Please use caution when entering estimated dates.

+8 votes
Just today I encountered 10 profiles I adopted with estimated death dates. All said after 1930. While that is correct the actual dates are quite a bit later than that, by over 50 years!. Putting wild guesses like that make it harder to use Rootssearch and other tools to find sources. These dates were entered far in advance of the recent changes due to the European law changes and these profiles would have been passed over when the profiles for living people were made Unlisted because they all had birth dates over 100 years ago. If you can not estimate a closer date, like within 5 years, then putting a date like that just makes the quality worse and adds to the workload of others.
in The Tree House by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
I just found a death date for one of the profiles that was 72 years after the "estimate" of 1930!
The accurate statement that a death occurred after a given year is not an estimate, and is valuable information in and of itself. In this case, I don't think genealogical facts should be withheld based on the perceived optimization of search tools. Rather, how the genealogist uses search tools should be modified.

As to true estimates, for good or for ill, they have a role on WikiTree. What's confusing is to represent them as facts, or not include enough of a disclaimer to clearly show they are estimates. When estimates are used in accordance with WikiTree guidelines, I think five years is too tight, but if you can't do it within a generation, you probably shouldn't.
Sorry Ellen, I fail to see how entering a date more than 50 years before the actual date is either accurate or valuable. I am talking about profiles for those born after 1900 in the United States and for most of these profiles I have found death dates between 1980 and 2004. There is no reason to have a date of after 1930 for a death date on those.
well if you have a source, like the 1939 register and you know they were alive at that point, but you know thy would be over 118 if they were alive today, isn't it fair and also accurate to say "died after 1939"?
Gillian, fair, yes accurate not so much, I do not feel being off by 50+ years accurate.

2 Answers

+10 votes
It is an interesting question as to when entering the only information you know adds value and when it doesn't. I guess the profiles you mention said after 1930 because they were in a 1930 census but the actual death date wasn't known? I would tend not to enter a date in this case, as noting in the biography where they were living in 1930 will show that they were alive at that time.

However I often enter "before" dates which could be more than 5 years out. For example, a father being stated as deceased on their child's marriage certificate but where I can't find the death record for the father. Or somebody being stated as a widow(er) in a census but I can't find the death record for their spouse, and sometimes if I can't find the previous census entry either then they could have died any time in the previous 20 years. Personally I think this is useful information to include.
by Paul Masini G2G6 Pilot (234k points)
It is far easier to find a death date without any guess than it is to have a wild guess that far off, and the dates I am finding range between 30 and 72 years off. I feel it would be better to not add a guess that could be more than 5 years off.Even if you are sure that they died after the 1930 census but before the 1940 census a date of 1935 would be a lot closer than "after 1930".
Another interesting point - how to enter the date. If I know they were alive in the 1881 (UK) census but died before the 1891 census then I would always enter it in the form "before 1891" as that is the known information. Entering "after 1881" would also be true but is far less informative so I would never do that. Entering it as "about 1886" suggests to me that it is known to be in the range around 1884-1888, so is not the way I would do it but maybe other people do?
Since Rootssearch uses a range of 2 years before and 2 years after the date given using the date in the middle would have a better chance of finding a source than either a before or after date.
Is there not a danger this could lead to the wrong record being added? I would only add a "before …" date when either there are no likely looking records or there are several likely looking records. If, for example, there are possible deaths in 1885 and 1890 that might be the right one, adding "about 1886" might cause a well-meaning person to attach the record for 1885, but leaving it as "before 1891" makes it clearer that either might be correct.
Paul that happens all the time anyway but in this case the range for errors could be between 1930 and 2018 so how is that better?
I agree with you that "after 1930" meaning any time in the following 80 years whilst it might be true is not particularly helpful. The bit I was less sure about was estimating a date half way between two censuses when all you know for certain is it happened before the second census. Maybe it is the nuance caused by US census dates being 1880 and 1890 so "about 1885" looks quite approximate, whereas UK censuses were 1881 and 1891 so "about 1886" looks more like it is intended to be an accurate estimate.
+12 votes

Dale, I disagree with your characterization of "after" being an "estimate" or "guess." If the profile provides a source (appearance in a census, mention in a will, signed a deed) that a person was alive at a certain time, and no records have as yet been found after that date, then after is the correct characterization for the date field. It's not a "wild guess," it's a fact.

IMHO, the terms Before, After, and About have different intents. The two former terms should be used to document facts. About is the only term that should be considered an estimate.

"After" does NOT have the same meaning as "about." I certainly agree that a death date characterized as "about" should be expected to have a relatively small range associated with it. 5 years is probably reasonable.

I find it much more frustrating to find profiles that do NOT have anything in the death date field when the profile provides information that could be useful about the death date

EDIT: As there are several wikitree functions that provide condensed data for individuals (name - birth - death), I found it quite convenient to have something appearing for dates.

by Bruce Veazie G2G6 Mach 5 (57.8k points)
edited by Bruce Veazie
In this case the after date is over 50 years off so on every profile I found one for, a date like that is nothing more than a wild guess. By your logic I could add after 2018 to every profile for my living family members, but that would not be a good thing to do but it would be accurate. If you want quality data just saying a person died after the last record you found for them is not adding quality. All of the death dates I found in this group were before the date the profile was created so the records did and do exist.
I still disagree that a documented "fact" is a "wild guess." I think wikitree is intended to provide genealogical information beyond just today, and hopefully for years to come.

If you can provide a source that a person was alive in 2018, then 30 years from now, that could be valuable information, Dale. I would suggest wikitree should be used to provide information for later generations, not just someone looking at the information in 2018.
Saying that the date is before, after or about all amount to guesses not "documented facts" A documented fact would have an actual date with a source for said date. A date that is at least 50 from the actual date years will never be a fact in my book.
I agree with Bruce. IMO an "after" date is not a wild guess but showing that there is a fact that shows that the person lived on the date that was put in the field.
Let me give you an example of one of my oldest direct ancestors: On the profile I linked as source to name him as the father of my ancestor there are neither given DOB nor DOD. The only fact I had was that his son was born in 1645, so he must have died the earliest in 1644. At first I didn't put in ANY date in his profile. Then I found him on the profile of a distant relative as sponsor of a baptism in 1654. So he must have lived still in 1654. But this is the only fact I have about his death date. It must have been AFTER 1654. I can't deliver any more educated guesses about when he died. And that's why I put in as DOD "after 1654".
A lot of older profiles (and more the older they get) have dates that are only known from them being mentioned in some document either as still living or as already dead. A lot of early genealogy addresses that with "found living" dates. We don't have that "luxury" in WikiTree, we only can use before and after dates.

Jelena and Helmut, these profiles were for people born after 1900 in the United States and actually you can mark a date as uncertain and that adds the word about to the date field.

The death dates for most of these profiles was easy to find and they were, for the one's I found, well before the date the profile was created.

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