Prioritizing profile information

+8 votes
I often end up in something like the situation:

I'm working on a profile for John Smith.  There was a William Smith who had a son John.  There was a John Smith who married Sarah.  And there was a daughter Mary born to a John and Sarah Smith.  

Each of these links from his profile -- to a parent, to a spouse, and to a child -- are genealogically sourced.  The problem is, there's not enough information in the sources to know that the John son of William is the same as the one who married Sarah, nor that that John/Sarah were the parents of Mary.  Dates/Places/Names fit, but there still need to be uncertain flags, especially with such common names.

I find the need to adopt a perspective when writing the bio:  THIS profile's John is Mary's father.  If I make such a decision, then I'd mark the marriage to Sarah and relationship to father William uncertain, but leave the relationship as father of Mary certain.  

But it would seem equally valid to say, no, THIS John Smith is the one who is the son of William.  Then mark the marriage to Sarah and relationship to Mary  as uncertain.

Or maybe the precedence is given to the marriage.

Every time this happens, it adds work to my thinking trying to decide which perspective to adopt, and I don't like added work.  But sometimes, one perspective ends up being more natural than another, for various reasons.

Is there a Wikitree policy saying to prioritize one "facet of an identity" over others when writing a bio?  If not, does anyone explicitly write in the bio, "This profile is for the John Smith who was the father of Abigail".  That would seem to disrupt the narrative to me -- I'd rather find some other place to put such language.  

Basically, my question comes down to, does anyone else obsess about this little issue?  Does anyone have clever ways to deal with it?
in The Tree House by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (306k points)
I am not even sure if I understand your issue. Why do you need to prioritise relationships? If they are correct and you want to write about them then do so. If you are uncertain you could maybe mention them in a research note.
What do you mean by "correct"?  I describe a situation where there are primary sources for three relationships. It's not that the sources are uncertain -- it's uncertain whether they refer to the same "John Smith".  If you assume there is a chance later evidence will show they are different men, so you will end up creating additional profiles, then which of those men is the current profile?  The father of Mary?  The son of William? That's the issue.
I read your question as being about prioritising certainties rather than about discussing ambiguities. Clearly I misunderstood your issue.

When I write a biography for  an individual in a similar situation, I generally say the relationship is presumed:

"John Smith is presumed to be the son of William Smith." for example.

Of course, I mark the relationship as uncertain.

If I feel my source documentation may be conflated, I add a Research Note to indicate that possibility.

As for any WikiTree policy to prioritize one fact/source document over another, I don't believe such a policy exists.

Most of us learn from experience how to judge our source documentation. Your choice of what information/relationship to prioritize will depend on the quality and authority of its source documentation.

If all my source documents were relatively even in quality, I would probably favor the more recent event over the older event. My reasoning is that documentation seems to become more standardized as we move forward.

5 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer
Yes I get your issue. The great thing about WikiTree is everybody can pitch in with sources for an ancestor.  The challenge of WikiTree, however, is that everybody can pitch in with sources for various ancestors, to the point that profiles for easily conflated individuals become mergeable because so much info ends up matching across the profiles.

When I am looking at a line with this problem I find it clarifying to prioritize the family group - which adults raised which children as offspring, heirs, and siblings to each other.  This approach is less about collecting vital statistics, and more about looking at census records and estate files to see how that one cousin out of the six all named after the same patriarch is related to his sisters-in-law and his nieces, if you see what I mean.  That can help with weeding out additional conflated relationships that an earlier genealogist was tempted to connect.

But that doesn't really get to the question of how to code these relationships in the WikiTree database when we start to suspect that relationships between family units isn't well-proven (i.e., this family group may be the direct offspring of this other family group from an older generation, but other plausible relationships between the two groups have not been excluded by the evidence).  

When the direct evidence of a generation's descent from the previous one gets thin I think it's appropriate to code the relationship "uncertain".  And Research Notes in the bio are under-utilized as a way to make a record in plain language of concerns you may have about the strength of the evidence for the lineage.  Saying what you have looked at, what you couldn't find, and what evidence would help you decide gives a great launching place for the next family historian to take a look at the ancestor, rather than them having to unravel everything from scratch.
by E. Compton G2G6 Pilot (197k points)
selected by Barry Smith
+5 votes
(1) If there is ambiguity in the narrative because of similar names you could add the id, that is Smith-123, in parenthesis after the name, for example, “John Smith (Smith-123) was named after his uncle, John Smith (Smith-456).”

(2) if all the relationships are sourced, why would you mark some uncertain?
by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (666k points)
The uncertainty is that the sources refer to the same man.  Sometimes, I find out I was wrong.  i.e., If Mary Smith was my ancestor, and I was working backwards in time, I may find her birth record that lists father John Smith.  Fine -- I create John's profile and mark the relationship certain.  Suppose then maybe John's will said his wife was Sarah, and I find a marriage record for a John Smith and Sarah Jones a year or two before Mary was born in the same place.  Aha.  But there's no guarantee it's the same John Smith.  Maybe I find Sarah already has a profile, so I link John to it as spouse.  But it needs to be uncertain, because there's no guarantee the father of Mary is the same John that married Sarah.  Generally, I find the first relationship created to a profile is the one I use as the baseline for the person's identity, but sometimes that happens when I create a parent for a kid, sometimes when I create a child for a parent, and other times when creating a spouse.

Generally, I find the first relationship created to a profile is the one I use as the baseline for the person's identity

I agree with and also use this approach.

+7 votes
I, too, am confused as to what you are trying to achieve. The Bio should be the life of the person. The lives of his/her children would be in their profiles. Keep the Biography section about the person for the profile. If there is explanatory material, I would put that into a == Research Notes == section. Then it is out of the flow of the narrative.

It also sounds like you are trying to do what is called a genealogical proof for some of them. That should be pulled out of the narrative so that it reads smoothly.  A proof also goes into a research notes section.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (549k points)

I agree with Doug's answer, that the uncertainty that each individual is in the correct family unit should be explained in one or more Research Notes.

As you indicate, Barry, source documentation is needed to bridge the gaps from John, son of William, to John, spouse of Sarah, to John, father of Mary.

They may all belong to the same family unit, or they may belong to 2 or 3 different family units. Until you can determine how many family units exist within these profiles, you can explain the possibilities in Research Notes.

+8 votes
In practice most people look at everything from the direction of themselves.

When deconflating, this usually means that the profile stays with the kids and the parents get detached.

And if the parents did have a child of that name, nobody recreates that profile, because nobody's interested in them any more.

And when children are Uncertainly attached to parents, there's no indication at the parent end.

In fact the children on profiles are often a complete mess - bogus, duplicated, out of order.  And often there's an odd one from the wrong century.  But nobody cares about all the kids that came in with the gedcoms but don't have descendants connected.
by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (645k points)
I work on a lot of profiles of people who aren't my direct ancestors.  Sometimes I'm working down toward more recent cousins.  So for me, "the direction of myself" isn't necessarily through the kids.  Sometimes, I don't even know a connection with myself!

On the other hand, I create the new profile of the kid in a situation like you describe so that I can note the earlier conflation in both profiles!

I don't like that there's no indication of uncertainty on the parent end, but I've suggested that be changed before and nothing came of it.

I spend a lot of time caring about people that aren't obviously related to me, and I know there are plenty of others here who do the same.
+5 votes
Are you mostly referring to older profiles?  Because it seems to me after about 1850 there is usually enough information to tie family units together.  When a census has an entire household it's usually enough for a pretty good indication.  Birth and death certificates and baptisms also can tie parents to children and vice versa.

Now, I am in your same boat when it starts to get earlier - common names are the worst - here is a John Smith b. Netherseal 1798, here is a John Smith married to Jane in  Burton-on-Trent 1830, are they the same John Smith?

In my opinion, you can look at the sources on the profiles and still have a pretty good guess.  You know that there is a John Smith married to Jane Smith, so that is certain.  Birth in this case is less certain and can be marked as "uncertain."  Also it could pay off to do more searching for sources IMO.

Common sense does a lot too.  People don't move around a lot - locations have a high priority for me over the years BUT this of course is not entirely 100% correct statement.

My main answer is you just do your best and keep looking.
by Crispin Reedy G2G6 Mach 4 (46.6k points)

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