False Ancestors - new category & template - does it need a Project too?

+12 votes

Hi! see [this G2G post] for the discussion that preceded creation of https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Template:False_Ancestor

One thing that came up is perhaps a False Ancestors Project was needed to serve as oversight and arbitrator for the use of both the False Ancestor template and Category:False Ancestors

I think that might be a good idea. It could also be set up as a Space page, so that comments & G2G questions could be linked to it and either project leaders or the project account could be included a managers. It would also allow for the details currently on both the template page and the category page to be on the Space:False Ancestors Project page & referenced from the template/category pages.

Think on it & I'll check back with y'all in a couple of weeks.

Cheers, Liz

edit: added new tag disproven_existence for re-named category/template: {{Disproven Existence}} & [[Category:Disproven Existence]]. See also [[Space:Disproven Existence]].

edit 2: put Space:Disproven Existence in as page linked to question and added fraud tag

WikiTree profile: Space:Disproven_Existence
asked in Policy and Style by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (319k points)
edited by Liz Shifflett

Just discovered this page that Ellen Smith created: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:About_Frauds_and_Fabrications_Categories . . . which works really well with the exception for #1 - "profile is included in (and categorized under) a known fraud or fabrication" - because that space page describes how to create a category for a known fraud/fabrication.


5 Answers

+6 votes
A project of this nature would be very helpful and I would be an enthusiastic participant!

While some members of WikiTree don't like the idea of fake people having profiles, I think it is important that when we identify a person who never existed -- but who is frequently believed to have existed -- we mark that profile and document why the person never existed.  Otherwise, well meaning people will continue to try to re-create the profile.

Sometimes non-existent people show up because someone has conflated profiles of two existing people into one.  Sometimes they show up because a fake genealogist invents a fake genealogy to sell someone for profit.  

We have a top level category for Fictitious and Legendary Genealogy:


The category page describes a number of subcategories into which fictitious genealogy can fall.  When categorizing a profile which is documented to be fictitious, it is important to place it in the proper subcategory.

It would be appropriate for the project to be concerned with this as the top level category, and include all the subcategories under it.  "False Ancestors" would be an excellent name for the project, although I do have a concern that it may be misleading and duplicative as a category name, and I don't see it as a maintenance category because once we have researched and documented the profile, no further maintenance action is needed (although further research is ALWAYS welcome on any profile!).     

We have tried to be a bit humble with these categories.  Generally, the profile should carry the template {{Uncertain Existence}}.  This is especially important with legendary figures like King Arthur where stories sung by troubadores have grown around what possibly is a kernel of truth.
answered by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (259k points)
edited by Jack Day
+5 votes
Hi Liz,

I just noticed these threads. I'm sorry to say I don't have time to read through all the comments and discussion, so I am admittedly uninformed.

Two quick points:

What you're proposing is definitely a Research Note Box. It would need to follow those style rules and use that container.

If accepted, it would be very close to {{Uncertain Existence}}. If indeed there is a need for both of them, they should parallel each other closely. Perhaps the name {{Disproven Existence}} would be appropriate.

answered by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Well, let's try some and see if the standards need to be tweaked.  I like "uncertain existence" when you're not sure, but I do like "disproven" when significant research has been done -- and all the connections have been de-linked.

@ Isabelle - are you commenting on the standard proposed here or on the project page?

From https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Disproven_Existence

Disproven Existence is the "next step" for profiles with {{Uncertain Existence}}[1] that have

  1. substantial evidence that the person did not exist,
  2. buy-in from profile managers/descendants (e.g., G2G discussion),
  3. project approval (both this project and projects relevant to the profile), and
  4. no "real" profiles attached.
My problem with some of the identified fake genealogies (I should probably say "informally indentified") is point 1.

Because when dealing with one-shot fabrications - not old, historic, well-known, studied-by-experts fabrications - it is impossible to "provide a source that the proves the person did not exist", as I have been required to do. So - I gave up and decided to stick with Uncertain Existence.

In other words, if I go out a create of profile for Cunégonde Tartempion and give her parents, siblings, etc... who is going to prove that she did not exist? Because, unfortunately, that sort of thing has been happening and such profiles do end up connected to real people.
Isabelle, sources are required for a profile. So if a single person in modern day is creating a bunch of false profile in this way, they are violating WikiTree rules. They can have their account terminated. That termination then becomes part of the proof chain that the unsourced profiles are fraudulent.

If they have not done it maliciously, but are instead basing the false profile creation on an earlier fraud, then simply identify the earlier fraud as the proof.

If they are providing false sources, then identify the falsity of the source as the proof. You don't have to find a source that does not exists. You just need to demonstrate that it goes against accepted preponderance of the data, and has been determined to be a fraud propagated by xxx.

The key thing is that if it is just a single profile, and a source you cannot identify or validate, then it is Uncertain Existence. But if it is a whole slew of such propagated anomalies that go against the generally accepted evidence, then you have proof of fraud, originally propagated by xxx person. And {{Disproven Existence}}.

"Substantial evidence" can be the total absence of any valid record, where there are significant valid records. One of these could be a mistake. Two of them look fishy. Three look substantially fraudulent. It is a judgment call. But if you get ten of them that go against the generally accepted evidence trail, and coming from the same propagator, then you pretty well have a proven fraud.

So then you simply take it up to step 2. G2G discussion, to get buy-in, and further corroboration. At that point, if the manager is resistant, it becomes their burden to actually show you the source, rather than just report the source. The source will either exist, or be a fake that cannot be shown to exist upon demand, or be an earlier fraud.
Marking a profile with "uncertain existence" is a perfectly appropriate thing to do.

The main difference I see between "uncertain existence" and "disproven existence" is that a single person can determine that a profile has "uncertain existence" and place that on a profile.  Obviously if that is not universally agreed with, then there can be some discussion.  But it's quick and easy to do.

While "disproven existence" as Liz Shifflet has observed, is basically peer reviewed.  If you see "disproven existence" on a profile, it means (1) that nobody has been able to find evidence that the person exists;  (2) that the profile managers and associated project managers agree that the person doesn't exist;  (3) A G2G discussion does not lead to any different opinion, and (4) the responsible project has put the label on the profile.  It's a much higher bar.  

So first you put uncertain existence on a profile.  Then if you think the disproven existence profile is warranted, you start a collaborative process--but don't expect it to be fast!

Isabel & all - I think that Steven has hit on the answer: "If they have not done it maliciously, but are instead basing the false profile creation on an earlier fraud, then simply identify the earlier fraud as the proof." (from his comment in this discussion).

In an e-mail to Jack, I copied the footnote (just a link [above]) with the comment:

I think to some degree that covers the fraudulent/fabricated biographies that are known to be so.

The footnote:

If the profile is not already tagged with {{Uncertain Existence}}, please add it while coordinating 1-4. The exception would be if you are adding {{Disproven Existence}} to a profile for someone whose existence has already been disproven by professional researchers and the profile includes citations to their scholarly, peer-reviewed, published works. Even then, you should first post notice in G2G (tag the surname, disproven_existence, and appropriate project or projects).

The profile you tagged as disproven, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Richards-3753, is also in the category Goodman Genealogy Fabrications. I can work on adding something to the footnote (or adding another footnote) about fraudulent/fabricated biographies.

I think that she (Richards-3753) is appropriately tagged "Disproven Existence". Is that the family you're talking about Isabelle? I ran down many of her descendant lines & it looks as if they all need to be marked Disproven Existence (the ones I looked at are currently in Uncertain Existence). It's quite an extended family though! Surely some of them existed? I can look into working on them after I get caught up a bit from being on the road and ready for my next convention (in other words, it might be a while - but I think as they're marked now is ok).

Cheers, Liz

P.S. to Steven - would you like to join the project?

Thanks Liz, but I better not. I am trying to reduce my footprint in projects.

But I think you have a pretty good concept going with it.

I've added a note:

Note: If the profile is included in (and categorized under) a known fraud or fabrication, that is sufficient proof to meet #1. It remains sufficient unless substantial evidence that the person existed is presented during discussion (#2).

And revised #1 to refer to it as an exception:

  1. substantial evidence that the person did not exist (except... see below),

That work? I also added a link to the note from the steps-to-take section.


I know the feeling Steven! I appreciate your input :D
Thanks Liz.

Yes, not having to build a case for every single profile in a whole family would definitely help, as well as using G2G discussions as source. Hadn't thought of that.

Concerning Richards-3753, yes the family is big. It was quite a bit of work identifying real descendants (not many of them before the 19th century) and they had been separated from the rest.
+6 votes
I strongly support the idea of such a project.

The large set of fraudulent profiles uncovered last April has already been reconnected on at least 2 different places, probably more. Profiles have been adopted which will make it much more difficult to undo (AGAIN!) the damage.

A project could adopt identified fraudulent profile which would really help monitoring reconnections. As it is, an Uncertain template and a category are not enough to prevent enthusiastic contributors to add family to fake profiles without discussing the issue.
answered by I R G2G6 Pilot (252k points)
Hi again! It sounds like I need to get a Google Group going for the Disproven Existence project. Then we can protect the unattached profiles & monitor activity for them. (Technically, protected profiles with no parents cannot have parents added, but I've seen it happen - not sure how though.)

Cheers, Liz

I would be very interested in joining such a group.  I share Isabelle's concerns about that particular large group of profiles. I haven't the faintest idea how she managed to spot the recent activity

I also feel that we (I!) need a port of call , a group of people who are willing to act as peers when questions of authenticity/fabrication arise. It is very difficult working alone; one needs other people to assess evidence. I  have to say that I'm  not sure that all the criteria listed earlier will be easy to fulfil.   I have found  profiles of  people/branches that research suggests   to be 'fictitious'.  Apart from the one mentioned above they  tend already to have been unlinked by a project from their original descendants. They are the 'left behinds' ,the original project isn't really interested and  the project profile managers have usually long since abandoned ship.

I also feel the need for a "port of call", because we can feel very lonely when we decide to tackle this problem.

As to the recent activity on the group of profiles above, one of them surfaced in a Data Doctor challenge and I noticed the Kevin Bacon link at the bottom of the profile.

See this post and this one. If you follow the line of profiles on the second one, you'll see that they have been adopted by different contributors, which is very nice, but I hope they are aware of what they're dealing with.

Cool! I'll sign you both up on the project page. As soon as the Google Group is set up, I'll ask y'all to send me a private message (so I'll have your e-mails & can send invitations).

Cheers, Liz

+3 votes

Isabel, Helen, and Jack - I've got everything set up & "test ran" the Google Group for Disproven Existence (tied to WikiTree-52). Jack, I removed the PPP tag, as it was generating a daily e-mail. Since then, I think, I've received just e-mail from profiles managed by the project.

If y'all would send me a private message, I can send you an invite to the Google Group.


answered by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (319k points)
+2 votes
I am so sorry that I missed this discussion. I have some concerns/questions about the scope of this project.

I distinguish Fictional from Disproven, understanding that the line between the two can be blurry. King Arthur is fictional. And I think having a project to identify/tag/rid wikitree of profiles for characters of novels and myths makes sense.

The profile of Mary Little Dove Hyanno represents someone that many people truly believed existed.  Research has demonstrated that there is no evidence for her existence. The PGM and/or Native American projects (in this example) are best suited to tag and manage these profiles.

There are fictional characters, like King Arthur and some old Norse Gods, that have profiles on wikitree. This seems to need something like {{fictional}}.

There are profiles of people believed to be real, but research indicates they weren't {{disproven existence}} -- some of these were based on frauds that have subsequently been debunked. {{fraudname fraud}}

There are probably other distinguishing types.

Where does this new project sit? How does it work with other projects that might have better grounding in the research and context?

answered by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (666k points)

see https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Research_Note_Boxes - Disproven Existence is listed there.

The Disproven Existence Project exists so that the template {{Disproven Existence}} has oversight.

It was deemed sufficient at the time the project was created to just have the Research Note Box & the project account as a manager for profiles that "graduated" from {{Uncertain Existence}} to {{Disproven Existence}}. A project box was not created for the Disproven Existence Project.

The Disproven Existence Project does NOT include Santa Clause and other fictional/mythological persons. It does include people who are sometimes described as a family myth – those people who are continually added as part of someone’s family tree whom research has shown never existed, such as Mary Little Dove Hyanno. If you/the NA project would like to have the {{Disproven Existence}} Research Note Box on her profile (and the Disproven Existence Project account as a manager), please see the project page for how to go about getting that done.

Profiles that are {{Disproven Existence}} that were created through a known fraud should also be in the category for that fraud. See the subcategories listed under Frauds_and_Fabrications.


This should be an interesting test of the new project-boxes/project-account-as-manager policies and practices.

Using Mary Little Dove Hyanno as an example, this would result in more than one project vying for profile management; in this case:

  1. PGM (because this is a disputed / disproven spouse of a PGM immigrant)
  2. Native American Project (because this profile supposedly represents a Native American, except she's been debunked as non-existent-- part of the NA project includes debunking claims to NA descendancy that have no basis in fact
  3. Disputed Existence project.
How do we decide what to do with her?

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