Can Wikitree push for more accurate sources?

+20 votes
I have noticed lately that many people are using references to family trees and other compilations as sources. Sources are supposed to be re-traceable so that the next researcher can find and access the accurate data.

Family trees are a compilation of heresay and guesses with a few facts thrown in. To me, these types of sources should only be used when there are no true sources available. It happens often when children are born and die between census years and no other records are available.

Without primary sources, the compilations are inadequate. Is there a way we can encourage more people to use true sources?

Also, how can we avoid using links to pay services like Ancestry. Many people do not have Ancestry accounts. So the links to "Billy's Family tree at Ancestry" does no good, if the next researcher can't follow the link.

I really liked Wikitree because of the fact that, unlike Family Search and Ancestry, sources were said to be valued and a vital part of providing accurate data used to construct a whole family tree.  It only works if we strive to provide the best most accurate data. Otherwise we are just copying and pasting information that may or may not be true and that threatens the whole project.
in The Tree House by Sara Rice G2G6 Mach 1 (10.5k points)
edited by Robin Lee

I doubt you'll get any disagreement on this yes/no question.

The question is HOW do we better push for higher quality sources? 

Projects are one way we do this. Help pages do this. Source-a-thons do this. We have a number of ways we push for this. But it does seem to be a Sisyphean Task.



Yes that was my question: "Is there a way we can encourage more people to use true sources?"

I am just wondering if there could be a BRIEF and CLEAR explanation when people sign up. I don't think everyone understands why sources are important. 

like maybe a format with:

1. source title 

2. where it can be found

3. what are the details of the source. 


Sara, would you be so kind as to give me a profile  that I can look at that is sourced the way it should be.

 The first one only has one source, but it directs you to exactly where you can find it. This is fine. At least it can get me started in my search.

Here is Thomas Edison's Profile; very well sourced with lots of links.

Here is good example:

That isn't to say I haven't created profiles where the only source is find a grave or a photo or a bible entry or Great Aunt Millie. But regardless, a citation should still be made.  Like: "Oral History of The John Smith Family of  Ada, Idaho. as told to me by Millie Moss, Miami, FL, 1942.

But if you leave the source blank, where do I go from there? how do I know what your reference point was? While primary records have flaws, at least they can orient a researcher to a location or date or relatives, etc.
thank-you Sara, I will review these to see how I can improve
I view the various sites (pay or free) as libraries filled with information.  Like a library, a book in there may have some good genealogical information that I can us as a source for some aspect of a profile, such as a birth date, marriage, parent/child connection, etc.

When I enter the data I found in that library into a profile, I am not truly sourcing it if I enter the source as the Podunk Library.  The source is the book in which I found the information, not the library, so I need to identify the book as the source and mention the Podunk Library only to provide the location where the book may be found.

Likewise, genealogy sites such as Ancestry, Family Search, MyHeritage, RootsWeb, etc. are repositories of family trees and other genealogical information and images, virtual "Podunk Libraries", if you will.  Thus, in order to cite a source that I have gleaned from such a site, I need to specifically identify and name that source and where others may find it.

It is most frustrating when I am seeking information from a profile that I am perusing only to find just what I need, but the source is given only as Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc.  That's just another Podunk Library!
EuGene, you point is good but there is also a good reason to say in which "library" you found the source. I was talking with a fellow WikiTreer last night as she searched for a fellow in the 1851 England Census. That census can be found at Ancestry, FindMyPast, and FamilySearch. It took us almost an hour because the three sites had indexed the surname as Rootes, Raster, and ... I don't remember the third.

Identifying which "library" he was found in can help others understand why no one else had found the record.
We can improve sources by redefining "source".
Wikitree has a very bad definition of a source:  "A source is the identification of where you obtained information."
They should require us to distinguish between a credible source, whether it be primary or secondary, and where we found it, such as:  in a contributed family tree without sources at  This should apply to each fact (at least birth, marriage, death, parents) listed in the profile.  Too many WikiTreers are treating the "Where Found" as the "Source".
As it stands now, a person could add a profile for Donald Duck born 4 July 1930 in Hollywood, CA, and Wikitree would flag the profile as unsourced.  But that same person could upload that profile to as part of a contributed family tree and then cite that source on WikiTree and now it is sourced.  What a well-used loophole.  It would be easy for WikiTree to redefine "Source" and add to each profile, below the "Sources" and "<references/>" a few lines asking for Birth info -- source, Birth info -- where found, etc.
The "Where Found" should not be considered as a source.

While we should certainly encourage discussion of How a given source provides evidence for a given piece of information about  our family history, I don't think wikitree should be redefining terms.


any thing or place from which something comes, arises, or is obtained

 someone or something that supplies information

Master genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills: "source: an artifact, book, document, film, person, recording, website, etc., from which information is obtained. A source is broadly classified as either an original record (q.v.) a derivative record  (q.v.)or an authored work (q.v.), depending upon its physical form.

Notice the neutrality of these definitions. 

Jillaine,I love that word ( Sisyphean ) And the back story! Thank you for the link. Very thought full.

I use Family Search, a lot but their trees usually have sources , that if you go to the person's page on Family Search you will see the source and can follow it to the document. Anyone with an account on Family Tree can change the information, Family tree actually provides relationships for you if you have an account with them. They are often Mormon relationships but they are pieces of a puzzle you may not have known about.

8 Answers

+24 votes
Best answer

Many of the Projects on WikiTree, including the Profile Improvement Project, work very hard at adding sources and encouraging WikiTree members to do the same. If you would like to help in this endeavor, please consider joining one or more of the Projects on WikiTree working towards this end. You can find a list of projects here. And here for the Profile Improvement Project.

by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
selected by Liisa Carbone
I know I don't formally belong to the sourcerer project, but I often randomly add sources to profiles.

It just seems if we could prevent some of the more general problems from the beginning, we could ave time and energy and actually inform people about the value of simple and accurate sourcing.

Like a very brief beginner video, or something that everyone who joins has to watch.
Also I think the people in the projects are wonderful and do an excellent job at cleaning up problems!!
+8 votes
Sara; Those un sourced records on Wiki Tree. Those should be looked at

as hints.I have looked at them often.In tracing there record,i have found

some of them true.I am a retired Geneology Researcher.,, often shows un sourced info.

Wayne R. Morgan  5487 Wiki Tree
by Wayne Morgan G2G6 Pilot (917k points)
Yes, I agree! Hints, clues, suggested directions to search, but they should not be taken as truth until some actual sources accompany them.
+12 votes

I think that there are  several parts to your question.  I'll just answer two.

First how can we encourage more people to use true sources? 

My answer, we now ask for a source when a profile is created but we don't state at that point that unsourced familie trees from Family Search, Ancestry, Geni et al are not valid. We also accept family /personal knowledge which cannot extend back  much more than a century. I think that this could  be tightened up further

Your second point about pay to view sites. I don't think that comprehensive research can avoid their use. Indeed to turn it round, to use true sources one may have to use a subscription site.  Transcriptions and finding aids (indexes) can be useful but one can't even see the image of a British Census on any free to view site. 

I transcribe lots of wills from 16th and 17th century England. These are only available on pay a view site; they are a brilliant resource. The same pay to view site  has the following sets of images for my local county,They are all primary sources. I don't think most are available elsewhere online  However, though  I am within walking distance of the archive these digitised  records are not normally produced . 

These are all for Dorset, Engalnd

 Poor Law Settlement and Removal Records, 1682-1862 

 Poor Law Apprenticeship Records, 1623-1898 

 Quarter Sessions Order Books, 1625-1905 

Tithe Apportion and Maps, 1835-1850 

 Convict Transportation Records, 1724-1791 

Jury Lists, 1825-1921 

 Militia Lists, 1757-1860

Alehouse Licence Records, 1754-1821 

 Dorchester Prison Admission and Discharge Registers, 1782-1901 

 Vagrant Passes, 1739-1791 

 Land Tax Returns, 1780-1832 

 Calendars of Prisoners, 

Crew Lists, 1863-1914 

 Electoral Registers, 1839-1922 

Poor Law and Church of England Parish Records, 1511-1997 

Bastardy Records, 1725-1853 

Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 (these are the images of the parish registers)

Church of England  Marriages and Banns, 1813-1921 5

 Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906 

 Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-2010 

Church of England Confirmations, 1850-1921 

 Wills and Probates, 1565-1858 


Heck sorry, I didn't realise the list was so long but it does demonstrate that there can be many different documents that may contain information about our ancestors .

by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (349k points)
edited by Helen Ford

There is an active transcription project of the English census at . This is a sister project of and

I agree that pay sites are instrumental and vital to genealogy. I am not saying don't use pay sites. It is just how they are presented when you add them to Wikitree. Many documents can be downloaded and reposted  or transcribed, as long as they have proper documentation crediting the source.
+12 votes

This is only directed at the part of your question dealing with sources behind pay walls. The unfortunate reality is that certain sources are only available behind a pay wall:

  • I needed the Hamburg passenger lists to prove that one immigrant to the US was indeed the person I had pegged as an emigrant - only available at Ancestry.
  • Anybody with protestant ancestors from Germany where church books have been published online on "Archion",

to name just two biggies. Not to mention the fact that some sources are only available in printed form and, therefore, in the same category as pay sites: if you don't shell out the money to buy the book you can't see the source either. 

by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (545k points)
I agree! I use pay sites all the time, but rather than linking, why not copy and past the source title and relevant information giving ancestry credit for the source?
I do both, provide the link and list the description of the document and who produced it.
Me too. Perhaps our emphasis should be on full citation
While I agree with Helmut, I will also give this warning.

Pay sites keep their prices low by using "volunteers" to transcribe data.   I worked for several years as a "quality control" person of those transcriptions for a major pay site, and many, many transcriptions were done incorrectly. When I left, the company had decided to allow the "community" to make the corrections.   I started my genealogy search when you had to go to a library/local government office and look at microfilm, without seeing the "original document", please remember that the transcription could be incorrect  

PS My favorite example of bad transcriptions, was from the California Railroad Pay stubs.   Everywhere the name was "Jose", it was transcribed as "Joseph".
There is such an issue with people being downloaded into the tree with no information listed for a specific person. I have so many possible matches to a name and so often they don't give a spouse they don't give parents they don't even give a year of birth ,its just a name.

If they have a profile manager then you can not absorb them into a profile. Is there a project you can go to for help in resolving profiles that have no documentation and has been uploaded?


I upload the actual document as a way
+14 votes
My two cents.

I think that before a member is allowed to join a project and/or take the ore-1700 test,  ALL the profiles he/she has already created be looked at and if not truly sourced, the member be denied project membership until he/she fixes his/her own lines.

Harsh ? Dunno. Too many peeps are making too much extra work for the members interested in maintaining the integrity of Wikitree.

Ready for the downvotes LOL
by Eddie King G2G6 Pilot (599k points)
The problem is that huge numbers of unsourced are also orphans. In other cases the PMs are clearly no longer active.
The old orphans lots of time get worked on during source a thons and clean a thons .  Just this past week though, there have been a good half dozen newcomers seeking project membership , and pre-1700 and when I snooped, I found with all of them , dozens of Unsourced on their own trees some profiles several months old. And one dear gent who insisted his "sources"  of someone else's Unsourced  geni dot com was a legit source for WT. and he wouldn't be doing any other sources.

I applaud Amber Whitlock who yesterday asked for help. She's a keeper. ;-}
Eddie, with your "rules" I could not join a project or take the pre 1700 test, and I have done both. I have some relatives that I can find no sources for, except for the fact that I actually met them while they were still living, but they are vital to my lines. As for the unsourced orphan profiles being worked on during the "Thons", I keep finding a lot of them dating back to 2010 that are not even marked "Unsourced" after several of these "Thons" have been run. I have found that most who participate in those only pick the low hanging fruit to get quick points and just leave the harder profiles to fade into the realm of the lost.
Send me some of your Unsourced, my friend Dale. Maybe I can help. I recently found some post 1940s unfindables for Chris Ferraiolo.

Really, send some. I like digging.
Hi, my name is Art and I'm a rookie.    But I've been doing genealogy for almost 60 years, when I started helping my mother research in my early teenage years.

I don't believe the comment about requiring some to have sourced their profiles before joining a project is particularly too harsh.  Maybe a wee bit much at this point but I think stricter requirements for things will have to come at some point.  I've only been here about a year but it gets so frustrating sometimes when all I see is "Ancestry family tree" links which turn out to be private.  On my own lineage, I've had to overwrite these with better sources, like censuses, from Family Search.  And I link to the image, not the transcription.  Ran into one mess this past weekend when I went to a next generation back only to find that there was already a profile; one of a large number that someone entered when they joined in 2015, entered a lot of profiles, and then quit after about three months, apparently without having sourced any of them.  So I agree wholeheartedly with the need to do something.(Their profile for my particular ancestor turned out to be a composite of at least two or three to four or five of all the men of that name alive during that time frame!)

My suggestion is that when someone wants to sign up, more than have someone pledge on their honor to source their profiles, set up some tutorials on sourcing and its importance that they have to watch and then a pop quiz before they can be approved.

One final note in defense of family oral history.  Some family stories can go back a ways.  My maternal grandma was a repository of family lore and had the goods on everybody.  When I was a very young fellow she would tell me stories about family and indians and other stories.  One of them that she had told my mother before me was of a "grandfather" who was killed by indians.  She had some details also but knew he wasn't one of her grandpas, she had known both of them and they didn't die that way, so she had no idea.  Anyway, to make a long story short, while doing research during the 1960s, my mother was reading a narrative about a possible ancestor who was killed in New Hampshire during the later 1600s, 1689 I think.  And the details of his death matched the family story. He and one of his daughters are in our direct line.  Not bad for a family story over 300 years old.
Eddie, I am not having a big problem with Unsourced profiles as such. My main point is that just the other day I found a big batch of profiles that are unsourced since 2011 and we have had many "Thons" over the last couple of years so they are not the solution to the problem. My other point is that sometimes a family member may have information that while unsourced by WikiTree standards is good information but to say that the profile for "Aunt Dot" is not up to standards for me being a project member is not a good standard, because I actually knew her.
Also Eddie the profiles I found and that I am working on are very easy to find sources for, just no one found them during the big drives to improve things because they are not marked with the template and have no "suggestions" either.
+9 votes

I totally agree that wikitree profile sources should be well-documented. Absolutely.

But (yet) another comment regarding "Pay Walls:"

I spend most of my time on ancestry, and fold3, and NEHGS, and newspaper sites, and looking through my collection of books. I do that because there's a higher probability of finding stuff there than elsewhere online. I may, on occasion, actually leave my house to find information. When I find something I need, and reference it in a wikitree profile, I don't spend the time to see if there's a "free" site with the same info.

As mentioned above, a lot of good sourcing material (for the foreseeable future) is only available by actually paying for the privilege of accessing it. For now, that's what "real" research may require.

That's not only for "Pay Wall" sites, it includes buying books of vital records; traveling to court houses, museums and historical society locations; walking cemeteries and taking pictures; etc., etc.

Regarding other researchers finding and accessing the data: that's would be nice but very impractical. I try to tell people where I found the data, and what I extracted from it. A lot of that data may be available if the researcher wants to pay to access it online. But that may also require buying the same book, or traveling to the same court house.

by Bruce Veazie G2G6 Mach 5 (57.6k points)
When the source is PAY, it would be helpful to other members if you could copy ALL the information and not just set an inaccessible link . Ancestry in particular has a "mail home" feature for documents. You could attach the actual document to the profile as image.

Providing the data abstracted from the source shouldn't be limited to just "pay" sources. That should be done for ALL sources. Web links will someday go dead. E.g., some familysearch databases have migrated to ancestry; ancestry database names change; websites come and go.

IMHO, a profile source should stand on its own and be a permanent record of the data, with or without a "link" to a repository.

@Eddie - would you describe the "mail home" feature a bit? I understand that images can be saved to your home computer - but that's only if the link hasn't been linked to a person in your tree. Then that Save option disappears. Is there another way?

IMHO, Yes, good info from pay sites, books, or other documents is good info and researchers should rely on that. If they do the same hard work as the original researcher, then they should be able to reproduce the same result.  That is excepting info in privately-owned family Bibles or such.  

Also, copying documents from pay sites and posting them brings up the copyright question again. I think the last g2g thread to discuss it indicated that some docs are protected, some not. Anybody have that link?

The only other thing I would comment on is that I find it very frustrating when people only post documents or only link to documents because then we do not have a good citation for the source. As a researcher (in my work), that is almost useless to me. Yes, I always look at the original document, and yes, there are often transcription errors, but a document doesn't tell anyone coming along behind where it is found. It's pretty to look at, but useless as a citation to a source, which is what the original question is about.  You might as well say "photo found in granny's attic." Sorry, if that steps on toes!
+9 votes

This question has been asked many times.   I believe the issue stems from the Wikitree definition of a source.

A source is the identification of where you obtained information.

 this is where you find the definition

As long as your document your source as shown on the help page, you have "sourced" the profile.   Nothing indicates that it cannot be an unsourced family tree from another website, or even your grandmother's memory..   Once you start marking things as "certain" or "uncertain" there are more specific guidelines.


by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (714k points)
edited by Robin Lee
In agreement with the above...

I like to look at it like a detective solving a case. All clues have value until proven otherwise. Criminals rarely leave fully signed confessions with their fingerprints and home address all over it.

There is a fetishization of primary sources as if they are unimpeachable and set in stone. As we learn from House, M.D., people lie. All the time and for all sorts of reasons. People are forgetful, misled, or fail to process accurately events all the time. The person entering these records may be semiliterate, hard of hearing, approximating words from a different language, in a hurry to meet a quota (hello, Census). If it is a government record, this  will likely be their only time interacting with this information. Courthouses burn down, flood, lose records and collect 'reconstructed' records all the time. Files get conflated by well meaning clerks who didn't realize there were two different Mary Edwards of similar age in the same backwater village.

If primary sources are available then use them clearly but in most cases if your individual is not in an urban area of an industrialized nation within say the last 150 years your pickings are going to be slim to none. Good, bad, or ugly gather whatever is out there put on your Jessica Fletcher cardigan and make the best of it.  Uncertain is better than clueless.
Robin, when I try to follow your links, I get the message that those pages don't exist.
@ Edie There was an extra space at the end of the link....sorry
+4 votes
Well, going to weigh in on this, you've said what you think are more accurate sources.  Problem is, many documents are either behind paywalls or in archives which are centrally located in an area and not accessible online.  And of course there are books.  Many out of print so finding them can be arduous.

And of course, if the documents are in a language you do not speak, things get even more interesting.  I don't know how many times I've helped a cousin out translating a document, either on G2G or through PMs.  

For example, I just bought a book that was published last year on officers who came to New France with marine companies.  Well over 500 pages, extremely well documented, but all in French.  It's even available as an e-book.  But if you don't speak the language, it won't help you much.  And google translate is a bust, it comes out with the weirdest translations sometimes.  Including translating names, which is a big no-no.

One can duplicate the work done in that book, but since it took a team of researchers working on both sides of the Atlantic to get the thing documented, for over 3 years of work, good luck on even finding some of their sources.  Which they name, extensively.

And of course, in areas like Acadie, where records got lost/destroyed massively when the population was deported, a large part of what is known about them is reconstruction by various people.  Happened also in the early days of the French presence in Qu├ębec city, the church and its records burnt down, and clergy redid the records from memory, but there is a whole lot of data that got lost in that reconstruction, like the names of parents on marriages etc.

The best one can do is state full available data on ''when where who what'', and cite the source(s) used, with link where avaiiable, or ISBN number for books.  There is no perfection in this world, just a ''best effort''.

As for all the orphan profiles with no sources, that is an ongoing collective project to get them fixed, with duplicates getting merged etc.  A lot of them date back to Wikitree's early days.
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (412k points)

I recognize pay sites are valuable. Since Wikitree is supposed to be a free site,  I agree that if there is a link, there should be a description of what the source is and perhaps something about what information the source contains. rather than leaving the link as a stand alone with no reference, it should look like this:: 

  • Gorton, Adelos,. The life and times of Samuel Gorton : the founders and the founding of the Republic : a section of early United States history and a history of the colony of Providence and Rhode Island plantations in the Narragansett Indian country now the state of Rhode Island, 1592-1636-1677-1687 : with a genealogy of Samuel Gorton's descendants to the present time. Philadelphia: unknown, 1907. "Ann Gorton in The life and times of Samuel Gorton"
oh, and if you go to your local library, most libraries actually have a subscription to the major paysites like Ancestry, PRDH, Drouin (IGD)..., so you can actually take a look for free there.

Related questions

+9 votes
6 answers
286 views asked Jan 18, 2019 in Policy and Style by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (714k points)
+9 votes
3 answers
+75 votes
37 answers
+22 votes
5 answers
+16 votes
7 answers
532 views asked May 2, 2020 in WikiTree Tech by Missy Berryann G2G6 Pilot (131k points)
+6 votes
3 answers
+16 votes
4 answers
+22 votes
9 answers
+31 votes
8 answers
+28 votes
9 answers

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright