Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The wiki solution

Some time ago, FamilySearch started a wiki. Genealogy is one of those areas of study that thrives on collaboration and the wiki is the quintessential form of collaboration. It is common that in any given family there will be only a small handful of family members who are interested in or even care about their ancestors. But across the world, there will always be large numbers who are not only interested, but motivated to keeping and researching family history. If these people can communicate easily and quickly, all will benefit even if they cannot find anyone in their own family who will listen to them.

As an aside, perhaps there needs to be a discussion of the terms "family history" and genealogy (from Greek: γενεά, genea, "generation"; and λόγος, logos, "knowledge"). It seems that there are those who make a distinction, for one reason or another, between the two terms. Perhaps out of a concern that the term "genealogy" has a certain amount of negative baggage or connotation. From another perspective, I am sure there are those who revel in claiming to be a "genealogist" rather than a mere "family historian." But the most common definition of genealogy is the study or investigation of ancestry or family history. I use the terms interchangeably.

Back to the wiki. Presently, the FamilySearch Wiki is integrated into the website which will soon replace the older, and now discontinued site. All changes and updates are now going into the Beta site. To those unacquainted with wikis in general, it is difficult to imagine the power of the wiki as a research tool. Here are some of the common problems or challenges of current genealogical research and the way those problems are either solved or moved towards a solution by the online wiki:

Problem: The Internet is rapidly changing and evolving and it is impossible for any one person to keep up with all the changes.

Solution: A wiki is a community of people with an interest in sharing information on the Internet. Because a wiki involves a lot of people, it is more likely that anything new or any changes to existing information will be incorporated into the wiki shortly after they happen.

Problem: Genealogy involves the use of record sources that are sometimes obscure or generally unavailable. It is very difficult for a researcher to know where all these records are located and how to access them.

Solution: A wiki, by its very nature, will accumulate all sorts of detailed information about records and sources. If those involved in an area of specific research share that information on the wiki, it becomes available to all.

Problem: A new genealogist or family historian (whatever) usually has no idea where to start and help from more experienced researchers may not be readily available.

Solution: If experienced researchers incorporate their experience into a wiki, everyone has equal access to the knowledge and experience.

Problem: There may be a large number of different and contradictory opinions about where or how to do research.

Solution: A wiki, through its collaborative nature, moves towards a consensus on every subject. If there is a disagreement on an issue, the wiki can reflect the various disparate opinions.

Problem: As a researcher grows older, he or she may be concerned that all the information they have learned about genealogy will be lost.

Solution: If the seasoned genealogists will share their insights and information on a wiki, all of the cumulative knowledge they possess will be preserved, whether or not their relatives care or not.

Even though I could go on, perhaps from this list, you can begin to see the power of a wiki in solving research problems. In fact, one of the unsolved problems of a wiki is that the information will become so complete and comprehensive, that future researchers will find it harder and harder to find things to add. If you would like to start seeing the solution to the problems, go to and click on the "Learn" tab.

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