Another questionable use of the label black sheep?

+17 votes

And there are a whole set of others who could be potentially be awarded the same label as part of the subproject.

Spies...possibly though only with a loose defintion in some cases but Black sheep no, lndeed it seems to me offensive to call women like  Violette Szabo  ( and potentially Harriet Tubman, Edith Cavell and many others )Black Sheep.

 I  cannot see how it can apply to Julia Childs whose work was working for her government monitoring classified information; by that reasoning, the whole personnel of Bletchley Park during WW2 were black sheep.

Perhaps the the black sheep project should only apply to those who were convicted/accused by their own country of treason. Though even that could be problematic; I would  also hate to see labelled a Black Sheep

in Policy and Style by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (397k points)
I would agree with you Helen. Whether someone is a spy, traitor or hero is highly subjective depending on the national perspective of the person viewing a profile.
Bonhoeffer: you couldn’t have picked a better example for me, Helen. He’s a hero in my circles.
I absolutely agree with Helen.  The Black Sheep project seriously needs to review this category.
To me it seems odd to have  spies and traitors put together in one category.

6 Answers

+15 votes
Best answer
Beauty is in the eye of the is the subjective matter of if someone was traitor or a hero.  In the United Sates George Washington is a hero while many English would have him labeled as a traitorous rebel.  Who is right? The thoughts of where to put Torquemada or Tito boggles the mind.

I don't like the concept of the Black Sheep Project.  Too easy to make opinionated decisions on who is what.  They should be Notables if their fame or infamy is of a degree they are mentioned in historical literature.A sub category in Notables should be sufficient with a description of why they are Notable in their Biography.

While I am not the most Politically Correct person on this planet, I feel a Black Sheep Tag is almost akin to a slur.  Don't judge history through the rose colored glasses of the present.  History belongs to the ages, not just to those presently living.
by LJ Russell G2G6 Pilot (196k points)
selected by Helen Ford
Well said LJ.
History is written by the victors.
+12 votes
After reading Violette Szabo's amazing biography (linked at top of the question), I want to add my voice to Helen and Lynda - she was certainly anything but a "black sheep".  She clearly belongs in both the Notable and Holocaust projects, having spent the end of her life in a Nazi concentration camp.

I think that the Black Sheep project needs to rename its subproject Spies and Traitors to something like Perpetrators of Treason or perhaps just plain Traitors.  Of course, an examination of all the profiles currently in that subproject is needed to weed out those who do not deserve the dishonor.
by Gaile Connolly G2G Astronaut (1.0m points)
+7 votes
Helen, it may be just the women who get the pejorative label...after all, male spies are courageous heroes.
by Robin Anderson G2G6 Mach 4 (40.7k points)
+4 votes

The Spies and Traitors Project page describes their mission as follows:


This project is to highlight the profiles of those who lived a secret life as a spy.

They spied for their country as a patriot or against their country as a traitor.

  • A spy is a person who secretly collects and reports information on the activities, movements, and plans of an enemy or competitor.
  • A traitor is a person who betrays a friend, country on principle.

There is no intent to cast anything negative on these people from what I can tell.

The reason it seems like there are more women with this category is because they are actively working on getting Female Wartime spies onto WikiTree. They are working off a list on Wikipedia of Female Wartime Spies.

by Susan McNamee G2G6 Mach 6 (60.7k points)
I guess I don't like the term Traitor along with the term Spies.  Perusing the WIkiPedia page supplied, I noticed that of the 10 or so women I chose, they all seemed to be on the side of the Allies or winning side when involved in other conflicts.

This is an international site and as such, a place of many ideologies and beliefs.  Some who are viewed traitorous by one group may be a freedom fighter by another.  I have no problem with someone being tagged as a spy, this is what they did.  It is the subjective term of traitor I have problems with.

Ethel Rosenberg was a spy for the U.S.S.R. and deemed a traitor to her country, the United States.  However, as she passed the secrets of making atomic weapons to the U.S.S.R. and permitted them to take a leap forward in creating their own atomic weapons, she would be considered a Heroine of the State.  So which is she....heroine or traitor or just a spy for the needs of this site?  Making a judgement on this to me borders on xenophobia, for either choice of heroine or traitor.
But then if they were on the "winning" side does that not infer a losing side that from their viewpoint that person would be considered a traitor?

If my ancestor killed some Natives (indians) near their home he may have been a hero to that community, but an evil murderer to the Native community that was attacked

Until all can get along with one another and we do not have conflict there will be those looked at two ways from two sides
Susan. I read the definition and have no problem with the definition of spy . I do find it distasteful to label people who died, especially in war time, for their country as black sheep .The term is, to me  perjorative and quite distasteful.

 As others mention how we view such  individuals depends upon our viewpoint. We are an international site with very varied viewpoints, surely we should use neutral labels and refrain from causing offence. I do believe that the Black Sheep project should review parameters used for defining someone as a black sheep.

 I was going to link to the original parameters and caveats for the 'International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists'  which also restricted those applying the label to direct descendants.(Violette Szazbo has  living close relatives who could be distressed by the label)  The society appears to have disappeared and the links no longer work.
+6 votes
Just seen this. I'm shocked. Ask yourself what would Violette feel if she could see she was labelled as a Black Sheep. Spies and traitors should not be grouped together. Anyway traitors from one country can be heroes in another. Not sure Violette was a spy anyway, (wasn't she SOE?) but I haven't read up on her lately. I'm not entirely happy that there is a Black Sheep project.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (294k points)
+9 votes
I don't know how others define Black Sheep, but my view is that a Black Sheep is someone who does something, usually of a non-criminal nature, that causes some degree of embarrassment for his/her family.

The Black Sheep Project bases its work on the definition used by a support group that defines those who commit criminal acts as Black Sheep. To me, they are not Black Sheep; they are Notorious and/or Infamous.

Often, the moniker Black Sheep is used affectionately and even proudly. I don't like the idea that WikiTree members would condone viewing criminals in this way.

Perhaps the Black Sheep Project should change its name or change its focus.
by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (232k points)

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