Help:Disagreements about Certainty

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One of the most sensitive and central issues of WikiTree collaboration is certainty. When does uncertain genealogy belong on WikiTree, and what genealogy on WikiTree should be marked as Uncertain?

See Uncertain for the basics on usage.


Should you enter information on WikiTree without sources?


You should always cite your sources. Your sources may be derivative and the information may be uncertain, but you should always say where it came from. This is in our Honor Code.

Should you enter information on WikiTree if it's uncertain?

It's up to you.

There are benefits to adding uncertain information — see Uncertain — but they're mostly subjective. That is, they're benefits for the members who are researching and developing a profile. If the members working on a profile don't think information adds value for themselves or others they shouldn't add it.

Since whether or not to add uncertain information is "up to you", and since all WikiTree profiles are collaborative, this raises important questions about uncertain information added by others.

Should you mark information added by others as Uncertain?

Do not edit the certainty status on a data field without researching and evaluating the sources.

When you see a profile that only has derivative sources (see Uncertain for examples) you might be tempted to mark all the information on the profile as Uncertain and/or brusquely tell the Profile Manager to do it. Resist this temptation. :-)

As explained on Uncertain, information from derivative sources, unless supported by other sources, should be marked as Uncertain. However, this is something for the editors of the profile to do. If you want to help improve the profile by searching for sources and evaluating them, that would be great. See Communication Before Editing first, but don't hesitate to get involved and edit the profile. However, if you're not going to search for sources and engage in real collaboration, it's best not to jump in with opinions on certainty. It's a matter of practical courtesy. We work hard to create a productive and friendly collaborative environment here. This requires great sensitivity and care.

Does this mean anyone can add lots of junk genealogy to WikiTree and we can't stop them? No. There are many interconnected WikiTree policies that help prevent this, including:

  • No member should be creating or editing profiles based on derivative sources without also searching for original sources. See Research Before Editing.
  • No member can create or edit pre-1700 profiles without certifying that they understand the points in the Pre-1700 Quiz about genealogical sources and how to evaluate them.
  • No member should be editing profiles covered by a project without some communication with other project members. Although other project members can't simply say that uncertain information can't be added because it is unproven, they may want to discuss whether it's unlikely. See more on this below in the section on removing uncertain information without replacing it.

If you catch someone adding lots of junk genealogy to our shared tree, see Problems with Members.

Finally, note that if there are no sources for a profile, not even derivative ones, you're welcome to mark information as Uncertain and/or ask the Profile Manager to add sources. Even this, of course, should be done politely and sensitively.

Should you replace uncertain information added by others?

If there is more evidence for one set of facts over another, the information should be replaced in the data fields.

Ideally, we want the best available information in database fields, and we want all the evidence for and against all facts that have been associated with the person fully explained in the text. Explanations that debunk common myths can be especially valuable.

This may well cause controversy if you weren't the one who added the earlier information. See Communication Before Editing for tips.

Even though it can lead to conflicts, please improve upon information when you can. Resolving conflicting information is the height of genealogy collaboration on WikiTree. It's what our community is all about. Remember that the other member has also signed the Honor Code that says, among other relevant points:

II. We care about accuracy. We're always aiming to improve upon our worldwide family tree and fix mistakes.

Should you remove uncertain information added by others without replacing it?

Removing information that someone else added when you don't have demonstrably better information is especially delicate.

As explained on Uncertain, you can remove uncertain information added by others if it is unlikely to be true. However, if the other member is responsive and is trying to follow WikiTree rules and policies, just like you, do your best to reach an agreement with them. Don't just remove the information. Try to convince them that the information is highly unlikely. Show them your sources and discuss them, in a patient, friendly way. You both want the same thing: a profile that's the best it can be.

See Communication Before Editing and Resolving a Disagreement for tips. See Problems with Members if necessary.

Ongoing research or testing

As explained on Uncertain, speculative parent-child connections may be used as a working hypothesis for research or testing. A member may be investigating a certain scenario and be collecting information for or against it. They may be using WikiTree's rapidly-evolving DNA Features.

You should give a fellow member as much latitude as possible for this sort of investigation or experimentation.

Experiments should be described in the text of a profile while ongoing. They should be temporary if the connections are highly speculative. If necessary, the community will develop standards for how long they should last.

When the investigation or experimentation is complete the results should be explained in the text of the appropriate profiles, for everyone's benefit.

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