- Posts for website review tag
WikiTree: The Good & the Bad

In the summer of 2017, I made the decision to join WikiTree, to see if there might be any useful information there. I uploaded a limited GEDCOM to the site, to see if I could contribute anything of value, but soon became frustrated with the site and its users.

The Bad

Wikis by their very nature are openly editable by anyone who happens to be a member. This means you have “well-meaning” members making changes to your data or telling you, in no uncertain terms, what to do with it. It is extremely rare that I come across polite requests on there that include the words please and thank you. Most messages are brusque and to the point with: “Merge so-and-so and so-and-so. Clear duplicate.” And “Clean up profile.” Very few people are personable.

Also, uploading a GEDCOM means you must then go in and fix every single person you added to conform with WikiTree standards. That includes fixing names, dates, locations, biographies, sources, and more. If you upload a GEDCOM of several hundred people (which I don’t recommend unless you’re sure you want to participate), it can take quite some time to fix all of their profiles. And if you are busy with work, school, children, or life in general and can only devote an hour or two a week to it, this can take a while, which might earn some of those cold, brusque messages from other WikiTreers.

There is also the problem of other people editing the information you’ve uploaded or added, which can be frustrating. I’ve had people add links to subscription-only sites as sources, which means no one can even see the sources unless they are a paying member of the site. People will even go so far as to correct your ancestors’ names without asking you for more information first.

If you prefer control over the information you’ve gathered (even if much of it is freely available), then do not upload a GEDCOM to WikiTree. In fact, run, don’t walk away from the site.

The Good

Now, all of that said, WikiTree in general is a good-intentioned endeavor and, once you get into the spirit of it, it can be a lot of fun. If the idea of contributing to one family tree appeals to you (there can only be one profile per person who has ever existed; hence, merging of duplicates, because this is not your personal family tree), then I suggest starting slowly.

Limit your GEDCOM upload to no more than 4 generations – yourself, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Beyond that, the privacy options are much more open and other members can edit your information quite freely. I suggest really understanding WikiTree’s mission before going any further by adding older ancestors.

Starting with the people closest to you, with default settings that limit others from seeing them completely, gives you time to learn how things are done on WikiTree, from the naming and location conventions, to formatting biographies, notes, and sources in profiles. Take the time to learn about tags and also how WikiTree interacts with Find-A-Grave. Properly source your profiles as soon as possible to avoid being tagged with the “Unsourced” designation.

A slow and steady start will save you from the unnecessary frustration that comes from people who think they’re doing you and WikiTree a favor by adding to your profiles willy-nilly. Also, some of these genealogists don’t actually adhere to WikiTree’s formatting guidelines, which is even more frustrating once you do get into using the site.

You can also earn badges on WikiTree, which can be a lot of fun. I’m a goal-driven video gamer, so the badges appeal to me in the sense that they almost gamify the experience.

I wish people were more polite and friendly on WikiTree, as well as willing to reach out to people before altering profiles. Despite that, I’ve forged ahead with trying to make my profiles the best they can be. I also make sure the messages I leave people are enthusiastic and friendly i.e. “Hi there! I see we both manage profiles for So-And-So and So-And-So, who are duplicates. So-and-So is my 4th great-grandfather, which might make us cousins, and I’ve added several sources. If we could get these merged per WikiTree guidelines, that would be fantastic!”

While I have become an active WikiTreer, I recommend avoiding it entirely. Or at least save yourself the headache of putting too many ancestor profiles up there unless you have the time and energy to make sure they are as mistake-free and well-sourced as possible.