Should anyone be able to add themselves to the Trusted List of an Open profile? [closed]

+12 votes


Currently, an Open profile can be edited by any WikiTree member with a confirmed e-mail address. But they can only edit the text of the page and add memories and comments. You still need to be on the Trusted List to upload a photo, or more importantly, to edit family members or merge the profile.
We're thinking about changing this to allow for more open collaboration. Any WikiTree member with a confirmed e-mail address who has signed the Honor Code would be able to add themselves to the Trusted List of an Open profile. Then they could edit the family members and merge the profile just like any other family member, without waiting for approval from the Profile Manager.
What would you think of this?
closed with the note: See/ask other questions for updates. Also see
in Genealogy Help by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
closed by Chris Whitten
I like the idea because it holds true to the wiki concept (see WikiPedia), a concept I am pretty well versed in.

My concern is the general WikiTree user who may not fully understand the power of wiki and wiki collaboration.  In the family history field there is still a strong sense of "ownership" of one's ancestor information and profile.  I think we need to constant communicate to users and the community any change made or even anticipated.
I like the idea of allowing registered WikiTree users that have signed the Honor Code to have more collaborative power with Open profiles.  Collaboration is the key on WikiTree and I love improving ways for the community to collaborate with one another on our ancestors.

But my fear comes in the sense that merges, while reversible, are not easy to reverse.  It is very easy for a newbie genealogist or family historian to mistake one person for another and make a merge that should not be made.  A more experienced researcher often recognizes the need to be very thorough in making sure that two profiles are indeed the same person and should indeed be merged.

(On a side note, I love that there is so much discussion on the topic happening here - I love reading everyone's thoughts and opinions, especially when someone brings up a point I had yet to think of)
I fully support all of this. I think that, in conjunction with the announcement that all profiles 200 years old or older are now open, this change will make it a lot easier to finally merge up many of the duplicate ancestors we all have on Wikitree.

I'm certain that mistakes will be made. We already make mistakes. However, I think if we all take time and double-check our work, we can keep mistakes down to a minimum. I'd like to think that anyone who takes the time to sign the Honor Code is serious enough about what they're doing to try and be accurate in their work.
Having tried a few merges without being on the trusted list for all of the extended family members (and therefore having to be a nag to the profile manager to get the doubled children merged), I would support this.  BUT, having worked for a decade or so trying to untangle the myriad "same name" ancestors of 200 and 300 years back, I shudder to think of the chaos that someone could cause doing merges just in my tree!  So, I wouldn't support this.  For example, there are six profiles with the name of one of my ancestors (born in the 1600s) that are nearly identical - but none of them are actual matches.  They're mostly cousins (within 40 years, you can have a Sr., Jr., and then a different set of Sr., Jr. when the original Sr. dies, and most of the sons name sons for their father and brothers).  

However - is there maybe another level that could be applied for Open profiles... maybe an "open trusted" level that doesn't allow merging?  (Not sure how to address the "cleanup" merge issue, of combining the children/spouses of a merge; maybe adding a bulk trusted option [in addition to all descendants, all ancestors] of all ancestors and one generation of descendants and their siblings?)

Maybe a simpler option, although still with potential pitfalls, would be that only the profile manager can delete a Rejected match, and no one but the profile manager can initiate a merge if the match has been rejected (actually, that's current, right? - a merge can't be done if that match has been rejected? - so it would only need the piece that only the profile manager can override/cancel a rejected match...might get the added benefit of more people searching for matches and "pruning" the tree a bit :)

Sorry for the long answer, but it's an interesting question, with really significant pros and cons.

I am a newcomer at wikitree and with wiki's in general, but I've been in the IT business and in Genealogy for many years.  I like the overall security structure here.  I don't think anyone should ever be allowed to add themselves as a Trusted agent in any event.  That would violate basic security principles.  I would suggest allowing the ADDITION of family member links on "open" records to honor code signers.  That would be in keeping with Wiki and Security principles.  Deleting family member links and merging records could still be the perogative of the Trusted List members.
Im too new but think there should be some kind of rules about editing and deleting prior work without very strong source work... kurt says it well and I agree because Being new I could so easily make a big mistake on a profile... adding to can be fixed... and may not need to be ...deleting can easily make unnessesary extra work for a manager...
I am in full agreement with Liz also. I would hate to do that to someone and shudder at the chaos i envision. I have put as many cautions and warnings and comments on my 3 Drury Warrens and am carefully and delicately trying to get all sourcework prepared and seperated to add at the same time so i can avoid putting a source of one on the others or viceversa... This is my most difficult problem right now and wont do anything else to the profiles til i have done the best i can to properly source... id hate it if someone merged them before i get further along... if they werent open i could have a little time but i do feel the pressure...

12 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer
it sounds like a good idea but could cause some problems if someone changes details they think are wrong but have been checked by the profile manager and are in fact correct, so some form of restraint should be added..
by Living Gilfoyle G2G2 (2.4k points)
selected by Deborah Mayes
Hey Steve: Your point about users making mistakes and changing correct info is valid, but isn't it just as valid on Wikipedia or any other wiki? The idea of a wiki is that the changes are monitored, tracked, and be reversed. It's slightly harder to reverse certain changes on WikiTree than on Wikipedia, which gets to Roger's point, but I think the right wiki way forward is to make correcting mistakes easier, not to try to prevent mistakes from ever happening.
Steve has a point and this is why I feel a "reputation" system is needed in genealogy sites in general.  

Concept: right now on Ancestry I can submit a suggested surname variation or correction.  But anyone can - from beginning genealogist to professional.

What if changes were "ranked" based on the submitter's reputation?  A reputation built over time by the community rewarding good content?  Much like the up and down arrows here at G2G.  So if I know that Tami is an expert on the Osmer line, I am more likely to trust her edit than someone I don't know from Adam.

Many sites (eBay, Yelp, etc.) use reputation effectively and I wish the genealogy community would do this more.
I think sources speak louder than reputation. If folks want to "prove" the veracity of their facts, they can cite their sources in the biography box. If a fact doesn't have a source, it may as well have been made up anyway.
Hi Thomas. That all makes sense, but what you're proposing isn't a simple change. You're talking about a long series of changes, each of which would need careful deliberation and implementation. I think those are things to talk about down the line. This change to Open profiles is something we could do now.
alot of profiles, some of my own included, don't mention the source. my excuse was I didn't know how to do this at the time I started on wikitree and second excuse was that I didn't realise how useful they are. I have since found out and am currently going through my notes and profiles and adding the source details. maybe a message on new members navigation page could include something about this small but important detail?
Hey Steve: As Thomas once said to me, "we've all been there!" Nobody is careful about sources when they're just starting. You're right that we should do more to encourage it. If/when you see specific places, let me know. (One thing to keep in mind: Very few people will read all the words on a web page. Sometimes the more words you include, the less any of them will be read.)
Hi Steve: We've definitely all been there at one point in time.  Researching our ancestors is a journey and one where we much continue to learn and improve our research methods.  It takes time to add sources to every single profile and make each profile "ideal" - but the key is that you recognize how important sources are, recognize that you should do your best to add sources to the profiles, and that you are willing to discuss your sources with others who want to collaborate.

We are always looking for ideas to stress the importance of sources to ALL members - and I like your idea to have a note on a new member's navigation page.  But, like Chris said, I worry that new users won't necessarily read it.  The importance of sources is already in the Honor Code - the question becomes, how do you get people to read the information?
I found it difficult to add sources, perhaps because I am a "newbie".  I use PAF and can link a source to every item (dates, places, relationship, personal info) but didn't notice this "one-to-one" linkage when I started to enter family in WikiTree.  Did I miss something?

If you exported your file from PAF with sources, then they will show up in your WikiTree import. They appear differently, however - rather than linking to the data fields, the data fields will duplicate in the Bibliography/Sources section, with the cited sources numbered and listed below.
Yes, sources. As long as the source stays with the data, the argument can be taken up into perpetuity. I personally would like to see more linkage between the biographical data and sources, but I know there is a limit to how many fields a human can comprehend.
+6 votes
I like this idea. Original profile managers will remain as such.  As always,  changes will show up in the Changes tab. And hopefully folks will address conflicting information and sources in the Biography text box.

With the possibility of so many people being descendants of folks born over 200 years ago, and with the collaboration being such a cornerstone of WikiTree, it makes sense to facilitate collaboration this way.

by Tami Mize G2G6 Mach 4 (40.6k points)
+11 votes
Unless we either make it impossible for Trusted List to merge, or make merges fully reversible, I don't think this is a good idea. It's way too easy even for me to make a bad merge, and although it's now possible to recover lost ID's, if a bad merge gets made without anyone realizing it it could in my judgment cause nearly-irreparable damage. I think changes to the nature of the Trusted List need to come first.
by Roger Travis G2G6 Mach 2 (25.2k points)
Hi Roger. You make good points and I know they come from much experience and thought.

First, although you know this, to clarify for others: merges are fully reversible. They're just not easy to reverse. To actually recover an ID you currently need a sysop. (The ID is mostly cosmetic, but it's a long story: ). Everything else can be recovered from the history of changes. There is no one-click reversion.

Second, Roger, can you expand on what you mean here? "if a bad merge gets made without anyone realizing it it could in my judgment cause nearly-irreparable damage."

Why would nobody realize it? Is this because nobody is watching the profile, i.e. it's orphaned? Or because Activity Feeds aren't being monitored closely, and it could be as much seven days before the merge is noticed? (Activity Feed updates can be checked any time by regular users, but users who aren't on the site regularly probably only see the changes in their weekly e-mail update.)

A mitigating factor to keep in mind: It will be hard to do a series of merges by walking up a family tree, like you can do if you had created the profiles or if the Profile Manager had bulk-added you to a family line. If you add yourself, you'll just be adding yourself to one profile.

A question we might want to talk about in a separate G2G thread: Should we make it harder to merge an older profile into a newer profile? I think we should, but this is a little tricky and needs to be thought out carefully.
Little follow-up: For the past hour I've been working on a change that would prevent lower-numbered profiles from being merged into higher-numbered profiles. It's not as hard as I thought. This would not do anything about profiles with different LNABs, but it's something.
I mean that when (just a hypothetical example, but by no means an unusual one) Robert I gets merged into Robert II, sometimes it's possible that no one will notice, because spouses and children's names are often so similar, and because sometimes, accurately, what one person calls Robert I may actually be Robert II according to another system of counting kings or dukes. Then that can ramify very quickly into other merges of children from different generations, in such a way that in my judgment you can end up with a functionally irreversible situation.
Hey Roger. One thought: You could lock the IDs for both Robert I and Robert II. Then they could not be merged. Of course, someone could create a duplicate of Robert II and merge it into Robert I. There would be a mess to clean up, but it might not be as bad as some that have happened in the past.
how do you lock an ID?  And what does that do/prevent?
As it stands, supervisors can lock an ID so that that profile can't be merged into any other profile. Whether to create a lock that prevents the reverse--other profiles from being merged into a given profile--is currently under discussion elsewhere.
I agree 100% with Roger, bad merges are very difficult to undo, I generally wind up re-creating the profile and relationships that got accidentally merged, so people should at least be on the trusted list to do that. Additionally, if an owner does not respond to a trusted list request within a specific period of time (i.e. one week), the request should automatically be granted. I've had unanswered requests for months now. But I support the idea that anybody should be able to add any MISSING or ADDITIONAL information (parents/spouse/children) to any open profile, and edit any information.
+3 votes
Is there a way to prevent the addition of  links to unavailable, no longer existing, or fee for viewing sources, such as links to private family trees, family trees on pay sites etc. as happens during global merges?  

I find those links added to a profile during a merge to be extremely annoying as you keep clicking on them and they lead you nowhere, or lead you to a 'join now for $xx.xx a month'  and don't provide any additional information and end up being clutter.

If that can't be eliminated, then maybe waiting a few days to get approval from the profile manager, and getting those sources or links deleted first,  isn't such a bad system after all.
by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (776k points)
Hi Chris. No, all that editing has to be done manually. I doubt there would be any easy or convenient way of automating it -- nothing that wouldn't cause more trouble than it would solve.
I'm also annoyed by the links that go to "join now for $59" or whatever amount.  But if I ever *do* join now, I'd like that link to still be there :)
+3 votes

All great points!  I'm sure there will be a few people to get their feathers ruffled, but they're probably going to be the same ones who use the site to store their tree, set everyone to private and have no intention on sharing or collaborating.  I'm all for the changes.  I have a bit of trepidation on the third point, but only in the same sense that a parent does when seeing their child off on the first day of school.  I'm sure there will be some who will click through the Honor Code and abuse the feature, but hopefully that will be minimal.  Opening it up really is in the true spirit of collaboration and since there is good change tracking on the site the benefit should far outweigh the risks, IMHO.

Thanks Chris!
by Allen Minix G2G6 Mach 1 (17.7k points)
opening it up sounds good, the idea any member can view any profile is a great one but steps to allow changes/additions need to be in place so the manager can know what is proposed.
Is that the general idea? if so I'm for it.
Hi Steve. The wiki way isn't to propose changes and then vote on them or allow some official person to approve them. It's to allow anyone to make changes, but to monitor them and change them back if they're mistakes. This is how it works on Wikipedia. WikiTree is a much more limited wiki. We have five Privacy Levels where you need to be on the Trusted List to make changes. But if we make this change, profiles with the Open Privacy Level would be pure wiki. Or almost, you'd still need to be a registered member with a confirmed e-mail address who has signed the Honor Code.
If Open becomes "pure wiki" - could you relax the "gotta be open" rule? (IOW, could I set the profiles that are for folks born 300+ years ago to a more restricted privacy level?).  I really am having a heck of a time untangling my ancestors born in the 1600s.
+4 votes
Philosophical question:

If the profile is open

and anyone can change the info

than what is the use of the Trusted List?

Isn't everybody in essence on the Trusted List?
by Martyn Grifhorst G2G6 Mach 2 (23.3k points)
Good question, Martyn.

It's the connection with Watchlists and Activity Feeds.

Your Watchlist, as you know, is the list of profiles where you're on the Trusted List. Changes to these profiles appear in your Activity Feed. Therefore, if you're not on the Trusted List, you won't be alerted to changes.
I've always wished we had better names; something that would more obviously make the connection between Trusted Lists and Watchlists.

"Watchlists" has become accepted Internet terminology, so I don't think that should change.

We could call the Trusted List something like "Trusted Watchers", but that doesn't quite say the right thing.

For a while I thought about calling the Trusted List the "Watchmen". That has a more correct connotation than "Watchers" because it implies responsibility. But it has other issues, like the gender problem.

I considered simply calling the Trusted List the "Watchers List" but that's too easily confused with Watchlist.

By the way, the original name of the Trusted List was "Family and Friends List."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you have to be on the Trusted List to edit relationships and perform merges.
That's right, Roger.

I took Martyn's comment to mean, "If anyone can add themselves to a Trusted List, is it really a *Trusted* List at all?"
+8 votes
I like it.  For people like me, who are still researching and adding people constantly, this will make it a lot easier to, for example, add a newly-discovered child to their parents' profiles.  I spend a lot of time waiting for profile managers to respond to merge requests, add me to Trusted Lists, etc., and it would be great to be able to make those changes instantly.  I do understand some of the concerns from people like Roger who are managing historically-significant ancestors that will get a lot more traffic than my obscure French and German immigrants will.   I would say, we need to emphasize that people need to add their sources, and explain their changes in the section set aside for that.
by Krissi Love G2G1 (1.8k points)
Thank you, Krissi! It's exactly people like you that we had in mind here. WikiTree needs a hundred Krissi Halls (not that you could be cloned, but boy do I wish ...). You're one of a handful of incredibly generous WikiTreers who aren't solely concerned with your own ancestors. Roger and the EuroAristo team are others. You're the ones who will make WikiTree a truly shared, worldwide family tree. You need to be encouraged and empowered.
+7 votes
I like it! I'm in favour of pretty much anything that moves us more in the true wiki direction. :)

Looking at what other people have said, I agree with Chris that it's better to make mistakes easier to fix, rather than trying to prevent them. Mistakes are always going to be made, but locking things down isn't the way to stop that.
by Liander Lavoie G2G6 Pilot (430k points)
+3 votes
OK, I've debated all day whether to make this cri de coeur, but I think I have to.

The specter of all the bad merges and bad information that are going to flow into the profiles we've worked so hard on is an enormous disincentive to me continuing to contribute to WikiTree.

I truly believe in the wiki way, and in one tree for all of us, but I'm not sure everyone discussing this has seen what can happen when several merges have gone wrong. I consider the hours I spent disentangling the Normandie line and the Robertian line well-spent, but this change is threatening to undo in the blink of an eye everything we've done over months.

Please, please, at least let managers approve merges and relationship changes.
by Roger Travis G2G6 Mach 2 (25.2k points)
Hi Roger. I know you have more experience than anyone (except maybe Lindsay) and you have seen the ugliest of bad merges. But I wonder if you're letting your past experiences negatively cloud your perspective. We've made a lot of changes since you started, many of which you suggested. Locking IDs makes a big difference. We can now fully reverse merges and recover lost IDs. And today we made it impossible to merge a lower-numbered ID into a higher-numbered ID. All these changes add up. I know there is more we can do, and will do, but I don't think we should let potential problems stop us from moving forward.
:) I had to laugh...
+4 votes
My main concern about this is that with multiple collaborators on ancient profiles (especially since some have conflicting religious agendas), the importance of sources really must be stressed. Ideally, I'd like to see a separate text box for sources (aside from the free space bio) on the edit profile page. This way, it frames the prominence of sources, and acts as a reminder to add them. It also keeps sources separate from the biography, for ease of editing.

Like Wikipedia, each profile should have a "Talk" page, separate from the main bio and info. That way, any differing information can be discussed openly without cluttering the main page. If Lianne and I are arguing over the profile for Landry-17, and I say the parents are known and she says there's no way to know them, that should be made public on a Talk page instead of a back-and-forth email exchange. It holds everyone accountable for opinions and changes, and lets other contributors see what is now kept "behind the scenes" as it were.

Like Roger, I'm also wary of anyone being able to add themselves to the trusted list because of the possibility of merging away legitimate profiles (I'm working on one line where a man named Robert had two sons named Robert who both lived to adulthood and I would hate to see the two Roberts merged into each other and then have to untangle their wives and children.) I don't think that having to request trusted list access from the manager hurts the open process right now. I know that there have been restrictions placed on the upload of profiles over 300 years old, but I think that until supervisors and managers have had the chance to merge existing profiles together, opening everything to everyone causes the potential for more lines to be created and more drama. For example, I could add myself to the trusted list of a Henry VIII profile and decide that he was descended from Zeus and set up a corresponding line. Roger comes along and merges it into the EuroAristo-approved profile, I get snitty and add myself to that one and reset Henry so Hera's his greatgreatgrandmammy. It could still happen later, but cleaning up the majority of duplicates first shrinks the possibility. Opening all of these profiles nullifies the role of the user-group supervisor/manager and causes more work for them while the final profiles are still getting hammered out.

tl;dr: I'm in favour of completely open collaboration, but more work has to be done to make sure everyone is citing sources and having open conversations about the direction each profile needs to go in. Multiples need to be cleaned up more to avoid a huge mass of "duelling duplicates."
by Erin Breen G2G6 Pilot (269k points)
Love the sources being separate-- and I think, no offense to anyone, but bio notices are  not very useful... no one reads them... if we have color and can make it bright red... or have some other OBVIOUS way of notating... that could work... but people dont realize or dont care about whats actually in the bio and thinks its only bio... not that their might be some kind of notice, etc
Im putting my response in pieces cause im only reading one part at a time before feeling the need to comment... "Talk" would easily be done in the bulletin board, I think... it notifies the watchlist and can track what was discussed.
I will be very angry if you do that to Henry VIII, btw.. :)

I changed John of Gaunt's parents to John and Jane Smith temporarily, the other day, though, lol... just to see if I could do something-- cant remember what I was testing out... oh yea, I removed myself as manager and was just trusted to see if trusted could do that... UGH!

"Opening all of these profiles nullifies the role of the user-group supervisor/manager and causes more work for them while the final profiles are still getting hammered out." AMEN!!!!!!!!!!
CHRIS! I broke something else... I cant "answer" this question formally or comment on anyones comments but Erin's... WEIRD

Here is my general response to this, though... I would beg for the locking of merges on already "Completed" profiles (like the Plantagenets) without manager approval...

I would also beg for the changes to be more detailed about spouse/child/parent removals/additions/edits... does it even tell you if a parent is changed, not just removed? I would want it to say replaced father xyz with father zyx before doing this, even if you do let everyone edit because while its possible to go re-find the parent, its annoying, difficult, tiresome... and a real pain in the... :) -- especially to find mothers with different last names... you need to know what you are looking for before you can find it.
Erin, great points. WikiTree is lucky to have you.

First off, since this thread is getting so long, I created this separate question: "Can G2G and Comments on profiles fully substitute for wiki Talk pages?"

Roger has convinced me that we need a way to lock profiles from being merged-into, in the same way that we currently lock profiles from being merged-away. I'll be working on this.

We're also working on making the fixes and improvements to history items that Lindsay mentioned. Better tracking of changes is important.

On a broader point, just for background: A lot of the problems on WikiTree are caused by how different it is to collaborate on modern profiles vs. ancient profiles. With modern family history, you might just be collaborating with a few close family members. On distant ancestors, there could be thousands of potential cousins and lots of controversy. We need to balance competing needs, and we need to keep things as simple as possible. It's a constant challenge.

I would also be less opposed to everything > 300 years to be editable, if there were some minimal level of validation on the data. i.e. I can't make a person their own father/uncle, mother must be at least 13 and no more than 44, father must be between 13 and 65, mother must still be alive when child is born, etc. Just some really obvious stuff, less chance of merging father/son/uncle with the same names. It would also do a lot to improve the quality of the genealogy data. I've seen 5 year old and 120 year old people giving birth in WikiTree, others becoming parents 10 years after they died.
you just made me smile, as I've discovered (on a census) that my gr-great-grandfather had the last two of his 15 children after age 70.  And many of my female ancestors were "late birthers" - having children well past 44.
+3 votes
Yay, I came back later and it lets me answer... anyway.. I definitely vote for having to sign the honor code before allowing all this...
by Lindsay Tyrie G2G6 Mach 1 (18.4k points)
Hi Lindsay. Signing the Honor Code is definitely going to be a requirement. That's being implemented now (for editing any Open profile, regardless of how old it is).

I think your problem with posting was caused by the number of comments you made in a row. To catch spammers and vandals, there's a trigger if you're posting too much too quickly.

FWIW, when a question or comment deserves a complex reply, I make notes to myself offline, compose my thoughts there (I always have a text editor open), then post one message.
+3 votes

This whole discussion has been very productive. Since there are so many answers and comments, it's probably best to move future replies to new questions.

Here are some new questions that have been generated from this discussion:

"Adding profiles over 300 years (or 200??)"

"If there were an Honor Code for editing historically-significant
ancestors what would it include?"

"Would it be possible to use the ID locking mechanism to identify
historically-signficant ancestor profiles?"

"If a profile is locked/historically-significant who should be able to
merge into it?"

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
Any update or final opinion on this? At least the basic question.

To see the current summary of all permissions issues, see

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