Same Sorry Situation with Sources

+18 votes

I'm so tired of having this conversation over and over and no new rule, suggestion or idea is ever forthcoming. It makes me absolutely crazy! A specific thing may be brought up and hashed out but nothing changes for the betterment of the tree.

First, a few days ago perusing my feed I clicked on a profile in my dad's name and ran into something I haven't actually seen before. Someone had, a few years ago, created a new profile with very little information.There were first and last names, maybe a spouse -maybe not, usually one child with very little information and no place names whatsoever. As bad as that is by itself, the profile was then summarily dropped (and for lack of any empathy on my part for the manager) it was left to rot! I kept clicking and found multiple profiles created by the same person with the same appalling lack of sourcing, information or concern.

Is there nothing to be done about the cavalier way in which new profiles are added to our tree without sufficient information, and then dropped like a lead balloon?  Some way to distinguish us from FamilySearch where anyone who knows their grandmother's name can add away with no responsibility for the quality of the work?  

Maybe if we added a rule that if you create a new profile, you must comeback to it with sources and a rudimentary biography XXX number of times over XXX number of weeks before being allowed to drop management of it or add anymore new profiles? Honestly, it breaks my heart that there is so little care taken, both for the individual profile but also for our tree.

Secondly (and this one -AD NAUESEUM!) I've gone 11 rounds with someone with a shared surname, (Phelps) who absolutely insists that blahblah' is a perfectly acceptable source. Even when I shared the latest Southern Pioneers newsletter describing in great detail the difference between an actual, attributable source and something that may have some useful information, eg. but could not be considered a source on it's on merit. It got to a point where I posted this to his page when he asked me not to remove any more of his "sources"!

"I removed the Ancestry source because it is NOT a source! A link to an unsourced tree where all of the information has been taken from other trees, does not constitute a source! Please read the correct description of a source here:"

Here is the response on my page:

"On sources, WT considers Ancestry etc. to be sources, even if they are not primary sources. Your link is a newsletter and uses definitions used by Genealogy research papers."

[Obviously, it's a newsletter and the definitions are for SOURCES that's the topic of the conversation. Why does the definition become a problem because it's identified with research papers? That just makes it good scholarship!]

"This is a good example why a linked Ancestry source is useful. After  [sic] re-inserted it, I went to the link and found that I had either mis-typed [sic] the POD or the Ancestry source owner had changed it. OTherwise, [sic] It would have been harder to track down and I would not have been able to correct it."

I'm at my wits end. I realize I cannot slay all of the dragons by myself, and I'm more than a little bit loopy from post-op narcotics, but please, isn't there something to be done at the programming/coding level that would ameliorate this kind of nonsense? In the last couple of months, I've added {{unsourced}} to more profiles than I can count, and it doesn't make me happy. I hate seeing those banners on my profiles, I can't imagine anyone else especially likes them either.  And besides, it certainly doesn't help our tree!

From the "programming" end of things, I would think adding an (*) as a source on profile creation (yes, I've seen this many times), or any other of the limited "supposed" sources I've seen, could add a timed flag that would not allow the PM to create new profiles without doing something on those they're already responsible for. 

Could we make it mandatory that a new Wikitreer must demonstrate their knowledge of using RootSearch to go to FamilySearch, find the sources and add them appropriately? I'd never heard of FamilySearch before I started working on Wikitree, and in hindsight, I desperately wish someone had explained its' use to me. At that point, I'd been researching for over 10 years on Ancestry, and had no idea how badly sourced some of my profiles were. Truly, it makes me cringe to think about it, and I'm still "cleaning up" some of the junk I added.

Am I being unreasonable? Beating my chest standing on a soapbox, or any of those other obnoxious things people do when they're frustrated? I really and truly am flummoxed! 

This reminds me a little of the Climate Change debate; putting your head in the sand or repeating something that's untrue or proven to be questionable, over and over again, does not change the facts of the science or the actual truth of the matter, even if it's something you don't want to believe in.

WikiTree profile: Lisa Linn
in WikiTree Help by Lisa Linn G2G6 Mach 4 (42.5k points)
edited by Lisa Linn

I actually changed my attitude towards this issue, because at first I did not understand that the actual cause is WikiTree's own attitude towards it because of the WikiTree image it is upholding. Somehow somewhere somebody decided that having X% Unsourced profiles on WikiTree is bad for the image, as such the WikiTree Management support for the definition on the main Sources page of a source A source is the identification of where you obtained information. This means that the Unsourced template can be removed from a profile with any source thinkable as well as the creation of profiles with any source thinkable. Obviously this does have a bit of a negative effect when it comes to the creation of profiles but hopefully the duplication prevention mechanism will catch most of that. Keep in mind, WikiTree is not a democracy although input from the members carry its own value for consideration by WikiTree's Management.

Just forget the issue and try to live with it. It is the way WikiTree's management wants it. WikiTree's image is more important. Little joke. Edited by 658,630 genealogists from around the world. 145,010 members have the Honor Code Signatory badge that means only 145,010 members can have the Genealogy badge! Lets call the rest Non-Wiki Genealogists! 110/100! ☺

clarification question: is the person simply adding "" and nothing else as a source? If so, then you're right, that is NOT a source.  It's like saying, I got this from the library.

Louis, it's possible that this person you're dealing with would benefit from working with a mentor. Consider filing a mentor intervention request.
Jillaine, MIRs would just artificially blame members for WikiTree's policy. I've made my peace with the sources policy. Easy, just shrug it off, don't give a s**t until WikiTree decides to.
Louis, I'm a volunteer mediator here and I see all MIRs that come through. MANY of them involve helping people understand that "" or an unsourced family tree are insufficient-- especially for pre-1700 profiles.  So the policy that I see being enforced is against such sourcing not for it.

Jillaine, that is wonderful to hear that you are willing to give up your free time to help others. Thank you. I've been around WikiTree as long as you have, so lets not beat around the bush with references like "especially for pre-1700 profiles"

I never once referred to pre-1700 profiles which we all should know by now have special rules. 

This is about genealogy and the definition of a source and how that definition came about. It should not even happen that a mentor be involved to explain a source. The confusion is being created by the definition of a source. Telling especially new members that it is just fine to add any source as long as it says A source is the identification of where you obtained information . We are mostly adults on this site but some days it feels that we are being belittled by WikiTree. (I don't know how to better express that in English)

What I am trying to say is you cannot have a definition and then require mentor intervention to tell you that definition is wrong. Are you getting what I am trying to tell you in this bad English?

Louis, your English is fine. I just don't perceive the problem the same way you do.  Yes, we define a source as where we found the information. That is not contradictory to helping people describe and judge the quality of where they got the information from.

I do agree that the way we use the Unsourced template can be confusing (and contradictory of the definition of a source ) but I think that is a separate issue from what Lisa originally raised.  Mm... but perhaps that is at the heart of it for you and you do not see it as a separate issue.

(And Lisa, I realize my suggestion to request a mentor for the person you're struggling with should have been addressed to you, not Louis. My apologies.)
It's fine, I understand. Sorry to have bothered you with what I see lies at the core of most friction interactions on WikiTree - in my experience.  As I said, I gave up so just forget it.

13 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer
You can't control others, so lead by example instead. Be the change you want to see. I am focusing on making sure my profiles are the best they can be. If I find a relative already has a profile on WikiTree, and it is poorly/incorrectly sourced, then I fix it by adding correct information with proper sources. Sometimes this ruffles a few feathers, but if I have my sources correct then I have the upper hand. I get satisfaction out of improving profiles. To me this is what a collaborative tree is all about.
ago by James Knighton G2G6 Mach 1 (15.2k points)
selected ago by Stu Bloom
+16 votes
I hear you, Lisa. I spend a lot of my time improving profiles that other people have added especially the unsourced ones, and I do it without asking whether the profiles are orphaned or not. Sources in my part of the world are really easy to find. My latest lot just had “Family Sources” as the source. Sadly, I ended up with a duplicate because a death date was incorrect. (The probate file I found on FamilySearch contained the death certificate which showed three marriages and ages of all live children too!) Occasionally I come across a great profile of a very ordinary person. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could honour those profiles in some way?
by Fiona McMichael G2G6 Pilot (125k points)
+4 votes

Maybe if we added a rule that if you create a new profile, you must comeback to it with sources and a rudimentary biography XXX number of times over XXX number of weeks before being allowed to drop management of it or add anymore new profiles? Honestly, it breaks my heart that there is so little care taken, both for the individual profile but also for our tree.

That rule exists. You cannot add a new profile unless you add a source, or you check the box to return within 24 hours to add sources (if you don't AFAIK WikiTree+ marks them as unsourced) or you check the box for "unsourced family tree handed down to profile creator". The unsourced family tree unfortunately doesn't create an automatic {{Unsourced}} template. 

And (ad nauseum from my side) IS an ACCEPTABLE source if you quote the SOURCE. If you quote a TREE without quoting the source it gives it is not.

It is good that you add the {{Unsourced}} template because that way the unsourced profiles are added to the unsourced lists which the sourcerers work on to find sources for. 

by Jelena Eckstädt G2G6 Pilot (300k points)
edited by Ellen Smith

Jelena, I appreciate your comments and take on this, and as I said, maybe it's just post operative meds, but I'm feeling "done" (mic-drop).

I certainly agree with you about the rule that's already in place. The problem is with what should happen when nothing is added or done to the profile. There is nothing to give it teeth for correction I also agree that can be a source -if you cite the source on Ancestry! You may not be able to see a link but written correctly, is a perfectly good source , eg. 

1820 U.S. Federal Census; 

Name: Lucy Emery

Home in 1820 (City, County, State): Salem, Rockingham, New Hampshire

Enumeration Date: Aug 7, 1820, 1820 U S Census; Census Place: Salem, Rockingham, New Hampshire; Page: 16; NARA Roll: M33_60; Image: 21

Of course we'd all like a clickable link for our own verification, but if you can't get that elsewhere, then write it out! It has now become a viable source. Just putting in is not, and never will be a source.

Jelena: if a profile has 'source to be added by xxx by such and such a date' - and xxx doesn't return to add a source, the profile will not get {{Unsourced}} added to it by WikiTree+.  It takes a human to add that.

That's one of the ways people 'prep' for the Source-a-Thon - by going round and adding {{Unsourced}} to otherwise barren and neglected profiles.

I already saw profiles with the unsourced template 3 days after the 24 hours were over, and not only in preparation for the Source-A-Thon. That's why I thought that WT+ would do that automatically.
WikiTree+ is a search engine which is used by the Data Doctors Project to produce Suggestions (and by other Wikitreers to run searches).  It can also produce reports.

It does not add anything.  You are probably thinking of EditBot, which is a script which can add things (say, a category in bulk).
+11 votes

Sorry, Lisa, I disagree and think it is an error to remove anyone's research or sources. This is properly covered in the Honor Code.  We add our Sources for information. The first line in the Sources section of the Help files says, "A source is the identification of where you obtained information."  It does not delineate primary, secondary or tertiary sources.  It is where the researcher found the information, and it sets WikiTree apart from other internet websites.

This rule enables us to readily see when a poorly sourced profile needs more improvements.  It is a wonderful thing to contribute better resources to a profile, but we should never delete another person's work, even if it is wrong.  If it is wrong, we should add a === Research === section to the Biography and detail with sources what the error is.  In this way, we can improve the research on the internet rather than just the research on WikiTree. 

by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (492k points)
edited by Kitty Smith

Thanks Kitty, will you please explain what you mean in this sentence? 

Sorry, Lisa, I disagree and think it is an error to remove anyone's research or sources. This is properly covered in the Honor Code. 

I'm not seeing the connection. Maybe we're just talking semantics, but I don't think so. Removing does not mean I'm removing their research. And this is why I posted my concerns here. The fact that we can have this conversation when we've all read and signed the Honor Code, but still have questions, indicates to me that some kind of tune-up may be required.

I  sometimes feel very let down and misled by this very broad definition of what a source is. Citing sources and striving for accuracy were  the aspects that attracted me to wiki-tre.  I understood the word  source to refer to something that provided evidence  rather than a generalised dictionary definition .

If we stressed providing evidence  for our statements rather than using the lowest common denominator definition of the word source we might  have a slimmer tree but probably far less tangled and more accurate.
Though the Honor Code does not say, "Thou shalt not delete the research or sources on a profile."  I think the broad, unrestrictive wording in the Honor Code is followed by honoring the research of others, no matter their status as a researcher. So deleting the sources another uses can only hurt feelings, whereas adding additional and better sources is teaching by example. I try to never delete the work someone else has added because I would not like it if someone did it to the profiles I have worked on.

As I said, if an insufficient or incorrect bit of information is added to a profile, WikiTree is our opportunity to point out the error and add correct information on an internet scale.  We can then correct not just the profile, but hopefully the incorrect information floating around on the internet.  

As an example, I proved through record research and yDNA that a particular family were all one family.  For four hundred years, the connection was never even seen as one family, let alone related.  WikiTree has allowed me to show my proof and now the family is being properly connected on other websites.  

So I think of each profile as a repository for all the information known about an individual, correct and incorrect, good sources and bad.  In this repository, we can make additions, corrections and improvements as we discover them.

On another topic, I don't think we should be shamed into managing a profile we are finished with.  I often add a new person from a census record(s), add the record as my source, and orphan the profile when I have added all I know about that individual. This is the only way I can keep my Watchlist under 5000.  My hope is that someone that cares about that individual will adopt the profile and improve the beginning information I added.
Kitty, I believe you are wrong. We remove "wrong" information all the time, such as in GEDCOM upload trash. And there are plenty of G2G conversations to back this up. Otherwise there would be no editing of profiles and wild, overgrown biographies would continue in perpetuity.

Could be; I have been wrong before.  But I guess I missed the help index instruction on deleting information.  I have been out of the loop lately, and I try to take my guidance from the help topics.  

I don’t think overgrown biographies is a big problem with Smiths, my main research surname.  The big problem there is lack of sources and making sure the sources are attached to the right John Smith.wink

Thanks, Ros!

Kitty, What would you do with this if you found it in a biography?

File Format: com/rd?f=image&guid=0c88303b-db69-425f-88ff-64f7d237d3fd&tid=116421286&pid=140. PHOTO Scrapbook: Y. Format: com/rd?f=image&guid=72d3c03a-aeea-4e29-81ba-ae1cd2761584&tid=116421286&pid=140. PHOTO Scrapbook: Y. Format: com/rd?f=image&guid=e150d664-d18b-40c4-b8eb-f5932b9695b0&tid=116421286&pid=140. PHOTO Scrapbook: Y. Format: com/rd?f=image&guid=957ec0be-5c1f-4280-8ff2-9784b72c1ffd&tid=116421286&pid=140. Commonwealth war graves Reichswald Forest moved from Kenfield main cemetery 1947. PHOTO Scrapbook: Y. Format: com/rd?f=image&guid=a381d496-6fc3-42f6-a5c2-7e25435fc279&tid=116421286&pid=140. Commonwealth war graves Reichswald Forest Germany. PHOTO Scrapbook: Y. Format: com/rd?f=image&guid=e26f33fc-632e-4378-8cc1-db0dd3e64e25&tid=116421286&pid=140. Commonwealth war graves Reichswald Forest Germany 2. PHOTO Scrapbook: Y.

It belongs to a distant cousin and I cringe every time I see it. It came in on an Ancestry Gedcom and the profile manager has no intention of making biographies for the 1500 or so people she imported. 

PS I have deleted the soldier's name from the extract 


Yikes!  That is ugly.  If there is an active link, I would leave it alone.  If not, if it is just informational about file formats, I would probably force it down to the bottom of the biography.  If there is no active link, I might consider deleting it, but I hate to remove stuff from a profile because it might be important to someone, someday.

I hate to even delete LDS info from profiles.  Though it isn’t important to me, I know it is important to the person who put it on the profile.
That looks like a local file reference to me. What I would do is go search the net for the Commonwealth war grave at Reichswald and see if I could find a page relating to the person in question. I'd then add the link to that page, along with a citation. You can then delete the local file reference.
+12 votes

They're right. Ancestry family trees are a "source". It's just that often they are do not provide credible evidence or support for the genealogical facts of the profile.

I miss the days when, if you wanted to do your family history, you signed up for a Saturday workshop at the local genealogical society and they beat you over the head with "Evidence Explained" by Elizabeth Shown Mills. For whatever reason, WT largely conflates evidence and sources. I'm sure there are reasons.

That said, at a crowdsourced site, there are always going to be the more diligent and less diligent, the more experienced and less experienced. New rules aren't going to help that much. My blood pressure went down when I quit caring so much about other people and just did my thing. If someone really wants to leave a link to an ancestry tree, is there really any harm if you have also added credible, supported evidence?

by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 5 (58.7k points)
I think you've hit the nail on the head with "WT largely conflates evidence and sources". That is the heart of the problem, or at any rate the main source (!) of the frustration expressed in this thread.
You are correct in this matter and I can't believe we are still talking about it.  WT requires sources, but allows sources for fiction as opposed to requiring proof of factual evidence. Those of us who take to heart the requirement for "sources"of "facts" continue to be frustrated by the tolerance of the opposite,
+22 votes
It seems like something could be done to prevent the “Unsourced family tree” choice.  Within the space of two or three days I came across two new members who had each added about two hundred profiles over just a few days, all with that statement.  They had not come back to any of their profiles two weeks later.  What is the point of requiring a source when “I dunno” seems to be acceptable?
by Kathie Forbes G2G6 Pilot (134k points)
I just wish the “Unsourced Family Tree” choice would automatically add the Unsourced template. I know the template can be removed, but at least it would remind the profile manager that perhaps they could go and have a look for sources to back up the facts.
And while we're eliminating things, how about eliminating the "personal recollection" choice, at least for profiles of people who have been dead for a century or more? I regularly come across profiles for 17th and 18th century New Englanders where personal recollection is the only source.

And how about a gentle reminder email when the deadline tor the "source will be added by so-and-so by such-and-such-a-date" has passed with no changes made to the profile.
I agree to both of these suggestions.  It has always struck me as a little humorous and then unfortunate that personal recollection is used somehow on a 300 year old person.
The 'personal recollection' was an automated phrase used by the computer years ago.  It has since been discontinued, but of course (unfortunately) the profiles using it still remain.

Not so. I just added my grandfather's profile. One of the choices with which I was presented:

"Personal recollection of events witnessed by [[Bloom-1124|Stu Bloom]] as remembered 26 Nov 2019."

He died in 1936. i was born in 1946. 

Perhaps we could use Editbot to now remove those automated personal recollection entires?
My apologies.  I was thinking of the automated sentence which *used* to be added, indicating that the suthor had witnessed the events concerned (which were 300 years ago!).
Just a fyi -- the personal recollection choice does not show up for people if their dates are before 1918.
+14 votes

Lisa, I hear you loud and clear … and I agree that the state of sourcing on our tree is, for the most part, a shambles.  I also know how many times I've seen (and participated in) G2G posts about the dilemma … and I truly think dilemma is the right word for this situation.

When we talk about what are/are not sources, I think we can classify them in 3 groups:

  1. Grandma said so.
  2. Online trees (regardless of whether they are sourced)
  3. Records or work of respected researchers (as in published books)

Clearly, there is no question about #3 being a valid source.  I don't see much distinction between #1 and #2 in terms of credibility - neither is a good source, but the question is whether these are acceptable, not good.

As near as I can tell, WikiTree policy is that a source is the answer to "how do you know this?".  Sometimes a #1 or #2 "source" is the best you can find; maybe - hopefully - you or someone else will find a real source in the future, but at least this tells people where the information came from, so they can assess its dependability.  Other times, you know - for sure - that there is no way to properly document a piece of information, nor will there ever be, so no matter how unreliable, this is the best - probably the only - source there is.  As long as people are aware of where the information came from, they can make their own judgment about the validity of the information.

When we encounter profiles that are this poorly sourced, we can (a) write to the profile manager and ask if they can please provide better sources, (b) go and do the research ourselves and add sources that we find, or (c) reduce our stress by complaining about it here.  Please understand that I'm not being sarcastic - I think (c) is a perfectly good choice - there are lots of us - me included - who sympathize with the frustration, having been there, done that many times ourselves.

Bottom line - there really isn't any - I'm now thinking that what I wrote here is pointless, since it's been said many times before, often much more elegantly than I'm saying it now.  I'm now wondering why I'm adding it as an answer, since it really isn't one - at best, it's probably only worth being a comment, if it's worth anything at all.

by Gaile Connolly G2G6 Pilot (751k points)
edited by Gaile Connolly


I guess you overlooked the best possible source: Images of original

  • church documents such as baptisms, marriages, and burials
  • civil register documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates
Being Dutch I am very lucky: it is hard to not be able to find these document images for free(!) in any of the Dutch archives or on FamilySearch films.
Add wills, land records, court records, and other public documents to that list of the best possible sources.
Jan & Ellen, I intended "records" mentioned in my item #3 to include all these things, but it probably is a good idea to mention all the kinds of records there can be.

"Grandma said so" can be a valid source for some things: i.e., things for which Grandma could reasonably have first-hand knowledge, such as the birth dates and places of her children or the names of her parents. Is that as good as original documentary evidence? No, but absent that, it's the next-best source.

And sometimes, it's the only thing available. I have a 1919 passport application for my then-30-year-old grandfather that includes an affidavit from his mother attesting to his date and place of birth, and stating that his birth had not been recorded by the attending physician. That was good enough for the passport folks. And my mother's three siblings were all born in the Philippine Islands, where her parents were serving as missionaries; the records (to whatever extent there were any) were destroyed during the Japanese occupation in World War II. So my grandmother's extensive family history notes are the only source available.

+10 votes
Lisa, I spent my career in accounting and auditing, and the auditor in me says a source should never be removed.  Even if it is a crappy source!  What is the next person who views the profile to think, if the profile is left sourceless?  If I found a profile that had an Ancestry source, no matter how incomplete, I would go to Ancestry and search for that person.  

Whether people should be so easily able to flout the "rules" is a different question.  I would also like to see them strengthened.  But the test should not be whether a person is able to use RootsSearch or FamilySearch.  There are many more legitimate sources than just those.

As a final comment, I will just point out that WikiTree has a constant tension between quality and quantity.  New users are sought, and they aren't all going to be great genealogists.  See:
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (103k points)

I like your reference to the "auditor in [you]," Julie. smiley

When I'm dealing with a profile that is "sourced" to Ancestry Trees, the Millennium File, and "Joe's Gedcom," I want to keep the citations to those sources in sight until the information either has been attributed to a better source or determined to be invalid. When researching questionable information, it often is important to know where that information came from. I never thought of this in terms of an "audit trail," but the analogy makes perfect sense.

+12 votes

I'm going to chase this one squirrel:

I've added {{unsourced}} to more profiles than I can count, and it doesn't make me happy. I hate seeing those banners on my profiles, I can't imagine anyone else especially likes them either.

When I started on WikiTree, I would do almost anything to avoid having the {{Unsourced}} template applied to any of the profiles I created or managed.

  • I used to put in "sources" like Wikipedia,, or family trees from other web sites1
  • That used to be one of the reasons why I like GEDCOMs so much: when you import a profile through a GEDCOM, the system doesn't apply even threaten to apply the {{Unsourced}} template. The mere fact that a profile was created through a GEDCOM import is [mis]interpreted by the system as a source.

Now that I'm older and, well, older, I have come to see my frenzied attempts to avoid having the {{Unsourced}} template on any of the profiles I manage as misplaced. The {{Unsourced}} template is not a mark of shame, or a sign that I'm a terrible person for having created that profile. It's just a statement of fact. It tells people that there are no sources on that profile. At least not yet. In that way, it's no different than the field for date of birth. Facts is just facts.

Better still, the {{Unsourced}} template adds that profile to the Unsourced categories, so that Sourcerers (or anybody else who's interested, even if they haven't formally joined the Sourcerers Project or any of the challenges) can see the need for sources, and add any they can find. So as far as WikiTree as a whole is concerned, the {{Unsourced}} template is a means to a very important end. By letting my ego drive me to use tricks to avoid having it on profiles, even those where it rightly belongs, I was actually harming the tree, not helping it. 

I'm still working to source profiles that I have created or adopted, but if anyone comes across one that I haven't gotten to yet, please feel free to apply the {{Unsourced}} template if it belongs there2. Don't worry about hurting my tender male ego. It needs to shut up and go sit in the corner until it learns to behave itself.

  1. Now, I still put them on, but I put them under "See also:" and don't count them as sources when I'm tabulating Sourcing Levels for profiles that fall within the One Name Studies that I manage. (I got the idea for Sourcing Levels from Paul Gierszewski's WikiTree Statistics page. For more details on how they work, see my response in this thread.)
  2. Or, better yet, add one of them there source thingies.
by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (287k points)
For myself, I don't add a profile (or assert a fact within a profile) unless I have a valid source. Without a source, how do I know it happened? And if I don't know it happened, why would I want to say it did? (I realize that this practice goes against WikiTree management's goal of gazillions and gazillions of profiles of whatever quality, but so be it.)
Greg - I used to get upset when someone added those to my profiles, but since I've opened up a bit more regarding collaboration, I find them wonderful. It reminds me that we're living in a great big Wiki all together, and that ultimately we're working towards the same goal - a fully sourced, connected tree. So if someone points out that I've not adequately sourced something to their satisfaction (and hopefully to mine, either), then it's a reminder or wake-up call to go out and see what I can do about it.
+5 votes

A very frustrating situation, Lisa.  I could add just a couple of thoughts.  One is to not remove their (non)source.  Similar to how we have an acknowledgements section and keep that information, we should keep the family tree information too.  I sometimes add (family tree) after that source and sometimes in the See also: I make it See also (family trees):  if that what's in there, along with the unsourced tag at the top.  That way you aren't denying their choice, but calling out the need for something better.  It avoids the insult (and possible defensiveness such as you experienced) and places emphasis on the need for primary sources.

The secondly, why don't we have a "suggestion" for unsourced profiles?  It would call attention to this highly important need.  It would make adding primary sources seem at least as important as checking data from almost always unsourced Find A Grave which IS on the suggestion list.  At least some people would spend their time looking for sources more regularly if it were more in their field of view.

Yes we have source a thons, though only periodically.  Yes we have a box on the top of your watchlist, but not any more important than the Family Search connection box which allows attachment of MORE family trees.

Fixing an unsourced profile is one of the most important "suggestions" we could have. 

by Cindy Cooper G2G6 Mach 5 (58.1k points)
We don't have a suggestion for {{Unsourced}} because we have a [Category:Unsourced] which is reachable with two clicks in the "Find" column. I prefer the way via the DataDoctor's project because there I can easily narrow my scope of Unsourced profiles to the ones I want to work on.
There are plenty of unsourced profiles to work on, which includes suggestions Empty Profile (802), Almost Empty Profile (803), and other suggestions under the category of Biography. I never run out.
+5 votes
Great post. I agree 100% with the substance of what you're saying.
by Ryan Ross G2G6 Mach 1 (18.7k points)
+2 votes

With very little distinction, almost every response here confirms my initial contention that "Houston, we have a problem!" So let's move on to the heart of the matter. What can we agree upon, and what can we change?

1) Can we all agree that writing "" is not acceptable? 

2) Can we agree that if said profile has only one linked "source" that reads Ancestry-Namehere you click on it, go to Ancestry, (assuming you have an account) and the ONLY thing you see under Facts is a tab that reads: Ancestry Family Trees. (Whether each of those separate trees has a source or not is irrelevant). Then that link also should be unacceptable as a "Source" in said profile?

I have to assume we have all seen non-sourced profiles, and personally, I don't mind doing some poking and adding of sources. Also, I have to assume the people discussing this are of the same mind. But when you see a handful (or more) profiles that have been created then dropped without any concern whatsoever, then my hackles rise. 

 3) Can we agree then, that there needs to be a way of flagging these poorly created profiles?

Everything I read tells me that we pretty much agree, yet nothing has changed. Why? Someone above pointed out where they'd seen over 200 profiles created in a few days time and the PM's just went one creating more and more source-less profiles. 

4) Would you agree that perhaps a tutorial explaining RootSearch and FamilySearch and how to attach those sources should be added?

5) How about a process by which there is a finite number of new profiles someone can add until the "Wikitree Gods" deem the person's abilities as a genealogist match their ability to process sources and place them appropriately on a profiles?

I think Edie has the right of it when she says: You are correct in this matter and I can't believe we are still talking about it.  WT requires sources, but allows sources for fiction as opposed to requiring proof of factual evidence. Those of us who take to heart the requirement for "sources"of "facts" continue to be frustrated by the tolerance of the opposite"

Another thing about Ancestry, I remember a year or two ago, I got schooled by someone who pointed, out in no uncertain terms, that Edmund West and his work, were not worth the paper they'd been written on, so I quit writing out or using those sources. 

Every day I learn something new about conducting proper genealogy research, I also try to pay-it-forward. Recently I added the {{unsourced}} to a new profile and the gentleman wrote asking my why and how could he fix it? I'm going to copy our conversation here in hope someone will see that what I did with this gentleman, could be done early on in the profile creation process and cause much less work, worry or headache than what we've been discussing here:

Hi Lisa,

I found information on about Elizabeth Howells after you flagged it as being unsourced. 

I don't understand why my mother's FTW program with most of the family tree on it is an unacceptable source. I've looked at lots of other people's profiles in the past hour and I've found shaky sources and "Information supplied by Jane Doe" sources. Most of the information I've entered is from my mother's family record, carefully researched by her, Howells-479, from the mid 1970's until her passing in 2013.  If I have to find records on for everything I enter, it will be a long process. 

I've read several Help pages on WikiTree since I received your email. It seems that if I properly identify my mother as a Source, it will be acceptable and my profiles will no longer be flagged. That's what I want to have happen. I understand from reading the Help pages that it would be a Derivative source, not an Original source, but is this Derivative source acceptable, or is it going to get flagged?


I was looking at that profile because I have Prossers in my tree -in Tennessee and I wondered if they were connected. I'm sorry that the unsourced banner upset you. And I understand, it upsets me too, and perhaps I shouldn't add it to other profiles. That being said, your mom's database is a place for you to get sources but you need to put together biographies and use those sources properly inline with the text. Here is the best example of my work on my grandmother's profile and it took many hours to do: That's how a well done profile should look and none of my other ones are as well done.

You're right in saying there are loads of profiles that are unsourced or poorly sourced, I think that's why I started labeling them. Usually, if I run into one, I'll do some searching myself and add something, like I did with the Family Search link. And yes, it will take  you a very long time to look them all up, but when you sign the wikitree honor code, that's what you agree to do. I'm still trying to properly source profiles I created when I joined -in 2015! I didn't understand the sourcing very well then either even though I'd been on Ancestry for years by then. The thing to remember is that even though they're your family members, the profiles are meant to be part of a one-world tree for everyone. That means the sources need to be verifiable.

As far as any other banners being placed on your family profiles, I won't do that, but eventually, the wikitree arborists, data doctors, or the wiki algorithm will flag them if there isn't anything else on them. I'm sharing a link with a good explanation of sourcing. It's the Southern Pioneers newsletter and if you scroll about halfway down, you'll see it. Maybe it will help.

In any case, don't fret, just keep plugging and I would suggest more sourcing before you add anymore profiles. I wish someone had given me the same advice when I started!

Thank you! Your reply is very helpful. Thanks for using lots of words to explain. I appreciate it.

Closing statement:

Something needs to change or the tangles will be impossible to sort. It's awesome that so many people are flocking to WikiTree, but we need to keep site of the shape the tree is in or it will die.

by Lisa Linn G2G6 Mach 4 (42.5k points)
edited by Lisa Linn
Agreed, Lisa. On your Number 5 - how much extra work would it be for the Greeters to just do a spot check on profiles when a second welcome message is posted? Could a link to remind these new members about the importance of sourcing and where sources could be found be posted?

You're right Fiona, and I'm still gob-smacked by the fact that none of the WT Gods have weighed in here.


As I re-read the whole post, I am struck by the answer given by the gentleman who contacted me about the unsourced tag I placed on one of his profiles:

I've read several Help pages on WikiTree since I received your email. It seems that if I properly identify my mother as a Source, it will be acceptable and my profiles will no longer be flagged. That's what I want to have happen. I understand from reading the Help pages that it would be a Derivative source, not an Original source, but is this Derivative source acceptable, or is it going to get flagged?

This a  n00b who wants to do the right thing, but because of this antiquated definition:

 A source is the identification of where you obtained information

he will likely continue to create possible dreck and think it's just fine.

I realize I am probably being pedantic, but that's what happens when you spend over 20 years of your life as an educator, and you feel that your "students" aren't understanding the concept you're tasked with teaching them.

Starting on Wikitree has a huge learning curve, I was shocked since I'd been working on ancestry almost ten years by then and found it confusing. Then there's the whole process by which we become full members on the site. I went back and saw this:

Good Lord! I'ts no wonder people skate by without reading everything in those pages. It's too much to ask. 

I hadn't considered it before but I'm going to put it out there now. I know our leaders work very hard to keep our tree working, free, and accessible to all. I am eternally grateful for their work and dedication. Maybe they don't have the time or don't see these posts, or don't have an answer? That's ok! Right here, right now, I am going to volunteer to help write the curriculum needed to open a WT account. Here we say SOURCES, SOURCES, SOURCES. Well when you get to an educational Master's level of any subject we say research, research- research! With that is implied rewriting as you go. That is part of the problem here. If I made a semantic mistake on a paper, and made the same mistake more than once, I lost points every time the mistake appeared. It seems harsh, but I'm a really good writer because of it. We can't expect anyone to have any specific level of understanding when they come to WT, but we can require that their membership includes their willingness to learn what is appropriate. It was mentioned earlier but bears repeating: "WT largely conflates evidence and sources". 

That MUST change or these conversations will go on and on as our tree becomes sick and unwieldy.

Please WT leaders, contact me, I will help put something together for n00bs that's not overwhelming, and scary. In the process, it should make it very clear what the different types of sources are, how to find them, and how use them properly. I KNOW there should be a way to code some of these changes that doesn't need a whole ton of extra work and prevents the creation of hundreds of profiles with no sourcing. 

Jillaine, suggested that MIRs could help clean this up, but SHOULD they? I don't believe that is how the tree was conceived, and it shouldn't be necessary to have a MIR at the beginning of profile creation or membership!  

Someone else said: I've made my peace with the sources policy. Easy, just shrug it off, don't give a s**t until WikiTree decides to.

I know the person who wrote that does not approach their profiles with the cavalier attitude it proposes. But also, it doesn't help the problem.

So, I'm going to: "Be the change"

Is anyone else willing to help?

Before you reinvent the wheel, join the England Project and take a look at their Orphan Trail.  It does exactly what you say is needed.

Or how about the 'New Member How-to' pages which every new person gets a link to?

Or how about the Data Doctor series of videos?

Actually Ros, I've looked at those things. And, something you should know: a good teacher NEVER reinvents the wheel! wink

I would start with what's already there, make it more accessible and write out directions. the DD's work is amazing, but try looking at one of those videos with the notion that you have no idea what all those code numbers mean -I was looking for something to send another n00b and just about ran out screaming when I saw what was (not) available to new members. There also needs to be some accountability for sources on new profile creation. If you have no source, a link to FS and directions about searching there, and copying the correct citation. If someone wants to work here, they should have the tools with which to do so correctly. I don't think jumping through a few hoops should be a deterrent, and if it is, maybe do the work elsewhere first. 

Ros, it would be great if every new member had to join a project and do something similar to the Orphan Trail. (It might work even if people were allowed to add profiles post-1900, but they could go no further without joining a project. Pre-1900, most people would be adding people around the great-grandparents level or further back when the “personal and family knowledge” is more flimsy.)

Lisa, I tried the MIR with someone who had made many hundreds of additions using the “Unsourced family tree” source. In places, there are wildly inaccurate dates and no locations. I have yet to see that person add a source, mentor intervention or not. I could source many of her profiles as I did a few where it intersects with my branch on the tree, mainly to show her how easy it was. I know there are errors in her branch. (I won’t do any more, and I’ve just mentally let it go.) I am currently spending more time sourcing other people’s profiles than creating my own, as in my locality, many families link. I see it as a labour of love for my ancestors’ friends and neighbours. I’ve tried to get involved in a project, but feel hamstrung (but that’s another story). Like you, I’m trying to “be the change”.
+2 votes
Lisa, in attempting to answer a new G2G question today, Dec. 5, I went back to this thread.  I was surprised to find a lot of new discussion.  For me this highlights another G2G issue--people can be notified when their answer or comment is responded to, but not when other parts of the thread are answered or responded to.  I wonder how often people miss out on additional discussion that they would have been interested in seeing.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (103k points)
Thanks Julie, I don't think I've ever posted anything that had the "teeth" this post did. That in itself should let our WikiGods know how much the issue vexes many of us. I know I can't expect everyone to work to my standards -nor can I work to theirs, but I know there are ways we can improve without sacrificing new membership and profiles. I hope that can happen soon, as things in my eyes seems to be getting worse. When one person can add 200+ unsourced profiles in a matter of days, we have a big problem.

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