Required or uncontrolled development of GENI?

Started by Wojciech Eugeniusz Kauczynski on Monday, November 8, 2010
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11/8/2010 at 8:14 AM

”Quo vadis” GENI?
It is required or uncontrolled development of GENI?

I just try to summarize my experiences with using Geni site for almost 4 last years. In my opinion the system was left without any control and development ideas for TOO long time. And now all the lately introduces actions (projects, curators, fixed profiles etc.) can only be seen as a “rescue operations” from dead of drowning in the endless number of merges, wrong dates and profiles....

But at the first some suggestion for improvement of the system:

1. In all the professional systems – the double persons (profiles) are shown in the family tree at their “lowest location” i.e. in the lowest generation and at the closest location to the paternal line (most to the left). In GENI today – there are listed randomly (I guess that it corresponds to the location where they were listed first).
2. The same concerns listing of ancestors: in every generation ancestors should be listed starting from the paternal line (from the left line in the family tree) to the maternal line. Present GENI option gives again a list with randomly listed persons in every generation.
3. NN, Nn?, Unknown?, ?? etc, etc, etc.
Every day I receive a message to merge hundred of such new listed persons. Can anyone explain me WHAT IS A REASON for adding such “profiles” to our common family tree?????
Of course EVERY child has to have a mother and a father. And it is completely unnecessary and causing additional overloading of the system by adding thousand of such “??” or “nN” profiles.

a/ the general convention should be like this (again adopting the professional rules and following the church book way of listing such persons)

NN NN (unknown first name, unknown surname)
NN Brown (unknown first name)
John NN (unknown surname)

b/ I may only recall a few cases where listing of “NN NN” has meaning:
1. Some dates/facts from his/her life is known
2. Second wife/husband (just to mark multiplied marriages)
3. Ancestors in earlier generations are known

Of course I use (or I need to use) such NN NN-persons sometimes (e.g. to merge parents of two sibling listed separately). But after completing this merge – I just “delete” it from the further listing.

I may propose the curators or system administrator to delete automatically such unnecessary “empty” profiles.

4. Maiden names / family names
For me is the MOST disturbing issue in the GENI system.
The family trees have been created for over 2 thousand year. And the generally adopted convention is that every person should be listed with the name as listed in the baptism document i.e. for women with the MAIDEN name. This should be the main rule for the GENI too. Suggestion (fixed in the present GENI) when adding a wife, that a woman should have the husband name is WRONG and should be removed. Many users just follow this suggestion and listed women with names after marriage. Of course everybody should be free to list/shown in its own tree in such manner as he likes, but GENERAL rule should be like it is in the professional editions. Now in the GENI tree we may find taht women in the older generations are listen with their maiden names,but in the modern generations they have sometimes the husband name, and sometimes the maiden names.
Using for ALL children from one family the same name (father’s name, if applied) help very much to follow the family lines and to establish the family connection.
5. Removing undesirable / wrongly copied photos.
It can happen that a photo (or drawing of family coat of arms) is copied from a photo archives to a wrong profile (actually I did it several times). When I deleted it – I deleted it from ALL the profiles. In a case of the multiplied used coat of arms –it caused plenty of additional work to restore this coat for other members of family.
It should be added an option in the copy/delete photo procedure which will allow to delete LINK of a photo to the specified profiles and NOT to delete a photo.
6. Succeeding names in the dynasties or clans should be listed with ROMAN and not Arabic numbers, i.e. John I, John II, John III, John IV and not (as it is somewhere now ) John 1, John 2, John 3, and John 4.

But my main idea was to start discussion regarding the present and future development of GENI. I would like to point out two fundamental issues:

This is the main issue which caused that I claimed that GENI has missed control. Some rules should be established many, many months ago. Today – it looks as completely miss-mash.
As long as we operate inside of our family and not too long in the past – it would be up to us to select language which we like to use to specify profiles. But approaching ancestors who are the common ancestors for millions of presently living persons i.e. following ancestors lines back to 14th century and earlier – some restrictions should be done. Situation today is funny: mixed of all possible languages for members of the same family (line). How we should say/adopt in our family tree: Berengaria or Berengaria von Spanien or Berengaria av Spania or Berengaria d’Espane or Berengaria z Hiszpanii etc. etc. – all possible versions are available and mixed.

Two possible versions are usually adopted for such early ancestors:
1. One (only one)selected language (e.g. English as the most common language)
2. To list persons with their origin names i.e. people born in Germany with German names and titles, born in France with French names and titles, etc. etc.
In case (1) – it should be possible to get a translated version in the most common languages.
This part of the GENI tree should be fixed a long time ago. I do not see any sense that thousand of people list Carl the Great again and again. Any persons who are included in the “Europäische Stammtafeln” (Europian Midieval Ancestors Tree) should already be added to the common tree with the “closed” profiles. This part should be defined as ONE large project, closed a long time ago and controlled by professional group (curators?) and not open for thousand users adding incessantly new multiplied profiles in all possible languages and including all possible errors.

I still do not fully understand what part curators should/will play and what is exactly a range of their authorities. As I can see – they lately started several projects (every curator a group of own projects) when I rather expect that they will work together as a group of experts and supporting persons. I have expected that curators should have minimal (at least) knowledge of languages considered in the projects which they have started (or are involved). As an example(bad example) I should list the project called “Piast” (the first Polish king dynasty). I do not what the curator (who open this project) know about the Polish history and how is he familiar with the Polish language – but what is presented today – is a horrible mixed of facts and wrong names. Some examples:

1. The line starts with Choscisko. O.K. very very vague person. But according to the legends he was killed and a new clan came to power (just Piast). So he could not be the first in the Piast line.
2. For some persons from 8-10th century (including wives) the coat of arms of the Polish kings from the 14th century was added.
3. For Choscisko - the nickname “Kosciuszko” was added. It is probable the only Polish family name known for Americans (after Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish and American hero who lived in the 18th century). But who did find such connection between these two persons it is really a big puzzle for me.
4. The first Polish princes and the first Polish king are listed with their Polish names (Mieszko & Boleslaw) but the second king has already the name listed in other language (Casimir ? why not Kazimierz (consequently in Polish) ).
5. The first Polish king was called Boleslaw Chrobry (brave). In the tree he is listed with nickname of his son: Boleslaw I Lambert
6. And of course overall there is used “broken” Polish (Wielkopolskie instead of Wielkopolska, Piastowie dynasty instead of Piast dynasty etc. etc.

I just may only ask: is there any curator who can a little Polish in order to correct all these errors and to administrate this project????? What is function of curator in this project?

Wikipedia is very useful site but ... it is full of errors. This site should NEVER be used as a primary source. Users adopting information from Wikipedia should understand that these data may be completely wrong.....

11/8/2010 at 2:29 PM


Good suggestions. I am not an expert at Genealogy and have not used the site for as long as you have. But I have used it extensively. I think one of the challenges the "GENI" team might face in applying "general" rules for situations you described above is "cultural sensitivity".

For instance in India, the lady leaves the maiden name and takes the name of the husband. Similarly most Indians started using surnames only 200-250 years back once the British influence increased.

Geni faces a challenge of deciding if they are a global Genealogy site or specific to a region and in either cases how does it get over the issues you described above.

All I can say is, it is not as simple and each step has many pros and cons.

11/8/2010 at 5:10 PM

Wojciech, your ideas are very good ones and your thoughts are very much appreciated. I am also a long-time Geni user, and I agree that Geni went too long in the last year or so before developing some mechanisms and systems to help deal with the duplicates and merges, which had gotten out of control.

However, now in the past two months many changes have been made that are, in fact, getting the situation well under control. It will take some months, but the team of curators (I am one of them) has been working especially hard, also collaborating with all the active users involved in merging and corrections.

Please be patient, as the process of merging several hundred duplicate historical trees, reconciling the differences and conflicts between them, verifying the data, creating master profiles, and writing up well-researched biographical information will take some time. The first phase is merging and creating master profiles, and we are working on various areas of the tree.

While that is happening, there will still be a mess in terms of the quality of information, but once we have ONE PROFILE-ONE PERSON for all of our ancestors, we can turn out attention to researching and verifying all the dates and locations, making sure that naming conventions are followed and standardized (generally, the person's name should be written in the language of their own culture), and finding the best research sources to use to compile the biographical sections.

In fact, many of your suggestions are already being operationalized. I would like to address the issue of projects that you raise. Many of the curators are using Projects as a tool to sort clusters of profiles with common characteristics in order to be able to better work on fixing those profiles and doing all of the above-listed operations. So yes, those profiles may be a mess now, but that's why the Project was created since it groups them in a manageable unit to work on. I encourage you to request to join the Polish project(s) and also to get to know some of the Eastern European curators.

There is a list of curators on the Geni wiki page (as well as a description of what curators do). Mihaly, Jadranka and Kaloyan are currently our Eastern European curators (Hungarian, Croatian and Bulgarian)--unfortunately we do not currently have a Polish curator, but we are always looking for strong candidates. So if you are interested, working on projects with current curators will help you to develop a good working relationship.

I hope this is helpful. I encourage you to develop relationships and collaborations with others working in the areas in which you have interest.

Thanks! Pam

Private User
11/8/2010 at 6:01 PM

Wojciech Eugeniusz Kauczynski
I understand what you are saying and like Pam suggested, much of it is going on behind the scenes. Also, I agree with you on the Maiden name field! A woman should be listed by BIRTH name, just as the man is listed by BIRTH name. All alternative names, spellings, nicknames, aliases, various surnames can go into the individual's "About Me" or in the "Nickname" field. That's my personal opinion. I've been trying to clean up all areas that I have input a "Married" name as I want to know what people were BORN with. :)

Happy day, and thanks for your suggestions...they are not over-looked and ARE being addressed.

Wojciech Eugeniusz Kauczynski,
I agree with many of your comments in principle, especially with regard to multilingual names. But I also feel the need to "justify" some of the problems you are seeing.

While there is a detailed naming convention for the historical parts of the tree, requiring or even expecting everybody to use this (or ANY "convention "), throughout the site, is unreasonable.

Geni currently has about 5,000,000 (5 million) actual users. I'm willing to guess that *at most* only 1 in 1000 of them, if not less, are actual "genealogists". These casual users, are doing this mostly for fun. As such, if too many rules are imposed on them, they won't be using the site at all.

In most projects, the "function" of the Curator, is to coordinate the work and help regular users get past the trickier problems. Some of the Curators are each part of dozens of projects. We can't do all of the work. ;-) We can only try and find other users that have specific interests in these parts of the trees, and work with them, to get things done.

NOT all projects are created by Curators, or even have a Curator member. Not all projects, even those with Curators, are going to be of equal quality.

The quality of many Wikipedia historical entries is constantly going up. I also have found myself fixing them myself, based on material found on Geni, that I then externally verified. So everybody benefits from the links.

A technical note: Many of the "NN" or "Unknown" profiles were deliberately added to the tree. I have added dozens of such spouses myself. This makes merging easier (by giving you an option to select a specific set of parents), and when a line gets merged dozens of times (some of mine are 100+), this makes a BIG difference.

11/17/2010 at 7:03 AM

Anchit, Pam, Mimi, and Shmuel-Aharon

Thank you very much for all your comments.

Shmuel-Ahraron: regarding many "NN" . You have repeated what I said - such "unknown" persons are necessary to perform merging. But after merging - they are only a kind of "garbige" in the tree. As I said: I added, I did merging, and then I immediately "deleted" them. I have checked thousand of such "NN" added to my tree by other users (an unrequired additional product origined from the "accepted cooperation"). Almost none of them was parent to more than one child or married to more than one husband/wife. This indicates that almost all of them were added "just for fun". And you are right regarding a range of users: professionalists, hobby-specialists and just amatours - such spectrum will always creates some conflicts and endless disscussions (it is real life).

Pam: Thanks for your guidance. I have considered to join some East Europian projects (I thought mostly of the Polish ones since Polish is my first language despite of living for almost 30 years in Norway). But time is crucial - I can not dedicated 100% of my time to Geni (since I am still working man). But I will try to check how much I could be usefull to help to correct this part of our common tree.

Best regards

Private User
11/17/2010 at 12:54 PM

Wojciech Eugeniusz Kauczynski

Thank you for accepting my collaboration request. I look forward to working with you. I have much to learn about my, mostly Polish, history.

I have, very rudimentary, Polish language skills. At this point, I rely heavily upon Google Translate. It can, and does at times, have comical results so please be patient with me! :-)

Like the others mentioned, you have wonderful observations and suggestions. I really appreciate your willingness to get involved.

Geni is made better because of all the many varied perspectives, skills, and strengths that each of it's users are generous enough to share.

regarding immediately deleting them, this is probably true in the "less busy" parts of the tree. But hundreds of the profiles that *I* work with, have been merged many dozens of times... I don't get around to adding "NN" profiles, unless I keep on merging them again and again. :-)

Private User
11/18/2010 at 4:31 AM

A very good example why ?? placeholder profiles is needed:

On King of Uppsala Bröt-Anund "the Land-Clearer" / "the Cultivator" / "the Roadbuilder" / "the Roadmaker" Ingvarsson there are currently 52 Unknown spouses which is Geni's own internal placeholder profiles, - without the N.N. placeholder profile I would have 52 choices with no difference when resolving parent conflicts on the children and it is therefore impossible to give the children the same unknown mother. I tried once and gave up after an half hour.

As long as Geni does not have an automatic cleanup of their internal Unknown placeholder profiles we need to add a visible one

Having an Unknown mother is also a fact in genealogy.
Secondly we visible mark that the children have unknown mother(s) which will be a big warning to double-check to someone who merge in a child where the mother is known

11/21/2010 at 9:41 AM

Wojciech, today I have come across several situations in which there were merges of over 20 copies of a profile with an unknown spouse (that is, no spouse profile existed), but there were children. This results in a situation on the tree in which there are 20 copies of a node marked "Add This Person" in the slots on the tree where the spouse should be. Geni does not currently have a way to merge all those "Unknown" (add this person) nodes together, so it requires that a profile be either copied into or built for each of those nodes in order to eliminate the duplication. And then each of those profiles must be merged together. It's a pain, but it does necessitate creating those placeholder profiles for NN.

Private User
11/21/2010 at 10:14 AM

Dzien dobry Wojciech:

It's not completely fair to say that Americans only know Kociuszko - we also know Jaruzelski and Walesa. :) Joking of course... if you hang out at places like Hamtramck in Detroit, you'd know quite a few more Polish names (and their various "Americanizations").

As to the use of Wikipedia - fully agree that you have to be very careful about using it. If you are grabbing information from there to support basic information, (as with any resource you use) include the sources that they've used to come up with the information - that's often much more important than the biographical information, as it determines how accurate your information might be (in any conflict, information that comes from closer to the source era, for the most part, should win out - these are called primary sources, and it's what makes FMG-Medlands' information so very useful). And use your browser's auto-translate to view the other language's Wikipedia pages - often they are vastly different language-to-language for different individuals. Often the version in the ancestor's home language (or the language used in the place they came from) will have the most information, but sometimes it's surprising what you find shopping around the different-languaged versions. (Again, pay attention to sources used.)

As to the "Add This Persons" - actually, I consider it a hobby to grab the most likely candidate for the person to be added, and carry out what I like to call a "quiet hostile takeover" or "breaking up the rainbow" in some cases. So, kids, let this be a lesson to you, never leave your parents unnamed... (well, actually, probably closer to the point is if you name one, name them both - put a placeholder in if you are sure that its unknown, or it might become "known" without you knowing).

Do zobaczenia -Ben.

11/21/2010 at 10:54 AM

Wojciech Eugeniusz Kauczynski

I'm just going to chime in from Mayflower land (Thanksgiving coming up).

The amount of "fantasy royal lineage" that shows up for these plain Pilgrims is pretty unbelievable. We tried "curator" notes (floating above the Master Profile) -- didn't work. We tried all caps -- DON'T GIVE HIM PARENTS! NOBODY KNOWS WHO THEY WERE!! Didn't work.

We finally resorted to some horrible placeholders -- Unknown Mother of Francis Cooke, "Mayflower" Passenger." They're locked. People *still* try to give him parents, but at least with a placeholder that spells it out, we've made it clearer. :)

Private User
11/21/2010 at 1:08 PM

So far, Gapt of the Goths hasn't sprouted parents in Asgard yet... and it's been well over 24 hours... it's encouraging... :)

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