Did you see the changes to surname index pages?

+23 votes

Hi WikiTreers,

We just released a round of changes to surname index pages. For example:

The initial impetus for the changes is our ongoing effort to make WikiTree more mobile-friendly, but you'll notice that a lot of things have been changed regardless of how you're viewing the page.

The first thing you may notice is that it's now a list rather than a table with columns for name, birth date, etc. This conforms the appearance with search results. (Watchlists still have the table format.)

Some members probably prefer the table format, so I apologize if you're one of them. I imagine a table is easier if you're sorting by birth date or edit date and are trying to scan down the page. But our table was just awful if you were on a narrow screen. The list format also makes the page load a smidge quicker for everyone.

In addition to improving things for mobile users, a list enabled us to create a second column for the extras, e.g. the images, tagged G2G questions, and free-space profiles. By having them on the right there's less clutter on top.

We're also utilizing the right column to provide a detailed list of the options for resorting and viewing other surname-related pages. You'll only see this if you break out of the pre-built/cached version of the page that you see initially.

As some of you know, we build the body of the pages in advance so they load faster. A lot faster.

You might wonder why the pre-built versions don't have all the options and links. This is complicated. It's because surname index pages are designed for three different audiences:

1.) Google.
2.) Non-member genealogists.
3.) WikiTree members, i.e. you.

The pre-built body of the page is the same for all three audiences. Therefore it's a compromise.

Google is a very important audience because "cousin bait" is central to how WikiTree works. A big part of the benefit of using WikiTree is that our profiles will be found by distant cousins who are searching for our shared ancestors' names in Google.

If ancestor profiles do not appear near the top of Google's search results they will not be found. Our cousins will not find us and we will not benefit from meeting them, finding out what information or photos they might have, etc.

Our goal is not for Google to show the surname index page in search results, unless someone was searching for "[Surname] genealogy" or something similar. People are usually searching for individual names. We want Google to rank individual profile pages for these searches. But the surname index pages are still important for this. They are how we make sure Google finds and properly ranks the profile pages. This is why we list profiles with the most-recently edited ones on top. This ensures that new profiles are found and recently-improved ones are considered more important.

Audience #2, non-member genealogists, of course flows from #1, Google.

Google isn't supposed to be the target audience for any website. The target audience is ultimately people who use Google. Unfortunately, though, they have to be considered separately.

What we want non-member genealogists to see is something generically inviting. Something that shows them the breadth and depth of what our community has to offer. Hopefully they'll want to dig in further.

If they're a genetic genealogist doing a surname project, hopefully they'll discover that we have a DNA surname index page that would be a perfect tool for them. If they're doing a traditional surname project and might be interested in collaborating with others, hopefully they'll discover that we have an index of WikiTree members who are actively interested in the surname. We might even have an ongoing project. We also have this forum, G2G, where you can tag questions with surnames. And so much more.

We also want genealogists to point other genealogists to these pages. This is very important.

We want members and non-members alike to have something easy to recommend. We want you to be able to say, "If you're interested in Smith genealogy, you should see WikiTree's Smith Genealogy page. It's really useful for anyone doing Smith research."

If you give out the URL https://www.wikitree.com/genealogy/SMITH almost anywhere on the Internet other than e-mail (forums, blogs, Facebook, etc.) it leads to Google considering WikiTree in general, and Smiths in particular, more important and more worthy of ranking. It leads directly to Smith profiles appearing higher in the search results.

I know that's all very complicated and much more explanation that all but two or three of you would like. :-)

Most members will only care about how usable it is for them. On that, maybe you could share what you use surname index pages for? Are they now better or worse for that purpose? Are there ways you can imagine they might be improved for that purpose?

Please share your thoughts. Thanks!

Onward and upward,


in The Tree House by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Thanks, very interesting & informitive..will be very useful.

Martha Leger

11 Answers

+13 votes
Oh, my! The sorting options are excellent!

I almost went down the rabbit hole with Adams merge proposals. I'm at work though, and need to wait until this evening.

Thanks, Chris!
by Carole Partridge G2G6 Mach 7 (70.5k points)
Ha, I had the same thought when I went and looked at the Adams page.
Went down and just came back up for air...going to the Gaulden page now. Send a rescue rabbit if you don't see me by Monday.

SORTING by birthdate! Hallelujah! This index finally becomes useful! YEAH! THANK YOU!
I've been sorting surname pages by birthdate for about forever. If other people weren't aware of that capability, I guess WikiTree needs some help pages on "how to sort a wikitable."
I was just going to say: Sorting by birthdate has been there for a very long time. So has sorting by Privacy level.

I'm kinda missing the old table format, to be honest. Going to go read the rest here to see the latest news. :-)
+12 votes
Although I don't use a mobile device, from my perspective it is a definite improvement. It does take a bit of getting used to the non-table format. But I definitely approve of all the tools and resources being in the right hand column. Much handier and easier to access and use.

Thanks, again, Chris for improving WikiTree.

Onward and upward.

Edit: Forgot to mention one of the main uses for me of the surname index -- checking for duplicates to initiate merges. This format does help in that regard.
by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (475k points)
I have to agree with everything Shirley said. I don't use mobile devices for genealogy and don't use Google much, unless I have to, but it looks like a good improvement.
I've been testing this on different interfaces, both logged in and logged out. I've found a design flaw to report: on the iPad, using Chrome or Safari, the search box at the the top of the right-hand column says "FIRST NAM". That's what I see on that device in every view I've tested. Need a wider box.
+10 votes

Quick thought:

I like having all of the "quick links" at the top of the page, but I'd prefer for there to be two distinct groups of links:

(1) Links for sorting or filtering the list

(2) Links for other stuff related to the surname (e.g.,  follow activity | G2G activity | genealogists | pending merges | orphaned | unconnected | unsourced | recent activity)

by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Thanks, Ellen. I'm sure you noticed that's how the links are sorted in the new sidebar links section.

We debated whether to include these quick links at all. They duplicate what's in the pull-down menu and in the new sidebar links. But the sidebar links only appear on resorting and many people aren't aware of the pull-down menu links.

Given that you're aware of the pull-down menu, is there a reason you prefer the quick links? Because the pull-down menu links require an extra click?

Answering your question:

1. I can't use the pull-down menus from my phone. (I can look at the menus, but I can't access anything in them.)

2. With the old arrangement, I disliked having to search by alphabet or date before I got the option to include people with current last name.

As for the sidebar links, I confess that I didn't notice them until after reading your reply (and I had to sort the list in order to see them). That list is awfully wordy, and if I'm using my phone I'd have to scroll down through the entire page of results in order to see it....

Well, sonuvagun! The pull-down menus on this revised Surname page do work on my phone. :-)  But other WikiTree pull-down menus still can't be used from my phone. (Not yet, anyway.)

My main use for the Surnames index pages is to find people. I use these pages (1) when I'm looking to see if a person is in WikiTree already, (2) to find duplicate profiles, (3) to find a profile that I know is here, but I can't recall well enough to search by name (for example, I might be thinking "I know she was born in Braintree, but was she named Rachel or was it Rebecca?").

These pages are particularly valuable for finding people when the LNAB is Unknown, but the person has a Current Last Name. (Profiles for people with LNAB are invisible to name search, but they will appear on the Surnames page if I include people with current last name.) That's one reason why I was hoping to avoid having to do a sort before including people with current last name, but I've discovered that this function still doesn't work unless I've already sorted the page.

I often use these pages when the number of search results is large, since Name Search can't show me more than 100 people.

+12 votes

"I know that's all very complicated and much more explanation that all but two or three of you would like. :-)"

I must be one of those people.  I've always been a concept learner, i.e. I like to know why something happened rather than that it happened.  So knowing why and how the changes happened pleases me.  I haven't tried it yet, but I think I'll like it given the nature of the other responses so far.  

by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (407k points)
That's weird!?  My answer as I write this shows 13 Dec as when it was created rather than 2 seconds ago.  Is this another new change? ... no, now it shows 1 minute ago.  Oh, well.
+8 votes
This is great. It looks like the list of "Free-Space Genealogy pages:" has been expanded to five. How do you decide which five to include? Is there a way to increase this beyond five?

The comments about "Pre-Built" and "Live Data" were a little confusing at first, but now I understand.
by Rick Pierpont G2G6 Pilot (112k points)
Thanks, Rick.

I believe the free-space pages are just in the order in which they were created. It would probably be better if they were listed by last edit-date.

We really should have a way to browse all the free-space profiles associated with a tag, and perhaps in other ways. But it seems like we should have a vision for how this connects to everything else. As it is, so many free-space pages are non-collaborative, blank, junky, outdated, etc.
Note: We've now updated this so the free-space profiles are listed in order of most-recent edit date.
Yes, it works! Thanks. For today, this only shows up on the "Live Data". The "Pre-Built" will happen tomorrow.
+10 votes
Chris, I used the sorting tables extensively. Now you have just added another HUGE obstacle where "Form follows Function" has in this case been sacrificed for the more pleasing interface for working on mobile devices, something that I do not often do and try and avoid if possible. It was therefore in my opinion based on cosmetic reasons, not functional ones.

This new index is useless for me as a means to find duplicates, name variants, I can do for the purposes of my WikiTree work nothing now. I fear a surge in duplicates. Sorting on birthdates was absolutely essential to me.

I am truly disappointed in this decision and hope to wake up from this nightmare in the morning.
by Philip van der Walt G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
edited by Philip van der Walt
I like [even love perhaps] the right handside menu as well, though as it is now there is little I can do with it; in combination with the old table interface however it would be just stunning.
If we include the right column on the table view, the table will really be squished. I imagine you'd report the same trouble you're reporting now.

I'm assuming the right side menu will need to drop to the bottom of the page or disappear completely (not much difference between those) if you switch to the table view.
Perhaps an option between two tabs representing each the different interfaces? Or as you had with the previous table to the right hand corner of the table above similar to the option of "dense version" ....?
Hi Chris,

Part of overall problem with WikiTree is that it is not using 100% of the available screen space in width. Why is that? There *is* room available on a typical laptop screen or desktop monitor. But WikiTree displays pages with a *lot* of blank space margins on the left and right that could be used more effectively.
There is now a "table view" option.

The options and conditionals are extremely complicated in the code, so please let me know if you notice some combination of steps resulting in a broken or unexpected view. Thanks.

By the way, Eric, the added complication is why we don't offer a different format for wide screen monitors.
Very nice! I like it, and being able to toggle back and forth is great.

One thing that I thought of just a bit ago.... I remember that the table view also had a count of the number of people with the last name. That was fairly useful too. I know that it didn't include those people with "current last name".

Is there any way to keep the person count on the table view too?
Thanks very much for returning the table view, Chris.  I expect to be using both.

Yes, thanks for restoring the table view with all the columns from before, Chris!!

I particularly like to use the edit date and locks columns, so I'm good to go!

Using the denser table should be a good compromise to keep us dinosaurs happy!



Thanks Chris - It is always so nice to feel that you listen to us and give us what we need to make Wikitree better.
Excellent ... thank you so much Chris! Now it is even bettter than before ... much appreciated. Wonderful. I'll see how it works out when I'm back home from South Africa in the Netherlands and not working from a little hybtid tablet.
+7 votes
I like it, Chris. Though I hate doing it, I am often on WikiTree from a phone or tablet, so making things a little more user friendly there is great. :-)
by Abby Glann G2G6 Pilot (426k points)
+6 votes
As long as we keep our main individual Watchlist in table format, I can live with the new surname index pages.

I like the moves of putting the images, first-name search box, and other links in a separate column, as well as the addition of the quick links. It may take a bit of getting used to for us dinosaur PC/Mac users, but who are we to stop progress!

My main use of the surname table was in updating my managed profiles BY surname groups. I would choose a surname from my Watchlist, sort it chronologically, then work my way down in sibling groups. Although the new "view" is different now, it still accommodates my project. Give me a week, and I'll totally forget about the old table view!!

Overall, however, I feel there is still great value in having tables available in WikiTree.
by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (211k points)
Hi Lindy,

The problem with keeping a table format to just an individual Watchlist, is that assumes that our individual Watchlist is all we work with, or care about.

I use the Last Name Index table extensively because of working on One Name Projects. Or even just looking for existing ancestors to connect a new profile to..
Same here. The individual surname list is my main tool and WT just broke it for me. I hardly look at my watchlist.
My problem with the Watchlist is that it does not have the full surname list. I have most of the time three surname pages, alphabetically sorted, open (one for each variant of the spelling of the surname) and then I browse them alphabetical , jumping from one page to the next in quick clicks. You cannot do that with the watchlist.
As noted in the thread started by Philip, there is now a "table view" option.
Thank you Thank you Thank you,  :) Chris
+10 votes
Hi Chris, I appreciate your mission as set out above and whole heartily understand what it is about.

However, from a genealogy point of view, Please give us the ability to go to the old compact table view, and if you would really like to make us happy, give us the option to view the father and mother as well in separate columns. If space is at a premium, drop the manager and date edited  columns and even if you need more space, you can just give the birth and death dates. Now if you could add the cherry on top and make the columns all sortable.....WOW!

 I can only say that old compact surname pages make up an integral part of research to get things done on WT
by Louis Heyman G2G6 Mach 6 (62.6k points)
I find the manager column useful, because certain managers are working in the same geographic and name areas as me.
I agree with you Gillian, I do too. That is why I said ''with the option to view''. That means You have the old traditional view and then the option to view the page with for example the Name, Date of birth, Date of Death , Father , Mother columns. The page won't be wide enough to accommodate all the columns in the second option to view, so you have to sacrifice something.
+2 votes
I absolutely detest it and want my table back if you want me to be able to connect and merge people.
by Gillian Causier G2G6 Pilot (232k points)
Now I have my table option back, I can use the site how I want to again so thank you for that.
+4 votes
Chris --

I have to thank you for adding back the table format. It's considerably easier to work with when cleaning up surnames, and I have to agree that the majority of people who are doing the bulk of the work here are probably accessing from their desktop or laptop computers instead of mobile devices.

I can see how the mobile view is handy when you look at it from a "cousin bait" perspective, but when we get down to the nuts & bolts of the work, we really need to have the screens more usable for a desktop/laptop.

Along those lines: I was thinking that you should be able to set the view of the page depending on what device is accessing it. Since my CSS skills aren't that advanced, I asked my son who is a software and website developer. He confirmed that you should be able to check for screen width and/or device type and present the relevant view using different <div> blocks.

Maybe this is something you're already aware of and there is another limitation that prevents its use here, but I thought I would throw it out here just in case.
by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (366k points)
Thanks, Julie.

We do adjust for screen size in a number of ways. It's part of what makes working with these pages so complicated on the back-end.
Hi Chris,

Can you point us to an example of a page that does this? I'd like to see how that actually works.
Hi Eric,

Almost all our pages (though, not G2G) are responsive in the sense that that their columns and margins will change depending on your screen size. You can see this just by adjusting your window.

Other things you'll only see if you're on a mobile device and compare what you see with what you see on a desktop. For example, the menus on surname index pages are slightly different.


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