Can the Unsourced text be changed?

+6 votes

On adding the {{Unsourced|Germany}} template to a progenitor profile (as with thousands of other progenitor profiles of which more primary sources are needed to validate both the [to be protected] spelling of the LNAB as well as the parent connections), the following text appears:

This profile lacks source information. Please add sources that support the facts.

This seems to be a rash and also incorrect assumption, as this specific profile, as with the thousand other progenitor profiles (in the {{Dutch Cape Colony}} project), do have ample secondary sources to "Support the facts" ...!

Is there a possiblity if the text being tweaked to read more neutral, for example:

This profile lacks primary source information (i.e. birth / baptism records) .

I'm adding the link to the profile here because WikiTree says that this ID/URL does not exist:

in Policy and Style by Philip van der Walt G2G6 Pilot (150k points)
retagged by Lynda Crackett
I apologize for my lack of knowledge of Dutch Cape Colony profiles. But since I've started looking at the existing body of French profiles, and seen  what a considerable work it would need to validate those, I can tell you that A LOT of profiles deserve the "rash" qualification of the current Unsourced template - and worse.

It might be a good idea to have more parameters or more nuanced templates for different cases; i have seen the unsourced template on sourced and well-maintained profiles, but the PM obviously chose to leave the Unsourced template on until every fact on the profile was sourced.

Indeed Isabelle, many of our {South African} Huguenot profiles have ample secondary sources to substantiate the facts of the progenitor profiles, but lack the primary sources to validate the spelling of the LNsAB and the parents (and this also impacts on the Euro-Aristo project - quite a few of them were also aristocrats). Through dense Protestant inter-marriage and early integration & assimilation, nearly all of the {{Dutch Cape Colony}} descendants within the first 50-100 years after the founding of the colony in 1652, have Huguenot blood in them, going down to including myself. I'm as equally if not more part French than Dutch and German and Scandinavian.

And so validating the profiles of the descendants is much easier than the progenitors, and we have been adding {{Unsourced|France}} or {{Unsourced|Germany}} [if the Huguenots migrated in diasporic fashion via Hanover or Berlin] to many of the French progenitor profiles, with the intention of revisiting them in future when the time is right to do so and we have validated and protected (PPP'd) the structure of the descending branches and trees substantively.

Ultimately many of the records lie in French and German archives.

So the suggestion of Jack seems to me to be a very good one ... [Edit: Although I would still use other words than 'better" because many of the secondary sources are well established and even if faulty at times, authoritive; the only do not provide primary evidence, and that is what we need - we need to view the records if they exist]

Yes - not sure about Dutch Cape progenitors, but I have seen very, very problematic family groups for Huguenot ancestors of Americans. The problem is that there are not many contributors willing or ready to sort them out, and I have no access to Ancestry to have an idea of the sort of research that was done. Honestly, in lots of them I see ancestries going too deep for the time period (we hardly have any surviving records from before 1580) with very odd/exotic naming patterns... A bit scary.
Since your proposal points collaborators in a specific direction it certainly cannot be called "more neutral."
Have you considered the way it is done by the Dutch Roots project? They use a "Needs Birth Record" (or baptism) (or another record) maintenance category. It is clear, independent of the use of the Unsourced template. The drawback is that it is a project maintenance category, so that profiles need to be part of the project.
@ Michael - I disagree. Indicating that a profile that has secondary or even primary sources that validates facts, but needs specific sources to validate a) the spelling of the LNAB and b) the parent connections, means that it needs to be more neutral in tone. "Please provide sources that support the facts" does not do that, when one needs sources in Germany or the Netherlands or in France.

I'm speaking of progenitor profiles here. Even so - as I have seen with thons, providing just one source without any collaborative validation, including provenance, amounts to that profile (qualifies it) being "sourced" and losing the "Unsourced" template. Which is not very useful in a project that starts with every person setting foot on land being a progenitor, including slaves, and we still need to collate the facts, merge hundreds of duplicates (name variations). We are talking about a settlers community here, spanning roughly 150 years (for our project) and an extra 200 years for the remaining immigrants (which sorts under an adjacent project - the SAR).

@Isabelle, that is exactly the examples that I have been using (see here) and that we are applying as well. Only - the {{German Roots}} and {{French Roots}} projects do not as yet have those maintenance categories (as far as I know).

I can answer for French Roots, and we'll add them. I just need one profile to set it up.
Yay ... :-) Do we need to provide a profile or do you have one at hand?
I can always find one :-)  Created maintenance categories [[Category: French Roots Project Needs Birth]] and [[Category: French Roots Project Needs More Records]] for you.
Wonderful Isabelle! Thanks so much. Your positive energy gives me hope. I'll copy/paste them to my scratch pad ...

4 Answers

+22 votes
Best answer

I don't think you can or want to define "source" in a brief template message, but clarity is important because we have a contentious and emotional debate on the subject on WikiTree.

"Source" merely answers the question "where did the information come from."  If a fact in a profile has no citation, you have no clue where it came from or how to assess its value.  But <ref> it came to Jack Day in a dream </ref> is a source, because it answers that question.  It's just a pretty useless source!

Primary sources are best, i.e. birth records, but they often don't exist.  Secondary sources which are derived from primary sources can be good or bad depending on the quality of the author/editor.  Tertiary sources can be useful.  If you have three sources for a given fact, and are yourself knowledgeable about the researchers in the area, you may be able to say, "source 1 is topnotch, the others not quite as good, source 1 is the one I'll use to document this fact."  No two sources are equally good.

But I agree the phrase in the template can be improved.  How about "This profile lacks credible source information as discussed at [[Link to WikiTree page on Sourcing]].  Please add sources that better support the facts."  

by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (339k points)
selected by Philip van der Walt

"It's like deja vu all over again." - Reputed Yogi Berra-ism

We've been here many times before.  You can't say someone's source is "not a source" in your opinion.  A source is where their information comes from.  It's up to each of us to judge how valid and how credible that source is.  Saying "" is not a valid source is being way too broad about the content of  Ancestry has a vast number of bona fide historical sources that are as valid as anything you'll ever find.

The problem comes in when the source is "," which, without historical records backing it up, has the same credibility as "somebody said."  Ancestry has numerous similarly dubious databases, such as "U.S. and International Marriage Records," which perversely contains NOT ONE SINGLE MARRIAGE RECORD!  It is another compilation of "somebody said."  And it contains endless never-checked or verified contradictions. has similar problems with "Pedigree Resource File" and many other of their databases.

Again, you cannot simply say a source is not a source.  A source is where the information came from.  It is up to each of us as researchers to judge the credibility of the source(s) given and, hopefully, to find better ones.

The arborist project had created a template that said...This profile either has no [ sources] or has been created from unsourced, user-submitted family trees. Please help improve this profile, by verifying the facts and adding sources. Thank you.   Unfortunately, this is no longer an approved template, so it is being removed by the Edit bot and replaced by the one that says This profile lacks source information. Please add sources that support the facts.

If it doesn't support what's in the profile, it's not a source. The thing about honor codes that makes them "honor codes" and not just "codes" is that the letter of the code isn't what's important. If by dint of clever wikilawyering, someone can argue that X is technically a source in some sense of the word, but it's not really a source in the sense that the honor code intends, that's not really consistent with the honor code. When the honor code asks for a source, it's asking for a source that supports the information given and can be verified. Yeah, is "it came to me in a dream" a source in the broadest sense, sure; is it consistent with the honor code? I sure don't think so.

Wikilawyering?  No, I'm afraid that's what you're doing.

Fact is, you're trying to decide, on everyone else's behalf, whether they like it or not, what is and isn't a source.

You don't have that authority, no matter how hard you wish you did.

A source is where the information came from.  It is up to you, me, and every other wiki genealogist to judge the credibility of the source given.  Don't think the source is credible? - Find a better one!  But you can't say a source is not a source because you dislike that source.  Don't complain, fix the problem by adding good sources.

Absolutely. And thanks to theories like these, the burden is on a few (what shall we call them? Integrists? Party poopers, in any case!) to work hard to disprove (and WE need impeccable sources to remove incorrect facts) the many bogus genealogies... While anyone can add a perfectly fanciful genealogy in five minutes and not get called on it, because hey, I have a source, it is ancestry / Aunt Marge / C A Fernald or whatever.
Ben, bringing honor code into the discussion raises it several levels in intensity.  Let me pose 3 scenarios to see if we can isolate that issue:

(1) Scenario 1.  WikiTree member joins WikiTree, reads the Honor Code, and deliberately creates profiles containing nonsense, containing sources which are also nonsense.  I'll give you this one;  the member needs to be excluded from WikiTree.

(2)  Scenario 2.  WikiTree member is fascinated by family trees, is not highly sophisticated, and tends to believe that if it's in print, it's true.  Member creates profiles with information from his own files which he believes to be true, and proudly adds <ref> recollections of WikiTree member.  </ref>  This person needs to learn more about genealogy and sources, but this is NOT an honor code violation.  

(3)  Scenario 3.  I'm doing some work in the 1200s right now, and some of the material I need to revise was put up by the person in Scenario 2, back when Gedcoms were permitted.  My first step in re-working the profile is to figure out where the existing information came from.  If it's attributed to a reputable source, I make sure the citation is there and works.  If it's attributed to ancestry, I put in ancestry as a source.  Sometimes there are dates with no indication of where they came from.  I put in a source <ref> WikiTree Data Field, not otherwise sourced. </ref>  That tells me, and anyone else, that nobody knows at the moment where this particular fact came from.  That doesn't tell me the fact is useless -- it may be totally true.  But it helps map out the research task that I face, or anyone after me.  I could say, as others have, "this is garbage", but the fact is, I don't know.  That also tells me that this particular date appears on more than one profile, because that's what happens to information in the data field.  This is all useful information to a researcher, and my objective as a researcher is to replace all the weak, and especially the garbage, citations, with better ones.  But until that happens, I know where every fact on that profile came from and whether it's strong or weak.  That's all important information.  So if after researching a person I can replace all the <ref name="wdf"/> citations with sources one can be confident in, I can smile with success and give myself a pat on the back.  And sometimes I start out with 20 and reduce it to three, and that's good, too.

We forget that these profiles, especially the older ones, are all works in process. Sure, if you're working on a profile of someone whose information is all public, say Winston Churchhill or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and you're starting from scratch, then of course, start with the best sourcing that's out there and don't put any garbage in the profile.  But when working with profiles that are already out there, it's important to identify where each fact that's already there came from, even if you have to create a citation that says basically, <ref> this was already here and nobody knows where it came from </ref>/  That's better than just having a fact out there with no citation, because now you know what the research task is.
Yeah, what Isabelle said. You know why I joined Wikitree? It's not because I think this is a good idea. This is a platform that encourages people to post the most ridiculous ******** and make it look like it's "sourced" by just sticking a couple words in a text field on a form. It takes someone like 30 seconds to create a profile and populate it with some complete nonsense, pulled straight out of whereever, and disseminate it to everyone in the internet. To create a _real_ _factual_ profile typically requires an hour or two of work, checking, verifying, and documenting sources. No real researcher can ever compete with this limitless insta-******** factory if your standard for a source is "any random bunch of characters stuck together".

"Again, you cannot simply say a source is not a source.  A source is where the information came from."
And I believe I said that the problem with a lot of these sources is that they don't tell you where the information came from. Does "" tell you where the information came from? If the profile says A is the son of B, and 100 trees on Ancestry say A is the son of C, and B is the son of A, etc. I don't believe you have actually told me where the information came from. That's the kind of stuff I'm seeing.
Ben, this argument -- and it is clearly an argument -- is largely semantics.  I don't doubt we agree quite completely on what's an excellent source, what's a good source, etc.  

And WikiTree has moved largely beyond the free-for-all of five years ago when anyone could post anything.  We're engaged in clean up now.  Did you know that we have volunteers who spend an hour or more a week just looking at who's posting what on WikiTree and calling attention to things that are out of bounds?

Where my emotion comes from is that when I'm working on revising a profile that has already been created, I want to be able to identify where each item has come from.  Not give it a grade -- I pretty well know in my head what's garbage and what's not -- but just know where it came from.  That's what source is.  And then replace it with something better as I research.  And sometimes I spend days on a profile, not hours.

Sure if the complete "source" citation says, "" and nothing else, that is a useless citation.  If they are citing a specific page on Ancestry, that is a legit source (a GOOD source? - whole different question).

My point re:Ancestry is that there are a vast number of great sources there.  There are also awful ones, but that doesn't make the whole of worthless.  It isn't, and you should take the time and care to point that out before saying something (untrue) like, " is not a source."

Try this:  I've dealt with Wikitreers who cite sources that don't support their claims.  I deal with this in a number of ways - I post a public message on the profile in question; I send a private message to the profile manager(s).  If I have anything helpful, factual, etc., I always tried to provide that to the interested parties.  And I DO try to find some valid information before challenging someone else's data.  Simply saying, "this is not a good source," if you can't provide a good source yourself, is not very helpful.
+11 votes

Perhaps it might be better to shorten it to just This profile lacks source information. That would then cover all eventualities. It is fairly self evident that if it lacks source information we want people to add sources. 

by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (627k points)
If it were policy, then very few earlier profiles could be considered sourced.There are many for whom the only primary sources are documents referring  to land held and wills and others where a source such as a memorial or baptismal register no longer exists but was copied by one of the earlier antiquarian.
"Sourced" does not equal "Validated" ...
So you are asking for a more significant decision than a change in wording of a template. If you ask that profiles remain Unsourced until a primary birth or baptism record is found you are going to significantly increase the number of Unsourced profiles on Wikitree and some will remain in the Unsourced state forever even though other vital events have been verified.
I am not disagreeing with you Philip. Just pointing out that your suggested change will have a far more reaching consequence than just changing a few words on a template. It could mean that the instructions for sourcerers would have to be adapted and the scoring of challenges and thons would have to be rethought, so you might find some opposition from those Wikitreers who seem to thrive on collecting points.
Your answer is even now more worrying to me Lynda (do not take it personally ... :-) ... "WikiTreers who seem to thrive on collecting points" are as much a menace in my view as those who are berated and frowned upon for not providing adequate sources or being generally lazy. As a project research coordinator my only concern (or main concern) is the validatory aspect of this tree. There is much riding on it. As for major changes - it has not stopped WikiTree before in implementing huge changes that impact heavily on us (many of them were necessary, some questionable and some just plain a pain in the proverbial - especially when there seems to be no logical pay-off involved). Data-doctoring, protocols, boilerplates; GEDCOMPARE ...
I fully agree that it is quality, not quantity, which is the key.

"WikiTreers who seem to thrive on collecting points" are as much a menace in my view as those who are berated and frowned upon for not providing adequate sources or being generally lazy."

Have to chime in with an agreement on your statement Philip. Love the idea of Source-a-thons, but so often find profiles that have had a FAG source slapped on, for a person with only LNAB in common, thereby loosing the template that gave them a chance to get a real source.  Wish the goal would emphasize quality, with no tally or recognition for quantity.  

Yeah, I agree. I'm not sure things like badges for the number of contributions are really that great of an idea. I can't believe some of the profiles I've seen that were created by people with thousands or even tens of thousands of contributions. It's like they spent 30 seconds pasting some stuff* they found on the internet somewhere and said "OK, gimme my badge".

*a euphemism
And what do we put on profiles that are NOT managed by a project....just a category reflecting what is needed?
It seems to me that validity is being argued amongst unsourced. These are two different issues. While some of us would love to see valid sources posted on every profile, it just hasn't happened.

In my personal experience... I would rather see one source on a profile, than none. The Source-A-Thon, Data Doctors, and Sourcerers are an entirely different issue. I think the Unsourced tag serves a good purpose. If there is a category where we can define that better, then use it. If there is not, use Unsourced and allow the Sourcerors to improve those profiles. Someone has to.
+11 votes
I think there are two different issues, and it helps no-one to combine them.

1 There are NO sources, other than links to other unsourced, or unreachable, on-line trees

2 There are sources, other than other trees, but better sources are needed.

Also, remember that the kinds of sources that exist for a 19th century person in   Europe are very different from the kinds of sources that exist for a 14th century person, even in Europe, but even more so in other parts of the world.
by Janet Gunn G2G6 Mach 8 (82.5k points)
edited by Janet Gunn
+15 votes

I say no to changing the text. The unsourced template is for completely unsourced profiles. Not profiles with only secondary or tertiary sources.

If the project needs to mark profiles that need primary sources, they should use the project template's needs parameters.

by Jamie Nelson G2G6 Pilot (291k points)
Jamie....and for those profiles that are not managed by a project....we should have generic categories of Needs Marriage Record, Needs Birth Record, Needs Death record?   Is that what we want?
If the profile is not managed by the project then whoever manages the profile or who comes across it during their research can add sources as they find them.

There doesn't need to be a giant list of everyone who is missing X record.
Jamie, I agree.  If a profile has sources, but you have questions, comments or additions to make, we have plenty of ways to communicate with Wikitreers about those concerns.  "Unsourced" should be reserved for those profiles that provide NOTHING in terms of where the information comes from.  There are TONS of those, and they should be drawn to our attention.
one of the biggest reasons for the unsourced template is to get some source in the text section. This being the case, if it HAS a source then don't use the template.

The secondary function is it calls attention to the profile for the Sourcerers who go through and find sources for profiles in desperate need. An 802 error is an empty profile. An 803 error is an almost empty profile. My own profile has lots of text in it but the source is just personal info. Therefore, it wouldn't be an 802 or 803 error but if it was someone elses profile from say the 1800's it would be considered unsourced.

So the issue isn't so much that the template needs to be changed, the issue is it needs to be used appropriately. It is enough of a pain when doing data doctor work to put the template in but I feel it is worth it. But as far as breaking it up by individual country, that seems like a lot of research to correct spelling and syntax errors.

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