The following is an archive of WikiTree's blog posts from May 2008 to May 2010. The blog is no longer active. The discussion has moved to the WikiTree Facebook group. Please join us there and add your questions or comments on anything below. You can also e-mail us.
This is something I plan to do every month. I start with a list of the 30 most active surnames from the previous month. That is, the family names that had the most new additions. From this, I select 10 to discuss.
I think it's a good way to give some credit to hardworking WikiTreers and highlight the neat contributions that they've made. Check out the page and let me know what you think.
I like that WikiTree gives me a way to understand and celebrate my grandfather's life and share this page with my family, without sharing it with the world.
I like that my brother and I can organize photos from our childhood.
I like that when there's a big family party I can remind my forgetful self of names and faces and relationships.
I like that when my great aunt passed away there was a ready-made memorial page for memories and pictures.
But honestly, if I wasn't the webmaster, would I choose a different site to organize and preserve my own family history?
I haven't done this in a while so I spent some hours today and yesterday experimenting with alternatives.
Why not keep our family tree on Ancestry.com? Ancestry and many of the other big commercial sites don't require you to be a paying member to store your family information on their site, or at least some of it. But I can't get past the fact that selling you on a membership is their primary goal.
It's not that I don't think their services are worth paying for. I've paid to be an Ancestry.com member in the past and I'm sure I will again. But I don't want to maintain a membership. I get on research kicks and that's when I want the database access. I don't want to be bombarded with requests to upgrade every time I want to look at my family tree or add a photo.
Even more, I don't want my family members bombarded with these membership requests. I want to share our family history and enable them to fill in missing information, but I don't expect most of them to be doing genealogical research. They don't need to be paying members of Ancestry.com, especially if I'm a paying member.
Geni is something to consider. Like WikiTree, they're not selling database services and they're designed to be collaborative. Also, they recently upgraded their privacy protections so you have the same basic flexibility as you have on WikiTree where you can protect information on close family members but share information on more distant ancestors with progressively wider circles of people.
The dead-end for me with Geni is that it's a closed social network. I want the public information on my ancestors to be easily accessible to anyone through search engines. I want distant cousins to find the pages I've created so that we can share what we know and collaborate across space and time. For me, that's the whole point of having one worldwide family tree on the web. On Geni you can't even collaborate with Geni members outside your network who share your ancestors unless you pay for a membership.
Another site worth more serious consideration is WeRelate. It's a wiki that's designed entirely for collaboration. They're not selling anything and it's one world tree. And the sense I get of the people involved in the project is really positive.
There's one big problem with WeRelate for my purposes: no privacy protections. Because it's all open they've made the wise decision to prohibit you from creating pages for any living people. It works well for distant ancestors. If I were just interested in genealogy and pedigrees I'd be using WeRelate.
But I'm interested in family history. Including current and recent history. And this requires privacy protections.
I like WikiTree. I do think it's the best tool for organizing, sharing, and preserving my family history.
What do you think? Is there a better way for you? Or an alternative I haven't considered?
For new WikiTree announcements and interaction, check out the WikiTree page on Facebook. Will you add yourself to that group?
I'm going to start using it to announce new features and answer WikiTreer's questions.
You can now view a nested list of anyone's children, and children's children, and children's children's children ... . It's like the inverse of a family tree. Instead of climbing up through ancestors you're digging down through descendants.
If you have children, click here to view your descendants page.
You can see anyone's descendants by clicking the icon to the right of their name on their profile page, or clicking the "Family Tree" tab and then selecting one of the descendant icons.
What makes this feature especially meaningful, I think, is how it highlights the connections between distant cousins. When I click to see all the descendants of an ancestor and see my name on there, it reminds me of my special connection to all the names on the list.
In addition to being a great platform for recreating family history, WikiTree is also a brilliant resource for collaborating with others on special community projects. Two such projects currently in the works are for Twins and another for Centenarians.
Our reigning Queen of WikiTree, Joanna Tolson, took the initiative to kick start these pages in an effort to bring together Twins Throughout the Ages and Centenarians: Our Link to Ages Gone By. Wouldn't it be fascinating to see if there is a deep, historical link to all things twin? Or learning the secrets of living into the truly golden years by connecting with others who are or have known a Centenarian?
If you'd like to take part in these global activities, just create an account and start building your family history. After setting up a twin or centenarian on your tree, you can add these individuals to the respective pages by editing their bios and adding [[Category:Centenarians]] or [[Category:Twins]].
Categories will be powerful tools for history. They enable WikiTreers to connect records in creative and unusual ways. Imagine connecting the pages of sailors who served on the same ship in World War 2, or neighbors who grew up on the same street, or students who attended the same school.
Categories can be used for your own family history too. WikiTreer extraordinaire Joanna Tolson asked about ways to highlight particular people in her Watchlist, e.g. one who was a professional hockey player, or the family with triplets.
If you don't mind sharing the category with other WikiTreers, you could create generic categories such as "Professional Hockey Players" and "Triplets". Simply put something like [[Category:Professional Hockey Players]] in the person's bio/notes. A category page will instantly be created and anyone else who creates a page for a professional hockey player will be able to add them in the same way.
If you want to keep a personal category for special people in just your family, one way to do it would be a category like [[Category:Select Family Members of Joanna Tolson]].
Another cool thing about category pages is that you can add a description to the top of them. For example, Joanna might want to explain the meaning of her "Select Family Members of Joanna Tolson" page and why people are listed there. To add this description, however, you need to have special "Super" editing rights at WikiTree. Ask me about this when you want to add a description and I can help.
Top WikiTreer Joanna and I have been talking about the issue of what to do with Catholic confirmation names on WikiTree.
She has this whole line of French ancestors deep in her family tree named Joseph and Marie. This has caused her great consternation when it comes to navigating between them. How do you know, at a glance, which family member is which? Is it Joseph the grandfather, or Joseph the father, or Joseph the son, or Joseph the grandson, etc., etc.?
I just looked at her Watchlist. She has 154 men named Joseph Pitre in there. Uh ... I didn't even realize how was this bad was for her until just now. I'm sorry, Jo.
Because of some recent improvements, mostly suggested by Joanna, it is getting easier to tell one Joseph from another. When you're on a family tree page you can see full middle names, birth dates, and death dates. However, in searches and automatic matches you can still only see middle initials and birth and death decades.
The difference in name presentation is because of privacy issues. You can only view a particular person's family tree page when you have Trusted List access to them, but anybody can do a search. Therefore, we can list full info on a family tree but not in search results. At some point we will make searches sophisticated enough to know whether the user doing the search is in a particular person's Trusted List or not, or if that particular person is unrestricted, but for now that's not possible.
On profile pages, when you have Trusted List access, of course, you can see a person's full information. But even here on profiles, it's not clear how confirmation names should be entered and presented.
How should confirmation names be entered and used so that it's easy for a person like Joanna to preserve this important information yet still tell people apart?
An obvious solution would be to add new Confirmation Name fields and display them everywhere we display a name. But as Joanna knows I'm hesitant to do this. We already have eight fields for names:
Proper First Name (i.e. full, formal first name)
Preferred Name (i.e. colloquial version of first name)
Last Name at Birth
Current Last Name (or last name at death)
Moreover, we're considering adding a third last name field. Joanna and others have pointed out that last names often have alternate spellings, especially as you go back in history. This field could also be used when women married more than once and therefore had more than one married name.
The disadvantage of adding new fields is complexity. The more complexity you add for advanced users the more difficult or daunting the site becomes for newbies. It's very important to me that WikiTree be accessible to new and casual users, since most of us want our family members to view the site and participate even if they don't want to devote a lot of time and energy to family history.
An idea I had this morning is for confirmation names to be put in the Nicknames field. When we added that third first name field I meant it to be for any kind of alternate name, so I think this would fit. Perhaps we could rename the field to make it more inclusive.
I'm not a Catholic and I don't have experience with how confirmation names are used. In modern American usage, I think, they're usually put after a middle name, right? How about in genealogical and historical records?
Thoughts? Does anybody know how other family tree sites and software packages organize confirmation names?
A-1 awesome WikiTreer C-G Magnussen has been pioneering the use of categories on WikiTree.
Those of you familiar with Wikipedia or another wiki may know how categories work. Anyone can instantly connect pages under the umbrella of any category they choose. For example, I could create a category called "Whittens from Fitchburg, Massachusetts" and add my family members to it. I simply go to the Edit page of a family member and enter this anywhere in the main body of the Bio/Notes: [[Category:Whittens from Fitchburg, Massachusetts]]
Without doing anything else, this page is created: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Category:Whittens_from_Fitchburg%2C_Massachusetts
I can even proceed to make "Whittens from Fitchburg, Massachusetts" a sub-category of something like "Whitten Families" or "Families from Fitchburg, Massachusetts" or both.
C-G's current interest is Italian immigrants to Sweden so he's been working on this: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Category:Italians_in_Sweden.
Categories are potentially very powerful tools for wiki genealogy but they haven't been optimized for our WikiTree use yet. For example, the links on the category pages appear as file names (aka WikiTree IDs) instead of names, e.g. Whitten-1 instead of Chris Whitten.
Today C-G asked about this: "When I add the category info in the Bio Notes it isn't showing on that profile unless you have permission to edit. I wonder if the information about what categories a person belongs to should be listed automatically somewhere on the Profile page!? I know I can add the category links manually."
I think this is a good idea. Does anybody else have input?
WikiTree finally has its own search engine for people.
This should make it much easier for new users to quickly see if someone is already on the worldwide wiki family tree. It will also make it easier for WikiTreers to quickly jump to one of their own family members. Instead of clicking around your family tree or scrolling down your Watchlist, you can just type in the first name and last name.
This could be a big step for WikiTree is another way. When you search for someone and don't find them, you can add them with one click. In other words, if you search for "Joe Schmoe" and he's not on WikiTree yet, you just have to hit the "Add Joe Schmoe" button and he'll be there the next time someone searches. Of course, he'll be nothing but a name with a blank page at first, but hopefully the original user and future users will add more and connect him to the tree.
Joanna Tolson and I have been talking about the under-utilized Memories sections. This is the area on every profile page for personal messages and stories related to the person.
She wrote, "Perhaps we can start a discussion on how to make the Memories field more attractive to WikiTreers. I know I enjoy anecdotal asides in my research when I come across them. Someone is more than a name, date and place when there is a little story attached."
I agree 100%. Genealogy is one thing. Family history can be so much more. WikiTree is designed for showcasing the richness of individual lives and relationships — memories, stories, photos — but a lot of that is neglected.
How can we encourage more people to use the Memories sections?
Joanna came up with these Memory-Inspiring Questions. Now she's talking about e-mailing out an interview form for all her relatives to fill out.
Any other ideas for promoting this sort of thing?
Here's another interesting issue that Fay and Joanna brought up.
At the risk of sounding insensitive, Fay asked about what would happen "if some 80 year old comes in here and makes a massive tree then kicks the bucket?"
First, some background for new WikiTreers who might be reading this. WikiTree's unique privacy and permissions system is based on "Trusted Lists". Every profile (usually of a person, but it could also be for a pet, place, event, etc.) has its own Trusted List. Anyone on the Trusted List has full permission to view and edit the profile's data.
One person on the Trusted List is designated as the Profile Manager. This is usually the WikiTreer who created the profile. The manager gets the request when someone new wants to join them on the Trusted List.
So, what happens if the Profile Manager dies? For that matter, what about the less morbid and probably more common scenario where a Profile Manager forgets about WikiTree when they change their e-mail address? Access requests start to bounce.
I'm ashamed to say I don't have a good answer for this yet. The best I can say is that if you suspect a situation like this you can contact me personally and I'll try to resolve it.
We will need a policy for this. Maybe it can be based on a certain amount of time going by without a response to an access request. If the Profile Manager ignores requests (for whatever reason) the request could go to someone else on the Trusted List. If there is nobody else on the Trusted List, it could go to me.
Any thoughts on this?
Fay and Joanna brought up a bunch of issues in their comments to my "Upload pdf files as images" post. I don't have good answers to some of them and decided I should try talking them out with you.
Here's one that I puzzle over. Joanna wrote, "I've come across bunches of people with birthdays like this (August 4, 1824/1825) and guess what? Yep, I gotta pick ONE year because WikiTree doesn't let me put both years in. Sometimes I find ‘born aft. 1692' and can't add that either. GIVE ME SOME LEEWAY, CHRIS! You're so inflexible with history."
One thing WikiTree does have, that I haven't seen on any other family tree tools, is a "certainty status" radio button by each field. That is, you can mark a date as certain, uncertain, or intentionally blank. This way if you're not sure if a birth date was, say, 1824 or 1825, you can choose one and mark the field as uncertain.
Another thing you can do is use the free wiki space section to explain this in more detail. For example, you might write, "The birth date is marked as 1824 but it could also be 1825. It's based on the self-reported age of 66 in the 1890 census ..." or whatever.
All fine and good, you say, but how come the date field doesn't just allow text like "1824/1825??
My reasoning: real dates, even guesses, make automatic matching easier. Text fields vary so much ("about", "abt.", "circa", "ca.", "around", etc.) that they're tough to match.
In another post Fay and I talked about how to know whether one John Denman is the same as another John Denman. Birth and death dates, of course, are an important part of this. Our system will be able to compare "1825? with other dates, but a text field that says "1824/1825? or "abt. 1825? won't be interpreted.
We'll also be working on other ways to use dates. You might want a timeline for your family. Or maybe you'd want to call up a list of all your family members who were born in the 1820s. Who knows. Having real dates will make all this easier.
That said, our system isn't perfect. Handling of dates can and will be improved, I'm just not sure how yet.
In addition to the "about" and "after" type dates that Fay mentioned, I'd like WikiTree to be able to handle decades. You should be able to say someone was born in the 1820s if that's all you know. Forcing you to choose a date like 1825 when you really have no idea of the exact year is far less than ideal.
Anybody have suggestions? Have you seen other tools that do this sort of thing especially well?
Progress continues, thanks to constant feedback from WikiTreers.
One new addition that might interest you: you can now upload Adobe pdf files to your profiles of family members, places, things, etc. They function just like images. Simply click "upload image" on any page. You can then associate the pdf with as many profiles as you like, add a title, location, date, and/or comments.
We're still hard at work on our "gedcom" importing program. Those of you who use other family tree programs will easily be able to import your current work to WikiTree so there's no duplication of your efforts. If you do have a gedcom file (and you do if you use just about any other family tree software or website) and you're willing to help test the new import process let me know.
This week, on the advice of my wife Megan, I'm experimenting with a different tagline: The Encyclopedia of You.
Huh? What? Why?
Hear me out on this.
I've got a problem. I'm having a heck of a time describing WikiTree to people, even in person.
The thing is, it's not just a family tree tool. The collaborative free wiki space is structured, yes, and it's optimized for family history. But to me family history isn't all pedigrees and bloodlines. (Actually, I find those terms really distasteful. Maybe it's the mental association with dog breeding. Anyway ...)
Family history is personal history; it's anything of significance to you and your loved ones.
Collaborating on personal history means pages about your family members, definitely. Maybe also about the house you grew up in. Or the dog your father adored. Or the pipe your grandfather smoked. Or the business your sister started.
All sorts of things can be meaningful to you and should be recorded and shared. I can't say in advance what those things will be, but I know they'll go beyond family trees. I want WikiTree to be a tool for all your personal history, not just your "bloodline".
This is why Megan thinks the "Encyclopedia of You" line makes sense.
What do you think? E-mail me or post here.
This site is all about encouraging interaction in order to grow family history. This means walking a fine line between privacy and public access. Too many restrictions inhibit collaboration. Too few compromise essential privacy. Our unique private-public balance is what makes WikiTree special.
After much input and consideration, I'm moving a smidge of weight from the private side to the public side of the scales.
Until now Bulletin Boards on person profiles have been "half" public. Anyone could post a message, but only those on the Trusted List could see the messages. Starting next week they will be fully public. Anyone can post and anyone can view.
The Memories section of person profiles will still be fully private. Only those on the Trusted List can post and view memories about protected people.
Public Bulletin Boards will enable more unplanned, fortuitous interactions. It will be easier for total strangers and distant relatives to connect and communicate without compromising the privacy of the entire profile.
As always keep giving me feedback.
Onward and upward,
Here's a new way to describe the site: hyperscrapbooking.
As I wrote on the home page, "WikiTree is like hyperscrapbooking. It's not just for collaborative family history. It's a powerful tool for preserving and sharing anything we care about."
The idea for looking at the website as a digital scrapbook came from Lainey Millen, the sister of my old friend and mentor, Andrea Millen Rich. Lainey wrote to me, "I do find that it is very different that Ancestry.Com and others similar to it. It seems to be more of a tree + scrapbook to me."
The scrapbook aspect of WikiTree has been overlooked. I have tended to describe our free-space pages — for family heirlooms, events, homes, pets, or anything else — as ways to grow history. And that is how I see them. If I create a page for, say, my great-grandfather's model ships, this becomes a potential resource for anyone researching 19th century tallships or New England folk art carving or whatever else that I may not ever expect.
Calling it "history" is very abstract. Scrapbooking is something many of us can relate to. It gives us a clearer frame of reference for what you can do with these pages.
P.S. Lainey was also asking me about the lack of a search engine. This finally got me off my butt to add one. See the bottom of any WikiTree page.
Here's something suggested by a few of you guys.
You can now add personal comments to your family members and friends when you invite them to join your WikiTree. It used to be that they just got an automatic machine-generated message. Now you can personalize the invitation.
Check if your family members have joined by looking at your Watchlist. (Click the "My Watchlist" link from the bottom of any page.) If it says "Pending" click the reinvite link and tell them to join you!
By the way, if it says "Active" that means they've already joined. If there's nothing next to their name that means there's no e-mail address on their profile. Add one through their edit page.
P.S. Why not just e-mail your friends and family and tell them about WikiTree.com? I certainly appreciate it when you do this, but it means that they will not be connected to you or your tree. They'll be coming in like any other stranger and won't be able to access your private pages.
Among the variety of recent improvements: "certainty status" buttons for WikiSpace free-space pages. You'll find these buttons all over the site now.
WikiTree is designed to make it easy to see what you know and what you don't know. When your family members are signed-in they'll see question marks asking for their help. This makes collaboration easy and fun, and keeps your family history growing.
If you're describing an event but not sure if you have the date right, just mark it as "uncertain". Others will see a link that says "[is this right?]" next to the date. If they can confirm it they'll mark it as certain.
If you're adding a relative and you don't know their middle name, leave it blank. Others will see a link that says "[middle name?]".
If you're adding a relative and you know they don't have a middle name, leave it blank ... and also check the "intentionally blank" button. This way others won't think it's just missing.
Are you hesitant about adding a birthday for privacy reasons? Mark that field as intentionally blank. This way others won't make the mistake of adding it.
It's a neat little feature, I think, and helps make WikiTree uniquely valuable for growing personal history.
One question/suggestion I've heard from many of you (including just a few days ago from "Rocklynn" in a comment on this blog): allow for more than one spouse on a profile.
I had reservations about implementing this too hastily because I know some people wouldn't want their ex right there next to their current spouse on their profile. The way we've done it now is that you can check a box for "do not display." That preserves the data but doesn't put it on the front profile page.
This is brand new so let me know if you find any bugs or have more questions or comments.
Today we added two much-requested fields to person profiles: place of birth and place of death. Although you could enter this info in the wiki biographical space, genealogists have pointed out to me that having separate database fields will enable sorting and searches in the future. These fields will also be necessary when we implement "GEDCOM" data importing and exporting.
WikiTree is designed to be flexible. You don't need to enter anything in these fields. If you click the "blank for extra privacy" for birth place and/or "blank because still living" for death place they won't appear as outstanding questions and nobody else in your family will be tempted to answer them.
Keep your suggestions coming.
Did you see the site this week? We introduced a super-sweet round of improvements, many of which were suggested by you guys.
One suggestion that I heard from four or five of you was to add a bigger-picture way to view family trees. And you made clear: "it should be easy to print." Check.
Every person profile now has a Five-Generation Family Tree page. Click on the green "Family Tree" link on your profile. It has the basic information going back to your great-great-grandparents, links to full profiles, and makes clear where information is missing.
Keep your suggestions coming.
Onward and upward,
Hello Pioneer WikiTreers,
Progress continues apace. Cosmetically speaking, we've got a new logo. Ain't it schnazzy?
Along with the new logo comes a new tagline. Instead of "WikiTree: Collaborative family history" I'm trying out "WikiTree: World history that grows from you." What do you think?
I wanted to find a way to emphasize that family history is really just the beginning. We start by growing profiles for the people, places, and things that are most important to us. But it doesn't stop there. Strangers will care about some of the same people, places, and things. As it grows, WikiTree will become an interconnected, collaborative world history resource. It will be valuable for future generations and historians alike.
If you have comments on the new logo or tagline let me know.
The technical back-end continues to improve as well. One significant improvement I wanted to mention are the Activity Feeds by e-mail. Now you don't need to check to the site to see if any of your family or friends have made changes. If somebody edits a biography, uploads a photo, posts a message, etc., you'll hear about it in your Activity Feed update.
The updates only come once a week, and they only come if there's been new activity in your Watchlist. I know everybody gets overloaded with e-mail so hopefully that strikes the right balance.
Keep me posted here or via e-mail with your questions and suggestions.
Onward and upward,
I've been having fun this week blasting off into WikiTree's new frontier known as WikiSpace. As Chris mentioned in a previous post, "a WikiSpace Page is for a significant place in your family history, or a meaningful event, or a family heirloom, or a special pet, or ... whatever." Exactly. It's that last part that lets you get creative and have some fun, while building on the history of something or someone. For example, I spent some time last week setting up a WikiSpace for my blog on small business. The page links from my Person Page, as does the WikiSpace that I created on German Shepherds (GSDs). We are the proud parents of two wonderful GSDs and our family history would not be complete without a special tribute to the twins – Lady and Luger. But since I chose to make this page public, I wanted to do more than share just our story. So I added links to German Shepherd rescues around the nation and links to special organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or ASPCA. It was exciting and fulfilling to see this WikiSpace come to life, and I invite you to add to it. A German Shepherd somewhere needs your help. :-)
Aside from these personal projects, I also added WikiSpaces for the American Flag, which links from Betsy Ross, Guinness Beer from Arthur Guinness' Person Page and Romeo and Juliet which pays tribute to the forever revered William Shakespeare. Again, these are public pages and I encourage you to add to them. Or...
Create your own WikiSpace! Simply add [[Space:Sample WikiSpace Page|sample page]] to the bio on any Person Page. This can be on your own Person Page, someone on your family tree or even a historical figure. You'll need to replace Sample WikiSpace Page and sample page with whatever you want to call your new WikiSpace. To create the pipe ("|") character, press (SHIFT + BACKSLASH) on your keyboard. Once saved, go back to the Person Page, click on the "sample page" link and have fun creating your new WikiSpace!
Hello Pioneer WikiTreers,
I have something exciting to report. Well, exciting to me. And four or five of you guys.
WikiTree has a great, new open frontier: WikiSpace.
Up until now the entire site has been focused around people. Obvious, right? This is a family history site. But I mean this in a deeper way. The entire organizational structure of the site has been centered on Person Pages. Every person has a page. One Person Page links to another. All the content, photos, and links go on these pages.
We now have a new type of page that parallels the WikiTree Person Pages. I'm calling them WikiSpace Pages. Where a Person Page is for a member of your family, a WikiSpace Page is for a significant place in your family history, or a meaningful event, or a family heirloom, or a special pet, or ... whatever.
You could create a page called "Christmas 1976? for that year when the snow was piled three feet deep. Or the "House on Maple Street" where three generations of your family grew up. Or maybe a page for "The Battle of Port Huron" where your great-great grandfather died. The possibilities are limitless.
I must admit that this new space is still very rough. As of today you can't even add images to WikiSpace pages. I'm expecting that to be ready in the next couple days.
Also, there's no easy form for creating a new WikiSpace Page. You have to know about the secret wiki shortcut. Here it is: in a person's biography write something like "Here is a [[Space:Sample WikiSpace Page|sample page]] to try out."
The double brackets create a link. The title of the new webpage comes first, prefixed with "Space:". Then you put in a "|" pipe and the link name as you want it displayed. When you save it and go back to the Person Page you can click on your new "sample page" link to create the WikiSpace Page.
I admit, this isn't for casual browsers yet. You have to want to explore.
Keep me posted about what you find. I'm expecting some unexpected bugs, so if you trip over anything odd please, please, please let me know ASAP. E-mail me at chris -at- wikitree.com or post a comment response below.
Onward and upward!
I realized something very important this past week while attempting to reconstruct the family history of one celebrated individual here on WikiTree...Tutankhamun or King Tut for short. While excited to learn about his life and times, I can tell you with certainty that we would be a society in complete and total confusion if we had to carry around names like those bestowed upon ancient Egyptians. Take King Tut for example. Being an Egyptian Pharaoh he was subject to the royal titulary – a hierarchy of names used to symbolize elements of importance including worldly power and holy might. As such, he was given five names. Five names! And these were not easy names like Tom, Mary or Penelope. They were confusing, nearly impossible to pronounce and filled with much mystery and debate.
To understand the complexity, King Tut's titulary included a Prenomen or his throne name; a Horus used to symbolize his earthly embodiment of the God Horus; a Nebti which literally means "two ladies" and was used to show the king in relation to two goddesses; the Golden Horus or the name that represented the triumph of Horus over his uncle Seth; and the Nomen or the king's birth name. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, this was Tut's Golden Horus: Wetjeskhausehetepnetjeru Heqa-maat-sehetep-netjeru Wetjes-khau-itef-Re Wetjes-khau-Tjestawy-Im. Say that ten times fast. ;-)
And it doesn't get any easier when you start to travel along King Tut's tree. His wife was born Ankhesenpaaten and later renamed, Ankhesenamen. Her sisters were Meritaten and Meketaten. It is speculated that Meritaten may have served as a Pharaoh under the name, Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten and I could go on and on. But I won't, because I'm asking for your help. If you're a King Tut fanatic, professor or student of ancient history or just someone who loves a great challenge, please help grow Tutankhamun's family tree here on WikiTree. I need all the assistance I can get!
As I was looking over my history of contributions here on WikiTree, I began to wonder where genealogy – as a study and as a hobby - had its roots. In actuality man has always had a fascination with leaving traces of his (and her) existence behind. Think of the Paleolithic cave paintings dating back to 30,000 BCE or the intricate Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphs left to symbolize the tombs of ancient rulers including that of King Tut and like those found on a stone sarcophagus in Alexandria. Thought to have belonged to Alexander the Great, the hieroglyphs revealed the tomb of Egyptian ruler Nectanebo II when deciphered.
Centuries later, genealogy played a vital role in kinship and determining descendants of royalty. The heir to the thrones of Queen Elizabeth I, who never married, nor had any children, and King Charles II were both determined using genealogy. The English tradition of keeping family records would extend to the New World when the General Assembly of Virginia required that vital records be kept in the Colonies. Renewed interest in genealogy would emerge after notable events such as the American Revolution when Thomas Paine wrote the infamous editorial Common Sense and Word War II when General James Doolittle earned a Medal of Honor for planning and leading the notorious Doolittle Raid.
Because of its influence on culture and civilization, the world's first genealogical society - The New England Historic Genealogical Society – was founded in 1845 only twenty years after the creation of Braille by Louis Braille and forty-five years before Flora (Florence) Darling Adams established the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
Even popular culture and technology have propelled genealogy into the limelight. The novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, and television mini-series of the same name, caused an uptick in genealogy interest in the late 1970s. And today – with the Internet firmly in place – people are flocking online to discover their ancestors and family origins using tools such as WikiTree. It's a whole new world for tracking family history!
And these are the roots of genealogy - at least from this hobbyist's perspective.
Genealogists and family tree hobbyists often rely on vital records to put the pieces of their historical puzzles together. But what happens when a vital record is missing or simply not available? Does the quest stop there? It doesn't have to as long as you know where to look and what resources can help fill in the blanks.
For starters, state, local and federal governments offer a wealth of information. Census data, land and property records and similar documentation can often provide little details to help you understand where to look next or possibly who to contact. State censuses, for example, can give you a heads up as to whether your ancestors moved (in between censuses); while earlier federal censuses tell how many years a couple was married and whether or not it was a first or second marriage. In addition, federal censuses provide details on births for everyone in the census including month, year, state and country of birth and the state or country where an individual's parents were born. Check with state libraries on obtaining copies of state-level census reports. For federal census data, check with the U.S Census Bureau or the National Archives. When an official marriage certificate is not available, try looking at land and property records, military pension papers and emigration and naturalization records.
Newspapers are also a great place to check. Specifically, look for data provided in obituaries, birth, engagement, marriage and anniversary announcements and also local articles that tell a bit of history about a person or place. You'd be surprised what can be pulled directly from a newspaper search. Google offers a handy news archive search. The Library of Congress maintains one of the most extensive newspaper collections in the world, with over 9,000 U.S. newspaper titles and 25,000 non-US newspaper titles. You might also consider visiting a local Family History Center. And finally, there is the U.S. Newspaper Program, which is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. They have worked to locate, catalog, and centralize newspapers published in the U.S. from the eighteenth century to current day. Their national database is maintained by the Online Computer Library Center and can be accessed through the free FirstSearch service at thousands of participating libraries across the United States.
Yet another place to look is biographical indexes and databases, which contain vital information on people living in the 20th century. The most well-known example is Who's Who in America. Various state and university libraries also have databases of information available. At the very least you'll find the Biography and Genealogy Master Index CD-ROM extremely beneficial. You can typically find these at libraries, order one via Amazon or pick one up at your local bookstore.
I mentioned military pension records earlier in the post, but you also access service records for those who took part at one time or another in a U.S. war (through the Spanish American War). These records are available at the National Archives and all field branches, state and university libraries and also genealogical record repositories. Check the Consolidated Index of Confederate Veterans and the National Personnel Records Center for those who participated in World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Schools and universities also keep detailed records on their students, alumni and faculty. Within these transcripts are the names of parents, emergency contacts, addresses, phone numbers and so on. And yet another source to check is employment records. The federal government keeps archives of all civilian employees, while other employment records can be obtained through the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections found at the Library of Congress and other major libraries.
So these are the substitutes for "living" docs, but what about death records? If those are unavailable who you gonna call? (Yes, sadly, I was headed in the direction of Ghostbusters.) Seriously, the following can often be used in place of officially death records: coroner's reports, obituaries, probate and court records, funeral home archives, social security death index, census mortality records and cemetery files/databases.
No vital records? No problem. Start your search today!
As I was researching the life and family history of the great American artist Norman Rockwell this past week, I came across the cover of the October 24, 1959 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. It featured a symbolic family tree (shown here) created by Mr. Rockwell. At first glance it looked very different from a great many of his works. But upon closer inspection, it was obvious that he was doing what he had often done in so many of his paintings: he was suggesting something powerful through illustrative interpretation. This tree – this glorious, quirky, indifferent tree – was Rockwell's way of showing the true density of America's roots and heritage; that people as a race and as a planet of living, breathing creatures are all seemingly connected. Maybe this explains my new-found fascination with genealogy and why I find myself so excited to dive into the life and times of people I never had the pleasure of meeting – Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), John Jay and, of course, Norman Rockwell.
My experiences here on WikiTree and through exploring the works of Mr. Rockwell have taught me a few things about genealogy. At the end of the day, it's not just about DNA or one's chemical makeup. And it's certainly not about complex trees woven into knotted branches by fancy software or HTML programming. In fact, it's not even about the possibility of being related to the great Rockwell himself. Genealogy is about simplicity; it's about relationships and the connections of common man (and woman); that Yankees and Confederates, pirates and preachers all share a common bond. Humanity. It may not always be in the compassionate sense, but from a historical perspective – the people on Rockwell's tree and yes, even you and I, are somehow connected. That's genealogy...
WikiTree has seen a flurry of activity the past few weeks with many cool, courageous, crazy and otherwise cantankerous figures from history popping up all over our clever, creative site! (I know – enough with the adjectives that start with ‘c'!)
This weekend I was immersed in tracing the routes of renowned English philosopher John Locke and eccentric US President James Madison, while others were busy recreating the ancestries of the revolutionary Thomas Paine, valley forging General Henry Knox and world conquering Alexander the Great.
But the history doesn't stop there. Here's a partial list of who's new on WikiTree:
Dale Earnhardt (NASCAR racing legend)
Thomas Jefferson (third President of the United States)
John Hancock (famous signer of the Declaration of Independence)
Edward Hopper (American realist painter and printmaker)
General Robert E. Lee (Civil War general)
Charles Lindbergh (historic aviator)
Jackie Robinson (first African-American MLB player)
Orville and Wilbur Wright (brothers famous for building the world's first successful aircraft)
If you have some knowledge of a particular individual's ancestry, you are encouraged to add to their tree and biographical timeline. WikiTree is all about collaboration and creating knowledge together.
Today we live in a world where the nuclear family is no longer the dominant family structure. In fact, blended families are now the norm rather than the exception - playing a fundamental role in the lives of many individuals... including mine. That's why I love the fact that here on WikiTree all family types and relationships are embraced – making it easy to get my unique extended family online. The easiest way to do it is the order in which it actually happened. For example:
1. Create your page.
2. Add your first husband/wife as spouse.
3. Add children from either person's page.
4. Replace first husband/wife with the second husband/wife from your page.
5. Add children from either person's page.
6. Repeat the cycle (if you have children from other relationships/marriages).
If any of this isn't as you expect, you can just go to the person's page and change it. And, feel free to invite other biological parents and relatives to add to the family history of your stepchildren. It's a great way to show you care and form positive relationships.
Aside from working on my own family time line, I have been busy adding two great historical figures to WikiTree. Please join me in welcoming King George III and Laura Ingalls Wilder to the WikiTree family! Both George and Laura have earned respectable spots in history - remembered for certain acts and achievements. George William Frederick holds the prestige of being one of the longest reigning monarchs to preside over the United Kingdom – born into a life of power, luxury and influence. Laura Ingalls Wilder, a celebrated author, was born into a pioneering family whose greatest treasures were simple – land, life and love. George lived in a vast palace; Laura a "Little House." Under George III, the British Agricultural Revolution reached its peak. During Laura's time agriculture was just as important – it was necessary for survival.
Although their lives were very different, George and Laura did share some common sentiments. They were each very committed to their spouses and were very family-oriented. So in essence, they have also earned their rightful spots here on WikiTree. Please share in their journeys by adding facts, names and photos to their family trees. It's fun to relive history!
When it comes to history, I have a love for the Elizabethan Era or the Golden Age – which is the period associated with Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1558–1603). She's my hero and the one person that I would want to meet if I could travel back in time. I have started a tree for her historical family timeline here on WikiTree, and you are invited to share in this journey. Become a trustee over Elizabeth's legacy!
On the flip side, I also enjoy traveling further back in time to Ancient Rome. The individuals I am most obsessed with from this period are Julius Caesar, Marc Antony and of course, the divine Cleopatra. Yes, she was an Egyptian queen – a goddess in her own right – but she had a remarkable way of capturing the eye and hearts of Roman men. Much mystery surrounds the dynasties that existed during the time that Rome transferred from a mere Republic to an extraordinary Empire. Part of this mystique surrounds a child.
If you are not familiar with the history of Cleopatra and Caesar, it is said that on 47 BC the queen gave birth to a son, Ptolemy Caesar who was also called Caesarion (meaning "little Caesar"). Although Cleopatra insisted the child was his, Caesar would not claim the boy as his heir – instead choosing his grand-nephew Octavian. This brings me to my so-called conundrum. There are a ton of family trees on the Internet depicting the family history of Caesar. None that I am aware of show Caesarion on his so-called father's tree. Now, this really isn't a showstopper because Octavian had Caesarion murdered before he had fathered any children. But placing the young Caesarion on the great Caesar's tree would show some interesting relationships with Cleopatra's extended family. Fascinating stuff! If only Doc Brown had created a reliable time machine!
Okay... So if you've read this far, you're probably wondering why I am rambling on about these colorful figures from history and interested in seeing Caesar's tree with Cleopatra brought into the mix. It's actually got to do with your family tree. By fleshing out your roots, you never know who might appear on your timeline...or who should appear on it. Could you be an ancestor of the great Caesar? Is a long lost relative someone of prominence?
If you're dying to find out whose bloodlines you're connected to, get busy. Start recreating your family history here on WikiTree. It's worth the journey. Just imagine the possibilities! Elvis...George Washington...Einstein. Wow.
You can now view all your contributions to WikiTree on one page. This includes all the photos you've uploaded, every family member you've added, every comment and discussion post, and every little edit.
When you're logged in, just click "My Contributions" at the bottom of any page.
I also made a little change today regarding e-mail addresses. Some of you have suggested that they be made more prominent on Person Pages, either so you can easily access your family's contact info, or so you can tell who already has an e-mail address in the system and who doesn't. Addresses are now right there on a person's front page.
Keep your ideas and suggestions coming. Thanks!
Many of you have suggested adding more name fields. In particular, we needed fields for Prefix (e.g. Dr., Sgt.) and Suffix (e.g., Jr., III). These have now been added.
We've also added a field for Nicknames. This way nicknames can be distinct from the Preferred First Name (e.g., my brother is Theodore; more commonly known as Ted, nicknamed T.D. when young).
Thanks, especially, to my brother, to Omar Wasow, and Lester K. Jr. for suggesting these additional name fields.
Another change this week: a half-dozen optional fields such as birthdate and deathdate can now be entered when you create a person. The way we'd initially set things up you could only add the First Name and Last Name at Birth when you create a person. Everything else can be added and edited later. Somehow I thought this would be easier.
Beta tester Karen W. convinced me that additional fields are a big convenience when you're adding a number of people at once, e.g. more than one sibling or child. Thanks, Karen.
One more change of note: we made inputting dates easier. Peter H. pointed out that our system accepted the US date format, e.g. "September 26, 2008?, but rejected ("the more rational"!) UK/EU format, e.g. "26 September 2008?. Both are now accepted. Other acceptable inputs: "26 Sept. 2008?, "Sep 26, 2008?, etc.
Onward and upward,
This week a dozen new early beta testers have joined our group. I've been getting some great feedback. Thanks especially to Swedenc, Tinman, Peter H., and Suzanne B.
Three notable improvements to report:
First, you can now create pages for people who aren't directly related to you. This is handy when:
To create a page for someone who isn't directly related to you, click here.
Second, you can now delete memories, bulletin board posts, and photo comments. Lots of people have asked for this, since it's easy to make a mistake in a post.
You can only delete if it's your post, on your page, or on a passive person's page for whom you have Trusted List powers. If it's your own post you can also make modifications without deleting.
Third, if a person has more than 30 photos the images now run to additional pages instead of weighing down the main Person Page. This was a problem in my own family because my brother has uploaded 109 pictures of me, 156 of our mother, 57 of our father, and thousands more. :-) (They're all treasures. Thanks, Ted!)
Keep your comments coming!
P.S. In a couple hours I'm off to Nova Scotia for a long weekend. At least seven of my 16 great-great-grandparents were born in N.S. before moving to Massachusetts, so I'm going to combine some family history with my beachcombing on the Bay of Fundy.
It's been awhile since I've posted about my personal historical journey. But I can assure you that I have been busy trying to dig up information from the trenches. To date, everyone I have approached (other than my mother) simply shrugs their shoulders and tells me to ask the next person. Now with all this pass the buck stuff going on, I'm starting to wonder if I really am the milkman's kid and that everyone is covering up some dark family secret – but then again, I look just like my sister who is fourteen years my senior. This would have been one dedicated milkman. Realizing yet again that my family has no idea where we actually came from, I decided to call the State of New Jersey's vital records department and order a copy of my father's birth certificate – not that easy. I was directed to their Web site where it details the documents required to obtain such a record from their state. I was pleased to learn that for genealogical purposes, you don't need to establish proof of relationship – which is good, since I could be the milkman's kid. Here's what I did need to provide:
To be safe, I also included a copy of my marriage certificate which lists my maiden name. I'm assuming that most states function in a similar manner. Now, if you don't have a license or your license does not include a photo, here are some alternate forms of ID that you can use:
New Jersey offered an expedited service through VitalCheck, which I'll talk more about in an upcoming post. I opted for the non-expedited service, because I've already waited 34 years to learn about my roots. I think I can wait another...16 WEEKS! Wow... This is worse than waiting for a passport.
So here's my plan... Get my father's birth certificate and confirm his parents' names and places of birth. Order their birth certificates and follow the same process. I'll do the same on my mother's side once I get a feel for things. If I am doing anything terribly wrong, please point it out to me. Ideas, suggestions and tips are welcomed! Oh, and if you know anything about the milkman ... please keep it to yourself.
This week I'm starting to invite in more beta testers to put WikiTree through the wringer. Up until now it's mostly been my own family and a few close friends.
One of the first users has been my old friend and WikiAnswers colleague Crystal Williams. She's been blogging here about her experiences exploring family history and using the new site.
Another beta tester, Laary, suggested that I start using the blog to keep beta testers up-to-date about progress on the site. What's been added. What's on the way. Etc. She made a good point. So, here goes.
One big feature we completed recently is the ability to make Biographies public. This is something that my friend Omar Wasow has asked about. (Omar happens to work with Henry Louis Gates Jr., of African-American Lives TV fame, at Harvard and has shown this site to Gates. Very cool.)
By making a Biography public you allow anyone to see that portion of a Person Page. It makes the person, even if they're living, an open part of history. It's like having a Wikipedia page about yourself except that only the people on your Trusted Family & Friends List can make additions and changes.
Some other recent additions:
Some things on the way:
As always, keep me posted about your questions, comments, or ideas. You could post things here or e-mail me at chris -at- wikitree.com.
My quest continues... And lo and behold, I have made some headway in my very unattractive attempt to recreate my family history. My mother remembered her grandmother's last name - although she cannot remember her first. It's McClellan, which takes me back to my childhood days and the colorful stories my grandmother shared about growing up on Prince Edward Island (Canada). They always seemed like tales taken from Anne of Green Gables! Aside from my dear mum's epiphany, I had my own light bulb moment. All this time my dad's obituary has been sitting in my office, which lists the name of his mother - including her maiden name. So Ella Unknown is no longer a mystery - she is Ella Jasko. This got me thinking about obituaries in general, so I did a quick search on Google and found another great resource. It's call ObitFinder, which, according to its Web site, "searches obituaries from more than 650 national and international newspapers and the US Social Security Death Tax Index to provide the most accurate and timely obituary information available." I was able to acquire the birth and death dates for three of my grandparents using this in-depth site. Not bad for a novice... More pieces of the puzzle filled in.
Hope your journey is just as exciting!
While doing a bit of research today, I found a site that is in the process of making public records easily accessible and free to all. The site is called FamilySearch.org, which is maintained by volunteers and is listed as an official Web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They state that: "Millions of rolls of microfilm provide census, vital, probate and church records from over 100 countries for indexing projects. Governments, churches, societies and commercial companies are also working to make more records available."
Remember in an earlier blog post when I said that I didn't know much about my ancestors beyond my immediate family...? Well, I gave FamilySearch.org a test drive. Although I was able to find some interesting records that perhaps will turn into viable clues or actual relatives, I wasn't able to confirm any of my findings - yet. But I will say that this is one of the most comprehensive sources of free public records that I have found to date.
Check it out!
As you might have guessed from the name, Arthur Guinness is best known for founding the Guinness Breweries in Ireland back in 1759. The name has stood the test of time and so has the brew. That's why I thought I would venture into the history of this colorful man and construct his family tree here on WikiTree. What's amazing to me is that many first names were used over and over again through the generations and the further on down the line we get the more names people had. For example, Arthur's great-great-grandson was named Rupert Edward Cecil Lee Guinness. And what's more is that the Guinness Tree is quite lush, with many individuals having five or more children. This serves as a great example for those of you with large, extended families.
And please, if you are part of the Guinness heritage or have some knowledge of this amazing family, please add to the tree. It could sure use some more growth.
Aside from wikis, social networking and German Shepherds, my greatest passion in life is the history of Queen Elizabeth I. She stands for everything royal, strong and admirable. As Queen, Elizabeth managed to overcome all adversaries. Her reign in fact is considered one of England's most notable periods, dubbed the Elizabethan or Golden Age. This weekend I have been busy creating Queen Elizabeth I's family tree here on WikiTree. It has been an honor and a privilege. If you are just starting out here, I encourage you to stop by and take a peek. It's a great example that can be used as a basis for building your own family history.
And please... If you have something to add to the life and times of the Virgin Queen, please do. This is a wiki and I'd - she'd - love the help.
In an earlier post I mentioned that I was at a bit of a standstill researching my family history because I needed to obtain copies of birth certificates (and death records). And, of course, I had no idea where to get these or which state departments to contact. So after doing a little research online, I found several sources that I hope will prove to be very beneficial (for all of us!). I've added them to the Researching Genealogy - External Websites section here on WikiTree or you can access them individually below. And please, if you have additional resources or recommendations feel free to add them or post a comment.
Where to obtain vital records:
National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)
It should come as no surprise when I tell you that I love wikis! That's right. I love everything they're about and everything they stand for...collaboration, the sharing of knowledge and the quintessential fact that if you happen to write ‘their' instead of ‘there', someone else can come along and fix the typo for you - like your older brother or dear Aunt Mable. And to imagine...only five short years ago I thought a wiki was a bar in the Caribbean. But everything I love about wikis started to concern me when I considered the family history that I was creating here on WikiTree. What if someone came along and changed my father's name from Melvin McCann (stop laughing) to Charles Manson? Or inserted by ex-husband where my husband appears on the tree? That would not go over well. So I went to the source, Chris Whitten, the King of Wikis and the founder of WikiTree to get the answers to these questions.
He completely reassured me by explaining the feature called ‘Family Network.' This allows only a limited number of people – the relatives you approve – to access and edit information within the primary branches of your family tree. You control who is in that network. Now if you allow your cousin Ned – who happens to be a real trickster – and he changes your mother's name from Christine to Ednahellostupid, you'll have to make some edits.
Now for people on your tree without any direct living relatives – like your great-great-grandfather – anyone can access and edit the information. As Chris explains, "These areas are completely wiki and they don't have the same Family Network restrictions." Which is good, because I'd really be creeped out if my father's father's father complained that someone had edited his information. But seriously, what's really cool about this and why WikiTree is so unique (as explained by Chris) is that "a distant cousin of yours could edit this same great-great-grandfather without needing to have a relationship with you. This is important because the further back in time we go the more that strangers share the same ancestors. Our ancestors' stories become part of world history."
The bottom line is that your most important information is secure and only accessible to those you allow onto your Family Network. So what are you waiting for? Start building your history today – wiki style! I am!
About a week ago, I took the plunge and started down the path of reconstructing my family history. As I began entering data into WikiTree (which is really easy to use and navigate), the simplicity of the endeavor became apparent. Creating a family tree was a cinch! I had branches blossoming in a matter of minutes and my family tree was coming to life! No one could stop me now... Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. The second I finished entering data on my immediate family, I found myself wondering who my mother's mother was and not knowing my father's mother's maiden name. So naturally I picked up the phone and called my mother, Christine. She also came up empty handed and could not for the life of her remember small details such as where my father was born or how many siblings her mother had. All she could say was, "Remember the funny aunt? You know, the one that had the camp on the lake. What was her name?" And, "I think your dad was born in the town he was raised in, Trenton, no Freehold, no the other town next to Freehold. Oh, what was it?" Wasn't that why I was calling her?
So the bottom line is that I am at a point where I cannot go any further without getting my hands on some vital records such as birth certificates. But I have no idea how to go about this. I live in Maine, but my father was born in New Jersey. Can I obtain birth certificates online or do I have to write to a certain government agency? Would Maine have a copy of my dad's birth certificate? Do they offer a class on Genealogy 101? :-)
These are all questions that I need to find the answers to. So stay tuned... And if you know a thing or two about genealogy, please feel free to post your thoughts, comments and recommendations below. I need all the help that I can get.
This new blog is for future community members of WikiTree.
I started on WikiTree back in September, after leaving my position at WikiAnswers. My programmer Brian and I have been working on it for almost eight months now. Argh.
I must admit some personal frustration that nothing is live for users yet. We'll get there soon.