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Friday, February 4, 2011

The FamilySearch Wiki -- A Multi-faceted Online Tool

The growth of the FamilySearch Wiki (wiki.familysearch.org) is phenomenal even this day of online wonders. But in using its now vast resources, some of the most useful functions of the Wiki may be overlooked. I can suggest a number of alternative functions for this resource.

Each time one of the older members of our genealogical community dies we lose a unique and valuable resource of information and experience. The FamilySearch Wiki is a natural repository for each genealogist's personal knowledge. Just as we can all see the value in recording the life experiences of our elderly ancestors, the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of our older genealogists should also be preserved. How are we going to do this? The Wiki forms a natural outline of genealogical information connected both by location and category. Let's imagine that our older genealogist friend has accumulated a lifetime of notes and experience finding names and dates in a particular geographic area. This information can be transferred to the Wiki either by the individual or by a friend or assistant with knowledge of the Wiki program. The present challenge of the Wiki is not that there is too much detailed information, but that there is not enough detail in the entries. Each entry should contain not only the link or citation but also a personal evaluation of the source including its reliability and accessibility. If you or an older colleague have this kind of evaluative information, it could prove to be invaluable for other researchers.

I am not proposing that the Wiki needs to contain personal histories or narratives, but each of us has used some record and has experience that is unique about finding information in the record. It is this very personal perspective that needs to be preserved.

Another example of the personal experience that can be preserved in the Wiki is the information concerning the location and layout of cemeteries including photos and maps. Blog posts are full of stories about the difficult job of locating an old abandoned cemetery. It is nice that some of this information is being preserved online, but it would be more helpful if those who learn specific information about a source of information such as the physical location of a cemetery with its map coordinates, add this information to the Wiki. The physical location information could also include any permissions needed to enter the property. The Wiki entry could also contain reference to any other records that might be available about the cemetery, such as those records in a sexton's office or in the town records where the cemetery is located.

Taking the idea of recording personal research experiences in locating sources a little further, brings us to the possibility of recording our own research notes and evaluations in the Wiki as we accumulate them. If I take a trip to a major repository, such as the Family History Library, I could use the Wiki organization to record all of the notes I make about pertinent records I find concerning a geographic area. Rather than have that information locked up in my personal notes, I can make my research efforts available to a world wide audience. Once the information is on the Wiki, other users can add to my notes and may give insights I may never have realized on my own. The caution here is not to add information of a personal or private nature, but information about our successful personal efforts to find genealogical resources.

One of the inherent characteristics of the Wiki is the ability of the user to watch a page. If you are doing research in a certain geographic area, you should watch all the pages with information about that area. There is always the possibility that someone else will add some information about sources that will help you find the ancestors you are seeking. Likewise, we all need to think that adding information to the Wiki will provide a way for others to find their own ancestors.

As you use the Wiki, use your imagination. Perhaps you will find other valuable uses for this online resource. Wiki.FamilySearch.org

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