The Wonders of WikiTree: Adventures in Collaborative Genealogy (Part 4)

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Part 4: Projects and Free-Space Profiles:

With this article, we conclude our WikiTree Adventure in Collaborative Genealogy.  Previously, we have introduced the concept of Collaborative Genealogy, learned how the Honor Code creates the environment for successful collaboration, and discovered a community of supporters in the Lost Land of G2G. We will now turn our attention to Projects and Free-Space Profiles, both of which create opportunities to work in collaborative groups and to share discoveries with others.

Before we begin, it is important to distinguish between crowd-sourced genealogy and collaborative genealogy. WikiTree is a Wiki, as such it allows for crowdsourcing to help grow the single family tree. Crowdsourcing means that any individual can contribute to an open profile without the need for approval from someone else. Other individuals can then review and edit that person’s work as well.  The result can be good, bad, or just different. To many genealogists, this aspect of unregulated editing is the most unsettling part of a Wiki. In fact, it is one of the reasons WikiTree established the Honor Code (see part 2). WikiTree knows that, in the right environment, crowd-sourced genealogy moves toward greater accuracy over time. Furthermore, WikiTree is more than a crowd-sourced environment: it is also collaborative. Working together, genuine collaboration and WikiTree’s Honor Code make a huge difference in the effectiveness of crowd-sourced works.

Because of the Honor Code, participation on WikiTree requires accuracy and sourcing, while still allowing for mistakes. When you agree to the Honor Code, you are agreeing to collaborate and work with others.  Unlike crowd-sourced works, you are agreeing to respond to requests for clarification about your work. This difference pushes profiles towards greater accuracy and better sourcing. By encouraging discussions based on quality sources and sound reasoning, profiles improve and become more accurate over time. In fact, many WikiTree genealogists love collaborating so much that they have created genealogical projects built around a common topic or theme and invite others to join them.

WikiTree Projects are opportunities for like-minded individuals to work together to develop ancestor profiles, and to grow the single family tree.  In Part 3, The Lost Land of G2G, we introduced the Mayflower Project as an example of collaboration.  The Mayflower Project was started by a group of WikiTreers who have a keen interest in the genealogies of the Mayflower passengers who settled Plymouth Colony in 1620.  They are well versed in the source materials available for use in documenting the genealogies of these individuals and families. By sharing their knowledge, this group has created profiles that are well sourced and documented. They eagerly and actively discuss and debate these genealogies, then agree on what is correct and what should be written down and documented.  This is true collaboration.  It is this active and open discussion of accuracy, sources and documentation that makes WikiTree a wonderful place to collaborate.  This kind of collaboration is repeated in the many WikiTree Projects found on the site.

Most of the WikiTree projects use G2G, Google Groups, and Facebook Groups to hold their discussions and to make decisions.  While G2G is open for anyone to see, Google Groups and FaceBook groups require you to join the group. However, to join a project, you will need to visit the project page, review the requirements to participate, and follow the sign up procedure provided.  Signing up is often accomplished by answering a question on G2G.

You can see a complete list of Projects here: WikiTree Projects.

Let’s look at an example of how Projects can help you with your genealogy. WikiTree has several Roots Projects. The German Roots project, for example, is comprised of WikiTreers who enjoy working on profiles that have German origins. Say you are an American with German roots, and that you have in your possession a document that is written in German. You believe it might be a birth record of some kind, but because you may not speak or read German you cannot transcribe this document.  You could try using Google Translate, which may prove useful for gleaning the basic vitals and some key details from your document. But keep in mind that Google Translate may not recognize misspelled German words, or understand the context in which the document was written. Nor can it properly translate any colloquialisms that may have been used. In this situation, would it not be better to have someone who not only speaks and reads German, but who may also understand Old German, and knows the origin and purpose of the document? What if this person was also a genealogist? You could hire a professional genealogist – something you might eventually need to do.  However, as a member of WikiTree, you would do well to start with G2G and reach out to the German Roots Project first.

Again, as we discussed in the Lost Land of G2G, you start by creating a profile for the person in question and then attach your document to that profile.  Next, you go to G2G and link that profile to your question and tag it as German Roots. This causes an email to be sent to all the individuals who follow the German Roots tag. Ideally, several of them would respond.  Because they are interested in profiles with German origins, many of these members have the knowledge and skills you need to properly translate your document. You have just collaborated with the German Roots Project.

WikiTree Projects have been created around topics such as historical eras, ethnic and international origins, a variety of specialized topics and WikiTreers interested in promoting the health, accuracy and usability of WikiTree.

If you cannot find a group that shares your interest, you can reach out on G2G to gather like-minded individuals and propose a project. Formal WikiTree Projects need to be approved by the community and WikiTree staff to ensure that there is no overlap with existing projects, and that the organizing concept will help grow an accurate single family tree. Because many projects are broad in scope, they are designated Top Level Projects.  Smaller groups then work together in Sub-projects to focus on a specific aspect of the larger Project.  For example, the Military and War Project sets basic standards for all their sub-projects, like The Great War 1914-1918 and Mexican American War.

If WikiTree Projects are opportunities for like-minded individuals to share and collaborate on a common theme or topic, then Free-Space Profiles are opportunities for an individual to gather thoughts, ideas, analyses, and other useful information and resources that can be shared with other genealogists when needed.  They can be anything your creativity dreams up.  Free-Space profiles are webpages for anything you care to record or document.

Here are some examples:

  1. Gathering Source Material
    1. 1776 Project Resource Page
    1. Kitty’s Library
    1. Co. C, 10th Regiment, N. C. State Troops, CSArmy
  2. Organizing Personal Projects
    1. Early Settlers of Bristol, Rhode Island
    1. Edward D. Whitten’s Model Ships
    1. The Drapers’ City of London Livery Company
  3. Documenting Research
    1. Isaac Sheldon Research Analysis
    1. Analysis of Franklyn Bearce’s Genealogy
    1. Replacement Profile for Cornblossom
  4. Organizing Group Activities
    1. New Zealand Project – Member Interests
    1. Adoption Angels Welcome Mat
    1. 52 Ancestors for 52 Weeks in 2018 Challenge

These are just a small sampling of the many Free-Space Profiles on WikiTree.  You can search for more on the Index of Free-Space Profiles or reach out on the G2G forum.

Each Free-Space Profile has it’s own URL. For Example, Kitty’s Library URL is (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Kitty%27s_Library).  This URL or Web address can be shared with others by email, Social Media or placed as a link on another webpage.  This is great for collaborating with others who are not on WikiTree.  Perhaps you are working on Smiths, for example, you could create research notes and coordinate with other Smith researchers via Free-Space pages.  This ability to share your work greatly adds to collaboration efforts.

One of the complaints that online genealogists have is the amount of misinformation that exists online.  With a Free-Space profile, you can document an extensive analysis of a family line complete with the sources used.  This Free-Space page can be linked to the profiles that have been researched and documented. It can then be shared with other researchers.  This ability to share a lengthy analysis just by pasting a link will save you the frustration of having to repeat it over and over again with less experienced researchers. Additionally, because WikiTree continually optimizes its site for search engines to find and index its webpages, other researchers are likely to discover your work when searching online.  This means your information can help combat a lot of mythologies posted elsewhere, and encourage greater collaboration.

A hybrid between Free-Space Profiles and WikiTree Projects are Free-Space Projects. These are unofficial projects that allow you to involve other genealogists around a common topic or theme without WikiTree approval. It is possible that these projects grow to the point that they become official WikiTree Projects.  You can read more on help page for Free-Space Projects.

WikiTree is wonderful, and you will find no better site online for genealogical collaboration. WikiTree offers a place to create a single family tree that can greatly aid your research. In fact, many WikiTreers use WikiTree for their primary family tree. WikiTree is designed to attract other researchers by providing Cousin Bait, and offers a plethora of tools for working with others in a positive and productive manner. While genealogical collaboration is not a replacement for doing your own research, it is a wonderful tool for making and sharing new discoveries by working with others who share your love of genealogy. WikiTree is different because it makes a concerted effort to gather a unique community of researchers who share common goals, value sound genealogical practices, and enjoy helping each other grow their knowledge and skills as they find and share ancestors. 

Discover the Wonders of WikiTree and start your genealogical adventure today.  Sign up, embrace the Honor Code, and say hello on G2G. WikiTreers are waiting to collaborate with you.

Welcome to WikiTree! 

(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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