Forums: Index > Watercooler > People with no birth or death dates

Problems arising from creating pages that could be duplications[]

(First portion copied from another forum under heading "People with no dates")

There is another issue which hasn't been mentioned which I see occasionally, which is spurious links: both Robert II, King of Scotland (1316-1390) and James II, King of Scotland (1430-1460) are listed as having a daughter named Margaret (Stewart), about whom nothing more is documented. But when these two pages were created, their child lists points to Margaret Stewart (?-?), which used to be (before I changed it) a redirect to Margaret Stewart (1206-1255), a totally different woman. So if we start giving people pages "generic" names, we are going to get these spurious links. I don't think I should have to invent "Compensatory distinguishing text" for people that I have no information about (and I don't plan to name the link Margaret Stewart daughter of James II, King of Scotland, though perhaps that is what I have to do, in view of my next parenthetical). (My philosophy is that if I have nothing else to say about a child, in particular for people who died in infancy, then they don't need their own page. So I would see those "Margaret Stewart (?-?)" links as permanently red) Thurstan 04:47, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

Agreed, up to a point (as a couple of us have noted further down this page). A page such as Margaret Stewart, daughter of James II, King of Scotland should be needed only when there's something more known about the woman. And until there's more, there's no value in the extra six characters needed for the " (?-?)". Users should not be encouraged to create such pages. Call her "Margaret Stewart". If that leads to a hndis page, she should be listed there, possibly as "Margaret Stewart, daughter of James II, King of Scotland". That just might help someone with a different reference to her to put two and two together. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 09:46, 27 April 2009 (UTC)

And the same occurs with parents: if I know that Mary Smith's father was John (because that's what her death registration says, so it could be doubted), I would like to show it as John Smith (?-?) and never have it point to anything. If I get more info about Mary's dad, I should be able to fill in at least one date, change the link, and then create a page with a less generic name. Thurstan 04:51, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

Good points. I suggest that if no dates are known, we just keep it as "John Smith" or "Margaret Stewart." This way, the links will go to disambiguation pages; If such a page for a person exists, the link can be changed. If not, we know that that particular person does not have an article yet. And just as you said, don't create the article if hardly anything is known. Just wait until there is more info. -AMK152(talkcontribs) 04:57, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
Agreed. The problem with Margaret Stewart (?-?) was not the creation of that link but the improper redirecting of it by someone else ignoring existing or potential inbound links that were not 1206-1255. It now, very properly, redirects to Margaret Stewart, a hndis page that will be able to show whether there is a proper target for any particular instance, and where both of the shadowy princesses can be listed as daughters of their respective fathers. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 02:58, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

Extending value and scope of hndis pages[]

Going a little further, we may soon get duplicates such as "Mary Brown (1850-?)". They can have their own hndis pages linked from "Mary Brown" (though one should not expect any automatic entries unless our programmers do a little more work, perhaps by devising a way to give such pages their own info pages without messing up other things). If any of them are worth writing articles for, some "Compensatory distinguishing text" will be required, and the hndis page will show which text has already been used. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 02:58, 13 April 2009 (UTC)


In the last few days I have noticed a number of new "(?-?)" people pages. I presume that we will see more of them once the GEDCOM upload takes off, because it is likely that (unless we set exclusion guidelines) every person mentioned in a GEDCOM will get a separate page or be added to an existing page of the same name and the program will produce a form such as "John Smith (?-?)" unless we decide that that case should be treated exceptionally. Thurstan "would like to show it as John Smith (?-?) and never have it point to anything" - but that was in the context of a manual entry where a page for John's son or daughter can simply show the father's name with no intention of making it a page unless more info comes to light. I've made a few links for such people, generally not adding "(?-?)" but just using the plain name (which I presume AMK152 prefers) and sometimes creating the target hndis page soon after, and listing John there as "father of [[Mary Smith (1850)]]" or whatever. John Smith (?-?) can easily redirect to the same John Smith so that all such people can be noted there without needing separate pages.

There should be no actual ARTICLE NAMES that have just personal names followed only by "(?-?)"; each page of that form should redirect to the plain name, which becomes a hndis page that sorts them out. Not a problem for manual entries; and I suggest that we encourage contributors to do that or to link from articles straight to a plain hndis page rather than to leave a John Smith (?-?) sitting rather isolated somewhere to confuse a reader of another page that creates the same link for a clearly different person, as happened with Margaret Stewart (?-?). — Robin Patterson (Talk) 06:05, 20 April 2009 (UTC) ..... and revised the above "bold" section now — Robin Patterson (Talk) 12:58, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

I may be the source of some of those (?-?) pages you have seen recently. I may have a problem with my main line (Hunsicker). In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries the Hunsickers used the same given names generation after generation and unfortunately my main source, A Genealogical History of the Hunsicker Family, lists some branches with the names only with no further information. I guess I will have to truncate those branches until I have more information. Bill Hunsicker 23:35, 1 May 2009 (UTC)
Another naming practice that seems to have been prevalent (although not universal) in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries of taking the mother's maiden name as the middle name of the children may help me with this. I do, however, intend to start redirecting and linking persons with neither birth nor death dates to the hndis page. Bill Hunsicker 23:52, 1 May 2009 (UTC)
Not sure if yours were among those that I noticed, but I see you are creating hndis pages now. That will help you and your relatives sort people out. Your folk were not the only ones to do repetitious naming or using an ancestral surname as a middle, and it continues even today among people with strong family ties. Examples are the Americans with II, III, or "Jr." in their names. One of my nieces has gone a bit further than "mother's maiden name": she's sticking with the Patterson surname despite marrying Robert Brown, and their first child is Linus Robert Brown Patterson. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 13:48, 2 May 2009 (UTC)
I think I'm getting the idea here. Before you create a person article, you should have some genealogically significant information other than a name and a relationship to someone else. Otherwise, you should only link that person's name to a hndis page which shows those two pieces of information without using up additional space on the wikia's website for each name. Later, if you find additional information, you can change the link and create an info page and person article. The thing that I'm wondering is if descendants without birth and death dates (the list of names I referred to above) can be considered genealogically significant enough to make the creation of info pages and person articles worthwhile. Bill Hunsicker 15:28, 2 May 2009 (UTC)
Bill, I think you're taking it too far now. There are many situations in which the dates of an intermediate generation are not known. It would be silly to break the line for that. The debate is about we call such a page Bill Hunsicker (?-?) or Bill Hunsicker. In any case, if there are more than one Bill Hunsickers, a disambiguation page would be in order. If there are more than one Bill Hunsickers with unknown dates, a disambiguation page is essential. Disambiguation is also essential for identical dates. In my family, the oldest son is named after the paternal grandfather, so I have waves of first, third and fifth cousins who are all called Simon Korver and are roughly the same age. rtol 12:36, 3 May 2009 (UTC)
I agree that Bill is taking it a bit far with that last sentence. His second sentence is fine, talking about someone with only one known relative. However, someone of unknown dates but nevertheless known to have had at least two children, or one child and a named parent, should have his or her own pages so that the linkages can be made. That person's article name will need some distinguishing element, possibly using "(fl. ....)" (floruit, i.e. flourished/lived around about ....) or the biblical pattern like "(father of Mary and James)". (See early recommendations about such ambiguities.) — Robin Patterson (Talk) 13:17, 3 May 2009 (UTC)
After thinking about it and reading everything here I think that all person pages should have the birth and death dates even if they are unknown. This will make the person name pages uniform and when that information is acquired the page can be moved. The plain first name last name format should be reserved for disambiguation pages. Middle name(s), if known, can help distinguish between individual person pages. Having said all that, if the consensus is that we should not add (?-?) to the page name for persons with unknown birth and death dates, I will go along with that.
Bill, I didn't urge you all not to have PAGES of that form. I said ARTICLES. It's no good two or more persons having their scanty details in the same article called "Mary Brown (?-?)". Their relatives' pages can show them as that (e.g. "Mother: Mary Brown (?-?)"), but creating an article for her leads to the problem Thurstan had, as soon as one of the contributors finds a date for their Mary and moves the page, taking totally unrelated women along. I said above and still say "each page of that form should redirect to the plain name, which becomes a hndis page that sorts them out." It's up to you whether you create links the simple way (directly targeting an existing or potential hndis page) or create them with "(?-?)" leading, if anywhere, to a redirect, not to an article that can confuse. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 12:58, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

Criteria for whether or not to create a person page[]

Perhaps this belongs in a different discussion but I believe it is related. Here are my criteria for whether or not to create a person page or link directly to the disambiguation page:

  1. Does the person have birth and/or death dates? If yes, create page.
  2. Does the person have parents and/or a spouse and/or children (at least two out of three)? If yes, create page.
  3. Does the person have any other genealogically significant information other than a name and relationship to one other person or parents (judgment call here)? If yes, create page.
  4. If no to all previous questions, link to disambiguation page.

In other words, if the only information you have is a relationship to a spouse or parents then link to the disambiguation page. When more information is acquired a person page can be created. Bill Hunsicker 13:41, 3 May 2009 (UTC)

Bill, your points #2, #3, and #4 certainly belong here. (And #1 is a logical introduction to them.) They look good except that at the end of points #2 and #3 you should create an article that has a distinguishing feature (birthplace or parentage or occupation, for example) in its name. (Thanks to your searching analysis, I've varied my "bold" statement near the start of this section. Having an article name like Mary Brown (?-?) (18th-century Edinburgh flower-seller) should be OK though not ideal.) It should not be merely "Name1 Name2 Name3 (?-?)" unless you are really confident that that name combination was unique in the world. The person's child or niece or nephew or grandchild might have been given exactly those names out of family tradition or respect (as were the abovementioned Hunsickers with "the same given names generation after generation"), no matter how rare the combination looked. Or a famous person with an unusual name combination - such as Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson - may have had it imitated many times by unrelated people having the same surname, for reasons of more distant respect. If in doubt, link to or create a hndis page and list your person on it, with as much detail as you know plus a link back to the relative's page. You or the next contributor may just find a match there. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 12:58, 12 May 2009 (UTC)
Perhaps the title above should be "Criteria for whether or not to create a person article". Now that I understand what the term means, that is what I meant. If the information that you have on a person does not meet the criteria above then an article should not be created. Whether or not to create a redirect page or link directly to a hndis page would be up to the author. Bill Hunsicker 21:48, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

How the GEDCOM process can handle them[]

I further suggest that the GEDCOM process deal with such dateless persons by one of two methods:

  1. omit the brackets right from the start and create or add to the plain name page using the GEDCOM data for that person
  2. create the "(?-?)" page but turn it into a redirect to the plain name as above; that would create an apparently unnecessary redirect but if it happened programmatically it should take no more time and would forestall the manual creation of a "(?-?)" article.

Until I know more detail of how the GEDCOM process works, I can't firm up the above ideas. It seems to need headings for distinguishing parts of the process. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 06:05, 20 April 2009 (UTC)

There are two issues here. First, what to do with duplicate names. There are probably hundreds of John Smith born in 1951. This problem is not limited to those with unknown birth dates. Robin's suggestion is fine: As soon as a duplicate appears, create a hndis page.
Second, what to with unknown birth and death years. The general naming convention is John Smith (1943-1997), so John Smith (?-?) is consistent with the general principle while John Smith is not. Besides, when there are a number of pages without dates, new users may think that that is the norm and start creating such pages even when dates are known. rtol 13:32, 26 April 2009 (UTC)
Certainly "John Smith (?-?) is consistent with the general principle while John Smith is not". As I said above, the program will produce a form such as "John Smith (?-?)" unless we decide that that case should be treated exceptionally. Whether the program will leave it like that is still to be decided. I would like to have either a bot or the conversion program take such pages one more step, creating or redirecting to the matching hndis page. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 09:46, 27 April 2009 (UTC)

I see no risk of misleading newcomers as Rtol fears; three reasons:

  1. Hndis pages look distinctly different from ordinary person pages;
  2. Most hndis pages worth creating will have at least one real target page, and the average hndis page will have two or more target pages; therefore (except if you are looking at the hndis category) there will always be more ordinary pages than hndis pages, so that the latter cannot be seen as the norm;
  3. There will continue to be strong encouragement for users to follow the (YOB-YOD) naming pattern when creating new pages.

On that last point, maybe we should actively encourage users to create a distinguishing feature (Wikipedia-style or something "better") in the page name if YOB and YOD are unknown and expected to remain unknowm. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 09:46, 27 April 2009 (UTC)