The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also often called “the Mormons”, owns the very popular FamilySearch.org web site. This web site has extensive online records, downloadable software, and a huge amount of "how to" information. Best of all, everything on the site is available free of charge. Indeed, it is one of the most popular genealogy web sites in the world.
One item added a few months ago to FamilySearch.org is called a wiki. Many people may find that word to be a bit confusing, as "wiki" is not yet a common word in the English language. I would suggest it should be, as a wiki is a very powerful, yet easy to use, online resource. The FamilySearch.org wiki is devoted to genealogy.
Perhaps the simplest definition of a wiki is an online library with thousands of articles about a wide variety of topics, written by many different authors.
A slightly more complex definition but somewhat more definitive might be to describe a wiki as an online encyclopedia, written by many authors. In fact, the original articles might be updated, re-written, or supplemented by still more authors. A wiki is a very democratic process where everyone who has any expertise in any related topic is invited to contribute whatever he or she can.
Whatever definition you prefer, a wiki can provide a lot of expertise in one online library.
The best-known example of a non-genealogy wiki is Wikipedia at http://www.wikipedia.org, the huge online, free encyclopedia that now has more than ten times the number of articles of any printed encyclopedia. Best of all, all the knowledge is available to you on your computer or even on a handheld iPhone or Blackberry, wherever you are, at any time you wish.
Genealogy encyclopedias that have been available for some time include the Encyclopedia of Genealogy at http://www.eogen.com, a smaller competitor to the FamilySearch wiki, and WeRelate.org at http://werelate.org, an encyclopedia that hopes to someday have one page or article about every human that ever lived and left records.
The FamilySearch Wiki contains no information about ancestors. After all, that information is already available in the FamilySearch databases. Instead, the FamilySearch Wiki focuses on "how to" information about the process of researching family history. Numerous articles are available on FamilySearch Wiki to help you get started in family history, including such articles as:
- Identify What You Know
- Decide What You Want to Learn
- Genealogical Terms
- Genealogical Dictionary of Legal Terms
- Select Records to Search
- Obtain and Search the Records
- Use the Information
- Guessing a Name Variation
- Guessing a Date
- Guessing a Place
- Guessing the Easiest to Research Person and Event
- Guessing a Record Type to Use
- And much, much more
The FamilySearch Wiki is available to everyone at no charge. In fact, you don't even need to register to read the information there.
The FamilySearch Wiki is written by the community. That is, YOU and everyone else is invited to write new articles, edit existing pages, or to simply add supplemental information to pages that may already be available.
I suspect the first few hundred or perhaps thousand articles on the FamilySearch Wiki were written by FamilySearch staff members, simply to create a foundation to get started. However, the real power of the FamilySearch Wiki becomes apparent when thousands of other genealogists add bits and pieces of their own expertise, resulting in a mass of information that far exceeds what any one person or group could do on their own.
The most interesting part of all is that anyone can contribute with a minimum of formality. To get started, you must first register in order to obtain the ability to write and to save articles on the FamilySearch.org web site. The registration process is free of charge and requires a minimum of information. You must supply a name and e-mail address so that others may contact you, if needed. You are not asked for an address or a telephone number. Once registered, you are free to edit existing articles or to add new ones.
The idea of writing new articles may seem daunting. In fact, many of the volunteer writers simply edit existing articles or add a bit of information, as appropriate. For instance, you might see an address or a telephone number that is now out of date. If you are registered as an editor, YOU can make the corrections and everyone else can see them within seconds. You can edit or contribute as little or as much as you wish. There are no minimum requirements.
The registration formalities are simple and they seem to work well. I created a new account for myself in about twenty seconds. I then had to wait a few more seconds for an e-mail message to arrive in my in-box. Once I read that, I clicked on a link in the message and the registration process was complete. I was now a fully empowered FamilySearch Wiki editor. The total time required from start to finish was less than one minute.
There is no approval process for the articles you write or edit. Whatever you write becomes visible to everyone else quickly.
One might think that inappropriate material, such as spam or pornography, might be added by various scoundrels. In fact, when you have tens of thousands of editors, such material doesn't last online very long. A small army of people keep an eye on all newly-added content and anything that is deemed inappropriate is typically deleted within minutes. Each user is a potential editor so there is no need to wait for staff members to handle inappropriate content. The junk usually disappears quickly. Those who wish to post spam or other inappropriate material soon learn to leave the wikis alone as their words don't last very long.
As good as the process is, a wiki is not perfect. With no central hierarchy of management, the wiki expands as the users feel the need to write. There is no central plan to expand with planned topics. For instance, there is no manager in charge who decides "we need more articles on Eastern European ancestry" and then commands staff members to write such articles. The wiki is dependent on users to write such articles. I do suspect, however, that FamilySearch staff members will also continue to add new articles.
One glaring deficiency at the moment is the lack of articles in languages other than English. In fact, the FamilySearch Wiki is multi-lingual and is designed to be used by people from all over the world, using a multitude of languages. However, while there are many English-language articles available right now, the non-English coverage is still sparse.
If you are able to read articles in English and then translate them to other languages, you need to volunteer! Simply register, then copy-and-paste an article in English and then re-write it in the other language. When finished, you can upload the new document and it will quickly become visible to everyone. I suspect that many genealogists will appreciate your efforts. Of course, you are not limited to translating existing documents; new articles are also strongly encouraged!
If you do not wish to be an editor, keep in mind there is no requirement to write or to edit. You can always read articles at any time without registration.
The FamilySearch Wiki is a "sleeping giant." It contains a huge collection of information about a wide variety of genealogy-related topics. The next time you are scratching your head and wondering, "How do I...," I'd suggest you look at http://wiki.familysearch.org.