Our Royal, Titled, Noble, and Commoner Ancestors & Cousins - why are we allowing people to use this?

+13 votes
As I run early modern lines back to the Medieval period, I keep hitting profiles, often protected ones, that seem to totally rely on this website,


This site is just bad. It repeatedly claims to use Douglas Richardson as a source, but every time I try to verify it, I discover that it substantially misrepresents what Richardson says, and a lot of stuff on it simply isn't sourced at all, flagrantly contradicting primary and academic-quality sources that are easily accessible to a simple google search. With the Euraristo project (and others) going around protecting these website-cloned profiles left and right, it's quite difficult to get anywhere cleaning these things up. This isn't just once or twice this has happened, but these dubious project-protected website-copied profiles keep turning into Wikitree brick walls. This site is NOT GOOD. Please do not use it.
in The Tree House by Living Buckner G2G6 Mach 5 (57.0k points)
There's another thing that happens with this all the time, which is that people take info off of the website and copy its references without checking them. In academia, this practice of using secondhand references is strongly discouraged, for very good reasons. Especially with something like this when it's not academic quality material, it is very, very common that the person writing the website is very careless about what data is actually supported by the source. There's a tendency in amateurish work like this to just use the authority of the reference to make things look good, while "estimating" and "guessing" a lot of unsupported facts along with it. I realize that sometimes it's not possible to check all these sources, especially when it's an expensive proprietary reference like Richardson, but when your profile relies entirely on some website, you really need to verify it. I don't think I'm saying anything new here when I point out that "I found it on some genealogy website" is rarely something that builds a lot of confidence.

Hi Ben! The Magna Carta project has a maintenance category because of Lewis's database. When adding, it's asked that what's needed be added also, and one of the examples is

  • Check for date of marriage, given by Lewis with citation of Magna Carta Ancestry Vol. II, p. 298-299

The database is great for leads, but the style used for footnoting is a problem. He piles up all the footnotes at the end of a phrase or sentence, and sometimes the only fact from Richardson is the person's name.

Fun to look at - never to cite though - some of the entries are a mess

2 Answers

+6 votes
Hi, Ben -- four comments!

First, I think we are creating very few new pre-1500 profiles, and when we do there is a very high bar of credibility required.  Only pre-1500 certified people are authorized to create new pre-1500 profiles, so I don't think there is an issue of the use of tertiary sources like Marlyn Lewis's site.  I wouldn't create a profile if I had only Lewis's say so, and if he referenced Richardson, I'd go to Richardson directly;  even if you don't have Royal Ancestry, Magna Carta Ancestry contains a lot of the same material and can be found online.

Second, there are a huge number of existing pre-1500 profiles with no or rudimentary sourcing.  These are an ongoing effort to gradually improve profiles, and they are a collaborative research effort.  So if I encounter a profile that only has material from a Gedcom linked to an ancestry link that no longer works, and if I find material on Geni or Lewis's site that can help make sense of this person, I add it. With inline sources so that you know where every single fact came from. That makes it a better profile than it started out.  Sometimes  I find profiles with a birth date in the data field and nothing in the bio, and sometimes I put the date in the bio with the citation "Wikitree Data Field, not otherwise sourced."  Is that appropriate for a finished product?  Absolutely not.  But now you've got a flag that at the moment you have no clue where that date came from and it's high on the list to get better data as soon as possible.  But maybe you only have an hour to work on that profile this afternoon.  You spend two hours on a profile and you leave behind something that makes more sense and any reader knows where the facts came from and therefore which ones are likely to be unreliable and need to be replaced.  It's nice to aim for a finished product, but the fact is all we ever do is create better and better drafts with the hope that someone else will come along and make it even better.  

Third, if a pre-1500 profile is Project Protected PPP it's probably part of the Euroaristo Project or one of its sub projects.  If you're working within those project parameters the only thing a PPP prevents you from doing is changing LNABs and link relationships and merging the profile into a higher number than it already is.  So if you see a raw profile that obviously needs work, the PPP doesn't mean that work on it is rejected, simply that the project doesn't want the profile's LNAB changed or merged without consultation.  So I don't think PPP is the barrier that you are experiencing.  

Fourth, I experience some consternation over your use of the word "allow."  Yes, there are things that WikiTree doesn't allow, and there's an advantage to keeping these to a minimum.  I take my turn for an hour as a Ranger to monitor WikiTree and make sure that non-allowed stuff isn't happening.  But WikiTree is a volunteer effort, and it is one in which everyone is constantly learning.  I hope every single person who has been on WikiTree for a full year or more is a better genealogist today than they were a year ago.  But we're operating on a continuum.  Forbidding people to use a particular site, or to use material from that site that they felt helpful, as long as its source is properly cited, slows down both the individual learning process, and also WikiTree's efforts at "continuous quality improvement," to borrow a phrase from another field.
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
There is an issue, because I've seen many pre 1500 profiles (even recently created) that were created using only this website. In several cases, what they did was copy the alleged Richardson references out of the Lewis website without actually checking to see that they were really supporting the facts. This makes it look like they're using Richardson, but they're not actually using Richardson, they're using Lewis and taking Lewis' word for what Richardson said. Second hand reference copying is only acceptable under extreme circumstances, and it just doesn't work with something as dodgy as this Lewis site.

I mean "allow" as in "we, as pre-1500 certified editors, are supposed to have higher standards, and why are we allowing people with pre-1500 certifications to do this."
Also, I know what PPP means. I mean that many of these PPP profiles have totally bogus parent relationships that are directly contradicted by primary sources, and yet the profile managers refuse to do anything about it.
Ben, we "allow" because most of us would rather be doing genealogy than acting as policemen.  And because Lewis is an improvement over gedcom nonsense, so if someone adds some material from Lewis, with proper inline citations, the profile has been improved, and there's a better chance that the next person to work on it will be able to take that as a starting point.  I know when I do Advanced Google searches, the more specific the information I start with, the more likely I am to end up with really good online resources.  And the resource that wasn't so good helped me get there.

If you see a profile that is crap, perhaps the profile managers aren't pre-1500 certified and haven't taken themselves off because they still want to see what happens to it.  I've never been turned down asking to be on the trusted list of a profile, and I've worked on any number without being on the trusted list.  You also will see some really crappy pre-742 profiles of which I am the PM.  I have adopted any pre-742 profile that is orphaned to keep a non-qualified person from adopting it.  Some of them it may take me years to get to.  If you see one and my name is on it, and you have something to add to it -- go for it!  And if you want to be on the trusted list or be profile manager yourself, just ask, I'll be glad for you to have it!  In the end, there is only one reason that a profile is crappy -- because good work hasn't yet been done on it.  If you see a crappy profile, it's waiting for you -- or someone -- to do the work.  And each person will do the best they can, and we're all constantly learning.
+5 votes
Rather than policing we prefer to educate.  One thing we have done is to create a pre-1500 Resource page of sources.  Joe Cochoit has spent some time annotating the list.  So we direct people to please use sources that have been vetted.  If they find a source they think should be included they can send it to us and we will research it.  

There is a section for known frauds and it contains lists for sources to be avoided.  

There are a lot of knowledgeable folks who work to clean up the junk but I understand your frustration with people who continue to use second rate sources.  Often it is because they don't realize it is a bad source.  

Even people with "standing" often took payment to write fictional genealogies to link a family to royalty.  I have examples of this if anyone cares that was done in the Stirling line in Scotland.  Seemingly credentialed people were swayed by families of influence to make them look even more influential.

Forgot to add the URL to the resource page  https://www.wikitree.com/index.php?title=Space:Pre-1500_Resource_Page&public=1

and this is the page for frauds / fictional sources  https://www.wikitree.com/index.php?title=Space:Pre-1500_Resource_Page&public=1#Sources_to_avoid_.2F_known_Frauds
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (855k points)

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