A Domesday Book person: proposed makeover

+8 votes

I am not sure when I will get the time needed, but I eventually aim to make some major changes to this profile. I think it is good to post thoughts here in case anyone can give feedback.

It is not unusual that I do major clean up of a Domesday profile, and most of the types of concerns are also not unusual, but I post here both as an example case, to get things on record, and because the profile message board is already over-filled - showing that this particular profile has active defenders (which most profiles in this period do not have).

As a first impression: apart from the heraldry mythology there is also the modern fascination with his relatively common medieval name. ...But it is more than that.

In general the article is a cut and paste of poorly sourced story-telling, together with some occasional efforts to point out the existence of better sources. There is no room (yet) for real explanation of what serious historians have written. And serious historians have written about people like this, which is something we SHOULD take advantage of, and certainly not hide from our readers.

One reason for wanting to put a discussion here is the potential controversy. Major pruning is a must. It is always difficult to know how to improve this type of article in small steps, or in a "compromising" style. I feel quite strongly that wikitree has a long history of trying to treat every "theory" equally, which fails terribly in medieval profiles, every single time: 1. It causes extremely long unreadable articles and 2. In practice it does not LET readers understand what better published sources think. 3. It makes it difficult for editors to improve the article in simple edits, because any small additions without big deletions just adds to the mess.

I'll be a bit philosophical and even topical: To me it seems clear that by treating "alternative truth" as EQUAL to real historical research you always in practice promote the fake news, and repress the real research.

In case anyone is wondering, there are a lot of good sources about this person and people like him. Part of the practical issue here is that we can not currently fit them in both because of space and because they are going to disagree with what we have. This is why one possible way forward is even that I make the article on a "Space" page first, but do we need to go that far?

WikiTree profile: Urse d'Abitot
in Policy and Style by Andrew Lancaster G2G6 Mach 7 (78.3k points)
edited by Andrew Lancaster

Leaving the above as a call for feedback, I have already made a drafting page, which is probably a useful thing for other cases too. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Andrew%27s_drafting_page

That draft is now good enough for discussion. Anything missing? (That can be sourced back to medieval documents?)

Andrew this is good work but what I'm not seeing is any citing of medieval documents, apart from Domesday.

Admittedly the sources being used do cite original/primary sources, but if if we want to avoid comparing secondary sources and evaluating the strengths of each, then I think we should be citing the primary sources themselves where possible.

For instance Urse's first appearance in England in 1067 is mentioned by Loyd but he is citing Regesta regum anglo-normannorum, vol 1, no. 10, p. 3 where Urse appears as a witness, and if we want to go even further it is citing Hemmings Cartulary, where you can see a transcription of the original charter on pp. 413-414.

That's true. Ideally we should add those where possible, and I'll add that one already. More generally I have avoided adding footnoting at all yet, because this is still a draft page, and I might start doing several drafts at once on it, which will make footnotes confusing.

This type of addition can take the article to a higher level, but just to get past this draft page phase, do you think the draft now covers everything that should be preserved from the existing profile? In short, can we use the draft as the new profile?
Whaddya reckon John? Go ahead? I'd rather fix footnoting etc on a real profile.
I think you need to give more time for other people to respond if they want to do that.

I haven't had time to look thoroughly but I do think in a pre-1500 profile that is likely to be disputed that primary sources are a must not just an ideal situation that can be added later.
Yes but in this case:

1. We are currently breaking the normal procedure anyway, of editing as a community on the profile. Complex formatting like footnoting will need adjustments when we move it back. We want to get back to normal quickly I think? I see it as a temporary step, not just because I do not want to waste my time doing things twice, but because...

2. We are talking about an article which is poor enough that it holds up editing in the usual way. That is the reason for this special procedure. However, this is still not an answer really to your concern, so finally...

3. Luckily, we are talking here about secondary sources like CP, K-R, Sanders, etc, and so it is a matter of going to get those sources. I have already looked most of them in order to make sure they are all similar and that this is not a situation where they all interpret them differently. The article is not bad because of some underlying controversy.

4. Post finally, some background thinking of mine. I strongly feel that the articles which get stuck and evolve in a bad direction are articles which at some point had too much material added, not too little. Very complex articles are difficult to fix because we are all trying to avoid deleting something we can not understand. Too often we spend hours just to make sure we are justified to delete something. For this reason I generally like to err on the side of simplicity as we build up an article - always thinking about the aim of making it easy for future editors to add to and understand. I also try to avoid making articles my personal projects. I do not really even like the profile manager system.

So my priority is to make something better and something which is simple for the community to keep working on.

Sorry, I got philosophical. I hope this makes sense. For now my big question is "can we move this back into profile space"?
I have moved the draft into the profile. I don't think there will be much more feedback on G2G, but of course there might be more feedback and opinions and ideas for improvement now that the profile itself is changed.

The old version was clearly an unedited merge of at least three articles, so the article is now much shorter.

3 Answers

+8 votes
As part of your cleanup I would delete all the coat of arms images and those sections in the biography.  The earliest known coat of arms are the Matthew Paris shields dating from 1240 to 1259.  It is not possible to know the coat of arms of any individual in this time period.
by Joe Cochoit G2G6 Pilot (179k points)
Yes I agree, but you'll see from the page why I am going to start "tabula rasa". And this subject is not the only sensitive one. (You can also look at the speechs on the articles of the two daughters.)

Just as an aside I have read that there is evidence from this period of some of the first heraldic designs, perhaps mainly used in banners. Possibly the first family group to use a family design were the relatives of the comital family of Vermandois, including the de Warennes in England, who all seemed to go for chequy designs. But this is more like clan colours (not that I am sure they really existed in the way people imagine).
+3 votes

Andrew, responding only to the process part of your post, both PGM and Native Americans projects have had, from time to time, to create supplementary documents that delve into the controversies surrounding a particular profile or set of profiles.  For example:

"Genealogy" of the Sources related to PGM Immigrant Robert Hicks


Claim Origins - Troxel, Cornblossom et al

We felt we needed to go to this level of detail because people kept insisting on things that had been disproven or that simply weren't so simple to conclude.  And we needed to organize our response in a fair amount of detail.  

We chose Google docs because of its better functionality for formatting and commenting. We have used freespace pages for less complicated types of issues.  

ago by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (688k points)

Thanks for those examples Jillaine. In the draft I am doing now the level of information and controversy is not that difficult once you start building from the best sources, and I just wanted to start making a basic profile without having to fit with the old one. The pages you mention remind me of some other cases where I have also made at least one page to help us get a family correct. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Early_English_Bolebecs

+1 vote
Absolutely amazing!  Andy managed to hold off two whole days after the original post, and even after John had suggested he wait, to completely replace everything that was on the profile.  

He states on the edit "as discussed on G2G over the last week", but apparently he just could not wait that long.
ago by Rev Daniel Washburn Jones G2G6 (6.1k points)
Well, I would say:

1. I have never seen anyone take so many steps on Wikitree, before editing on one profile - at least for this period. I voluntarily have tried to move in a step by step way which is unusual. Keep in mind that in reality, efforts to talk about many of the things on this profile go back a very long way indeed. Years?

2. It would frankly be asking a lot of editors if this were ever considered normal. I certainly never wanted to imply that this should become the normal way of working. I made extra efforts because there are profiles like this which no one dares to change. Normally we edit straight into a profile, and it should remain so. Keep in mind that during this period I have been editing hundreds of profiles, many of which did not even exist, in order to fix-up and explain real baronial inheritances. Profiles like this are a painful road block to such work. They are connected to the whole family tree, and not islands. As I get further advanced in this work these profiles need to be cleaned-up and that includes their ancestry and descendants.

2. There have been no substantial evidence-based concerns raised and to be honest I think none are really expected? In terms of real facts and evidence there is not really much debate, and that was not why I was being cautious. Let's be honest. Your post is an example of why I was being cautious, and why people don't dare fix articles like this. On these profiles where someone has added a lot of story-telling for the sake of a family story, people fear pressure being placed upon them personally, to try to force them not to write in an objective way according to the best sources.

3. We can still change anything needed. This is still a wiki. Nothing is ever finished here, or truly irreversible. If there is something mistaken or missing we just need to now do it the normal way, in the profile.

4. I want to point out that though the article is now much shorter, this is not because it contains less information. In fact important sources and information are consistently being hidden from our readers on this type of profile, in order to promote various stories.
I actually like what you've put on the profile, it's really more about how you went about it, that bothered me.

I am not a "writer" admittedly, and I thought I was encouraging you or anyone really, to re-write the bloated Bio's that I had moved to the end of the profile so long ago.

I had already removed the images of the coat armor and the parts of the bio pertaining to same, and am doing so in related profiles. I believe I mentioned early on why they had been placed there, and had only recently figured out how to preserve and link to them, so no longer need to be there now. I believe the blurb about Urses' cognizance shield still belongs there, as well as much of what else was removed.
...but you did not give any comment on that when I asked and I think waiting one more day would not have helped?


1. I think the logical conclusion is that I worked too slowly and "politely" (by which I mean compromisingly). I can now see in fact that working slowly to avoid annoying people does not make much of a difference at all. I guess it is just inevitable, unfortunately, that if you want to fix some of the (in my opinion) biggest problems on Wikitree, you will annoy some people.

2. I am honestly completely open to any and all new sources and evidence you can bring. I promise, I'll change the article myself when you can do that. The issue about the arms was already however something several people had mentioned over a long period. It is one particular issue which therefore has nothing to do with my most recent edits.

Thanks for your compliments. It was a lot of work, and frankly that I did it one big hit on a Sunday (looking forward to a busy work week) was not, I suppose, all bad.

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