Is this blurb on profiles from Norse mythology really appropriate?

+15 votes

The blurb in question says:

Relationships between historical figures could have been simplified or even fabricated in the text to give the impression that succession remained within the same family….Precise chronology is also difficult to assess from the Sagas….The conclusion must be that the tight family network described in the Sagas is unlikely to be correct and that the relationships shown below should be treated with considerable caution.

A Google site search tells me that the string "could have been simplified or even fabricated in the text to give the impression that succession remained within the same family" occurs 543 times in WikiTree. I have mostly come across it on profiles with the {{Uncertain Existence}} template (and those that don't have the template probably should have it).

Where an explanation of why a profile is in the Uncertain Existence category is needed, I think the explanation should be more specific to the case. Also, it does not seem very appropriate to use MedLands as an authority. Shouldn't WikiTree be mature enough by now to set its own standards?

WikiTree profile: Helga Helgadottir
in Policy and Style by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (590k points)
retagged by Maggie N.
Thanks for the "profile_improvement" tag, Maggie.
I'm not so sure about "norway".
I looked for at tag for "norse" or "myths" but didn't find one.
One of the reasons I tend to avoid any viking era norse profiles is that the ones that aren't just practically empty gedcom imports are bogged down with weird tags and texts like that, and since they're so prevalent I don't know what the accepted approach to them is.

(Another bit of text that stumps me is acknowledgment lists of the dozen or more people who originally created a profile of a person with a gedcom import. Is that kind of stuff really called for?)
I agree about your point regarding the acknowledgement lists.  That was automatically added to imports in the past, but mostly is useless.  I wouldn't mind seeing it used to acknowledge significant contribution to a profile, but then would you really want to add that yourself as a signature?  No.  As it stands, I mostly see it on orphaned, unsourced, or nearly empty profiles so that it looks more like the naughty list.
I agree it looks like a naughty list. It does serve the function to show that this is a much-imported and much-merged profile. When it gets as long as on some of the more popular Norse heroes it's pretty absurd - it could perhaps be kept, but hidden away / commented out.
A dozen+ managers on a profile (especially a poorly formatted one) ought to be enough of a giveaway about frequent imports/merges :)

5 Answers

+10 votes
I would say no.

I sometimes check the MedLand link for any information of the profile but most times the profile is not to find at all so usually remove the link. MedLands seems to build on the sagas anyway so I don't understand why not to link or add them as the source instead of MedLand?
by Maggie Andersson G2G6 Pilot (155k points)
I have seen that some of the profiles are categorized with "Ynglingasaga" or "Heimskringla" - I think the category pages perhaps could have a short paragraph about where on the scale between mythical and historical they might be.

It has to be written by people more competent in the era than me - ideally by a few good heads thinking together.
Added a few lines, further on perhaps a free-space page should be done with links to the books online and an explanation that is was written so much later etc ...

Let's see how much we can accomplish this time, I'm tagging along and helping as long as C has the energy to look up the profiles of Ynglinga saga. Sure beats doing a profile now and then which is what I used to do.
Glad to hear!

These profiles really do need a coordinated team to cover the competences and authorizations needed.
+12 votes

No, as you say, it appears on many profiles of mythylogical personages. Some of them are well known from sagas and some of them seem to be amalgamations of more than one 'person' . Once they are sorted out I agree that a better individual explanation is needed.

The same blurb is also on the profile of who was a very real, king .(even issued coins with his name on)

In any case, the paragraph looks to have been lifted from elsewhere with bits missed out.It doesn't really make sense.

I don't think we should  ever be using one secondary source blanket fashion though this is an odd case; the primary sourcs are the sagas. The main source the author cites for many of the Norwegian kings is Snorre which is the one C is using to try to disentangle these profiles. 

by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
One could say that the blurb is on "the old Norse mess" ;-) - which is mostly a legacy from the early days of WikiTree. Being Swedish (and a latecomer), it just makes me cringe - it's not the kind of genealogy I'm interested in, I don't want to feel obliged to clean it up. And so I'm very happy when people put energy into going back to the sources and trying to sort it all out, not least the amalgamated ones.

My purpose in asking this question was firstly to hear that it's OK to remove it from profiles. Secondary purpose to hear if there should be something instead - for my part I'd just say that referring to the sources (Snorre et al.) and having the {{Uncertain Existence}} in the applicable cases would be enough. But I would like to hear if there are other ideas.
I would agree--the text is a just an exceptionally wordy way of saying {{Uncertain Existence}}. And we have certainty/uncertainty Status Indicators for the data fields too. I'd put a simple sentence in Research Notes to pointing out that the info is derived from secondary sources that are almost 800 years old.
For anyone interested in the sagas as a source for genealogy, I would like to recommend an article written by Lars Løberg, probably the most widely aknowledged genealogist of Norway today. The article is named "Norwegian Kings and Vikings: Do They Belong in Your Family Tree?" and can be found here:
+16 votes
There seems to be some confusion about the use of "authorities" like Medlands or Douglas Richardson."   "Authority" doesn't mean that it should be used exclusively or relied upon unthinkingly.   The whole point of doing solid biogrophies is to do our own thinking, while employing everything that's been said before that we can lay our hands on.  Medlands and Richardson are solid sources which are far better than a lot of things.  But both of them are derivative.  If you're able to quote original documents, by all means quote them.  It is a good thing to quote multiple sources.  Medlands frequently quotes the exact line from the original documents that he sites, which makes it a very good source.  But no source is without errors.  

With these Scandanavian sagas, Snorre is of course the primary source.  But it's important to check Medlands and other materials to see if they have anything else to add.  And it's perfectly fine in a biography to say that Snorre says this but Cawley (Medlands) says that.
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
Yes, I understand that Medlands can be very good to "navigate by". I suppose that before somebody has had the time to go back to the sagas for an existing profile Medlands is good enough as a "placeholder source". I should think that it's possible to make references that point to the specific person at Medlands.

I don't have an issue with Medlands. I just don't think it's appropriate to borrow a blanket statement from there.
I think the blanket statement was used by Euroaristo a number of years ago when it was the wild west on pre-1500 profiles and, without anyone having the time to do any actual research,  they wanted a way to slap a label on otherwise unsourced profiles.  Whatever the explanation, I think that is over now.  I've come across several other general warning statements like that, and when I've researched and documented a profile, I delete that.
Good to hear, Jack.

I have suspected that it had a history like that - and I'm glad that it's OK to remove it.
Perhaps instead of deleting altogether:

"Medlands [or the site author's name] has astutely surmised that this profile is among Saga persons who may not have been just one person, but an amalgam of people used to construct a tighter genealogic narrative in retrospect." And then cite Medlands, MLA style.

That this applies to multiple, related profiles provides the novice reader with the opportunity to see that forensic, high level genealogy on this line is deemed impossible.
+7 votes
I recommend adding the categories you noted to the question. Also:

instead of deleting altogether:
"Medlands [or the site author's name] has astutely surmised that this profile is among Saga persons who may not have been just one person, but an amalgam of people used to construct a tighter genealogic narrative in retrospect." And then cite Medlands, MLA style.
That this applies to multiple, related profiles provides the novice reader with the opportunity to see that forensic, high level genealogy on this line is deemed impossible
by Porter Fann G2G6 Pilot (102k points)
Wouldn't use the word astutely. It is an expression of merit that the reader is being encouraged to accept.
+8 votes
Reading through the original question and the subsequent comments there are a couple of things that spring to mind.  As I'm still fairly new in the WikiTree game, please let me know if the below already exists or is done in some other way - or if it's been suggested and rejected before.  A clear process does, however, appear to be lacking judging by the other responses here and in the previous discussions I've lurked in, and the underlying root cause seems to me to be ambiguity in the use of the tags and what they could/should mean.

The blurb and its overlap with {{Uncertain Existence}} which ties in with one or the other being used for living people as well as imaginary ones.  The blurb gives "hope" that it "could be possible" that the relationships existed.  It is ambiguous and non-specific, and thus a fair waste of space and effort.  Unfortunately so is the label {{Uncertain Existence}} - there's nothing "uncertain" about it - if there's no solid proof or thorough research to provide a convincing amount of incidental evidence, then until such works become available, the profile should be marked with something that clearly states that the person is {{Not Proven to Exist}} (or similar).  This is specific enough to point out there's no proof.

This leaves us in a quandary about people who did exist but who have no known or proven genealogical connections. As a much more modern example, the father of a profile I'm currently working on has been included on WikiTree without evidence.  There are several other candidates for the part of father in this case, and it will become necessary to orphan the father as he has {{No Proven Ancestry or Descent}} (which could easily be treated also as {{No Proven Ancestry}} and {{No Proven Descent}}). The text in the biography should then address the alternatives and other interpretations.  But wait!  There's more!

One of the alternative fathers for the profile I'm looking at appears in secondary sources, some with fairly specific information.  They're not referenced and I do not have access to the archives of the Diocese of Gothenburg for the period concerned.  His existence has been called into question in other secondary works. I would say he is of {{Uncertain Existence}} and more research is needed.

With a clear and unambiguous set of easy-to use tags there should be no need for extensive apologetic blurbs. It should hopefully assist in making the process easier to understand, and will ensure that those who stumble upon WikiTree from Google are in no confusion over the veracity or accuracy of our work.

The second point that was raised below (I'm sure for the umpteenth time) was the use of authorities, and in specific MedLands.

MedLands is the work of a one-man-band, and based, ultimately, on Europäische Stammtafeln (hereafter ES) by Detlev Schwennike (now deceased). It's given additional authority by being associated with the Society For Medieval Genealogy, of which I'm a member. Their annual publications are worth the price of admission and hold a high, academic, standard.  MedLands, however, does not. ES being the core, means that dubious relationships from therein are copied over into MedLands (albeit marked as not proven).  Cawley cites sources in Latin and works much in the same way I would work myself, to be fair, however he is careless when working in languages other than his native English, and any primary sources he cites should be cross-referenced both in their original and in translation. MedLands is a great place to start and it's an invaluable source in locating the primary sources, but it is a source I would only reference in discussions about opinion or as a "See Also", never as a source of a fact. As ES is the base for MedLands, it should also be made clear that a lot of the material therein relies on old and outdated research, which a quick glance through the bibliographies reveal.

Both MedLands and ES suffer from the same problem - they're aiming at breadth in a subject matter that requires the researcher to go into depth.  And that's where WikiTree is far superior: with all the varied interests here, it's quite possible for individual researchers to go into the depths and still make a valuable contribution to an overall whole.

That's my 5 units of your lowest-valued currency. :)
by Matt Engdahl G2G6 Mach 1 (15.0k points)
Very good. You are pointing in the direction of raising the quality of WikiTree. As you know, it is extremely uneven today, so there's much to do both ends: eliminating the loads of conglomerated GEDCOM imports by "ancestor collectors" at the bottom end, and raising the all over quality of sourcing and interpretation at the better end.

The wording and use of the {{Uncertain Existence}} template has been discussed many times before - I haven't really participated in the discussions as I prefer to stay in the territory of people whose existence is verified by mentions in the church records and taxation records. You could probably find some of the old threads and/or take up a renewed discussion.
Thank you, Eva.  I suspected {{Uncertain Existence}} has been extensively treated before - I've gone back and looked at some discussions, but will need to dig further to understand the decision making process.  I'm all for clarity and removing ambiguity, ultimately, as it'll help users and casual visitors alike to make a better WikiTree.
In case you haven't found them, the current templates for this sort of thing are here:

Had to remind myself about the correct terminology for them.

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