WikiTree for Genealogy Research Storage

[Editor’s Note: Lianne Lavoie of WikiTree shows how she uses WikiTree as the primary storage database for her genealogy research.]

A couple of weeks ago, Wikitree team member Elyse Doerflinger wrote about organizing your digital genealogy files. Like many genealogists, I’ve often made New Years resolutions in order to be more organized. But with all the tools out there, and all the different ways you can structure your filing system, I could never put something in place that really made sense to me, and that I could easily maintain. That is, until I joined WikiTree.

WikiTree for Research Storage and Tracking

WikiTree is what I use to store and track most of my genealogical research. As I research, discoveries are entered directly into my WikiTree profiles. Since WikiTree is accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, I can work just as easily on a library computer without worrying about syncing any files. The Changes page of each profile and my Activity Feed mean that I can easily see when I made a change; if I make a mistake, I can fix it without having to look through backup files or other materials.

What about Documents, Photographs, and Other Media?

Documents and photographs are also easy to organize using WikiTree. Rather than having to keep duplicate copies in folders for different families, I can just upload a photograph or PDF document to WikiTree and link it to all the people that are in the photograph or mentioned in the document.

That pretty much covers the basics, like photographs, documents, and the basic information in your family tree. But what about research logs, to do lists, and all the other tools of the truly organized genealogist?

Research Logs, To Do Lists, and More

Every WikiTree profile has a “free text” area. By default, it contains sections for a Biography and Sources, but you can put anything in there.

On some of my profiles, especially those pesky brick wall ancestors, I’ve started adding Research Progress sections. I outline the goals of my research, what records I’ve already found, what records I’ve searched without success, and where I still need to look. That way, I don’t waste time checking the same sources over and over again, and if someone else comes along and wants to help, they can easily see where their efforts would be most appreciated.

A Research Progress section on a WikiTree profile

For research that applies to a surname or place, rather than an individual, you can create Free-Space Profiles. These are great for family mystery pages, transcriptions of censuses or cemeteries, historical pages about cities, schools, etc., and pretty much anything else you can think of.

WikiTree and Data Backups

As for backing up my data, it’s as simple as occasionally exporting my GEDCOM. Everything other than images is contained in that single file. So all I have to worry about organizing on my computer are my scanned photos and other images, and my GEDCOM. My non-digital genealogy system consists of my original photos and documents, and a few books, so there are no overflowing filing cabinets or stacks of papers.

WikiTree: One Stop Genealogy

Using WikiTree to organize all of my genealogical data keeps everything in one place, easy to find, and easy to back up. Plus, all I have to do to share everything I have on one of my ancestors with a fellow researcher is give them the link to that person’s profile.



[Editor’s Note: Elyse Doerflinger of WikiTree explains how to get your digital files in order and also how to start using the cloud for your genealogy research files.]

Nearly every genealogist has organization on their New Year’s Resolution list and most people are focused on getting their paper files organized.  Digital files, while not as obviously messy as paper files, also need to be organized properly in order to improve your research efficiency and effectiveness.

Many people approach the project of organization with the idea that it is a one time event: put everything away once and you are somehow magically organized forever.  The reality, however, is that organization is a process that requires a commitment to find and follow a system of giving everything a home.  If you don’t commit to following the system you put into place (and to re-evaluating that system to be sure it is fitting your needs), then it won’t be long before you are back to being disorganized and unable to find the file you need.

Organized File Folders

The first step to organizing your digital files is to create a “Genealogy” folder on your C-drive, desktop, or within a cloud service (like DropBox or Google Drive).  The goal is that the “Genealogy” folder is easy to find so you can easily save files in their proper place.  If you also do research for other people (like your spouse), then create a genealogy folder for that person’s research as well.  Next, add folders for each of your family surnames to your genealogy folders.  Within each surname folder, add folders for each couple with that surname.  All of these folders will now serve as your organization system for your digital files.

But how should you name your files?  When naming your files, give each file a name descriptive enough to identify the contents of the file but concise enough that you can still read it.  Information to include in your file name may include name, date, record type, or location.  Try to find a consistent file naming pattern that works for you.

What happens when a file applies to more than one person or could qualify for more than one folder?  Since hard drive space is inexpensive, you could save a copy of the file to every folder it applies to.  This will make it easier to find the file, no matter which folder you think to look in.

But where do you put photos?  Create folders for photos based on family or event to help you easily sort photos.  Give each photo a descriptive file name and save it to a relevant folder.  Then use a photo program like Picasa to view, edit, and organize all of your photos.  With Picasa, you can add tags for people, places, and other keywords.  Using the tags feature, you can organize your photos in multiple categories and easily find them.

Are you looking to find a way to organize all of your notes, research plans, to-do lists, and other charts in one place?  Using a notetaking program like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote can help organize all of it together and make it synced across all of your internet connected devices.  Both of these programs allow you to save text, pictures, videos, screenshots, PDFs, and other types of files in one place.

Protecting your files from disasters like hard drive crashes or electrical surges, create and implement a backup plan.  There are lots of different options to choose from.  For extra protection, use multiple types of backup methods to cover yourself if one method fails.  Backup options include DVDs, flash-drives, external hard drives, and cloud programs like Google Drive and DropBox.  Do your research to find the back up method that fits your needs.

Now that your digital files are all organized, spend more time researching and less time searching for files.


Citing Your Sources: The Road Map to Your Information

[Editor’s note: Elyse Doerflinger of WikiTree shows why citing your sources in genealogy research is important and how WikiTree can help.]

After researching your family history for a while, you begin to put together the pieces of your family tree puzzle.  You’ve got names, dates, and places that you’ve found in census, military, and vital records.  But do you remember exactly where you found great-great grandma Bessie’s marriage date?

Why Cite Sources?

When researching family history, it is important that you keep track of where you got your information.  Not only does this help you verify your information, but citing your sources also serves as a road map for you or other researchers to follow if you ever discover conflicting information. This is why it’s part of WikiTree’s Honor Code. Sources are essential for productive collaboration.

In genealogy, it is important that every statement of fact – whether it is an occupation or date of birth – have its own individual source. Giving each fact a source not only leaves a trail to follow, but it also allows other researchers (and potential cousins) to analyze your genealogy connections and assumptions.  In addition, citing your sources also makes it much easier to pick up your research where you left off after a research break.

A Lesson Learned

When I first began researching my family tree, I was far too concerned with finding records and I didn’t care about citing sources.  But it wasn’t long before I ran into conflicting information and I had no way of backtracking to where I got the information to sort it all out.  It was then that I realized how important it is to cite sources and since then, I always take the time to cite my sources.  When a cousin contacts me asking a question about where I got a specific fact, I can easily pull up the source citation.

Types of Sources and Information

There are two different kinds of sources.  Original sources are records that contribute information that is not derived from another record.  Derivative sources are records that have been copied, transcribed, or abstracted from a previously existed source.  Original sources generally carry more weight than derivative sources.

Within each source, there are two different kinds of information.  Primary information comes from records created at or near the time of an event and the information is contributed by a person with knowledge of the event.  Secondary information is information found in records after a considerable amount of time has passed from the event or when the information is contributed by a person who was not present at the time of the event.  Primary information generally carries more weight than secondary information.

Source Citation Formats

While there are many different styles to cite sources, what matters is that there is enough detail in the citation for someone else to find that exact document.  In the genealogy world, the standard is to use Elizabeth Shown Mill’s Evidence Explained Style.  Other people choose to use APA format or MLA format.  At the end of the day, it isn’t where the comma is located, but whether or not someone can find that document based solely on the information in the citation.

WikiTree Is Source Citation Friendly

At WikiTree, it is simple to add sources and footnotes to profiles.  The sources on the profile help prove the information you list in the biography section.  When other WikiTreers (and potential cousins) have conflicting information, the sources will be able to help resolve those conflicts.  At WikiTree you can easily customize the profiles to display information and sources in the way you see fit.

Do you cite your sources?  Do you follow a style and if so, which one?


Or… Please Don’t Make Me Type All Those Names & Dates Again!!

[Editor’s NoteWikiTree team member Tami Glatz discusses the GEDCOM file format, its history and how it can be used with WikiTree.]

You’ve spent decades, years, or perhaps only a few days entering family information into a genealogy computer program of some sort. Perhaps you are using Personal Ancestral File (PAF), or you’re trying out a trial version of RootsMagic, or Legacy Family Tree. Maybe you’re using the latest version of Family Tree Maker.  But what if you want to try a different program, send your family tree data to a relative, or share your information on‘s worldwide family tree?

Most genealogy programs are fairly unique in how you enter, display, sort and share your information. And, as you probably know, you can usually only open a file within the program that it was created.  You need to have the Family Tree Maker program on your computer in order to open a Family Tree Maker (.ftm) file, etc.   The same is true for most any of the genealogy computer programs.  And yet the thought of re-typing all those names and dates might stop you from even considering sharing!

It isn’t a problem if everyone you want to share with is using the same program. But as you start finding and communicating with new cousins in distant parts of the world, the likelihood that they are using the same genealogical computer program you are gets very slim. How can you share those thousands of names, dates and notes that you’ve painstakingly entered into your computer by hand, without having to repeat that very tedious process?

The answer is GEDCOM! GEDCOM stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication. It was developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the purpose of making genealogical information shareable and portable between different genealogical computer programs. The very first version was released in 1984. The current version is GEDCOM 5.5, and in an effort to keep up with ever-changing technologies, FamilySearch is working with others on the next generation of GEDCOM formats, called GEDCOM X.

How do I make a GEDCOM?

There are instructions for importing and exporting GEDCOMS in the WikiTree Help section, under Gedcom . Or you might want to read the “Help” section or instructions for your particular computer program, but in most programs, you can find the GEDCOM option when you try to “Export” all or parts of your file.

What does a GEDCOM look like?

A raw GEDCOM file actually looks fairly simple, and is almost understandable if you try to “read” it.  It will be a plain text file containing your genealogical information – names, dates, stories, notes, sources, etc. Embedded in the file will be the meta data, or simply put, the magical bits of information that connect the bits of information to each individual, and each individual to others in family relationships.

In the blue box is a sample of a GEDCOM file.  Just looking at it, you might be able to see some of the different parts that make it up. The header (HEAD) shows where the file came from. In this instance, it’s from my Legacy Family Tree program.  Nine lines down tells the date I exported the file from my program, and where it is stored on my computer. Since I declined to include my own information, you’ll see a couple lines further down that it says Submitter Not Provided. That would be where my name and address might normally appear.  Below that begins the data I chose to export from my file, starting with the first individual (INDI), Deborah Forward.

Where did my pictures go?

References to photo and media files can be attached within a GEDCOM, but the file containing those pictures and media must be accessible to the new genealogy program. Simply put, if you have all of your pictures and media linked to your GEDCOM in a folder on your computer, and you send a GEDCOM to your Cousin Bob, unless he has that same folder already on his computer, and is able to follow his program’s directions for making sure the links continue to work, Cousin Bob won’t be able to access the pictures.

Do I use all or just part of my file to make a GEDCOM?

To avoid overload, both to our system, and to your email from info & collaboration requests, we prefer that GEDCOM uploads be no more than 2,000 or so individuals. If your genealogy computer program is already bursting with 50,000 people, that’s great. You just can’t upload them all at once to WikiTree.  And chances are really good with a file that size that many of your ancestors are already on WikiTree. Be sure to read the GEDCOM FAQs at to understand file limitations.

Pruning Your Family Tree

Creating branches without a hatchet

You can create your GEDCOMs however you like. Some folks create GEDCOMs based on maternal or paternal lines. Some folks will upload a generation or two across both sides of their family at a time. You can choose whatever will work for you to upload the branches of your family tree.

The most important thing to remember is that newly uploaded GEDCOMs will NOT replace previous files, but rather add to them, creating duplicates where branches intersect.  Try to keep the number of duplicates to a minimum, to avoid having to spend too much time merging those duplicates once your new GEDCOM upload is processed. Remember, the goal is to have one profile page for every individual on our worldwide family tree and to eliminate duplication.

 Your family, my family, OUR family.  One worldwide, collaborative family tree. WikiTree!


wikitree categories

[Editor’s NoteWikiTree team member Lianne Lavoie discusses how categories work on WikiTree.]

Recently, an enthusiastic group of WikiTreers has been exploring the potential of an exciting feature on WikiTree: categories. You can use categories to organise your ancestors, and also to find profiles of other people who may have been connected to your ancestors. Many categories already exist, and anyone can create new ones.

Currently, the most commonly used categories are the regional categories, which organise your ancestors according to where they lived, and the military categories, which group people who served in the military by country, branch, and unit.

Benefits of Using Categories

There are two primary benefits to categorizing your WikiTree profiles:

  • Organising your ancestors: If you add regional categories to all of your WikiTree profiles, it’s easy to see everyone in your tree who ever lived in a particular place. Just go to the category page for that place, and click Show only the profiles on your Watchlist. Use the same procedure for military categories, and any other topics you create.
  • Finding interesting connections: Looking at other profiles that have been added to the categories, you can find people who lived in the same village as your ancestors, or who served in the same military unit as your family member. This is useful both for someone who is casually interested in such connections, and for someone doing a one-place study, or a similar study of a group of related people.

How to Use Categories

Adding a WikiTree profile to a category is as simple as adding the appropriate category tag to the Biography section of a profile. For example, to add someone to the Chicago, Illinois, category, just add the text [[Category:Chicago, Illinois]]. If you’re not sure what a category is called, just browse the category structure to find the one you’re looking for.

For more help with using categories, see the help pages on Using Categories and Category Names. There is also a subsection on the G2G forum specifically for questions about Categorization.

Getting More Involved with Categories on WikiTree

If you’re interested in helping to develop style standards for WikiTree categories, as well as encouraging other WikiTreers to use categories, check out the Categorization WikiProject and its corresponding talk page. There you’ll find many discussions on categorization-related topics, including how  city categories should be named in a particular country, or how specific  military categories should be established. We’d love to hear your opinions about categories at WikiTree!


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