What counts as “unsourced”?

+12 votes
One of the profiles I created has recently had [[Category:England Unsourced Profiles]] added to it.

The weird thing is that this profile does in fact have sources, they just may not be up to some people’s high standards. I’d like to know whether the user who added that category was acting according to WikiTree consensus or not.

In this particular case the profile is of someone who is, if not themselves a member of the nobility, closely related to people who are; there is no obvious reason to doubt their existence or, really, any of the major genealogical details about them. The profile contains a link to an entry at ThePeerage which cites in detail a couple of book pages and a newspaper article which are not themselves easily accessible.

Not being able to access those sources myself, I felt it was reasonable, as I have in many other cases, to link to what I do have access to, the entry at ThePeerage, rather than citing sources I do not have access to and therefore cannot verify for myself.

I would, given all of this, consider this profile to be a perfectly acceptable sourced profile. Am I wrong, according to the consensus of the WikiTree community? If so, what would I need to have done in order to avoid this, and what should I do differently in the future? Should I have cited sources I cannot access? Should I have attempted to learn how to better format a citation to ThePeerage (and if so, why would the format of a source matter to the question of whether a profile count as sourced?)? Is there something else I should have done? Or is there in fact nothing I can do about this?


Edit: More sources have now been added to this profile based on the advice given below, and it is therefore no longer in the state it was at the time this question was posted.
WikiTree profile: St John Harmsworth
in The Tree House by Matthew Cutler G2G3 (3.6k points)
edited by Matthew Cutler
I have added the England tag to your question as the change was made by a member of the England project. You may want to discuss the category with her.
Hi Mathew,

I looked at the profile and would like to ask you, if seen from a Genealogist's point of view, do you really consider that profile properly sourced and not just containing plagiarized info from other online family trees?
Plagiarized? It is very surprising to be accused of plagiarism for contributing basic genealogical information to a collaborative genealogy website. I was somewhat prepared to receive messages contradicting my assertion that this profile is appropriately sourced (as I see has in fact happened), but it had never occurred to me that anyone would consider adding sourced genealogical information to WikiTree to be plagiarism.

If this opinion is widely shared, it would significantly increase the difficulty of contributing appropriately to WikiTree’s declared aim of building up a comprehensive global family tree; and for that reason I would be very surprised if that opinion is commonly held among WikiTreers.

It is not plagiarism. The original poster is not claiming the cited sources as his own work. It is a question of community standards.

As noted in other responses, there is a preference on WikiTree for citations to primary sources (linkable if available). When secondary sources are cited, it is preferred that they themselves be sourced in accordance with genealogical standards. Generally, linking to unsourced online profiles/family trees is discouraged.

That being said, there are plenty of profiles originally created based on, for example, obituaries that are being added to and filled out as sources are available or found.

The advice given as to sources and contacting the project leaders is good. Thanks for contributing and asking.

Be surprised my friend. I am not trying to insult you, I used the phrase "from a Genealogist's point of view,". Consider this a learning experience. What do other people think of my Genealogical work and research? Forget about what the rest of WikiTree does or does not do. What matters is the work that you did. Do you consider the research that you did on this profile to be a legacy that you could leave to your children one day?
Hi Ellen, I agree Plagiarism is probably the too strong word. Just copy and paste data. That is more like it. You guys don't know how fortunate you are to be home English and the internet developed in English. Speaking one language all day and the having to write in another online. Imagine if the internet was a preferred German or something like that and the shoe was on the other foot.

Dear Matthew,

I looked at the profile and i do have a few remarks, 

I do agree though with your remark about "plagiarised info" by Louis Heyman. Never mind Louis  he considers only his sources to be relevant, accurate and reputed and everybody else's  fake, plagiarized and unacceptable. Louis' comments will not help you improve your contributions.

However what you mentioned are not considered sources
in the strict genealogical sense of the term . To qualify as valid a genealogical source an item :

- has to be a document

- is preferably made by an official source ( birth, marriage, death certificates from official registry or parish records; passport info, registration documents by official instances electoral lists, adress registries, deed polls adoption documents, court decisions, prison records, military documents etc.)

-  taken preferably form an official archive or derived thereof like microfilm copies of the above documents in the Family search archive , and the references to those sources form official indexes

- other official acts such as notorial acts, property deeds, incorporation document, legation documents, charters, nobility registers etc

as a secondary source  official announcements in newspapers like London gazette, or Lloyds, shipping (passenger) manifests

as a third source public sources like newspaper articles, or obituaries, rememberance cards invitation or private records such as who's who or similar, club records etc.

What i would expect for the St John B V Harmsworth profile you've made as proper sourcing
- birth certificate  referenced like this
"England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2FGG-ZF5 : 1 October 2014), St John B V Harmsworth, 1912; from "England & Wales Births, 1837-2006," database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Birth Registration, Brighton, Sussex, England, citing General Register Office, Southport, England."

- a death certificate  referenced like this
"England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVZ8-GD92 : 4 September 2014), St John Bernard V Harmsworth, Jun 1995; from "England & Wales Deaths, 1837-2006," database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Death Registration, Kensington & Chelsea, London, England, General Register Office, Southport, England."

that he was on a 1930 passenger manifest  at New York Immigration  like this
"New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:24FC-GS7 : 12 March 2018), St John B Harmsworth, 1930; citing Immigration, New York, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)."

that he was married in 1937 in westminster
"England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV8F-7XFD : 8 October 2014), St John B V Harmsworth and null, 1937; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing 1937, quarter 3, vol. 1A, p. 1495, Westminster St. Margaret, London, England, General Register Office, Southport, England. "

Then instead of the  peerage website  you refer to the original  source S37 Burke's
as its on the source page :  "Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003. ( taken from Peerage-website [http://www.thepeerage.com/s1.htm#s37] ) "
( and idem ditto for the other sources )
You can now research further what Burke's Peerage actually states about ST John B V Harmsworth  and his predessors, and search for primary sources to underpin the Burke's statements

The  Geni website can only serve as a research note  what people you have to create in relation to the person in the profile

Please I'm  not sure  how you are related to This Harmsworth person   but i think you should work on your own ancestry first  to learn what info you need to acquire, and how to refernce the sources to make a half decent profile about an ancestor whom you cannot provide a first hand biography for.

Good luck if you need any assistance with creating profiles just contact me via a personal message / email


To answer your question, Derek, while I am not closely blood related to this person, he is one of the people who appears in the shortest connection path I am currently aware of between myself and Queen Elizabeth II. Finding connections like this is one of the most interesting aspects of genealogy to me (and evidently to a lot of people, which is why the connection tool exists), and the primary reason I often end up creating profiles like this one. I split my time fairly evenly between working on my close relatives and looking into interesting connections.

There are various different types of WikiTreer, and various different ways that one can make decent contributions to WikiTree. I am not among those WikiTreers who are good at writing up long, detailed biographies, but rather I am one of those who prefers to furnish the profiles I add with just the basic important facts, from whatever reasonably reliable sources happen to exist.

It has been interesting to learn of the assertion that “unsourced” confusingly refers not to all sources but to a subset of sources. Before posting this question, I was under the impression if someone adds an unsourced category to a profile, they are effectively making the claim that they don’t believe this information is accurate, and that they think it should be removed. It is good to learn from various responses here that it merely means the profile is lacking in a specific type of highly reliable source, and that it doesn’t mean genuine connections are likely to be broken and important information is likely to be deleted if I don’t immediately manage to personally find such sources.

@Derek Giroulle - Truly amazing....Thank you

As I recall from when I attended the great midwestern U.S. University....

Plagiarism is only an issue if you do not give credit to the person who originally wrote the text and attempt to take credit for the information and text as your own.

To date, I've added over 1,000 members of my extended family (mostly Stetsons) and freely quote Barry and O.F. Stetson, the writers of the original books about the family, along with some more recent genealogists (B. Merrick and Eaton).

As long as I give them credit surround their remarks with quotes and link to their work, I see no plagiarism, an academic crime that would get you quickly disenrolled from the college where my BS is from.

So what do you call it when just a link to another website is placed on a profile. Not a reference , just as to inform us their is another site. Where did the parents the children etc come from? The person who created the site says nothing about a reference , date consulted / accessed  by whom. In other words no proper reference to whom compiled the original data.. What do you call that- just copy and paste data with the profile managers name on it.

On the following site http://www.plagiarism.org/article/what-is-plagiarism published May 18 2017 by P.org

All of the following are considered plagiarism:
* turning in someone else's work as your own
* copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
* failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
* giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
* changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
* copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)


Matthew if you want any advice regarding suitable English sources message the person who added unsourced to this profile. I am sure she will be only too happy to help you as will any other member of the England Project.

5 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer

The real answer to the question goes like this from https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Sources

A source is the identification of where you obtained information.

So all of these wonderful documents are great, but an unsourced template should only have been put on this profile if there was NO indication of where the data came from.

by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (719k points)
selected by Jillaine Smith
+10 votes

You could add this (looks like him):

"England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVZ8-GD92 : 4 September 2014), St John Bernard V Harmsworth, Jun 1995; from "England & Wales Deaths, 1837-2006," database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Death Registration, Kensington & Chelsea, London, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.

And this:

"England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV8F-7XFD : 8 October 2014), St John B V Harmsworth and null, 1937; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing 1937, quarter 3, vol. 1A, p. 1495, Westminster St. Margaret, London, England, General Register Office, Southport, England. 

And this:

"England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2FGG-ZF5 : 1 October 2014), St John B V Harmsworth, 1912; from "England & Wales Births, 1837-2006," database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Birth Registration, Brighton, Sussex, England, citing General Register Office, Southport, England.

Helps cover birth, marriage and death.

I don't really know how to answer your question, but having the unsourced tag will encourage others to add sources. Also, some entries in ThePeerage are apparently only sourced with only emails from people we know little about. And it contains typos. If you're using a well-documented entry from ThePeerage and you can't access the sources they used yourself, you are encouraged to use a full citation which will mention the sources ThePeerage used.

You could also try Googling this person; he's fairly recent, so there may be online press articles about his passing, etc.

by Isabelle Martin G2G6 Pilot (459k points)
I agree with Isabelle that often the Peerage is not a good source.
 For this profile he does cite a recent edition of Burkes which would be likely to be accurate for a recently living person (not always true for earlier periods) and a Times obit.
The Geni profile is completely unsourced.

You could also provide evidence for the year of his birth and marriage from searching
at  www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl  and his exact date of death from the grant of probate which can be found on https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/Calendar?surname=Harmsworth&yearOfDeath=1995&page=3#calendar
Helen, thank you for reminding me that I had not yet checked FreeBMD for this person. It had for some reason not occurred to me yet in this case to check FreeBMD, I do typically remember to add FreeBMD entries eventually where possible. I was not aware of the probate search system on the government’s website, that will likely prove useful in many cases so thank you very much for pointing that out.

Isabelle, thank you for pointing out those additional sources. The death record in particular will be useful since FreeBMD doesn’t have records as recent as that. They are of course all citing the same index that FreeBMD uses, and since FreeBMD generally has scans of the index it seems preferable to cite FreeBMD rather than other sites that do not provide the scans (at least not for non‐paying members). I am aware that ThePeerage has a somewhat negative reputation here at G2G, but I would expect people would take the time to click through and check what sources are cited there before deciding that a profile is unsourced.

I am somewhat surprised to see the messages defending the addition of the unsourced category in this case. My first thought when I saw it was that adding the tag makes it considerably more likely that a trigger‐happy person would decide the profile is unworthy of being retained, and I thought of what the dire consequences would be for potential loss of valuable information in cases with less active profile managers, so I would have hoped that the tag would be intended to be used only in cases where there is genuinely no source provided at all, and ideally only in cases where it was very difficult to even find a source and therefore a significant likelihood of the information being false.

So I very much hope that I was mistaken about that and that Isabelle is correct about it merely encouraging people to add sources.
Do not worry about the profile not being retained Matthew. We do not delete profiles representing dead people on Wikitree. And quality sources are required before changing connections on a profile. So to actually move this person out of your connection path to Elizabeth II (for instance), one should have clear evidence that his parents are not right. I don't think they can.

Some sympathy: Matthew, you were the subject of a discoutesy. In my opinion, the sources in your original profile met the wikitree definition of sources defined here:


From that page: "A source is the identification of where you obtained information."

Your original Peerage link obviously meets that definition. Unfortunately, the person who added the category during an edit to the profile did not do the courtesy of providing an explanation for that addition. As you can see from the discussion, it's a matter of opinion beyond wikitree guidelines what's considered to be a "source."

I don't disagree that your sources could be improved, but that's entirely different than saying your references are not sources - by definition.

Further, I disagree with the comment that recommends you make contact with the person who added the category. If someone edits a profile without explanation, the onus should not be on you to determine why the person made the change.

+6 votes
I would concur, the profile as presented is unsourced.

The three BMD's Isabelle has listed, are the ideal sources. I use "The Peerage" as a source, but only to compliment true facts.
by R W G2G6 Pilot (260k points)
Ron,  allow me to clarify that the peerage might show "true" fact, but the doubt is cast because its sources are not easily accessible an theredore not necessarily verifiable fact.
+5 votes
I think the lesson is, don't create a profile unless you really want it.  And you're prepared to do all the work to finish it.  Or you'll end up regretting it.  You'll make yourself a massive chore.

You aren't writing DNB or Hist Parl bios, you aren't writing TAG articles, you aren't doing professional research for clients, you aren't getting paid.  But some people will expect you to pretend that you are.
by Anonymous Horace G2G6 Pilot (569k points)
I think answers like this have the potential to discourage valuable contributions. I know I would contribute far fewer profiles, far fewer interesting connections; if I felt like every time I create a profile I have to “finish it”. Most other responses here have made it clear that it is reasonable to create a stub profile with basic information and a source that makes it clear that the information is probably genuine, then either add more sources at a later date or let other helpful contributors do so.

The main lesson I’ve taken from this is “if someone adds a drive‐by ‘unsourced’ category to a profile for which sources are readily available, don’t worry that your hard work will suddenly start getting removed with barely any warning”, other lessons include “try even harder than before to remember to add FreeBMD sources to new articles wherever possible” and similar.
By Stub profile do you mean  e.g.  Unknown Smith Unknown father and mother, unknown location,  birth 1827, unknown death?
That is an extreme example of a stub. I would consider that a valid addition as long as: they are connected to a more complete child or spouse, there is genuinely no more information readily available, and the 1827 is a sourced birthdate rather than an unsourced estimate included due to WikiTree requiring at least one date for every profile (if it’s an unsourced estimate then the profile as described contains no additional information at all and should not be added).

I was in fact referring to the profile I referenced in the question, which may or may not fit the definition now but almost certainly did at the time I asked this question.
+4 votes
When you signed the honour Code you said you would supply sources. Derek is absolutely correct.  Geni, My Heritage and Ancestry are not as accurate as you think they are. I have found errors in Wikipedia too. Indeed, half the fun of growing your tree is being able to prove your accuracy. I tend to remove anything related to trees created by others , I have seen my earlier work being regurgitated and come back to me with messages that want me to believe that numerous others have created trees. And funny thing  some info was very inaccurate. Please  believe all the people who have replied to you , do it with friendship, there is no malice, it is part of our collaboration.
by Rionne Brooks G2G6 Mach 6 (61.0k points)

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