Help:WikiTree FAQ

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For many more questions & answers and to ask your own come to the Genealogist-to-Genealogist Forum: G2G.


Is WikiTree related to Wikipedia?

No. WikiTree runs a highly customized version of the Mediawiki software created by our friends at Wikipedia. However, WikiTree and Wikipedia are completely independent wiki websites. Wikipedia is published by the Wikimedia Foundation.

For a comparison of WikiTree and Wikipedia from a content perspective, see The Encyclopedia of You.

Is WikiTree non-profit?

No. WikiTree is published by, Inc., a small business based in New York.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being a non-profit organization. Being recognized as a non-profit by the US government requires a fair amount of bureaucracy. (Chris Whitten, the founder of WikiTree, started a non-profit website in 1995 and operated it as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation until 2001.)

Moreover, a non-profit still has expenses. It needs donations and grants to pay the bills. Instead of spending our time improving the website and helping users grow the tree, we'd be spending our days writing grant applications and hitting up users for contributions.

Our philosophy is to run the technical back-end of WikiTree as a business. We take extraordinary steps to run a low-cost operation. This enables the expenses to be covered by modest advertisements on public web pages. We believe this is simpler and easier than being a non-profit corporation.

We have made a public pledge to never charge for access to the worldwide family tree. The very idea of it is anathema to our mission.

Is the worldwide family tree public domain?

This is not a simple question to answer. Some of the family tree information we host on WikiTree is free to be copied and redistributed. A lot of it is not. Only a lawyer can advise you on all the details. Some important considerations:

  • Unlike on many websites, when you contribute to WikiTree you're not required to give up all copyrights on your photos and information. Contributors just give the website a license. We can't turn around and declare that all the content you contributed is in the public domain.
  • Even if we had the legal right to make all the content on WikiTree public domain, we wouldn't make a lot of it public for privacy reasons. Privacy is a major consideration in everything we do at WikiTree.
  • Some genealogy can't be copyrighted at all. US law doesn't allow basic facts to be copyrighted.

We do consider it part of our mission to make the worldwide family tree available for outside developers and researchers with non-profit purposes. If you're interested in this, see Project:WikiTree Apps.

Is WikiTree's software open source?

The sophisticated technical foundations for WikiTree are almost all open source. For example, Mediawiki is open source, and the Question2Answer software we use for G2G is open source.

Also, we work with a community of open-source developers through our WikiTree Apps Project and API. Most of the code developed in the Apps community is completely open source.

However, the core of WikiTree and most of the customizations we have made to Mediawiki are not open source. WikiTree isn't meant to be run in multiple installations. Our mission is to grow a single, collaborative family tree. We think it would be counter-productive to encourage others to start their own WikiTrees.

Moreover, if all our code were open, it could be easier for would-be hackers to defeat our privacy controls. We work hard to protect privacy. With all our code public we'd have to work even harder.

Are email addresses sold to spammers?

Absolutely not. We never sell email addresses or any other personal information to advertisers. We hate spam as much as you.

You can change or delete your email address at any time. However, be aware that deleting your email address will close your account.

Why do we use wiki markup tags instead of WYSIWYG editing?

Many people ask why it isn't easier to edit profiles. Why do members have to learn these obscure "wiki markup" tags in order to edit?

Most websites and software tools use some sort of WYSIWYG ("What You See is What You Get") interface. The formatting markup is done in the background, without the user having to see the tags.

We have not ruled the possibility of adopting some sort of WYSIWYG editor in the future, perhaps based on the Mediawiki Foundation's Visual Editor. However, there would be disadvantages to doing this.

All WYSIWYG editors tend to "bloat" the text. As the user adjusts the formatting they unknowingly layer tags or formatting commands on top of each other. For example, let's say that a user decides to make a word bold, then changes their mind. The commands to make it bold and normal might both still be there in the background, one overriding the other.

The bloat problem is compounded by collaboration where users are editing the same text. The markup tags get more and more complicated as different members make their contributions and changes.

Bloat may not cause problems if the content is used by one website and it isn't intended to be distributed or used by others. However, the content we're growing on WikiTree is meant to be accessible to as many people as possible, today and long into the future — long after is gone.

We want our genealogies and biographies to be accessible in media that we can't even imagine today. Bloating this content with extra markup tags makes it more complicated to work with, now and in the future.

What would happen to the tree if disappeared?

We take this very seriously. See Protecting Our Shared Tree for an explanation of our contingency plans and extraordinary protections, and for tips for making sure your own private family history is preserved.

How do you contact us?

Click here for team member bios and contact information.

Feel free to say hello to any of us. However, if you have questions, please ask them in our member forum, G2G, unless they absolutely need to be kept private. In these cases, e-mail

See also:

This page was last modified 15:18, 30 March 2020. This page has been accessed 16,252 times.