How do you explain sources to people who just don't get it?

+18 votes
This is a half-venting, half-serious question. But what do you say when you ask someone "But how do you KNOW that John Bobbert was Sarah's father, not Joseph Bobbert? It was 200 years ago, and the records aren't clear." and they reply "I'm their family, and you're not. I've been researching this tree since before you were born." It's like, on the one hand, this person might be a gold mine of information, but I just want to hear them say "My great granddaddy Billy Bobbert heard from his grandmother that her grandfather John Bobbert was a gambling man, and he swept little Priscilla Parsnip off her feet and my mama Sarah popped out practically before he got her up the aisle." Something with concrete details like that.

What can you say to people that works? What gets them to be specific about exactly what details they heard, and from who? Like---did their grandmother tell them her mother's maiden name? Or did they get that tidbit from a RootsWeb discussion board?

I've had this ongoing (sometimes really escalated) dispute (for over 2 years now) with someone over the correct relationships in one family tree. She's not a wikitree member any more, and I feel bad that maybe I handled it wrongly, but every time I ask, "Could you please explain what you heard, and who you heard it from" she just says "This is my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother." I don't know if she got a dubious tip off Ancestry, or what. It's frustrating. I really want to help her explain herself, but she's finally ended up saying "WikiTree is a cult! I'm family and I'm completely convinced my family tree is correct!"
in The Tree House by Brad Foley G2G6 Mach 8 (87.3k points)
edited by Brad Foley

Sorry about venting, but this is the line that set me off: "Gord told me to stop trying to prove to you what he already knows to be true he is almost 80 and has done all the research . He said never mind if they want to put down info that suits your  needs. He has not got to prove you or anyone else anything. So I will stop trying to get you to see our family for what it is and let you continue down your path. "

Sometimes, when it's not your family, you just have to walk away. People believe what they want to believe, and they can become irrational. I've had a similar situation when I wasn't the PM but more direct family AND I had the sources. I could explain the two birthdates, ages and first names, and three surnames and show this was one person. I was just polite, but firm. Neither of the two PMs have changed the bio since I arranged the merges and added all the sources.
There's people here on G2G who believe they can psychically communicate with their dead ancestors and "source" their genealogy that way. Good lord.

I wonder what would happen if you asked them to commune with the spirit of Charlemagne? Would he magically speak modern-day English with them?
Direct communication from the astral plane requires no language as we understand it, silly.  Whenever Charlemagne talks to me, he opens with, "So how's my favorite 45th great grandson today?"  Or the direct astral equivalent thereof.  Always gives us both a good chuckle.
Tune in, turn on, and do genealogy. Sheesh.
Oh, so YOU'RE the favorite. Way to rub it in, Herbert. Psssh.

I love so much, because we are one big family with a funny sense of humor. I love to laugh, and this makes wikitree so much more fun, than when I feel like working on wikitree is a stressful job.

6 Answers

+14 votes
Best answer
Show, don't tell.  

Followed by the suggestion to use a  wonderfully transparent source- like

Doesn't always work- but it can.
by Dorothy Coakley G2G6 Pilot (188k points)
selected by Shaun Doust
I love this idea, and try to do this. It works sometimes, but less often than I'd like, especially with people who assembled their family trees on '90s Ancestry message boards, I feel. But that's probably not fair.

That is what I usually do as well, particularly now that Swedish sources are available for free at the National Archives, so it's easy to make a link to a digitized image of an original source.

I haven't really been in Brad's situation with somebody claiming to be right just because it's their family, though. Most of the sourcing I do on profiles managed by others is just sourcing of correct but unsourced facts, so I just put them in. When there's an active manager I may nudge a few times to see if they catch on. Swedish records are so wonderful (when they exist, which is not always certain pre-1750 or so). But I also realize that they aren't easy to navigate. And they aren't indexed on a person level. So if you're not a Swedish speaker, it isn't all that easy.

On the other hand, I see a lot of genealogy for Swedish Roots, produced by relying on indexed transcriptions and cobbling together families based upon name similarities - with total disregard for Swedish geography and the tendency of the farmer population to stay within a radius of a couple of kilometers all their life. One of my pet frustrations (since it's Venting Day). There's a lot of that nature in all those early GEDCOMs, but it still happens.

Shaun, thanks!

Here's one for you Eva. I sourced his wife born in Finland and found out she had died at age 4. Now Ivar Waldemar Samuelson needs a new wife and maybe even a new childhood. I've heard a lot of this GEDCOM, but this was the first error I found.

Since it isn't handed down from your favourite great-aunt I will enter whatever I find into the profile.
+15 votes
I questioned someone on their data once, and got a very indignant response, like how dare I question them. I quickly learned that this is frequently a loosing proposition.

I am sorry to say there profiles on WikiTree that suggest the authors do not understand sources. One that irks me is the “first hand knowledge” of a person born more than a hundred years after the event they are attesting to.
by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (670k points)
Ha! Yes, yes, yes.

I actually bite my lip till it hurts, deleting the "firsthand knowledge" bit on profiles for people born before 1840 or so.
Haha - I view the "firsthand knowledge" bit as a mark of shame, and so (because I'm a mean old woman) I usually let it stand, even when I have added sources.
Oooh. That's nasty. You really are a mean old woman.

I aspire to be a male version of you, one day. Thank you for giving me hope.
That "firshand knowlegde" shows up even on medieval profiles. Some people must be reallly very very old. I am tempted to leave it there sometimes.
I like Eva's "mark of shame" perspective. She's right. And so deliciously wrong.
Well, the "firsthand knowledge" was the default text at some time way back. That must be how it got onto medieval profiles.

I just had to check, but it doesn't seem to be among the options within an unrealistic time range any longer. It actually seems that the options have been modified since last I looked: for pre-1700 you only get to promise to add sources (within a week). Post 1700 you also get the "unsourced family tree" option. I didn't check how recent you'd have to go to get the "firsthand knowledge option". And don't worry, I didn't actually create these profiles.
Well,  of course I'm wrong - or at least mean. But I certainly wouldn't put the "mark of shame" back IF the manager cared enough to remove it.

George said, ...”first hand knowledge” of a person born more than a hundred years after the event they are attesting to.” Brother, I know the feeling! I have a line that goes back to Dorset, England, in the 1600s and earlier, and here’s a few of those kinds of sources for folks who lived 400 years ago.

Please, folks, like Eva said - it was default text.  That means it was automatically put there by a computer if the human contributor didn't put a source.  The PM didn't put it there.  They didn't write "personal knowledge because I was there at ye time".  But I agree, it is a 'mark of shame'.  It means that the human contributor hasn't touched it for years.

Thank goodness they've done away with that.  Now we just have the facility for a contributor to say they will put a source by such-and-such a date, and then not bother. </rant>
Actually, Ros, you still get a "firsthand knowledge" option when you add people within a reasonable time frame. I just tried creating one of my sisters (again, not completing the action, because I don't enter living people) and got the personal-knowledge thing as a third option. I have already forgotten the exaxt wording :-P - and I didn't fully explore the range. I just wanted to say that I think these modifications to the function of the form for creation are pretty neat. It wasn't that graded from the beginning.

Myself, I always have a source ready when I create new profiles :-)
Oh, I agree with you, Eva, about having a source ready when you create a profile - so do I.  And I didn't realise the 'personal knowledge' thing was still available.  It's just that it *used* to be available for profiles in every time period. LOL
When was it the new form came in use? Not all that long ago, and I have alreday forgotten :-/
I have gotten to were I don't worry about it anymore.  I just make the changes to add the source.  Sorry if they do not like it but sources are the glue that puts the people together.  The only time that I will not make a change is if it is real different, then I make a clear private message asking to make the changes to the profile manager.  Most of the time they are willing to have the help in getting sources added.
@ Eva - the new form came in on 11 July 2017.  Here's the announcement:
Thanks, Ros, for looking it up.
+11 votes

Unfortunately, many people either don’t understand or just don’t care about sources. Perhaps they don’t care about the accuracy of what they post online, or just want that connection to royalty.

I’ve been fortunate, so far, to not have encountered any conflicts with ancestors. I have, however, seen the gamut of sources. Not only are there the artifacts from default values such as “remembered by”, “to be entered”, and “unsourced family tree” but some that just make me shake my head in wonder. I’ve seen * and x as sources, as well as “”, “FamilySearch”, “census”, “1860 census”, “FindAGrave” with no other details.

Unfortunately many seem unaware of the little bit from the WikiTree help for a source citation, which should enable others to:

  1. judge the accuracy of the information found on the profile, and
  2. independently verify the information by finding the source themselves.
Ok, off the soapbox now...
by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (616k points)

" many people either don’t understand or just don’t care about sources. Perhaps they don’t care about the accuracy of what they post online"

In this particular case, sadly, the person did care about the accuracy, but seemed completely unable to understand your source points 1 and 2. It was like they kept saying "I'm family. I've researched this a long time. I'm convinced I'm right." in a loop. Frustrating.

+13 votes

I understand; I periodically run into folks who take similar stands. I've even encountered people claiming that I'm calling them liars.

I try to keep the focus off the family dynamics as much as possible, and that how on wikitree, which is a single family tree, we stress the importance of original sources-- wherever possible. So that I'm not attacking this person's family, or grandma's research, but pointing out that we need to make grandma's research clear for the world to see, to understand how she reached her conclusions.

And if people leave Wikitree because they want to hold onto their memory of grandma's tree without questioning it at all, then well, Wikitree isn't really the right place for them.

This is the second time I've seen reference to a "cult". I find that very odd.
by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (927k points)
Jilliane, you are quite right, Nice job! Nice explanation.
Great explanation! I try to say something similar, though I'm probably not as eloquent. And usually that works, happily. I guess we just can't win them all.
Brad, Jillaine and All- You guys rock!
+8 votes
I have a similar problem where one of my older family members refuses to believe that one ancestor was NOT an only child. He had an older brother who seemed kind of wayward--illegitimate child, then married (maybe? haven't found a marriage record...) the mother, had a slew of kids with her, divorced her, and then married (again, maybe... no record) someone else while all his minor kids from the first marriage lived in orphanages all over the country. It doesn't matter that I have a birth record (showing birth parents), baptismal record, census records (showing him in the same household as said brother and parents), and his death record, showing parents' names (with mother's maiden name, even), and that I've spoken to a descendant of said person. No, she's pretty sure that so-and-so was an only child, and his father (the ancestor who only had a brother on paper, apparently) was, too. From what the descendant I've spoken to has said, the family was very strained and isolated from the rest of the family, so it's not like they would have been at all of the family gatherings. She still hasn't been able to track down all of said person's children (born 1910-30). Luckily, the relative in question is not on WikiTree, so I have the "non-existent" uncle in here and don't talk genealogy with her anymore (there have been a few other cases with her of "That doesn't match what I remember being told over a decade ago...").
by Emily Yaden G2G6 Mach 1 (15.6k points)
+7 votes
Honestly, I think there is a "kinder, gentler" way to approach sourcing.  In my opinion, "How do you know?"  can be perceived as an attack. AND, let's get real, unless you're doing DNA, you don't "know."

But.  Most people when getting started don't know how easy it is to look up the censuses, and marriage certificates, and so on.  For those people I agree with show don't tell.  IMO the US Census is like a gateway drug to sourcing.  It is so easy to use, find and reference especially on FamilySearch.  It's like the M&Ms of sourcing - can't just do one LOL

Now - some people are just not interested in hearing it, and those people should just be left alone.
by Crispin Reedy G2G6 Mach 4 (46.7k points)

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