Post by Joe Post by email@example.com
Can the Wikitree enthusiasts point to any examples of pages which have attained the degree of quality that they are aiming for? I have yet to see a Wikitree page which I would rate any better than "marginally acceptable" (and very few even that "good"). The vast majority that I have seen are abysmal. Today, I went through some 1500's-1600's pages relevant to some of my published research. Some of them which clearly depended ultimately on my research (perhaps from a copy of a copy of ...) showed no knowledge of their sources. Some which cited my work cited it specifically for "facts" in direct contradiction from what I stated in my publications. One citing one of my TAG articles, which proved the parentage of an individual, cited my article as proof of the baptism, then gave a different parentage than the one proven by the same baptism (and old error of the type "well, the surname in this visitation is right, and the chronology doesn't look completely impossible, so let's attach him here").
I also checked a few pages for early medieval individuals that I have researched in detail. The news was just as bad there. The page for Brian Bóruma was awful, as were the pages for other early Irish individuals that I examined. Wikitree's apparent policy of requiring fake surnames to be given to everyone who did not have a surname certainly shows its ugly head on these pages. If you go to the page of Gorm the Old (which is bad enough), you can follow it to the page of his father, whose name was apparently <begin quote> King Harde Knud Hardeknute (Canute) "Canute, Knut" Danmark of Sjaella formerly Sigurdsson aka Sigurdsson <end quote>, born in "814" [with no indication of uncertainty for a date which has been fabricated out of nowhere, and is at least a half a century too early (and probably more) to be believable], supposedly in "Hord, Jutland, Denmark, Netherlands" [did Denmark get annexed at some time that I didn't hear about?]. Even if none of them had a clue that the place of birth of this individual (whose "uncertain existence" is actually acknowledged further down the page) would not be recorded (as is true for the vast majority of early medieval individuals given alleged places of birth on Wikitree pages), you would think (or at least hope) that with seven "profile managers" at least one of them realized how stupid all of this looked.
While I was working on the present rant, I decided to look up what they had on Cerdic, legendary ancestor of the West Saxon kings. As it turns out, Cerdic's great grandfather "Gewis Saxony" a son of "Wig Freawineasson" who was apparently a son of "Nfn Frewineasson" ("Nfn" is apparently "No first name"), whose immediate ancestors also bore the "surname" Freawineasson. It is pretty sad when they couldn't even copy Cerdic's fake ancestors from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle without producing completely laughable results.
Stewart, your interest and expertise are admittedly in an area of wikitree which is just awful. There are very few with the time and expertise to correct profiles from before the 13th century. If you tell me the TAG article you are referring to, I will see that it is corrected.
You have pointed out some good profiles, but it still doesn't mean a whole lot when the randomly chosen profiles that I examine are usually so bad. I went to the Wikitree start page, and what I saw was not encouraging. The first bullet point was "Our community uses DNA and traditional genealogical sources to grow an accurate single family tree." So, the minute a new person goes to the website, they are confronted with a statement that appears to claim (without any qualification) that their tree is "accurate." This is more honestly just stated as a goal elsewhere on the site, but seeing such a misleading statement right at the beginning does not inspire confidence that the managers of Wikitree are serious about fixing the problems. Also, the reference to "DNA and traditional" sources is troubling, because listing DNA first gives the false impression that they are emphasizing DNA evidence, which, despite its growing influence, is still used as evidence in only a tiny minority of cases of genealogical proof. Then, every individual profile is cluttered with a statement about DNA connections, along with a link to MyHeritage DNA, for which I assume that Wikitree gets a cut for each person so enticed. Other clutter (such as the "degree of separation" silliness) adds to the generally unprofessional look. Meanwhile, important information, such as "uncertain existence" (often a euphemism for "completely bogus") is provided where it can be easily overlooked.
One link that you find on the start page is for the "top contributors" of the previous month, where "top" is clearly referring to quantity and not quality. Last month's "top contributor" had more than 10,000 contributions during the month of March. That comes to more than 300 contributions per day. So, if you assume that that contributor worked on this for eight hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire month, that leaves an average of less than two minutes per contribution. Wikitree obviously encourages this kind of activity, because they give "1000" badges and "100" badges each month to those who contributed more than the given number of profiles that month. In March, there were 450 contributors with 1000 or more contributions during the month. With such a huge emphasis of quantity over quality, how can the relatively small number of improving profiles ever be more than just a drop in the bucket?
To all of this must be added the problem that any database approach as rigid as the one at Wikitree, as adequate as it might be for "ordinary" situations, simply does not suffice when dealing with more difficult situations. For example, given a couple of dozen confusing occurrences in the primary records of the same name, relating to several different individuals who have been identified by previous authors in various ways, with the resolution still being unclear (or disputed), a strict profile-based database system is more often than not inadequate, even if there are not additional problems such as cascade effects where different resolutions to one problem spill over into problems involving related families. Another problem that appears to be a result of too rigid a format is the huge number of false dates of birth which are in fact dates of baptism, and false dates of death which are in fact a date of burial or the date of a will or its probate. Of course, these are usually accompanied by alleged places of birth or death, which may or may not be correct. Wikitree is not alone in having this fill-in-the-blanks mentality, which is all too present elsewhere on the Internet. This is especially harmful for medieval genealogy, where unknown dates and places of birth are the norm, and is also true for most pre-1800 English individuals, where we commonly have dates and places of baptism and burial, not birth and death. If a person was baptized at parish X on date Y, I would hope that any competent genealogist would regard it as unacceptable to state that the person was born at place X (possibly false, and certainly undocumented, except for the rare case where the place of birth is given) on date Y (false in the overwhelming percentage of cases). The common substitute that the person was born before date Y, "perhaps" at place X (still a guess), is technically correct, but seems pointless to me, when the much simpler statement that the person was baptized at parish X on date Y is not only correct, but MORE informative, immediately giving the reader the context of the information available in the source. Such sloppiness is encouraged by having rigid "date of birth" and "place of birth" fields which cannot be adjusted to the appropriate context, but sit there giving people the subconscious feeling that they need to be filled in with something. Looking at the format of a typical Wikitree page, it seems to me that someone wishing to compose a decent profile is faced with finding the least misleading way to fill in the standard top matter (the stuff one first sees on the screen upon going to the page containing the profile), and then including the useful stuff where the reader has to scroll down to see it. This cheesy top matter often makes it difficult to identify pages having useful information among the hordes that do not.
Also, whereas I appreciate your offer to correct the errors I was referring to, I do not believe that it would be a productive use of your time. Of the articles that I have had published on immigrant origins in TAG or TG (most of them pre-2010), there are corresponding profiles on Wikitree from all of the relevant families having some combination of: (a) showing no knowledge of the relevant article, (b) citing the article specifically for a "fact" not appearing there, (c) citing the article but then making statements disproven in the article, (d) giving only barebones data despite obviously depending on my article (at least indirectly), etc. I seriously doubt that it is much different for other authors of immigrant origin articles that have appeared in those journals, even ones published decades ago, so there would be no reason to give my lines any preference. (As much as it irks me, my ancestors are accumulating false ancestries, retroactive middle names, and other alleged additional "facts" at a rate much faster than an army of genealogists could correct.) In my opinion, too many good genealogists are spending too much time at what I regard as a futile effort to "improve" a bad product that is already damaged beyond repair. The example of Wikipedia should be instructive here. If one considers all subjects and not just genealogy, those Wikipedia pages where there is a certain critical mass of well-informed contributors tend to be reasonably good. The rest are a crap shoot, mostly on the negative side. Such a critical mass is lacking for genealogy, because sadly, once they get a few generations back, most genealogy enthusiasts are merely copying and rearranging names, not doing any real research. There are many having the aptitude to do good genealogical research who never get there, in part because bad sites like Wikitree and their ilk lure novices into bad research habits right from the beginning.
As I have said on numerous occasions before in this newsgroup, I do not believe that any high quality genealogical database will ever result from the strategy of starting with a huge mass of mostly unreliable material and then trying to clean out the garbage. The best strategy for creating a reliable database is to have a reasonable quality control procedure in place FROM THE BEGINNING, and not as an afterthought. This might mean starting small, such as taking on a project that the available genealogists could complete in a reasonable time, or accepting submissions, with a qualified editorial board deciding what gets included. There is the inevitable problem of how such a project would be financed, and if it was for profit, how much the quality might be driven down by the bean counters (which seems to be a problem for all genealogy-for-profit companies). Of course, errors are unavoidable, but that should never be used as an excuse. It would be nice to have something like "The Complete Peerage" (converted to a linked html format) as a starting point, but there would be obvious copyright problems for CP and most other large works that would make an acceptable starting point. Any approach that works is also likely to cause ruffled feathers and hurt feelings, as some well-meaning enthusiasts would not have the needed expertise to produce work of sufficient reliability. (Perhaps such individuals could be assigned to less difficult tasks.) At this point, I know that someone is going to be tempted to respond that Wikitree is already "certifying" people at different levels for certain types of research. I have serious doubts about this. For example, from discussions I have seen on Wikitree itself, it is troubling how many of these apparently "certified" individuals appear to believe that Medieval Lands is a reliable source.
For those who still disagree with my opinion, I suggest that you think about the following. I assume that any serious genealogist would like to lead others toward good genealogical information, and would prefer to avoid leading them toward the bad. In general, even the best pages at Wikitree are (and will be for a long time) only a few links away from some pretty bad ones, so that the unwary enthusiast who looks at someone's good page will soon be looking at some bad ones there. So, instead of putting your hard work where it will get polluted by the mess that is Wikitree, why not instead write up the same material in a fairly simple html format unencumbered by the restrictions of the Wikitree format, and post it to the web, only linking to other relevant sites which also have a reasonably high standard? (Or, as a compromise, do both.) If there were enough such small projects of high enough quality and similar content, combining them might make a good start to a medium sized project. Repeat often enough, and there might eventually be a large medieval genealogy database approaching the kind that many hope for. Is this scenario realistic? Maybe. Maybe not. However, I think that the approach of starting small and good and working your way gradually toward medium and large, is at least possible, while the approach of starting with a big pile of garbage and then hoping that you can convince enough competent people to clean up the mess for you, is never going to work.