What is Unsourced?

+9 votes
This has come up before, I believe, but I've just seen another example.  It comes back to the old argument about what constitutes a source.  I thought we had settled on the definition that a source is just where your information comes from.

The example I came across had familysearch.org's "Ancestral File" as its only source.  That's not a very strong source, since it's user-submitted and often contains many submissions that are riddled with contradictions.  It also usually offers no sources for these submissions.

There are MANY sources which are highly dubious like this, but I think it's inappropriate to add the unsourced template to such a profile.  This would involve us all making judgement calls about which sources are actually SOURCES, and which are not.

Better would be to add a better source if you can find one.  Anyone else agree that we shouldn't be adding the unsourced template to profiles because we don't approve of the source provided?
in Policy and Style by Fred Remus G2G6 Mach 4 (44.0k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
The way I look at it, a repository is not a source. A source is an actual record of a fact regardless where it is found.

9 Answers

+9 votes
I like to think of the unsourced template as a reminder.

If its on the profile, and there is a source to a user tree such as Geni or Family Search, then the template reminds us to go and find a better amd more solid source.

That is how I see it.
by Robynne Lozier G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
+7 votes
I disagree but think it depends on the specific case. If there are legitimate sources in the “tree” for the person in question, then I would use it. If not I wouldn’t treat it as a source since it doesn’t help someone find real info.

I find a lot of Ancestry trees to be particularly bad and if sources are present they just refer to anither tree and not data. Ive even seen some refer back to their own tree. Essentially self referencing sources. Ancestral file isn’t any better. I spend a lot of time keeping the false, undocumented facts from those trees out of my family genealogy because everyone wants that connection to the Mayflower or the military “Captain” that doesn’t exist.

Rather than using such a tree, find the sources that it used.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (546k points)
You've been there too eh? It never ceases to amaze. It's pretty much free for all on Ancestry, with some trees being exemplary, and far more just slapped together with no digging or scouring done whatsoever. I showed one manager how they were attaching to my paternal brick wall a confabulated relation to a separate unrelated tree. A month or so later, the correction has not been made. Par for the course...
The FamilySearch trees aren't much better but at least they can be corrected to some extent. The changes that can occur do make them useless as a "source".

The so called Captain even has a photograph attached and labeled as him. He died in 1824.
Worst case I’ve seen, among the others Doug mentioned is the one Ancestry tree that had as its source a gravestone (Findagrave). My Gabriel Patterson died about 1838 and this tree had a picture of a gravestone for a Gabriel Patterson who served in the Spanish-American War. Give me a break! That same pic got copied to other trees, and it amazes me that folks can’t see the dates and such. Makes me want to smack someone!

Also love those trees that list a child for someone who was dead long before they were born. Another is the “Abraham & Sarah” syndrome: folks so old that all they could have at such a late date was a pile of dust.

I go to Ancestry to see documents, not trees. Grrrrrr.
Sheer laziness is viral on Ancestry. If I haven't seen every kind of gaff possible, I pray I don't get to the bottom of the list. It's good for records, not great. When I come across receptive managers, that's great. But I've only seen one tree related to mine where it was clear a dedicated genealogist had completed their research and presented it so virtually no correcting was required. 1 in 6,144...
Brice, I should temper my previous diatribe against Ancestry. I do have a cousin (third) who has done excellent work, very meticulous, as a former detective would. I trust his work explicitly. It was this cousins work that connected me to Alexander Underwood the Pennsylvania Quaker and solved the mystery of my grandpa’s oral history.

Would that there were more trees on Ancestry like Charles Underwood’s.
+5 votes
Of course we have to make judgments about the quality of our sources.  Same as in normal life. Without making judgments about the quality of sources, we're just creating feel-good, self-aggrandizing fictions.

Making a standard of what constitutes a reliable source is tricky but totally necessary.  So we do the best we can.  I, for one, delete 'Ancestral File' as not even worth mentioning.  (since no one puts their name to it)
by Robin Anderson G2G6 Mach 4 (43.8k points)
+8 votes
The "Unsourced" template is a valuable tool to enable "Sourcerers" to find profiles which could do with some sources added. It is more to help than judge. If a source is very weak, like the one mentioned, then why not encourage sourcerers to come along and improve it ?

"Unsourced" should do no harm as long as it is not taken the wrong way - e.g. as negative criticism of the profile manager ( which it is not ).
by Joe Farler G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
+2 votes

Hi Fred,

Good Question and I think this is answered by what is considered a source.

1. What constitutes a source?

A source is described as information on where you found the information so that user b can find the same information. Although wikitree doesn't clearly define what is considered a good or bad source it does ask that the user exercise discretion when marking uncertain/certain along with explaining there sources and information stated via ===Research Notes=== or other notes.

For example Family Bible nobody else has the ability to see that same source so this is the part where the Honor Code comes to play. 

For sources that may include a Family Bible Notation or ancestral file. I might consider  (a) finding a source that confirms that information or (b) contacting the profile manager for another source that confirms that information. This comes into another subject regarding Disagreements about certainty which is well outlined. I don't think we should be adding unsourced unless the information has no sources or there is points that need clarification with sources. Alas, I'd reckon that consultation with the profile manager is always the best first response.

Especially in situations of Ongoing research and testing


Hope this helps.


by Anthony McCabe G2G6 Pilot (387k points)
I like your Family Bible example.......  I post scans of the pertinent pages from my family bibles,  not transcriptions.   The hand writing was so poor,  some things are left to interpretation.
+4 votes
I agree with you that a citation to an Ancestral File is a source of information. But I don't think it's a question of approve or disapprove. The substance of the issue is what is the purpose of the "Unsourced" template within the WikiTree community. If it helps volunteers find very weakly sourced profiles (and a bald reference to an Ancestral File is, by customary genealogical standards, weak) and improve them, what's the harm of adding or leaving the template?
by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 8 (85.3k points)
+3 votes
Great Question.   Here are my off the cuff thoughts.

A  "source" should provide  useful information for the general public to view......  It doesn't have to be a primary or secondary source,  but it needs value.  If you have to pay a monthly fee to access the  "source",  I hope that's not acceptable for WikiTree profiles.    

When I come across a profiles who's source is an ancestry.com tree, it has no value to me.   I can't access the tree from home and when I go to a genealogy library to review the ancestry.com tree,  the link is frequently broken.  I'm not being judgemental,  just can't view the source.
by Peggy McReynolds G2G6 Pilot (474k points)
My current favorite source is to the dynamically created Ancestry trees that are done by the DNA Circles interface. Those links disappear after a while so aren't even useful as a hint. Personally, I think such trees (Ancestry, Ancestral File, etc.) might be useful in a research note but not as a source. Just my opinion.
Thanks for the info Doug, another area of study for me......  I haven't done much with DNA testing yet,  perhaps I'm overly skeptical of the accuracy of testing being offered for genealogy purposes. Sometime soon I need to look into the topic in more depth.   I'll keep an open mind;  I'm sure advances have been made since I took genetics at KU in 1974.
+2 votes
You are correct. A source is a source. Obviously the quality of sources is subject to variation.
by George Churchill G2G6 Mach 9 (99.6k points)
+2 votes
A lot of variation in the responses here, but most seem to feel it is fine to put the unsourced template on a profile if the source(s) given are questionable.

We will disagree on that point.

How about this?  Add a new template such as "Unreliable source(s)."  Wording might go something like, "The source(s) provided for this profile are inadequate to support its accuracy.  Please add primary or solid secondary sources which reference primary sources."  The wording is off the top of my head and could be revised by someone spending a little time polishing the verbiage.

I stand by my original statement.  A source is where your information came from.  The value of that source is a judgement call each Wikitreer will have to make for themselves, but if a source is provided, the profile is not "unsourced."
by Fred Remus G2G6 Mach 4 (44.0k points)

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