- Posts for WikiTree tag
52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Joined Together | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 12: Joined Together

Oh gosh, this week’s topic gave me so many ideas, but making it genealogically relevant was hard! So I thought I would go for a how-to and why sort of post. Let’s talk about merging duplicates on WikiTree!

First of all, when I joined WikiTree, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into there. A collaborative tree is not for everyone, but once you get into the teamwork aspect and the idea of making the profiles the best they can be, it can get addictive. Of course, the goal of WikiTree is one connected family tree, which means one entry per person, be they descendant or ancestor. I feel that WikiTree works well when people embrace it in the intended spirit – working together to provide the best and most complete profiles possible for our ancestors!

Naturally, duplicate profiles happen. Many exist and go unnoticed, unless members are working on a particular person, or a new member uploads a GEDCOM and receives notifications of duplicates. How should you manage a merge on WikiTree?

First and foremost, make sure you’re actually looking at the same people. I had a merge proposed for the Pardon Simmons profile when I managed it (I cleaned my watchlist recently, because it was far beyond what I am actively researching and willing to manage at this time):

The other Pardon Simmons that was proposed as a match/the same person was this one:

The first step when someone proposes a merge on WikiTree is to compare the profiles side by side. It is obvious in this instance that the two men of the same name and same place of birth were not the same person, simply by the birth and death dates. I rejected the merge, however I did find a duplicate of the Pardon Simmons born in 1768 that I was able to merge into one tidy profile.

Then again, sometimes you will find not just one duplicate, but many. I recently took on an unsourced bio with no dates and no locations for an Ephraim Burrell. I did that because I have Burrells in my family, the Burrells are well-documented in Weymouth and Braintree, Massachusetts, so I thought it would be easy to find information on him, and I just wanted to improve a profile to help improve the tree.

Once I started digging and compiling sources on him, I found that there was not one profile for him, but 3 on WikiTree. None of the information was consistent. One had a birth date. One had a birth and death date. One had two of his children. Neither had his wives, however the profile I had adopted had one wife.

It was a bit of a task to merge all 3 mostly blank profiles into one…

I had to adopt all 3 profiles, merge one into another, and then merge that merged profile into yet another. But the end result of my work was that we went from 3 profiles for the same person with varying and minimal amounts of information to this profile encompassing as many details as I could find about Ephraim’s life:

So if you are a fellow WikiTreer and would like to do something for the overall “health” of the tree, why not search out potential duplicates to join together and improve by merging, followed by sourcing and bio improvement? Of course, be sure to confirm that the profiles you’re merging are definitely the same person! If the profiles are managed by other people, they will have to approve the merge, and that’s where communication becomes important. Personally, I like to look for orphaned profiles that need some TLC and go from there.

Regardless, this helps everyone who comes to WikiTree, whether as a registered user or someone who happens to find it in a search for an ancestor.

WikiTree: A Collaborative Family Tree | Our Prairie Nest
WikiTree: A Collaborative Family Tree

In the summer of 2017, I joined WikiTree to see if there might be any useful information about my ancestors there. I also uploaded a limited GEDCOM to the site, to see if I could contribute anything of value. I experienced some ups and downs, so here are my thoughts and experiences. You could also think of this post as “WikiTree: Instructions for Use” since I will share my thoughts and tips on using this site.


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 what they think you should do with it. Some members are very polite and personable. Others are brusque and to the point. Like everything in life, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. However, most people are there because they want to work together to improve the tree. If you don’t like someone else “touching your ancestors,” I’m going to tell you straight up that this is not the place for you.

However, if you would like to work with others – and especially if you would like to find cousins who have the same deep interest in your shared ancestors – WikiTree might be a place you want to try. Remember, most genealogists are excited to share their toys, so even if you don’t want to contribute to the tree, you might find profiles for your ancestors that include sources you don’t yet have!

Keep in mind this is not a place where you will find sources. Sources are cited in ancestor profiles, but this is not a service like Ancestry. This is an online family tree with a lot of fun community extras and teamwork.

Joining WikiTree

I recommend starting out as a Guest or Family Member to get a feel for the site. Not going to lie here, folks, the interface is complicated and outdated. I’m not sure what kind of coding or platform it’s been built with, or if it leaves room for change/updating for ease of use in the future. But that seems to be the main complaint for most people, that navigating it is difficult.

There is a learning curve and this is why I recommend taking it slowly, one step at a time. It’s a lot like comparing Gedmatch to Ancestry for DNA. Gedmatch offers some really cool tools, but they were developed by a developer, which means the rest of us mere mortals are going to have some learning to do. 😉

It doesn’t help that Ancestry is visually attractive and easy to navigate. We’ve become accustomed to sites that are streamlined and deliver the information or results we want right meow! However, please don’t let WikiTree’s interface put you off of exploring it further, because this site has so much to offer.

WikiTree Genealogist Honor Code

WikiTree users sign the Genealogist Honor Code, and this is a commitment to accuracy, courtesy, and assuming – as well as acting with – the best intentions of everyone. This doesn’t mean every profile will be perfect. Some people join WikiTree, upload a huge GEDCOM, and then never return. However, you are also going to find amazingly-written biographies and well-sourced profiles that are maintained by active profile managers who care about the information presented.

If you do a Google search for your ancestors and find them on WikiTree, please stop and take a good look at the profiles. If they’re among the phenomenal ones you can find on the site, congratulations! If, however, they appear abandoned – maybe even orphaned – then maybe you could consider adopting them and helping them meet their full potential.

For example, I have no direct connection with any of the Culper Ring spies, but I’ve been fascinated by them ever since watching the TV show Turn. So what did I do when I came across some orphaned, unconnected, and unsourced profiles that might have been connected to one of these famous spies? I adopted them, improved the biographies, added sources, found out they were indeed related to one of the spies, and made the connection between family members. These folks have living descendants, so maybe someday those descendants will be glad someone took the time to do that.

And that’s the thing about WikiTree – it’s not about me or you. It’s about everyone, how we can work together to create a well-sourced family tree for anyone, from serious genealogist to casual family historian, to enjoy! If this sounds good to you, here are some tips on how to get started. Keep in mind, this is just from my experience.

Creating Profiles vs. GEDCOM Upload

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – the GEDCOM upload is a process, and that means you must then go in and fix every single person you added to conform with WikiTree standards. Yes, this site has standards, and I think that’s one of the things most people find daunting when they first get started.

The work of improving a GEDCOM includes fixing names, dates, locations, biographies, sources, merging potential duplicates, and more. If you upload a GEDCOM of several hundred people, 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. So I don’t suggest that approach.

If you want to start with a GEDCOM, I recommend limiting it to no more than four or five generations. That’s a more manageable project and you’re also less likely to run into duplicate profiles that you’ll need to merge. WikiTree is meant to be one family tree, not multiple trees.

I highly recommend creating profiles one at a time, instead, starting by creating profiles for yourself, your parents, and your grandparents. Why? Because that information is private and/or limited. No one else can edit them, except you. That’s a great way to hone your biography writing and sourcing skills. Keeping it within only a couple of generations of yourself to start is also great because it keeps other people from editing the information you’ve uploaded or added, which can be frustrating for a newbie until they get to know the site, the standards, and the community.

Once you get comfortable with the interface, work your way back by adding your great-grandparents. Beyond that, the privacy options are much more open and other members can edit your information freely. Again, if you are fiercely protective of your family tree, WikiTree is not the place for you.

Take the time to learn about WikiTree’s formatting, the Find A Grave template, and tags. Those are the basics that will ensure you have easy to read profiles and well-organized sources. Don’t worry too much about Categories and Stickers just yet. If you cannot find any sources to add to your profiles, please know that they may be tagged with the “Unsourced” designation. I prefer to add the Unsourced tag myself, with an explanation of why sources haven’t been located yet, and where I’ve already looked.

There are many help pages on WikiTree that cover a lot of ground. Maybe a little too much! That’s why I suggest taking it person by person in creating profiles and familiarizing yourself with how things are done on the site. A slow and steady start will save you from the unnecessary frustration that comes from people who try to do you and WikiTree a favor by adding information to your profiles – which is done in the spirit of helping improve the tree, not to upset you. As I said, you’ll connect with some really wonderful people who care about the WikiTree mission, but if you feel possessive about maintaining a family tree, then you are better off keeping it elsewhere.

P.S. I never, ever advocate keeping your tree online only. I keep mine in Legacy and Rootsmagic, and back my files up regularly. The reason I have it on Ancestry and MyHeritage is to link to my DNA results. The reason I have it on WikiTree is for the collaborative community aspect of the site.

WikiTree Tips

Profiles on WikiTree and the sources added should be easily accessible to all users, or at least detailed enough for you to find the original source yourself. By this I mean try to add freely-viewable sources. FamilySearch is, of course, the go-to site for this, as well as Find A Grave, the National Archives for certain records, and Archive.org for published genealogies, directories, town reports, books with vital record transcripts, and more.

Some WikiTree users 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. I disagree with this practice, unless it is the only available source. I also disagree with citing family trees as sources, unless it is a published, documented family tree, such as the ones you find in the Mayflower Silver Books.

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. However, the real goal should be to make the family tree be the most accurate it can be. The badges are a fun incentive, but this is not a numbers game. This is about being rewarded for the time and energy you contribute to something that can benefit everyone.

I also recommend approaching your fellow WikiTreers in a friendly manner. Some people leave a blunt message on merge requests that simply say “Clear duplicate.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but I prefer leaving an enthusiastic and friendly message that says, “Hi there! I see we both manage profiles for John Smith who was born in 1795 and died in 1832, and who married Mary Johnson. They were my 4th great-grandparents. It looks like these profiles are duplicates and I’ve added several sources. If we could get these merged per WikiTree guidelines, that would be fantastic!”

Sure, that’s much less efficient than “Clear duplicate,” but I feel like it’s an invitation to connect with a possible cousin and fellow community member. And that’s another point of having a collaborative tree, to connect with others who are as excited about genealogy as you.

Here is another personal preference: When I do find errors in a profile or an unsourced profile, I prefer not to edit it directly. Instead, I like to communicate with the profile manager and say, “Hi there, I found *this source* that might be of interest for *ancestor name*. I hope this is useful to you in enhancing their profile!” If that profile manager hasn’t checked in for a while or doesn’t respond in a couple of weeks, then I will correct the errors or add the source. That goes hand in hand with assuming everyone has the best intentions. We should also act with those good intentions.

If you decide to give WikiTree a try, take it slow, maybe get involved with one of the various teams, and don’t be afraid to communicate! Many of the folks there are friendly and committed to improving the quality of the profiles found on the site. Who knows – you might even meet a cousin or make some new friends!