Help:History of WikiTree

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This is a rough and incomplete draft of our community's history.

WikiTree has reached its 10th birthday.

As we start 2018, there are 16 million profiles on our shared tree. A million people browse them every month. Tens of thousands of genealogists participate in growing them every week. But this is no overnight success story. Our roots are deep.

Here is the story of our tree and our community.


Pre-History and Founding in 2008

In 1996, Chris Whitten, the future founder of WikiTree, and Jimmy Wales, the future founder of Wikipedia, shared a small office in Chicago while working on their first Internet projects.

It's largely coincidental that Chris and Jimmy would both later found wikis. Although the wiki concept goes back to 1994, neither Chris nor Jimmy was familiar with them at the time. However, they were both working on user-generated content websites, something that was relatively rare in the 1990s. Both would later decide that a wiki is the best way for an online community to collaborate in a productive and enjoyable way.

In 2001, Chris started a question and answer website called FAQ Farm (later called WikiAnswers, now At the time, many people couldn't believe that anyone would answer strangers' questions without being paid to do it. In the 1990s the web was dominated by one-way communication. But there was a deeper Internet culture with roots in the old bulletin boards and USENET "newsgroups" where people helped each other. Community collaboration on the web would later became part of what's known as "Web 2.0."

In 2005, Chris created a private family website to organize his own family history. As Chris was incorporating information from his family members and involving more distant cousins who were also genealogists, he got to thinking about a single, collaborative family tree — a wiki family tree where all genealogists could pool their information and work together. Wouldn't that be awesome. Someday.

Chris registered the domain name in 2005 but wasn't able to work on it until he left at the end of 2007.

At the beginning of 2008, Chris started working on WikiTree with his programming partner Brian. On July 1, 2008, Chris invited his brother and father to test WikiTree. By the end of that month, a few dozen people were involved in testing.

The first public registrations started in November of that year. November 2008 is the closest thing to an official opening of WikiTree that we can put on a calendar.

Early Years: The Technology Comes Together


This was really WikiTree's first year. We grew from a few dozen members and profiles in January 2009 to 15,000 members and 50,000 profiles in December.

The site was still primitive. There wasn't a search engine until September of 2009. There wasn't even a simple alphabetical index of profiles until June.

The pivotal event of 2009 was the introduction of "Trusted Lists" for individual profiles. Most other genealogy websites, then and now, take one of two approaches to privacy. Either they evade the problem by only including non-living people, or they put the privacy controls around trees or families. The former removes the appeal of family trees for many people. The latter makes a single family tree with real genealogy collaboration impossible. Our unique solution made WikiTree possible.


This is the year we started to make it onto genealogists' radar.

Cyndi Howells added us to her classic Cyndi's List of genealogy links. Dick Eastman reviewed WikiTree in September 2010. The mention in Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter was very big for us. In late August, before his review, we had 200,000 profiles on the tree. By early October it was 500,000.

In October of 2010, Elyse Doerflinger became the first WikiTree Team member after Chris, i.e. the first part-time employee. To this day the team is still very small and mostly part-time. Almost everything on WikiTree is run by volunteers.

Elyse is a young genealogist (she was in college when she worked with us, she's now a school teacher) who was active in the genealogy blogging community. She helped us develop tools for bloggers such as our [LINK TO WIDGET PAGE] widgets for embedding family trees in blog posts.

Bloggers were very important to WikiTree's growth, and remain important. Since WikiTree is pledged to remain free forever we need to keep costs ultra-low. We don't have an advertising budget. We depend on genealogists helping to spread the word.


We got some media attention in 2011. Thanks to Thomas MacEntee (then of GeneaBloggers) we were mentioned in the New York Times in May and in USA Today in June.

On 9 March 2011 we reached 1,000,000 profiles. In another four months it had doubled to 2,000,000. We crossed that milestone on 23 July.

3 October 2011 was another sort of milestone: 10,000 visitors in one day.

19 February 2011: Released two new privacy levels: Unlisted and Open.

The Honor Code -- May? First signatures?

Important technical features were added in 2011. It's hard to remember/imagine WikiTree without some of these. In February we added FindMatches, which enables automatch matching when adding profiles and MatchBot. In April we released the thank-you system, merge proposals, the bulk Profile Manager changes tool, and the Preview function for editing biographies. In July we added the Relationship Finder.


Perhaps the most important thing for the future of the community: We created the Honor Code and what we call the "WikiTree Pledge" to always keep it free. Community and policy changes were

In May of 2011 Tami Osmer became a team member. She spent four years on the team. From 2011 to 2015 valiently handled almost all the e-mail sent to Although the volunteer community does most things on WikiTree, a team member with "sysop" rights is the only one who can handle private issues.

The Community Comes Together


On 12 January 2012 we reached 3,000,000 profiles.

Five days later we slammed on the brakes! On 17 January WikiTree became invitation-only.

We realized that it was easy to create profiles, especially through GEDCOM import. Many genealogists are happy to upload their GEDCOM. But many were doing this without understanding what WikiTree is all about. It's not just a place to upload your tree. It's for collaborating on our shared tree. Collaboration isn't eas


In January 2012 we created what is now the WikiTree Leaders program, our way of giving extra powers and responsibilities to certain leading members, especially those who lead others in projects. At the time we called them "Supervisors" but this name never quite fit.

Roger Travis was the first. He is a Yale professor Becky Syphers, Lindsay Coleman, Martin Grifhorst, Abby Glann, Lianne Lavoie, Bob Fields, Heather Brown, Paul Bech and Vic Watt became the first group of WikiTree Supervisors.

(Where is Kathy Patterson?) What about David McDougle from 2009 and others?)

Tom Bredehoft, Keith Baker, Daniel Bouman, Krissi Love, Allen Minix, and Brian Chelton were added a couple months later. Ed Burke, Gail Cox, Debby Black, and Michael Gabbard became WikiTree Supervisors later in the year.

Krissi Love . What makes her unique is that she is one of the first members to enthusiastically add people she has no relationship to.


In September the US Presidents Project was started. In November the DNA Project to encourage the development of ideas for integrating DNA test results with WikiTree, and Sandi Wiggins started William Penn and Early Pennsylvania Settlers Project.

By the end of the year we had reopened registration. Now we had our Guest Member program and Greeters who confirmed them.


In February we made the rule that all 300-year-old profiles had to be Open. Over 172,000 profiles had their Privacy Level changed. In July, after long debates, it was changed from 300 to 200.


The most important feature added in 2012: our G2G (genealogist-to-genealogist) forum.

A forum is absolutely essential to an online community. On many websites the forum is the community. But we're not just a community that discusses things. We're building something. We had the bulletin boards on profiles and private messages and e-mail to communicate about profiles, so we resisted adding a forum. It was a mistake to wait so long. We needed a place for everyone in the community to come together. G2G has worked out wonderfully.

May 1, 2012: The first electronic signing of the Honor Code.

Just before Christmas we added GEDMatches (now GEDCompare).


On 31 May 2012 we reached a new traffic milestone: 20,000 visitors in one day. Then the next day it was 27,000! But this was a blip. The History Channel was running a Hatfield-McCoy series and people wanted to know if they were related to the famous family feud.


In February we attended our first RootsTech conference. Elyse Doerflinger and Chris Whitten staff the booth and are overwhelmed. We resolve to attend next year with more WikiTreers!

In May Chris and Tami Osmer attend NGS Family History Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in June Chris, Tami, Elyse, and Lianne Lavoie represent WikiTree at Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree. We have lots of fun at these two events but decide that conferences aren't in WikiTree's budget. We plan to just attend RootsTech in future years.


6 November 2013: Getting about 3.3 million hits (not visits) through the server per day. An average of 1,200 queries per second.

10 September 2013: CNN and RealSimple magazine mentions.

16 October 2013: Sent e-mail newsletter to 44,000 members.

23 October 2013: Extended DNA table fields.


28 February 2013: Lianne Lavoie became a team member: Princess of Projects.

18 May 2013: Paul Bech became a team member: Project Assistant.

13 August 2013: Eowyn Langholf became a team member: WikiTree Forest Elf.


10 May 2013: Redesign of surname index pages.

7 May 2013: Design changes, including colors and buttons for widgets and family views.

15 November 2013: New home page design.


21-23 March 2013: Our second RootsTech conference. Chris, Lianne Lavoie, Michael Gabbard, and Ed Burke represent WikiTree.

27 March 2013: Member-awarded stars go live: Family Stars and Community Stars

22 April 2013: 5,000,000 profiles.

2 April 2013: First Family History Photo of the Week.

25 June 2013: Made DNA test connections live.


10 June 2013: New Netherland Settlers project started by Liz Shifflett.

5 June 2013: Canadian History Project started by Lianne Lavoie.

8 March 2013: Puritan Great Migration Project started by Lianne Lavoie

11 August 2013: Kitty's Library created by Kitty Smith

27 July 2013: Titanic Project started by Lianne Lavoie.

7 March 2013: The Wiki Genealogy Feed is introduced enabling members to follow surnames and other tags.

6 September 2013: Jillaine Smith becomes the first WikiTree member to be awarded the Huguenot Migration badge, awarded by team member Lianne Lavoie. This marks the official start of the Huguenot Migration Project. By January 2016 it had 58 members.

26 November 2013: One Name Studies Project started by Lianne Lavoie.

4 October 2013: 1776 Project started by Kitty Smith.

13 September 2013: Anzacs Project begins (becomes a sub-project of the Australia Project in March 2014).



December 2014:

Philip Smith returned as a WikiTree Leader and started the Louisiana Families Project.

The wonderful Karen Tobo also joined the Leader team.

14 November 2014: Alison Andrus and Matt Pryber became a WikiTree Leader.

31 October 2014: Added ads to top of surname index pages and upper-right column of person profiles. Sheri Sturm, Liz Shifflett and Michele Bergin went Leader Emeritus.

20 October 2014: Vicki Norman became a WikiTree Leader.

5 September 2014: Sally Stovall, Michael Stills, and John Atkinson became a WikiTree Leader.

September 2014: Introduced Pre-1700 Self-Certification.

11 August 2014: Paula J, Kay Wilson, GeneJX, and Anne B. became WikiTree Leaders.

August 2014: Erin Breen became a team member: Volunteer Coordinator.

26 July 2014: Cooper Name Study created by Kitty Smith

July 2014: AJ's media blitz for the global family reunion continues, most notably with an appearance on Good Morning America. He also published an article in Mental Floss magazine.

11 July 2014: M. Gaulden, Rick Pierpont, and Robin Lee became WikiTree Leaders.

June 2014: Abby first coins the phrase Don't WikiTree While Angry. In November it would be further discussed and adopted as an official rule. DWWA has since become an important principle in our community.

Doug Lockwood to the Leader team in May. Chet Snow and Tom Shaw came on in June.

27 May 2014: Most of new design now in place.

10 May 2014: Smith Name Study created by Kitty Smith

May 2014: The new design!

29 March 2014: Concept of Top level Projects with sub-Projects introduced with creation of Australia Project (as a top level Project)

25 March 2014: Roger Travis went Leader Emeritus.

15 March 2014: Elyse Doerflinger went Leader Emeritus.

6 March 2014: Magna Carta Project started by April (Dellinger) Dauenhauer

5 March 2014: John Schmeeckle and Chris Hoyt became WikiTree Leaders.

March 2014: Abby Glann became a team member: Leader Liaison.

Kitty, Lianne, AJ, Michelle, Eowyn (100% Free!), Chris, and Tami at RootsTech 2014.

February 2014: The team and a group of leaders attend RootsTech 2014, the big genealogy conference sponsored by FamilySearch in Salt Lake City. In other news, AJ has been on NPR twice and Canadian Public Radio as well.

16 February 2014: Michele Bergin became a WikiTree Leader.

6-8 February 2014: Our third RootsTech conference. Roland Arsenault, Brian Casey, Tami Glatz , Michelle Hartley, Eowyn Langholf, Lianne Lavoie, Kitty Smith and Chris Whitten attend.

2 February 2014: Sunday New York Times op-ed by AJ Jacobs mentions WikiTree. 14 June 2014: AJ's TED talk and People magazine article released.

February 2014: WikiTree Supervisors became WikiTree Leaders.

January 2014: Annette Cormier and Maria Maxwell became a WikiTree Supervisor.


December 2015

Released the most significant round of GEDCOM import changes in terms of formatting profiles since WikiTree first started importing GEDCOMs in 2010. Imports no longer produce the super ugly profiles we're used to seeing.

We also started a big effort to use "tags" to help connect members who share the same genealogical interests. We've come to realize over the past few years that WikiTree is genealogy collaboration. Collaboration = communication + coordination + common goal. Helping members connect with each other helps our mission.

We enlisted Carrie Quackenbush as a WikiTree Leader this month.

November 2015

One of our community's favorite Leaders, Liz Shifflett, returns.

October 2015

A busy month!

We implemented the Family List feature which can show 15 generations of descendants and/or ancestors — up to 29 generations on one page; can include siblings of ancestors; can be sorted by name, birth date, or birth location.

Leigh Murrin and Julie Ricketts became WikiTree Leaders in October. Unfortunately, some of our best, Philip Smith, Lindsay Coleman, Billy Wallace, Keith Baker, Chris Hoyt, Tami Osmer and April Dauenhauer had to step away from their leadership roles.

We added an important Relationship Status option: Non-Biological. This enables adopted families to keep the family connections they prefer, without affecting our growing collection of DNA Features.

We also enabled members to find out if any profiles of family members need profile managers. Why didn't we do this sooner?!

A small but significant thing for the G2G community: We made it possible to link questions to free-space profiles.

Queen Elizabeth II was added as one of the "anchor people" for the Connection Finder. Much more popular in the community than Kevin Bacon, who was chosen mostly for the "six degrees of separation" analogy.

August 2015

We added the "100 Degrees of Kevin Bacon" (and two others) feature box to every profile. This caused quite a stir. Many members object to making connections through marriage, or object to gimmicky celebrity features, or to Kevin Bacon in particular. In response, we made the feature box smaller and moved it to the bottom of profiles.

Andrea Powell, Bea Wijma, and Veronica Williams became WikiTree Leaders.

July 2015

The dynamic tree view go live! A tree than you can pan around and zoom in/out on has been long requested.

Another great Leader joins the team: John Beardsley.

The Unknowns Project was started by Shirley Dalton.

June 2015

22 June 2015: John Schmeeckle went Leader Emeritus.

Maryann Hurt became a WikiTree Leader.

This month we made a big technical change for users who view WikiTree on mobile devices. Pages became "responsive" to the width of browser and therefore much more mobile-friendly.

May 2015

We crossed the major milestone of 10,000,000 profiles!

We changed the name of our GEDMatches tool to GEDCompare. With DNA becoming ever more important on WikiTree and many WikiTreers using, it just became too confusing.

This month Keith Hathaway, one of the friendliest "faces" in our community, became a WikiTree Leader.

We lost three valuable Leaders — Jillaine Smith, Cheryl Hammond, and PM Eyestone — after a heated debate in the Leader community about whether to implement the Uncertain Relationship Status.

We also lost two of our favorite Leaders because "real life got in the way of WikiTree": Gail Cox and Debby Black. Gail and Debby are true gems.

April 2015

A great month for recruiting Leaders: Guy Constantineau, Lena Svensson, and Doug Straiton came on board.

March 2015

25 March 2015: Relationship Status: Certainty status on relationships went live (uncertain, confident, confirmed with DNA; non-biological added 28 October 2015)

11 March 2015: Jacky Clark and Shirley Dalton became WikiTree Leaders.

3 March 2015: Quakers Project started.

25 February 2015: Released Compact Family Tree.

Team Members Tami, Eowyn, and Abby at RootsTech 2015.

6 February 2015: Lisa Franklin, Cherly Hammond, Myrtis Bishop, and Patrick Barnum became WikiTree Leaders.

12-14 February 2015: Our fourth RootsTech conference. Mags Gaulden, Abby Glann, Tami Glatz, Michelle Hartley, Eowyn Langholf, Peter Roberts, Kitty Smith, Michael Lee Stills, Karen Tobo and Chris Whitten attend.

3 February 2015: Added Tree & Tools page.

29 January 2015: Daniël Bouman, Kimball Everingham, Dan Thompson, and Matt Pryber went Leader Emeritus.

22 January 2015: Crossed 9,000,000 profiles.

14 January 2015: Added birth dates and locations to titles in links to family members on profiles.

6 January 2015: Debut of Generous Genealogist star badges


In January we introduced long-debated restrictions on who can edit Pre-1500 Profiles. It was back in September 2014 that we added the pre-1700 restrictions. They've helped but they aren't very restrictive since it only takes 10 or 15 minutes to go through the self-certification.

This page was last modified 22:38, 15 October 2021. This page has been accessed 386 times.