05 November 2012

Using WikiTree: The How and The Why

     There are a lot of different websites you can use to build your family tree. Many of them offer features that allow you to collaborate with others, such as WikiTree.com.  The whole point of this genealogy website is to work together to build one giant family tree.

     I don't know about you, but I can feel a bit possessive of my family tree. Not possessive of the information - I love to share! - but possessive of control.  So it took me a minute to get used to the idea of WikiTree. The first time another user edited one of the pages I'd created, I was a bit miffed - who edited my ancestor? Oh yeah, someone else who is also a descendant of that ancestor.  The whole point of WikiTree is to take advantage of the fact that your ancestors had many descendants and that those descendants can work together to build a family tree.

     So how does WikiTree actually work?

     WikiTree works much like the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  The concept allows many users to edit a website in conjunction with each other, in order to create a resource of value to everyone.

     WikiTree is pretty easy to use, with fill-in-the-blank forms for names, dates and relationships. There's also an area for more free-form information such as biographies and sources.  You are also encouraged to upload photos and even create pages for places or things that relate to your ancestor. For example, I created a profile page for my Great-Great Grandmother's Bible.

     To get started at WikiTree, you first create your account. In doing so, you are also creating a page for yourself in the family tree. Don't worry! The default privacy setting for any living person's profile page is "Private."

     Once you have your account set up, you can then start adding to your family tree.  There are a few ways to do so.   

  • Adding one profile at a time, starting with yourself. This is the slowest method, but it is the most thorough and the best way to learn how the wiki concept works. 
  • Find an existing relative on WikiTree and add your branch of the family. Depending on the privacy level of this individual, you might need to request to be added to the "Trusted List" first (more on this below).
  • Upload your Gedcom.  Although this is a valid method, it's the one I recommend least.  With the wiki format, you'll probably want to go through and edit and adjust each profile. Also, you don't want to accidentally duplicate ancestors that might already be in WikiTree. If you do upload a Gedcom, I recommend a small one, maybe back to your Great-Grandparents, to get you started.
     When adding your own family tree you might come across one of your ancestors that is already in the tree.  If this happens, you should NOT recreate this ancestor with your own account. Rather, you should edit the listing that already exists.  Perhaps you have more information on this ancestor: dates, placed, documents, photos, ancestors, descendants.  Add these to this profile - but remember to cite your sources!

     However, your ability to edit the profile will depend on the privacy setting of your ancestor. WikiTree has a wide variety of privacy settings, designed to protect your privacy. However, for deceased, and especially long deceased, ancestors, WikiTree encourages folks to "use the most liberal setting possible."  If you come across a profile that you want to edit, but are prevented from doing so due to the privacy settings, there are still options. Click on the link to "Request to join the Trusted List" and send a message to the other user to created the profile. This is probably your cousin! Introduce yourself and start collaborating!

     If you don't feel quite up to editing the profile yourself, you can always use the features at the bottom of the page to leave comments on the page or on a message board. 

     There's a lot going on at WikiTree, more than I can really get into here. I recommend that you check out the site yourself to discover all there is.  But there's one more thing I want to mention: the biggest reason why you should use WikiTree: cousin bait. 

     "Cousin Bait" is the concept of putting information about your ancestors out on the web to attract the attention of other descendants. You hope that they will contact you and hopefully provide new information.  In my years doing genealogy, I've had the most success thanks to WikiTree.  One cousin who contacted me emailed me copies of a Bible record and snail-mailed me actual original photos of my Great-Grandfather as a young man (the only photos I had of him were from his 40s or older).

     When you do a google search for an ancestor, their WikiTree profile (if one exists), will likely be at the top of the search results and at minimum on the first page of results.  If others are out there searching for your ancestors, they will find your WikiTree profiles via a google search. Who can say no to that?

     Using WikiTree does take some work. It might be a new concept to you, and there might be a learning curve. But if you give it a chance and put some effort into it, I bet you'll get a lot out of it.


Elyse said...

Wonderful blog post! You really highlighted the best of WikiTree - especially Cousin Bait! I'm so glad you've found so much success using WikiTree.


Elyse Doerflinger
WikiTree Evangelist

Jana Iverson Last said...

Thanks for the info. about WikiTree. I haven't tried it yet. Maybe I should. :)

Saskey said...

OK, what's the secret? I cannot find "Cousin Bait" anywhere?

Unknown said...

WikiTree added a new feature to help you create "Cousin Bait." On your ancestor's profile page there is a link that reads "[help cousins find this profile]". It's next to the facebook, twitter, etc links. This page will help you attract cousins to your ancestors' WikiTree pages.

Saskey said...

Thanks, Valerie. Now, I cannot find any "ancestors profile page" nor any facebook/twitter links - where do I find this - maybe I'm on a different WikiTree site??

Unknown said...

Have you created a profile for your ancestor or found one already on the site. For example, this is my Great-Grandfather's page: http://tinyurl.com/d4pssvs. About half way down the page you'll see a row of little icons and the cousin bait link to the right of them.

Saskey said...

Thanks so much (the cousin bait does not appear on your page, of course, but it does on my ancestors' page). A bit obscure, but now I have it. Thanks again.


Mag Gaulden said...

Great post! I have made so many great connections to other living cousins because of WikiTree. In all the years I have been doing genealogy maybe one. In the almost two years on WikiTree? Nearly 60.


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