The Wonders of WikiTree: Adventures in Collaborative Genealogy (Part 2)

Part 2: The Honor Code:

In Preparing for the Adventure, we introduced you to concept of genealogical collaboration as conceived by Chris Whitten, creator of WikiTree. As a place “where genealogists collaborate,” WikiTree encourages individuals to work together on shared ancestors while building a single family tree. The concept of working together on shared ancestors is not the common experience on most online genealogical sites, and WikiTree is aware that this unusual experience creates challenges for the first-time participant. To help ease the transition, Chris developed the Honor Code.

For members of WikiTree, the Honor Code is the “secret sauce” to productive and enjoyable collaboration. Most people fail to read the Terms of Service before joining any given website. However, failing to do so means entering at your own peril. With WikiTree especially, it is imperative to your success and enjoyment that you understand the Honor Code and abide by its principles.

Because collaboration requires individuals with varying degrees of knowledge, skills and abilities to work together towards a common goal, the Honor Code establishes the foundation from which everyone must work.

Be forewarned, WikiTree is a unique experience that is unsettling to many, especially in the beginning. This uneasiness begins to disappear as members learn to embrace the Honor Code. Those who embrace the Honor Code often experience an epiphany about what working collaboratively truly means. For these individuals, WikiTree is as addicting as genealogy itself. In joining WikiTree and embracing all that comes with it, you will not find a better group of genealogists willing to help and who care about doing genealogy well.

So, let’s put on our Collaborative Genealogy Goggles and take a closer look at the principles of WikiTree’s Honor Code.

Our Honor Code

1. We collaborate. When we share ancestors we work together on the same ancestor profiles.

When you share the same ancestor, there should be only one profile for that ancestor. That profile does not belong to you or the person you are sharing with, it belongs to the community at large. You will collaborate on what that single profile should look like. This collaborative element requires you to share and to discuss what you know with one another, and come to an agreement of what should be included on that profile. This process is vastly different than sites like Ancestry, where each genealogist can have their own version of an ancestor. When we have to share the ancestor, we need to engage in discussion on how we know what we know. These conversations should revolve around what evidence exists to support your statements of fact. When done politely and productively, this collaboration can lead to new discoveries and better-sourced profiles.

A Profile Manager is someone who has created or adopted a profile and has accepted the responsibility of developing that profile for the community. It does not mean that they own the profile. They are the WikiTree genealogist who is currently shepherding the profile and who has agreed to respond to requests for collaboration.

2. We care about accuracy. We’re always aiming to improve upon our worldwide family tree and fix mistakes.

People make mistakes, accepting this as fact and endeavoring to work together to replace mistakes with documented evidence is part of the process.

3. We know mistakes are inevitable. We don’t want to be afraid to make them. We assume that mistakes are unintentional when others make them and ask for the same understanding.

Because we know mistakes are part of the process, we help each other without attacking those who make the mistake. If we are all working from the principles of the Honor Code, mistakes provide an opportunity for clarification. Be open to discussion. In fact, because you are agreeing to collaborate, you are agreeing to respond to requests for clarification. If you do not respond, you are not collaborating. There are processes in place to help those who wish to collaborate but find it difficult because a member is not responding. For an example, visit Unresponsive Profile Manager on WikiTree.

4. We know misunderstandings are inevitable. We try to minimize them by being courteous to everyone, even to those who don’t act accordingly.

WikiTree provides examples to help you communicate on a more productive level. Visit Don’t WikiTree While Angry.

5. We respect privacy. We privacy-protect anything we think our family members might not want public. If that’s not enough for someone, we delete their personal information.

Privacy is very important on WikiTree, if you still have questions or concerns after reading WikiTree’s Privacy policy, you can reach out and ask for clarification. The staff at WikiTree is very responsive.

6. We respect copyrights. We don’t knowingly copy information that’s owned by someone else. If we ourselves want to preserve a copyright, we’re clear about what’s copyrighted so others don’t accidentally copy it.

If you have questions about what you are sharing, you can visit the G2G forum (Genealogists to Genealogists Forum) for help. Many of our members are well versed in this area and will work with you to help resolve your concerns.

7. We give credit. Although most genealogy isn’t copyrighted, researchers deserve credit for the work they’ve done.

If someone or some site has helped you find a genealogical gold nugget, give them a shout out. You can acknowledge them on their profile or on the profile they helped you with. One of the best places to say thank you is on the G2G forum, which we will discover on our next adventure.

8. We cite sources. Without sources we can’t objectively resolve conflicting information.

Beginning genealogists sometimes confuse sources with citations. WikiTree wants to know how you have come to know what you are claiming. What evidence do you have for your statements of fact? When you first create a profile you will be asked to provide evidence for the existence of the person: where did you get this information, what is your source? While one good source may be enough to create the profile, you may be asked by other collaborators for any additional source material you may have, and to document it on the profile so that they too can find it and examine it. The act of writing it down is your citation. What is unique about WikiTree is that they recognize that not everyone is a professional genealogist. Because WikiTree cares about accuracy, they have created a climate where evidence and source citations are valued and frequently requested. We will learn more about how WikiTree values source citations when we encounter Sourcerers later on in our adventure. For now, just do the best you can.

9. We are united in a mission to increase the world’s common store of knowledge. We always respect copyrights and privacy, but we keep information as free and open as possible.

Sign Here X_______________.

[YOU], Wonderful WikiTreer.

Once you have fully absorbed, understood and signed the Honor Code, you will be properly prepared to cross the threshold into the world of WikiTree. On our next adventure, we will meet the many magical helpers waiting for you in the Lost Land of G2G.


(Michael has been a WikiTreer since December 2011 and a Volunteer Leader since Oct 2014. He is currently working for WikiTree to help expand awareness of the site. Michael is owner of Missing Roots Genealogy and a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. He recently completed the Online Genealogical Research Certificate offered through Boston University’s school of Professional Studies.)

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