.

A source simply tells you where the information came from.  

We have profiles where there is no clue whatsoever where the information came from.  These are indeed {{unsourced}}.  

We also have profiles where we are told in the biography that the information came from GEDCOMS or personal family trees.  Now we know what the source of the information is.  Is it a good source?  No.  Is it better than no source at all?  yes.  So {{insufficient source}} would be quite appropriate as a template.

I go crazy with people doing binary thinking in which some things are sources and some are not.  All sources are on a continuum of value.  If a profile has two sources, one of them is better than the other.  Both of them may be wonderful or terrible, but one is better than another.  Part of the research responsibility is to develop enough knowledge of what one is researching to know to keep digging to get really good sources.

I am researching some thousand year old profiles right now where decently regarded researchers disagree as to which century a person was in and who his children were.  I have all sorts of sources at the moment, most of which would be more than adequate if there were no controversy.  But here there is a controversy, so I have to keep digging to find sources which are as primary as possible to maybe resolve the issue.  In this case, the wonderful sources i've found so far still aren't good enough!
answered ago by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (200k points)
Well, then usually what we've been doing with older profiles in Québécois project where there is controversy is to put all the data on said controversy on the profile, preferably in its own section in the bio.  And put the sources we do have that are leading us to one conclusion over another.
+1 vote

I have come across a contributor who has taken our family GEDCOM with 10000-15000 or more profiles and uploaded it in 2011 (possibly as early as 2009).  He admits it will take him a lifetime to update, but really doesn't want to give up management of the profiles. The issue is that a good portion of them have the GEDCOM reference as the only source. I definitely believe {{Unsourced}} should be added and the manager should be nudged into releasing more of the profiles.  If he hasn't haven't had the time to add a real source in seven years,well something different needs to happen.

answered ago by Nancy Allen G2G Crew (560 points)
Nancy, you should probably start a brand new g2g thread with this concern and be sure to include the mentor tag as this person may need a mentor.  Related to that, you may wish to submit a mentor intervention report. See Help: Problems with Members.  

You can certainly add {{Unsourced}} to any open profiles. And you can ask to be on the Trusted List of non open profiles. If he fails to respond there is also the Unresponsive Profile Manager process.
well, I've come across some of those myself, don't know if it's the same person, I just add sources if I have them and if there aren't any that I can find and they are in a lineage where I do have other sources, I will tag it.
+2 votes
The two issues are often the same, since many GEDCOMs are exports from such a site.

And strictly speaking, a family site is a source. That's where the information comes from, it was probably family tradition contributed by a descendant, the person who put it on Wikitree was giving hearsay evidence, true, but not inventing anything. Good family sites often have sources.

But ...

My practice is to look at the changes page. If there is any evidence whatsoever that someone has been improving the profile after the initial upload, I tend to be lenient. If the profile was uploaded in the days when a "first-hand knowledge" lie was automatically generated, and not been touched since, I mark it as unsourced and if possible slap a project sticker on it to really call out the bloodhounds.
answered ago by Dirk Laurie G2G6 Mach 3 (30.4k points)
Dirk, only one problem with that, places like MyHeritage and others are actually taking data straight from Wikitree and giving it to their members ''free''.  Except that on some of our older profiles, there were no sources and the work was questionable sometimes.  Then the person imports it from the other site and we have to merge a bunch of stuff and they claim it came from here, so must be ok.  Fact, had it happen not too long ago.
I don't consider MyHeritage as reliable. What I had in mind are properly curated sites like
Hmm, can't read half of those at all, so can't comment on their accuracy.  We still preferably need primary sources cited, those are at best secondary sources.
The question is not whether primary sources are preferable. Of course they are.

The question is whether a profile citing only such sites should be marked unsourced by some trigger-happy Sourcerer. In my opinion, it does not deserve that.
well, considering how many profiles have stuff like ''Ancestry tree'' as a reference or ''Nos origines'', don't really need to go looking for stuff to tag with unsourced.  Both Ancestry and Nos origines have the habit of having stuff disappear from their sites, Nos origines is free but is like Wikitree in that it has various contributors, with variable quality, often no sources cited.

I personally mostly tag stuff that is older in dateline, like pre-1700 or earlier, for which the connections just don't have any findable source.  Don't bother tagging newer stuff unless it is glaringly faulty.

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