Thursday, March 10, 2011

Exploring WikiTree - Post 1: Getting Started

WikiTree, a FREE online family tree, has been around for several years, but is now gaining more and more contributors.  It passed one million profiles today - see the GeneaPress announcement here. 

The website says:

"About WikiTree: This is a free and collaborative project started in 2008. The webmaster is Chris Whitten, the creator of WikiAnswers. The technical infrastructure is based on Mediawiki and is developed and operated by, Inc. The content is edited and owned by contributors. Expenses are paid by ads on public pages for those who don't login."

In summary - it's a family tree, it's collaborative, it's a wiki, and it's FREE.  The example pages I've seen look beautiful.  What's not to like?  I love family tree programs and websites.  I believe in spreading my genea-seeds around as cousin bait and am hoping to find the "ultimate" in family trees.  Hence - I'll give WikiTree a whirl.

I registered back in November when WikiTree was announced as available for use.  Today, I decided to jump in and upload my family tree.

Here's the home page for WikiTree:

I clicked on the "My Nav Page" in the top menu and saw:

The Navigation Page is my own - yours will look different depending on what you've already added.  The Navigation Page tells me what I've done to date and what I can do next.  I was impatient, and wanted to upload my family tree, so I clicked on the "Tree" link in the top menu:

My tree is EM-TEE!  I can start over?  I don't want to, since I have almost 40,000 persons in my RootsMagic database.  On the "Tree" screen above, there is no obvious way to add or edit more information, other than by clicking on the links for the persons on the page.

Can WikiTree upload a GEDCOM file?  I clicked on "Help" in the top menu, and there was a list on the "How to Use WikiTree." page.  I saw "6. GEDCOMs, Back-Ups, and Moving Your Family Tree" so I clicked on that, and then on the "Upload it here" link.  The screen for uploading a GEDCOM is:

This "Upload GEDCOM" page has some helpful warnings, including:

"Do you have thousands of distant ancestors in your GEDCOM?

"WikiTree is designed for collaboration. Every human being should only have one profile page on our worldwide family tree. An ancestor's profile should be shared by all their descendants.

"WikiTree collaboration is personal and private when it comes to modern family history. But ancestors from hundreds of years ago are large-scale collaborative efforts.

"If you import a GEDCOM with 2,000 individuals you will become the Profile Manager for 2,000 new profiles. This means making a commitment to participate in the WikiTree community. Other WikiTreers will want to merge and share the profiles you created.

"Some new users choose to experiment with WikiTree first or start with a smaller GEDCOM. We want you to participate — serious genealogists make the best WikiTreers — so please e-mail Chris to talk about it."

Hmmm, a warning not to upload a large GEDCOM, in fact something less than 2,000 is recommended.  I went into RootsMagic to see how many people are in my ancestral families, and  decided to choose to create a GEDCOM for 10 generations, starting with me.  The result was a GEDCOM with 2860 persons, and is 2.6 megabytes.  Let's see how that works.

I added the GEDCOM file to the field in the screen above, and clicked on the "Upload a GEDCOM File" button.  The next screen was:

"Your GEDCOM has been uploaded and will be processed within the next few days."

Okay, I'll be patient.  I was curious why they do it this way - there is a link on this page for GEDCOM FAQs:

One of the FAQs is for "Why isn't a GEDCOM imported immediately after you upload it?"  This says:

"Some GEDCOMs take time to process. A web page is created for each individual in the file, then the family connections are made between them, then any notes or source information is added. In order to avoid creating too much of a load on the server, we only process one GEDCOM at a time, and we like to process large GEDCOMs during non-peak hours.

"Also, every program that creates GEDCOMs has its own unique way of formatting information. GEDCOMs are designed to store the data in a standardized, universal manner so that information can be cleanly exchanged, but the reality isn't quite that simple. Many things can go wrong. In order to minimize the likelihood of problems, and be available to solve them, we like to personally manage every GEDCOM import."

Fair enough.  I'll wait until they notify me, and then we'll go exploring around my WikiTree.


Elyse Doerflinger said...

Randy -

Thank you so much for taking a chance to try WikiTree out and sharing your experience. I hope you find lots of cousins!

I look forward to your next post!


Chris Whitten said...

Hi Randy,

This is really awesome. I don't think we've ever had such a thoughtful, step-by-step review. It's terrific.

I hope you keep giving me feedback, whether publicly like this or privately by e-mail. You'll be great for WikiTree.

Chris Whitten
WikiTree Webmaster

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

I seem to recall that my first submissions to World Connect at Rootsweb, 10-15 years ago, was handled this way, as well. They have always been my favorite.
This looks very interesting. I do like the Wiki technology.
Thanks for the lesson! ;-)

Deborah said...

Randy, how is this different than WeRelate? Is one better than the other? How does one decide? My issue with online family trees is though I hope for cousins to connect none ever contact me...they just download what I have uploaded and move on. What has your experience been regarding connecting with cousins?

Chris Whitten said...

I'll take a shot at Deborah's question, though I won't pretend to be unbiased.

The biggest difference between WeRelate and WikiTree is privacy.

WeRelate is a conventional wiki. It works just like Wikipedia. Everything is open. Anyone can view, edit, and redistribute anything. They just have one simple privacy rule: don't enter information about living people.

As a genealogist, you may not care about entering living people. You know how your family connects with your ancestors. But if you want to involve your non-genealogist family members they will want to see their modern family history connected with the ancestry. The connections to living people is what makes it neat for them. They'll get excited by the photos and the stories and seeing how it all fits together.

Regarding your specific concern, about connecting with distant cousins, WikiTree does have a good record for this -- e.g., see the user quotes on -- but it can require patience. The distant cousins probably won't already be using WikiTree. It's still a relatively young and small community. What will happen is that next week, or next month, or next year the distant cousin will be searching Google for one of your common ancestors' names and they'll find the page that you created for that ancestor on WikiTree.

Like I said, this can take patience. But the more hooks you throw you in the water, the better the chances become. It's like Randy said above about spreading "genea-seeds around as cousin bait".


Magda said...

Randy - Due to your popular praises , I joined wikitree too . I have a question since I know you are a big RootMagic user . How did Rootmagic do with the upload to wikitree . Did you have to FIX a lot of pages or did you minimize extra fields , sources and notes preparing your export ??

Thanks . Magda

Chris Whitten said...

Randy, if you have any feedback for Magda I'll add it here too:

I could ask Tami to dig up other people who have imported RootsMagic gedcoms. That won't help with the comparison that Magda is looking for, though. For that we need to see excerpts of the raw files.

Oh, one note, Magda: Since Randy imported over a year ago, we've made tweaks. We haven't made any major gedcom import changes this year, but there have been some minor improvements.

Randy Seaver said...

Magda, i'm sorry to say that I don't recall the settings I used to export my GEDCOM from RootsMagic and import it into WikiTree.

Ithinkit is probably a good idea to not use RootsMagic special features.

Cheers --Randy

Randy Seaver said...

After sending my last comment...

Almost all of my sources are in Free-form format so the EE style templates were not used.

All software programs that export a GEDCOM file don't know where it will be imported, so the exports are standard ... except for special formatting in sources and notes and that was your question,I guess. RootsMagic doesn't know or care ... but importing special features to an online tree might create some interesting information.

Chris Whitten said...

Magda, if there's a convenient way you can split up your tree you could export just a small piece from RootsMagic and see how it goes. Small batches are recommended for other reasons anyway. When exporting your tree in pieces you just want to be careful you won't end up with duplication or missing spaces. Any of that can be corrected after import, but you don't want it to be too much.

Magda said...

Randy, Chris - Thanks for suggestions and decided I will try out a Root Magic import this weeekend , a small one as suggested ( since all my bigger stuff still in my ancient PAF files ).