Help:Style guide (biography)

April 2011: VERY rough draft including only issues on which I think I have a fairly uncontroversial opinion. Discussion questions are on the talk page.


Use of Fields

(Name and data formatting are on Help:Style guide already)




  • Narrative should avoid repeating information readily viewable in the event and family fields unless some other explanation is provided or the information is used for context.
For example, narratives from auto-generated web content violate this rule (John Jones was born on ____ at ____. He married ____ on ____ at _____.)

Historical place names

  • Place names should link to... Discuss


Suggested Sections

Use of the following sections/headings may be appropriate depending on the subject and scope of information known:

  • Origins - (i.e. for immigrants where demonstrating connection with asserted birth/origins is an issue)
  • Early life
  • Military
  • [Im]Migration [to X]
  • Estate
  • Family Connections (for notable relatives/descendants/historical connections)
  • Disputed Lineage (should this be first?)


Parent/child sources

  • Sources showing parentage should go, at a minimum, on the child's person page. If a full will or other document lists several children, it may also go on the parents' family page or the parent's person page.
  • Sources giving date of marriage should go, at a minimum, on the family page showing the marriage. Sources that show that a particular child of a parent was the one who married on that date are also useful on the child's page (i.e. "John Smith deeded his daughter Mary Jones, wife of Thomas..."). Conversely, where a woman's death record does not identify her maiden name or parents, it may be useful to have the source showing her marriage on her person page.


Alternative theories

  • If a commonly-used lineage/linkage has been disproven by a reasonably respected source (or the user has looked at primary sources disproving the theory), that information should be on the person or family page.
  • If the disproven information breaks a parent/child link, the explanation should link to the parent page in the narrative, with appropriate information also added to that page. (Until there is some automated method of preventing relinking, this should help make any such erroneous relinking obvious.)
  • If the question is still open for debate, a reference to it should go on the person page with the larger debate going on the Talk page.
  • Erroneous sources (i.e., containing information that has been disproven): As a general rule, keep sources likely to be cited by others, but remove unimportant or obscure sources.
  • Sources that are very frequently used for an area that have errors (for example, in New England, Savage and Great Migration) should remain on a page with the erroneous information and/or a note indicating why it is not reliable (or pointer to the discussion elsewhere on the page).
  • Sources that are themselves often cited (i.e., the first book published about an immigrant) should remain on a page on the same theory (flag erroneous information and/or include a note indicating why it is not reliable).
  • Less important sources, including publications that repeat information from the above sources and, especially, amateur online content should be retained only if they also have some useful, not disproven content. The erroneous information should be addressed only if it is included in a quote or for context. For example, a county history may have a biography listing the wrong origins for a person's father, but is otherwise interesting and not contradicted by other better sourced information. Quote interesting portions of the bio, and if they include the incorrect origins, add a note at the end. On the other hand, a WorldConnect page that has incorrect dates does not need to be cited, retained, or commented on.
  • Conflicting sources: Should be retained so long as each has some basis for the contested information. Use the source detail field to explain. The better supported information (which may be a toss-up) should be used for primary events, and the other sources for "alt" events.


  • The person page should be focused on the person. Brief references to past generations or connections to immigrant or famous ancestors are acceptable (or even encouraged, with links). Lengthy material focusing on a family in general or past generations should be removed and either split between the relevant person pages or put on a surname in place category page or an article. (Note that lengthy material copied directly from a source should not be posted at all if it is not out of copyright, and is generally discouraged as a matter of style regardless of copyright date.)
  • Lengthy information on a place or event is not appropriate for a person page. Categories and templates can be used to display or link relevant information on pages where it is relevant rather than repeating it on many pages (i.e. Template:MayflowerInfo includes the dates and basic information about the crossing; Template:WindsorCTFounders includes the basic settlement story for the town), and for lengthy explanation, links can be provided to Wikipedia or another outside source.
  • A person's relationship to a particular user is not relevant on a community page. Thus references like "my great-great grandfather", "Grandpa said", or "we are descended from [this person] through his daughter X" should be avoided or removed.




  • Many people appear in existing sources only in a very limited way, and therefore even a relatively minor reference should be included.
  • On the other hand, extremely famous people covered by dozens of books are better served by a summary of important life information, important genealogical information, and links to Wikipedia or another comprehensive source.
  • People who are not well-researched outside genealogical sources but who appeared frequently in records are better served by narrative summarizing available information than a list of jobs, land transactions, or the like. If the underlying details are notable or otherwise not available, lists can be included with the summary, or on the talk page.


  • Pages should be less than 32k if possible. If more detail is available elsewhere, link to it.
  • See Source Extracts below regarding lengthy quotations.

Source Extracts

  • Excerpts or abstracts (consistent with copyright limitations) should be included for all source citations when possible. WeRelate pages are not static, and while it may be clear today that the source citation supports the birth date listed elsewhere on the page, if that birth date ever gets changed, a stale source citation will appear to justify the new date when it actually disagrees. This is avoided if an excerpt or abstract makes it clear what the source actually does support.
  • Quotations from works under copyright (conservatively, post 1923) should be limited to the information required to support a fact or express a particular point.
  • Quotations of any kind in the narrative should be limited to no more than about four or five sentences, or possibly a brief abstract with one or two quoted passages to capture the flavor of the original document. Otherwise, information from various sources should be integrated together into one narrative, with footnotes appropriately sourcing quotes and factual material.
  • Wills, unless less than a few hundred words, should be extracted in either the narrative or the source detail field, including the dates, beneficiaries, notable property, and other important references. A full transcript can go in the Transcript namespace if it might prove useful. Similarly, inventory lists should be abstracted down to any notable property and values rather than listed in their entirety.



Repeating Secondary Sources

  • Sources that cannot be located by another user should be removed. This includes gedcom files that do not identify an author and dead links.
  • Personal notes or webpages that contain no sources should be removed if there are any other sources for the information. This includes "Research of X" or "Personal files of Y", as well as online family trees.
  • If one source relies entirely on another, include only the original source unless the second is significantly more available to researchers.