== Research Notes == heading first?

+23 votes
There have been reports of inaccurate changes to profiles by our earnest genealogists (possibly even including me) without actually reading the text of the profile first. Would it be useful to change our style recommendation to have the == Research Notes == section come first before the == Biography ==? This would make the profiles slightly less readable. The balance would be a slight inconvenience to all for a significant benefit of fewer bad edits.

I acknowledge the proper solution to be for any putative editor to read the entire profile carefully before making changes (in addition to sourcing the change, of course). I have lived long enough to realize we do not live in a perfect world.
in Policy and Style by Michael Frye G2G6 Mach 1 (14.1k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

13 Answers

+12 votes
Best answer
I want to give the official answer here for others' future reference.

As Michael notes in his original post, the current style for Research Notes is that they be placed between the Biography and Sources. See https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Research_Notes

For drawing attention to things that are especially important, we have Research Note Boxes. Those go above the Biography. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Research_Note_Boxes
by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
selected by Patricia Roche

Suggestion add WhatLinksHere menu option on templates so you easy can see how it looks in action....


Same for Space pages.... categories has it already in Wikitree+

+16 votes
I put them first only if there is usually some confusion about people with the same name in the same area in the hope of preventing incorrect merges. Otherwise I put them after the biography.
by Earl Davis G2G6 Mach 2 (28.2k points)
+17 votes
Hi Michael,

I think the Biography section should remain in the first position followed by Research Notes in the second position. As you mentioned, the solution is for editors to read the entire profile and cite a source for the change.

So far, I have only edited profiles I initially created but am considering edits to other profiles I've viewed in my WikiTree wanderings. The reason I haven't edited them yet is because I am researching and reviewing sources to document the changes and additions.

Yes, we live in an imperfect world and we humans (including me) are fallible. However, we should be *attempting* to be as accurate as possible.
by JoAnn Brown G2G3 (3.8k points)
+17 votes
I like the biography first. I have made notes in the research notes as to why this is the correct person, when I have seen errors in other sites tree. I also use the research section to ask questions about that person or their family and to note where I have looked and any information that I know about the person. In asking Questions in this section, I have been fortunate to have other genealogists reply and provide sources.

by Rionne Brooks G2G6 Mach 6 (61.7k points)
+13 votes

Strongly Support

  1. Plus also add a tab for the Research Plan

    I am right now connecting 27 000 profiles from WeRelate to Wikidata and most of the profiles are also on WikiTree....And often its just a copy/paste of Wikipedia with nearly no genealogy research done... ==> good profile with good research  we see less and less.....

    I feel profiles that are well researched are the winners the rest will just be forgotten in some dark part of internet that no one will visit... ==> WikiTree should push Quality and Research

     important is to have
    1. Research notes
    2. Research plans
    3. Sources


Big pic

by C S G2G6 Pilot (275k points)
edited by C S
Magnus, I like the idea of a Research Plan tab.

@Anne I am convinced that if you do more advanced research than checking low hanging (FindAGrave/FamilySearch/Ancestry) fruit it's important to communicate the plans and also the result

See blog

I think that it could also be used to document the several steps needed to correct profiles. For instance when you need to merge grandparents then parents, then subject etc.
Of course, disciplining myself to use the research plan page, is another thing entirely.

The challenge and need for a research plan is more important if we work together..... and need to communicate what we think is the way forward..... correcting simple database errors is often smaller things = low hanging fruits.... like cleaning gedcom import....  that need no genealogy skills/plans

Maybe a Research Plan tab could be so easy implemented that its just a Space page. This space page could be associated with more profiles.... adding the profile name(s) Elg-19

I did some tests

I miss that WikiTree use

  1. good Wiki tools like

  2. have a common well defined process for doing genealogy ==> it someone else finds a profile they can see what is planned and what has failed
    1. example of a research process
I've created space pages to organize tasks and research, but it would be a lot more efficient to be able to click a research tab, and then I wouldn't be adding space pages to my watchlist.

The biggest gain I guess is if we work in the same way inside Wikitree....

My experience from beeing IT Project manager since 1986 was when we in 1987 started to implement the same way of documenting and describing issues/problems then we could start move people between projects and they were up and running rather fast.....

Wikitree maybe doesn't have this ambition but when I look at Swedish Genealogy on WIkiTree that is well defined and we WIkitree people who has some skills in Swedish genealogy we often use the same way 

  • doing citations
    • fast and easy for other to find the source
  • we have the same idea of what books to look in
    • birth records
    • household records
    • marriage records
    • moving in/moving out records
    • death records
    • estate and inventories....

      ==> its easy to follow and see the missing pieces.... and find out what has been done...  

When I look at US profile I guess we should find the Census but after that I am lost what should be done.... 


Love this idea.

I often have come across some rather serious problems in profiles and their sources and then have had to result to making a whole bunch of notations and references in the profile which overwhelms the display in the biography.

Like Wikipedia it would be helpful to be able to have these types of notes and discussions in the background so as not to diminish the work of the profile managers in creating the biographies.

Many (most) of the profiles I work on are not managed by me, sometimes they have an active manager but that's rare. Most times they have more than one manger and to be honest it is rare to find one who really knows or has done any research into the person.  As a result I quite often find myself littering comment sections or research note sections on the profile.

It really looks untidy and I sometimes feel guilty. Sometimes I end up creating freespace pages but as they are not linked directly they have to be chased up and read by the managers concerned.(do they?, only occasionally it seems)

I would love to have a research notes/discussion tab .Personally If  I wasn't a profile manager I would feel a bit intimidated by a tab labelled research plan  with a blank space because the way a person sets about  researching is very individual. 

 However, a simple, preformatted  table with  headings such sources consulted   findings and any comments on findings  would be extremely useful. Then different people could add findings

A bibliography section below could include fuller details of the references used. And space would still be needed for any discussion/ other peoples comments

Actually, I wrote this and then went away to experiment to show what I meant. I'm not clever enough to do it on here so I used excel.  The big problem I came across was not enough room to fit so much on the size of page we have on here  ( My experiment) 

@Helen I agree move away research from the readers

I have been messing around with Julie's Swedish roots and when it's complex the page gets so messed up so it's difficult to read

  • Rosén-296
    • Is a person that disappeared early 1900 to the states and then appear 30 years later in Sweden before he dies.... 
I like the idea of a research plan and research notes also.  I am researching, note taking, transcribing and documenting all in one small space. I've often thought how beneficial it would be to have a separate work space. I remember how I was told by a teacher to not do my thinking on the same paper as the one I would turn in.

Is this a space, with heading, we create on our own within the profile section?
I like this for me, too. Sometimes I am working on a family and take off on an unexpected tangent and get a bit lost. If a plan in the profile became a norm (one I would definitely adopt) tracing back and others realizing you hadn't just lost interest in a partially complete profile, but were planning on coming back
+23 votes
I always put the Biography first.  If there is something which 'earnest genealogists' always do (incorrectly) I put a single sentence in bold at the top i.e. "Please do not change this profile's gender -'Philippe' was used in this time period and area for a female."

I do not add the heading ==Research Notes== to that sentence because, to my mind, it is not a note about research.  It is a warning to 'overeager genealogists'.
by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+4 votes
If we could hide the research notes on the public view, then we could display them above the biography section, where any member who wants to edit the profile would reasonably be expected to see them - and, hopefully, read them before making any edits!

If we can't hide them from public view, then perhaps an alert banner would be more useful.
by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (227k points)
Lindy you can hide anything from public view add <!-- before and then after add -->
That code also hides the coded text on the private view, which defeats the purpose of adding a research note.

Research notes are directed toward profile managers researching the profile and are not really intended for the general viewer, in my opinion.

General viewers who are not WikiTree members may actually find our research notes to be a negative point for WikiTree.

@Lindy I agree using Html comments is a hack and an Anti-pattern that I have seen is used by many people.... 

I think Research Notes is part of good genealogy. It makes it easier to understand what has been researched and will be researched and how we reason then easier other will trust the work we have done

See example of a profile Ring-1091 I researched yesterday where I think I have a good candidate but feels I need more sources from people who has done research or have personal knowledge. The only source on the profile was a note before just saying "Death Certificate"....

From GPS


Having Research Notes hidden in html comments makes nearly no one happy.... better would be if WikiTree got a standard what steps should be done that everyone could understand and that every step in the process was documented....


+10 votes

To me "research notes" tell what the research found that may be of help to deciding of future actions to be taken. Also conflicts of information given by other sources. For instance "Find A Grave" gives a birth of a completely different date, or gives a spouse that is questionable. Or another example, a census reports give conflicting dates of birth etc. or first names or children etc. 

I honestly think they belong in the "Biography" not above the word or heading "Biography". I don't understand why a person wouldn't read the biography to determine what other info is available. To have a tab called "research plan" or some other type of template etc does not serve the purpose of letting others know there might be a problem and now causes more coding to be done which in my opinion is completely unnecessary. We are having problems as it is getting people to write a biography or add to a biography without creating another tab. (And if they don't already pay attention to what's in the biography, what would make you think they would click on another tab). Just saying!! 

Research notes can be edited as more information is found, or like with Find A Grave, a discrepancy is corrected etc. But on the edit page the info would be there if needed. 

by Dorothy Barry G2G Astronaut (2.6m points)

>> I don't understand why a person wouldn't read the biography

My feeling is Wikitree has people doing genealogy but also 

  1. People who believe in one family tree
    1. If a profile looks the same as another they suggest a merge and hope someone else will do the research
  2. People who think what is marked as an error in the Database Error project is just to change and you need not check sources... 

Good or bad?

That's how I have been using the ==Research Notes== too.  Most of the profiles that been looking at don't have much of a biography anyway.   The info that I put under the research notes section have to do with any additional info that I may have found in Census records, or death certificates, etc.   Maybe that FAG has a headstone photo and the death certificate doesn't agree with the photo.

I always try to read the biography when I look at a profile.. But... some of the biographies are written so that you can't separate the extras from the meat and they are so full with extra coding that it makes reading next to impossible.   I imagine that most of these are the results of gedcom uploads.

There is so much to learn about wikitree formating, I've been working on wikitree for over a year now and still have a long way to learning everything that there is to learn.

GEDCOM imports are impossible to read maybe Aleš has done some magic with his Biography cleaner to make it readable....... 

Dorothy, I think discrepancies in data are different than Research Notes or Research Plan (which I actually think are different). But anyway, I totally agree with you that discrepancies in data belong in the biography.
+11 votes
I think the ease of use for the reader of the profile should be of MUCH HIGHER PRIORITY than the ease of use of the "Data Doctor".

Put the Research Notes at the end of the Biography.
by Janet Gunn G2G6 Pilot (115k points)


More tabs for different target groups

  1. Reader reads the biography 
  2. People working with the profile works with tab 
    1. Talk
    2. Database Errors
    3. Research Notes
    4. Research Plans 
I agree that the public page should be for a reader. I like the Research Notes, etc. on separate tabs rather than on the profile itself.

Right now I only use Research Notes at the bottom (before the sources) as a place to leave information or sources that need to be put in the biography as time allows. I like it just above the sources because I think people tend to scroll down and take a look at the sources and perhaps they will notice that there are research notes.
+6 votes
I rarely use a heading "Research Notes" because to me the entire profile is research notes.

If there is something that needs first hand attention I'll put a heading ==Caution== at the top, which is usually intended to be temporary.  For a more permanent warning, say there are two different John Smiths, born within 3 years of each other, each married to a different Sarah, who lived in different towns, I'll use a heading ==Disambiguation== and call attention to the details distinguishing the two John Smiths.

All facts in the data field should be sourced in the narrative.  I'm sure there are many who would disagree with me, but to me, changing something in the data field without reading the narrative that describes where they came from borders on vandalism.

Even something as simple as correcting a heading that has two == at the beginning and === at the end.  How can you tell if it was intended to be a first order or second order heading without looking at the narrative?"
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (376k points)
I assume you meant the entire text section is research notes?
Hi, Michael.  That's probably what I meant, but now that I think of it, I'll stick with the original-- the data section and narrative both constitute "research notes".  Because every single thing is either research done, research in process, or research yet to be done!

I am very much in agreement with what Jack said, but I don't like littering a profile with additional headings because when you get past 3, there is an automatic display of a table of contents at the top.

My approach is to put a centered and bold notice at the top of a profile to alert readers to a (hopefully temporary) possible serious inconsistency in the biography or a need for additional critical information that I was unable to find.  I use a line of asterisks above and below such warnings.

In the biography, I add "(see Notes)" after each instance of potential confusion, anomalies, or statement needing additional clarification.  I then insert a Notes section after the Biography and before the Sources (as a level 2 heading, same as the other two sections).  In the Notes section, I use bold text, left justified, as a subheading for each topic being addressed.

Please see THIS PROFILE for an example.

I also make life easier for myself by storing all the data in all the source records in a comment section (starting with "<!-- SOURCE DATA" and ending with "-->" at the bottom of the edit page.  That saves me the trouble of opening another tab and going to the link for each source record to display the information while I am working.  Since I already have all that, I do not remove it when I am done working on a profile to make it easier for me or whoever may come behind me to do more work in the future. 

Some members have told me that these are research notes and should not be hidden, but that is NOT how I either intended them or use them.  Anyone looking at the profile can click a link in a citation to see the same thing.  In addition, because of the stupidity of the way wiki code works, if these were displayed on a view page, the line breaks on the edit page would all run together, therefore more work would be required to format these notes nicely.  Since they are EXCLUSIVELY for my convenience WHILE WORKING on a profile, I am not inclined to take the time or trouble to make them look pretty on the view page!

As to those who change correct things to incorrect things or just delete things without bothering to see what is in the biography or notes sections, I would remove the "borders on" part of Jack's statement - I guess I'm just less gracious than he is, but to me, having the best of intentions does not change the result.  In my book, changes from correct to incorrect or destruction of work constitute vandalism, irrespective of the intent.

Gaile, on the use of headings, I believe this is a stylistic difference that WikiTree should both acknowledge, encourage, and support!  I know you are not alone in disliking the headings and table of contents.  On the other hand, I find the Table of Contents quite helpful because it hotlinks down to the section of a profile I most want to read, and if I put dates in the subsection headings, i.e. ===1723 Birth===, ===1760 Colonel, Maryland Militia===, 1778 Hanged for Treason===, it's also a handy timeline.  

If I make small improvements to profiles that reflect a lot of work without these hotlink headings, I try not to change the style, and if I've done a lot of work WITH hotlink headings, I'm not happy to discover someone else has taken them all out.  

I suppose, to take this back to the topic of this thread, that if you don't like hotlink headings, and 3 or more creates a table of contents, then for that reason you don't want to add ==Research Notes==.
Oh, Jack, I would never ever EVER think of changing the style used by anyone else!!!  Also, I fully agree about using heading levels to divide a biography when needed.  Although most of the profiles I write are not that well beefed up with information to make a heading structure and hierarchy appropriate, I have used them on a few occasions that called for them, and leave the table of contents there on these occasions.  I also realize (and have occasionally done this, too) that it is possible to insert a wiki code to suppress the table of contents when desired.

When I add a ==Notes== section, it is the third and, therefore, does not invoke the table of contents.  I prefer to call it Notes rather than Research Notes because of the way I use the section - it is often just a discussion of anomalies and discrepancies, and only occasionally includes notes on research not yet incorporated into the biography or still needed.  If someone adds ==Research Notes== as the third section, that doesn't invoke the table of contents - it only happens for more than three headings (regardless of level).  I have absolutely no problem with that, nor would I have a problem with seeing a table of contents in any profile - I was just stating my personal preference, which only drives what I do on profiles I create.

By the way, I had never thought of the table of contents as providing a timeline, but I really like the way you specifically use it for that.
By the way, when I said that I don't want a table of contents to automatically appear, I was thinking of the subheadings I use inside my notes sections - they are mainly to expand on and/or explain statements made in the biography, so it would provide a very out of context view for someone to see them in a table of contents and immediately jump to read these statements.  For subheadings in the biography, in the cases where they are present, I think the table of contents is very useful.

I also have (in the back of my head) an intention to someday revisit the profiles where I have notes and make links from the bio to the appropriate subheading in the notes section.  Instead of "(see Notes)" at the end of statements in the bio, there would be a superscript and hot "[see Notes]" that would jump to the appropriate subheading in the notes section.  That's something I think of in the "happy to glad" category of changes.
+7 votes
I also always put the Biography section first.

If I had a problem profile, I might consider inserting a == Warning ==  section at the top with a single sentence warning about certain changes or a statement pointing to the == Research Notes == or appropriate section with the relevant information about the rejected information.

Could we create a {{Warning}} template for this purpose instead? Then {{Warning|Section}} could point the user editing the profile to the section with information regarding the previously rejected changes with reasons that those changes were inappropriate.

If it is only edits to the Biography section that are problematical, we could always add a <!-- WARNING: text about the warning --> to the top of the Biography section.
by Richard Ryker G2G6 Mach 4 (41.3k points)
+13 votes
My opinion is that readable biographies (targeted mainly to non-members) are the end goal of all our work at WikiTree. I, therefore, am against moving the research notes above the biography.

The problem is as you note, Michael, managers who do sloppy work. Moving the research notes above the biography will probably do little to change that core problem.

While placing my research notes between the biography and sources sections works for me, I see no need for other profile managers to adhere rigidly to that guideline if they prefer a different method.
by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (227k points)
+3 votes
I always put my research notes right above acknowledgements all the way at the bottom. This keeps them out of the flow of the biography but alerts people to helpful info. If I have a mother's first name, I toss it in to help them find the person.
by Steven Tibbetts G2G6 Pilot (325k points)

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