Henry Project FAQ

1. What is the Henry Project?

The Henry Project, which was announced for the first time on the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup and GEN-MEDIEVAL mailing list on 23 July 2001, is an experiment in the possibility of forming a cooperative scholarly database in medieval genealogy. (Click here for the text of the original announcement of 23 July 2001) It is called the Henry Project because the experiment uses the first ten generations of the ancestry of king Henry II of England as the collection of individuals on whom the experiment is based.

2. Why is such a database needed? Isn't this already covered by existing databases?

Many of the existing databases of medieval genealogy are unreliable. If they provide any documantation at all, the sources used are often poor ones, and even when they are based on reasonably good sources, they usually give the reader little or no information about the underlying primary sources on which the facts (or alleged facts) are based. This is often also a problem in off-line published sources dealing with royal genealogy. Even reasonably reliable standard works, such as Schwennicke's Europäische Stammtafeln, to give one widely used example, are often based on secondary sources in such a way that it can be very tedious for a researcher to try and track down the trail of bibliographic citations in order to find the primary authority for a specific relationship, and the information given is false more often than it should be.

An ideal solution to this would be a widely available central database devoted specifically to the genealogy of all medieval figures, giving all of the basic facts pertinent to each individual in question (dates, parentage, a list of all known spouses and children, etc.) as they are currently known, along with the primary documentation supporting the conclusions, and with a discussion of widely circulated errors, and alternate hyppotheses in doubtful cases, all carefully research by genealogists familiar with the primary sources in the relevant historical and geographical areas, and continually updated as errors are found or new discoveries are made. Of course, that is only an ideal which is a long way from being realized. Such an idealized database would be a large undertaking, requiring the efforts of a large number of individuals, for no single individual would have the necessary expertise in all of the relevant geographical areas, languages, etc., to do such a massive project alone.

The Henry Project is a small-scale experiment to test a possible strategy for forming a well documented cooperative database in medieval genealogy. It falls short of the ideal database mentioned in the previous paragraph for a number of reasons. One obvious one is that the number of individuals on which the initial experiment will be based is relatively small, and would include only a tiny fraction of those in whom someone who wanted to use such a database might be interested. There will also be a compromise in the documentation, in that for noncontroversial cases, direct citations of the primary sources will not be required, provided that a secondary source of high quality is used that does cite the primary sources. Both of these compromises with respect to the ideal case are for practical reasons. It is anticipated that the number of people who will be composing pages for submission to the project will be relatively small (although hopefully not too small), at least at the outset. Requiring authors of pages to go through the tedious procedure of looking up the primary documentation even for noncontroversial cases would slow down the process considerably, but a clear trail of citations back to the primary source will still be required, for the benefit of those who want to check the work themselves. While this project will not itself be the kind of comprehensive database that many of us would like to see, it will hopefully be a good start that will at least have the potential to evolve into such a database.

3. Who can submit pages to the database?

While there are no specific restrictions regarding who may submit pages to be considered for possible inclusion in the Henry Project, it is expected that those who submit pages should be familiar with the underlying primary evidence on which the documentation is based, and only those pages for which the documentation is deemed adequate will be accepted as a part of the project.

4. Who makes the decisions regarding acceptance or rejection of pages in the database, and how does the process work?

The most important aspect that determines a genealogical database's reliability (or lack thereof) is quality control. Genealogical databases of the "anybody submits anything they want" type have little or no quality control, with the expected poor results. Quality control (or lack thereof) in databases compiled by individuals is often determined by which sources the compiler chooses to use (or not use), and on which choices are made when conflicting information arises. Thus, devising a good method for quality control is an important part of forming a good genealogical database.

One method that will come immediately to mind to anyone who works in an academic field is the peer-review (or refereeing) process which is used for submissions to academic journals. In that process, an article which is submitted for possible publication to a scholarly journal is sent to a "referee" who comments on the suitability of the paper for publication, and makes a recommendation about whether or not the paper should be published, which is then usually (but not always) followed by the editor of the journal. While the process used for the Henry Project will have some similarities, there will also be some significant differences.

The present procedure is as follows. Submissions will first be examined by a member of the Editorial Board, which makes all decisions regarding acceptance or rejection of submissions, consulting with outside experts if that is considered appropriate. All pages which are deemed suitable will be put into a "Provisional" database, which will then be open for public discussion, during which time anyone who wishes can post comments regarding the provisional pages to the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup or to the GEN-MEDIEVAL mailing list. (Because of the "gating" which exists between these two discussion groups, any message which appears on one will also appear on the other.) The authors will then have the opportunity to make any corrections that might be thought necessary as a result of these discussions. Hopefully, this process, which might be called a "public refereeing" process, will produce a wider variety of input than consulting just one or two referees. If, after a period of time deemed suitable by the members of the Editorial Board, any problems that have been found have been corrected (or if the Editorial Board feels that any objections raised are not valid), the page will become a part of the "main" database. Of course, it is still likely that errors will find their way into the "main" database, and suggestions for corrections can be made at any time. As an experimental project, this procedure will be subject to change if those who are working on the project find a more suitable method for quality control.

[A note of warning: For those not familiar with the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup or the GEN-MEDIEVAL mailing list, a few comments are in order. Although the subject of both of these lists is the discussion of medieval genealogy, there are a significant number of postings that are not on this topic, some of them quite imflammatory remarks by people whose intent is to disrupt the group. For somewhat complicated reasons that are related to the structure of the newsgroup and mailing list (and which get explained in messages to the group from time to time), it is difficult to do anything about this, short of actions that would be complicated at best, and not guaranteed to work. This group does have the advantage that it is regularly followed by a number of experts in various areas of medieval genealogy, and is thus currently the best forum for such public discussions, despite the antics of those who post objectionable material. Those who decide to join the discussions in these forums are advised to concentrate on the good material (which is there if you look for it), and ignore (or use killfiles on) the postings of those who post the garbage (and who are fairly easy to identify).]

Submissions which are clearly unsuitable will be automatically rejected. This would include any submissions lacking documentation, submissions generated automatically from another database by a commercial program, submissions on individuals outside the scope of the project (see below for detials), submissions in any form other than plain text or html, and any unduly elaborate html submissions (i.e., no fancy graphics).

5. What is the format of the pages?

Each submission to the Henry Project (called a "page" hereafter) will consist of a web page based on a single person, who must be an individual that was an ancestor of Henry II in the tenth generation or less, with a certain amount of leeway for special cases that are discussed in the next heading (see "6. What is the scope of the project?").

Each page should have a "main" section that includes dates of birth, baptism, marriage, death, burial, etc., if known, names of parents (listed as "UNKNOWN" if relevant), spouses/partners, children, etc., with clear and complete documentation. A short biography of the individual may be included provided that it is very brief. If relevant, a discussion section labelled as "Commentary" (which should be clearly delineated from the "main" section) may be included for problematic or controversial links. Conjectural and controversial data should be included in the "Commentary" section only, and should be clearly labelled as such. The "Commentary" section may also include such items as "Supposed parents (or children)" (claimed parents for whom the evidence is less than adequate), "Falsely attributed parents" (alleged parents who have appeared prominently in the sources who can be disproven), and "Conjectured parents" (in cases where a plausible guess has appeared in the literature), but such doubtful links should not appear in the "main" section. Errors that have received wide circulation may be mentioned in the "Commentary" section, with appropriate references.

As pages are based on individuals, husbands and wives will have separate pages, with common children overlapping. In this case, documentation may be made by cross-reference to the documentation on the page of a spouse, child, or other close relative, where appropriate. For example, the page on Edward the Exile can simply give Agatha as his wife and list the children, with documentation for the children and his marriage to Agatha, but avoid a lengthy discussion of the problems regarding Agatha's origin, which should be discussed in detail on Agatha's page. As another example, a wife for whom nothing is known besides her name does not need any documentation on her own page if all the relevant evidence is covered on her husband's page.

Submissions in plain text are encouraged (which will be converted to html by the editors). If a submission is in html, the format of pages should be kept as simple as possible, and should not include graphics or background color. Pages done in html should consist of a single html file only, and use primarily black characters on a white background, with a limited use of colored characters for emphasis. Submitters are encouraged to adhere as closely as possible to the format that has already been used for existing pages, to the extent that that can be done without compromising accuracy.

6. What is the scope of the project?

The principle scope of the project consists of king Henry II of England and all of his well documented ancestors up to the tenth generation. Henry II counts as the first generation, so that means that all ancestors as far a Henry's 7th-great-grandparents are included in the scope of the project. At the moment, earlier ancestors are not included in the scope of the project, but that may change at some point if it decided to expand the scope.

In addition to the well documented ancestors of Henry II, there are two other ways in which an individual can be regarded as being within the scope of the project. One of these is to be either an uncertain or disproven ancestor of Henry II within the ten generation limit. To give an example, Henry II has a well documented line of descent from the Anglo-Saxon prince Edward the Exile and his wife Agatha, but Agatha's parentage has proved to be problematic. The page on Agatha should discuss all of the various theories regarding her origin. Since there does not appear to be a scholarly consensus regarding her parentage (at least at the time that this is being written), this discussion would take place in the "Commentery" section of Agatha's page. One of the fathers that has recently been proposed for Agatha has been Yaroslav of Russia, and so he is included in the scope of the project. The "Commentary" section of his page would include Agatha as a possible daughter, but could refer to Agatha's page for the main discussion. At one time, it was thought that king Stephen of Hungary was her father, so he is also included in the scope of the project, even though it is now widely agreed that he was not Agatha's father. The Commentary section of his page would mention Agatha as a falsely attributed daughter, with the appropriate cross reference to Agatha's page. Yaroslav's and Stephen's ancestors (up to the ten generation limit from Henry II) would then also be regarded as within the scope of the project, and pages on them may also be submitted.

The other exception in which additional individuals may be regarded as within the scope of the project requires editorial approval. Because cross-references to other pages will often be desirable in order to avoid repeating the same involved discussion on several different pages, it will sometimes be useful to write pages at the same time for two or more individuals whose cases are closely intertwined, in each case giving a cross-reference to a discussion which appears on the page which is most relevant to the discussion. In such cases, as long as at least one of the individuals is in the scope of the project as described in the previous two paragraphs, pages may be submitted for each member in the group of individuals. As an example where this might apply, various primary sources indicate that Judith of Flanders (successively wife of Tostig of Northumbria and Welf of Bavaria) was a daughter either of Baldwin IV or Baldwin V of Flanders. Both of the latter were ancestors of Henry II, and so are clearly within the scope of the project, but Judith was not an ancestor of Henry. Since the page of an individual is supposed to mention all children (and should also mention all supposed children, correct or not, who have appeared widely in the literature, in the "Commentary" section), Judith's case would need to be discussed. However, since it would be much less awkward to discuss Judith's parentage on her own page, and then just include a cross-reference to this discussion on the pages of Baldwin IV and Baldwin V, a page on Judith may be included.

7. How much documentation is needed?

Documentation from primary sources is preferred. However, in recognition of the fact that a comprehensive database of the desired type is a monumental undertaking, documentation may be given from high quality secondary sources which themselves provide the primary documentation. In cases where the composer of a page is relying on a high quality secondary source of this type, and has not checked the underlying primary source, citations of the form "[(source A), citing the Chronicle of B]" are encouraged, to give the reader of the page an idea of the underlying primary source. In all cases, it is expected that the bibliographic citations given should provide a clear trail to the primary sources that justify the relevant assertion. (Pages which do not directly cite the primary evidence will be prime candidates for being revised to include such citations, if the necessary manpower can be found.) In cases where a stated relationship is not explicitly stated by the sources, but is the result of combining information from two or more primary sources, neither of which suffices by itself, this should be indicated. For example, if the placement of an individual in a family has been deduced mainly from an uncle-nephew relationship that is stated in the primary sources, this should be indicated. In general, the less straighforward the documentation, the more detailed the discussion should be.

8. Which information goes in the "main" section of the page, and which information goes in the "Commentary" section?

This is often a judgement call. In general, genealogical information for which there is a wide consensus can go on the "main" section. Information which is doubtful or controversial should go in the "Commentary" section, which should also include any discussion of disproven claims. A relationship that is "probable" (meaning that it is significantly more likely than all other alternatives combined) may be included in the "main" section (with the appropriate caveat, of course), provided that it is backed up by supporting evidence, and the statement that it is probable is not itself a controversial claim. Conjectured relationships should be included in the "Commentary" section, and clearly labelled as such.

The main purpose of the division between the "main" and "Commentary" sections is to help provide a demarcation between that which is proven (or, at the very least, regarded as probable) and that which is hypothesized. When "established" relationships are often used as a starting point for determining the relationships of individuals who are less well documented, there is always the danger that the string of hypotheses used will in fact produce a "house of cards" with no real foundation. By putting the less certain pieces of data in a clearly marked section of their own, it is hoped that strenghths and weaknesses of complicated genealogical arguments involving a large number of families can be more adequately assessed. Of course, it must be acknowledged that no clear line of demarcation exists, and that it will sometimes be a judgement call whether a given relationship is marked as "probable" or "possible", or included in the "main" or "Commentary" sections.

Uncertain information such as a date of death of unknown reliability, or uncertainty in the title held by the individual, for example, may be included in the "main" section, provided that it does not directly affect the genealogical information in that section, and all uncertainties are adequately stated.

9. What type of previous errors should be mentioned, and why should they be mentioned at all?

Some errors have been in the literature for so long that they get repeated regularly as a matter of course. Failing to mention the error will often cause an individual unfamiliar with the problem to incorrectly assume that information has been overlooked. Thus, it is important that the pages provide a warning regarding the common genealogical errors that have appeared in connection with a given individual, along with an indication of why they are errors. Deciding which errors to include is another judgement call. High profile errors that appear again and again should definitely be mentioned, while blunders appearing only in an obscure publication that has not been followed by others need not be mentioned. It is likely that some pages that are perfectly well documented may occasionally have to be revised in order to add the refutation of a newly circulated error.

10. How should dates be handled?

Dates are undersood as being given according to the common era unless otherwise explicitly stated. In cases where it might be desiarable to give a date according to another calendar, a conversion to the common era should be included. As with everything else, false certainty in dates should be avoided. If necessary, "before" and "after" or boxed in dates of the form 931×937 (which means between 931 and 937, inclusively) are suggested. The guessing of dates by such means as generation counting should be avoided whenever possible in favor of vaguer information that can be well documented (such as dates the individual appears in documents). In cases where conjecturing dates is thought to be necessary, this should be indicated by using the word "say" in front of the date (e.g., "born say 937"). The word "circa" (abbreviated "ca.") should be reserved for cases in which the date is approximate and can be justified as such by direct evidence (for example, an approximate birthdate calculated based on the age of an individual in a document).

11. What are the details regarding the submission of pages?

Pages composed for consideration as entries in the Henry Project should be submitted by e-mail, using either a ".txt" or ".htm" attachment, to sbaldw@mindspring.com, along with a letter explaining the contents. Pages received as any other type of attachment will be deleted and not considered until such time as they are resubmitted in a proper form. Potential submitters will increase their chances of a submission being accepted by paying due attention to the topics covered elsewhere in this FAQ.

It is understood that submission of a page for consideration by the Henry Project includes permission to include the said page on the Henry Project website (should it be accepted), along with any additions or other changes that are deemed appropriate by the Editorial Board. In addition, it is understood that authors have no objection to the limited "personal use" policy described under the next heading. However, authors also retain the right to use material from their own submissions elsewhere at their own discretion (whether accepted by the Henry Project or not).

12. Can these pages be used elsewhere?

Reproduction of pages from the Henry Project (or substantial parts thereof) for use on other websites or publications is not allowed. Linking to the Henry Project (or to individual pages in the website) is permitted. Individuals are also permitted to download pages from the Henry Project and make hard copies of them, provided that these are for personal use only.


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Last updated 15 Septmeber 2001