FYI - Adding Ancestry Web Links for WikiTree Profile chokes with special character

+8 votes

Just a quick FYI for anyone who might be experiencing the same issue.

I was trying to add web links to my Ancestry tree person pages, so that I can easily hop back to the equivalent WikiTree Profile. Using the tool on Ancestry - this one:

... works for most links. BUT when I tried to add a URL containing an apostrophised name:’Shea-1059

... the link generator chokes and just sits there doing nothing. Take out the ' and all is well, except of course the URL is now kaput.

I suggest as a work around adding either a comment or note to the person page on Ancestry.

in WikiTree Tech by Mark Stevens G2G2 (3.0k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
Sorry for repeating what I said in a comment below, but in that case, the correct solution is actually to rename the profile to O'Shea, with a straight apostrophe.

Curly apostrophes are not allowed in data fields on WikiTree, and they generate suggestions.

3 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer

So to answer my own post, and all credit to Jim Richardson for this, if you have a URL for a WikiTree profile which contains an apostrophe eg:’Shea-1

that you would like to add as a Web Link on an Ancestry person page. Then you need to substitute this:


in place of the apostrophe like so:

Then use the new URL and all will be well ...

Alternatively, thanks to Edison Williams for this one, open the desired WikiTree person profile page in a new web browser window and copy the URL from the address bar at the top of the window. It may still look like it contains just the name with the apostrophe, but paste the copied URL into the Ancestry Web Link creation tool and magically it is converted to the correct form without the apostrophe.

by Mark Stevens G2G2 (3.0k points)
edited by Mark Stevens

There are apostrophes and apostrophes.  

Whether it fits this specific case or not - there is a big difference between OShea and O'Shea, and the usually generates errors.

Well not really, what you have are apostrophes, what people might call curly quotes. These are the traditional style used for many years, the ones that look like a tiny 6 or 9, or doubled up, 66 and 99. They are used as quotation marks to surround speech for instance. The single apostrophe, tiny 9, acts as a contraction, used in the place of letters, for instance she is become she’s, notice the apostrophe, tiny 9 shape. Then there are straight quotes. These are a left-over from typewriter keyboards where there was generally only a straight quotation mark that had to serve many functions. The straight version made it onto computer keyboards, where it has plagued the world of typesetters and designers ever since. Luckily a lot of modern software, though sadly not all, will distinguish that the user is quoting something or wants an apostrophe s, substituting the correct curly quote in place of the straight one.

The straight quote is useful for coding languages as it is distinct from the curly quote, and is quickly available on the keyboard. Plaintext apps and things like Terminal apps tend to always use the straight quote mark, whilst the apostrophe or curly quote has to be entered specifically.

Certainly in the context of WikiTree there are issues, as you say, between using a straight quote and an apostrophe.

Then there are straight, sometimes called smart quotes. 

 by Mark Steven


You have  that backwards.  The "smart" apostrophe is the one known as curly or typographer's apostrophes.

The straight one is the one used by Wikitree, unless a curly one is deliberately inserted - which will cause database errors.


Yes of course, apologies for the confusion.

I will edit my post so as not to confuse anyone who is reading this thread and wants to understand what the original FYI was actually about.

As I said in the original FYI an apostrophe is in the URL. This is not wrong, but it does cause Ancestry to choke. It has nothing to do with the use of the straight quote or apostrophe within WikiTree. As you point out one needs to be careful when using them within WikiTree, especially when writing wiki markup, as using one rather than the other can cause all sorts of errors.
I cannot help but wonder if the same thing is what is causing the problem on the other end.  If you need to use a work-around to have that character accepted, it says to me it's not something specific to Wikitree's use of the straight ' mark.

As an addendum to this, and for the sake of absolute clarity. The issue here is with URLs that feature an apostrophe or curly quote NOT a straight quote '

There are instances of both types of quote marks in automatically generated URLs within name groups that use the contracting apostrophe such as O’Shea or O’Sullivan. If your URL doesn’t work on Ancestry then chances are the URL has a curly quote. Exchange the curly quote for the snippet of code above, helpfully provided by Jim, then everything should work.

Ancestry have probably decided to reserve the character for something, or it’s just treated as an ‘illegal’ character in their URLs. It should work, if the URL is pasted directly into a browser it’s parsed correctly.

It’s quite rare, hopefully anyone coming across it will find their way here.

The "safest" way to do it is to not use curly marks (OShea-1059) in the first place, but straight ones (O'Sullivan-2248).

Making the case that the curly marks are "correct" and straight ones are not, doesn't change that for much of computer-land the straight one is the one that works.

(Mark, I had to train myself out of using "smart" marks, and to use only the straight ones, 20 years ago.  But until I hit Wikitree and saw that they caused errors, I had not turned them off in Word.  Now I use only straight marks unless I am writing something by hand, when it's still 66--99.)

I'm not advocating the use of curly quotes over straight quotes, I'm just letting people know that this problem exists.

I'm a trained typographer and graphic designer, so believe me I would like to see the ‘proper’ quotes used, where appropriate, and straight ones reserved for coding. The WikiTree system handles the curly quotes correctly when they are used correctly, so far as I can tell. If names or text have curly quotes the system doesn’t baulk at them. My browser and, I would think, all modern-ish browsers, is quite content to parse them. What has happened is that Ancestry has decided for themselves not to parse the curly quotes in URLs in the case of their Web Links. They probably won’t change that ’cos it might well mush something else (shrug).

If WikiTree tells me to stop using curly quotes in text or names then so be it, but so far as I know the instructions are to not use them in specific cases ie '''bold''' not ‘‘‘bold’’’ in wiki markup. So from what I can tell, the safest way is to be careful when typing and use the appropriate punctuation, or if you wish, just use all straight quotation marks, your choice.

Again as I said previously the original issue is not an error, or indeed a problem here on WikiTree it is something that Ancestry is wholly responsible for, and thankfully we have a workaround.

I have not had any problems thus far on WikiTree with my text because I tend to copy text into a coding app/environment before pasting it into biographies and the like. This tends to highlight any likely syntax error in the text. The apostrophe in the name was generated from a GEDCOM which came, ironically, from my Ancestry tree. WikiTree did not choke on it when it was imported, it simple got on with the job because the unicode, or whatever, for that specific punctuation mark is handled correctly within WikiTree. Hurrah for WikTree! Boo to Ancestry!
Attempted use of smart quotes in WikiTree is not a case of the browser parsing (or not) them.  It is that WikiTree's database will not accept smart quotes as text in an alphanumeric field and it may or may not generate an error message to the user, but the data that was entered will not be stored in the field for which it was intended.

Browsers not accepting smart quotes is mostly a thing of the past, when browsers were limited to only alphanumeric characters in a URL, other than the dot separating the domain name from its extension and forward slashes indicating a path (plus, of course, the :// following language specification).

If does not accept a smart (or straight) apostrophe in a URL, that means that it is probably operating by the old rules when browsers would not interpret them and someone there would be well advised to get up to date, but that, of course, is not something within WikiTree's purview.


You are confusing the apostrophe with the right single quotation mark.

You should edit your post above as follows:

So to answer my own post, and all credit to Jim Richardson for this, if you have a URL for a WikiTree profile which contains a right single quotation mark (Note: an apostrophe will work on Ancestry) eg:’Shea-1 (this one uses a right single quotation mark)'Shea-1 (this one uses an apostrophe and works on Ancestry) (Note: the WikiTree ID also has to have the apostrophe for it to work)

that you would like to add as a Web Link on an Ancestry person page. Then you need to substitute this:

%E2%80%99 (<== use this for a right single quotation mark)

in place of the right single quotation mark like so:

Then use the new URL and all will be well ...

Just a note. Please do NOT use "curly quotes" in any name field on WikiTree. The curly quote is considered a separator and will generate a data doctor suggestion. The profile suggested as an example here, O’Shea-1 has an "illegal" name - the suggestion has been marked false, but incorrectly so. The LNAB should be changed to O'Shea.

Sorry Tommy, but I’m talking about an apostrophe as used in

O’Shea or O’Connor or don’t

So far as I know this has always been called an apostrophe, as defined here:

WikiPedia - Apostrophe

The apostrophe was in the name I imported in a GEDCOM. The WikiTree system accepted the GEDCOM/name and it appears on all the profile fields, with an apostrophe. The ‘bad’ URL is generated when I click on the Copy URL button next to the person profile name:

Or when I click on the Copy URL button in the floating profile pop-up pane:

The error on Ancestry occurs because the URL generated is in the form:’Shea-1

When on the profile page the link is also displayed in exactly this form in my web browser address bar - Brave (Chrome) on MacOS 10.14.6 or iPad OS - if I copy the link directly from the address bar and paste that into Ancestry it is escaped correctly to:

The reason that the Web Link creation tool on Ancestry is choking is clearly explained by Edison below.

Yes, you are correct, the single straight quotation mark, the tear-drop shaped one ' , works without an issue in the URL pasted to Ancestry, but it’s not an apostrophe.

Thanks Isabelle. Can you please explain what a data doctor suggestion is.

Is it the name mining that I can see going on in this thread for instance? If so something needs to be fixed ’cos neither straight quotes nor apostrophes are being picked up in some cases:

Maybe the brackets are causing issues here or perhaps the text size? Or is it something else altogether different?

I know that we must not use apostrophes in tags but instead replace them with an underscore. However I don't see any obvious instructions to not use them elsewhere, perhaps this should be put front and centre so that unwitting users don't continue to add names with apostrophes?

+1 vote

Hi Mark. That sounds like a bug or insufficiency at the Ancestry end, which it might be worth reporting to them.

Does it work if you add it in this form?

(I changed the number to 1 because 1059 is a living person.)


by Jim Richardson G2G6 Pilot (223k points)
You probably just inadvertently mentioned the problem. It probably won't load, if it is a living person!
I think the problem of whether Ancestry will accept the URL is prior to and different from what happens if the URL is used. In fact the page for the living person does load; it just doesn't have much on it.
Fair enough. Actually, that would make sense. I managed to get onto the Queen's profile the other week, and it didn't give any information.
Hi Jim,

Thanks for your response.

Yes I’m pretty sure this is some Ancestry shenanigans, I might message their support, just not expecting them to care too much. Yes that URL is fine. I take it the gobbledegook in the middle is something like html for ‘ ?

If I copy that bit and paste to the troublesome URL it should work, will suck it and see ...


It may be the "smart quote" in the url.   There is a big difference between OShea and O'Shea.

No, it’s not that Melanie, the URL is copied directly from the link on the profile page, it’s definitely, as Jim said, a bug on the part of Ancestry, but we have a workaround...
I am aware of the url.  I am saying that there is a huge difference between the two apostrophes, and the "smart" one usually generates errors and should not be used.

That is has been used for a name does not change that it causes problems.
Yes Melanie, the incorrect apostrophe or quote mark will cause errors.

Specifically here I’m talking about the URL generated when clicking on the URL link on the profile page - next to the person’s name at the page top or the one that appears in the floating profile preview pane. They are quick and convenient ways to copy the profile’s external URL for adding to emails, web pages etc. It’s generated automagically, so no typing nor mistakes with apostrophe or smart quotes. I believe the one in the URL is a proper apostrophe.
+1 vote

I followed along on all of the comments and, not to belabor the matter, but maybe I can help clear things up. Maybe. Which should probably be capitalized. As in a big maybe.

When doing digital typesetting for the web, almost all web browsers can accept the UTF-8 character set by default, which can encode over 1.1 million character code points. Technically, "Unicode" is the character set and UTF-8 is the "character encoding." But that's a hair we don't need to split. See also ISO/IEC 10646, and listings of the UTF-8 character codes.

For example--and this is important in just a moment--as represented by decimal values, diacritical marks live in UTF-8 at the range of 768 through 879; mathematical operators are at 8704 through 8959; Cyrillic characters are 1024 through 1327. And...general punctuation can be found at 8192 through 8303.

So we have no problem using true typographer's punctuation like left and right single quotation marks ( ‘  ’ UTF-8 characters 8216 and 8217); or left and right double quotation marks ( “  ” UTF-8 8220 and 8221); or bullet points or em-dashes or even footnote daggers ( • — † respectively, UTF-8 8226, 8212, and 8224). In fact, they're fine to use in webpage content because they carry no special programming instructions to the HTML that underlies the rendering of the page.


A URL--Uniform Resource Locator, a webpage address--is universally valid only if it uses the ASCII character set, which technically is the first 128 characters in UTF-8...but in practice we can use only the 95 characters that are printable in a URL. For example, in URLs we can't use ASCII non-printing entities like spaces or tab characters or line-breaks.

So it isn't a glitch at Ancestry. To be strictly compliant with the World Wide Web Consortium, WikiTree shouldn't be allowing a typographer's apostrophe, UTF-8 8216, in a generated URL; see the W3 School's "HTML URL Encoding Reference." No UTF-8 character with a decimal value higher than that of a tilde ( ~ 126; 127 is "delete") should be used in a URL. We can generally get away with it for most printable characters, but there are web browsers/readers that will choke on it.

When constructing URLs--at least whenever possible--it's best to stick with that basic ASCII character set. If that can't be done, strict URL encoding then requires the characters above 127 in UTF-8 be represented by one or more instances of what's called an "escape" code, in this case a percent sign, followed by two hexidecimal digits. We've all seen URLs with %20 in them. That %20 represents a space, which the URL can't contain. A typographer's single right quotation mark (an apostrophe) escapes as %E2%80%99, as you and Jim have noted. Left and right double quotation marks escape as %E2%80%9C and %E2%80%9D respectively.

Here's a super-simple URI/URL validator where you can paste in an address and it will automatically translate it to the appropriate escape sequences: There are integrated functions in PHP--the extremely common coding language that drives the WikiTree database--and others that can be used to automatically convert characters in a URL to be properly "escaped" to make a strictly conformant URL. That's why, typically, if you create a web page that's titled "Hello There World" the resultant address for that page will be "Hello%20There%20World" automatically.

We see space characters like that escaped in WikiTree Free Space page names, but evidently we're not doing the same with non-ASCII characters like that pesky apostrophe. I can definitely understand the reasoning: if a profile is for a person named Jørgensen it won't be very tidy if the WikiTree ID is Jørgensen-000 but the URL contains J%C3%B8rgensen-000.

I told you the "clearing things up" part was a big maybe. Ahem.  But at least that's the why behind needing the Heimlich maneuver when you enter the non-compliant URL. I've never tried entering such a URL elsewhere--social media or, for example--but it wouldn't surprise me if some of those wouldn't reject it also. I've run into genealogists who still run Windows XP and a decade-old web browser, and they might not be able to use those URLs either.

That little URL validator I linked to above is one alternative. Copying the URL from the address bar and pasting into that will give you the converted, strictly compliant version of the URL, and that can be used anywhere.

Something else I find interesting is that if I go to the aforementioned O'Shea profile and copy the URL directly from the address bar of my latest version of Chrome running on Windows 10, I can't even paste it in here as it shows in the address bar. I automatically get the converted version: Which would be a compliant URL that Ancestry would accept. Out of curiosity, what operating system and web browser are you running?

by Edison Williams G2G6 Pilot (313k points)

Thanks Edison for spending the time to explain this. 

My version of Chrome (Brave) on MacOS 10.14.6 and iPad OS behaves in exactly the same way as your version of Chrome in Windows 10.

I guess what is actually needed is for the Copy URL button to generate an escaped URL rather than users having to cludge something, and then going forward for the WikiTree engine to automatically change apostrophes to single straight  quotation marks. It is all too easy to import a GEDCOM en masse without even glancing at any of the text coming in. I'm doing most of my imports as single profiles or family groups so I can check the name fields more carefully in future, but there are plenty of O’Sheas, and no doubt all the other O’s, already on WikiTree.

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