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

Friday, March 18, 2011

Speaking Wiki - a genealogist's perspective, Part One

Computer jargon can appear to be a foreign language. This is doubly so with the Internet and web-based applications. Recently, I have been working with the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Although this online resource is relatively new, there will be few, if any, websites that will have a greater impact on genealogy in the future. In the past week the number of articles has increased from the milestone 50,000 to 51,547, that is over 1500 in approximately one week. Additionally, the Research Wiki acts as a front end finding aid for the millions of records going into the Historical Record Collections on

Because of the huge impact this site will have on genealogical research and finding source records online, I will be writing a series of articles highlighting new developments in the Research Wiki and explaining its functions. This first article will start to explain some of the unfamiliar jargon used by wikis in general and specifically by the Research Wiki. Words that are used in special way in wikis will be in bold.

The Research Wiki uses an online program from, the same program used by Wikipedia. Many of the commands, syntax and other features of MediaWiki are exactly the same in the Research Wiki, so most of the online support documents for MediaWiki also apply to the Research Wiki. It is important to understand that the overall structure and form of the wiki is determined by the program. As users add information, their contributions are automatically integrated into the wiki format.

The first thing you need to understand about a wiki is that it is entirely collaborative. That means that all of the information comes from the users. In the case of the Research Wiki, certain information was seeded into the Wiki by personnel at FamilySearch to kick start the project. But currently the new pages or articles are coming from users. A wiki is a collection of pages or articles (essentially the same thing) either with or without an overall theme. In addition to articles about genealogy resources, the Research Wiki contains all of its own instructions. Articles are created and formatted using a markup language called Wikitext.  Here are some references to pages in the Research Wiki that will get you started in contributing to the Wiki:

Help:How to create an article

FamilySearch Wiki:Purpose and Appropriate Topics

FamilySearch Wiki:Conditions of Use

FamilySearch Wiki:Naming conventions

One of the basic organizational functions of a wiki is the concept of namespaces. "A namespace is a high-level category in which articles or pages are created. Namespaces help segregate articles about genealogical research from administrative types of articles, such as those that explain how the Wiki software works" See Help:Namespaces. Here is a list of the namespaces in the Research Wiki:

All the categories used in FamilySearch Research Wiki to help users find and navigate to research topics that would be helpful in their family history research.
FamilySearch Wiki
Information about this wiki; i.e. policies that apply here. This namespace also has an alias, which is the name of the wiki installation.
Documentation about working with the wiki software. This could be mirrored from outside sites, or locally written.
For descriptions of uploaded files or media files. You shouldn't create these directly; they are created when you click the Upload file link in the toolbox.
Use this namespace to link to uploaded files directly, rather than through the description pages.
Use this namespace to change the default system messages, See Help:System message on meta.
Portals are in the process of being deleted.
Each page has a corresponding discussion page. This can be used for feedback/comments about that page, or other local notes that another group may want to associate with the page, without modifying the document directly, or for any other additional information to associate with the document.
This is used for meta-information that is to be transcluded into multiple documents, such as tags to mark the status of a document.
For personal notes. Each User has a corresponding user page for their own information. Users can also create subpages, by using a / after their name.
The discussion page on a user's page can be used for leaving messages. If this page is edited, the next time that user logs in they will see a box notifying them that they have new messages
Pages or articles exist within a namespace, and this can be distinguished using the namespace prefix of a page, which forms part of the title of a page, separated with a colon (:).

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