WikiTree Review Linking up Genealogists

WikiTree Review Linking up Genealogists

I’m back with a WikiTree Review. Some of my regular readers will know I have been somewhat absent for a period of time, well sorry, but not sorry. My genealogy journey has consumed much of my attention recently. The reason for this is that I have discovered WikiTree. If you are unfamiliar with this website and you are interested in genealogy I encourage you to read on. 

What is Wikitree?

WikiTree is a free to use website that is created for genealogists to work together and create one big tree. Having spent a few months tidying up the information in my software, I heard about WikiTree on a YouTube video and I have been using the website for over a month now. Here are some of the things I love about it.

Private when it needs to be

As a genealogist, you have two roles, to gather and interpret information from the past and also to document the present. WikiTree understands this and therefore has different levels of profiles. If somebody is alive their profile is completely private unless you chose to share it. For example, here is my profile: Susan Pearson I have chosen to make it public because I use it to share information about my research progress, so it is a working profile if you like. My parents are still living os their profiles are private and I am able to begin recording their stories.

Working together?

What if you want to work together with somebody else? No problem, you can give their email address access to view and edit the profile page too, after all, we all see different sides to an individual and the evidence we can share is primary evidence as people who know the individual.

Partially public

When somebody has recently passed away you can choose to make their information partially viewable, so readers can see the written details but not the full dates of birth or death. The other type of partially public profile is for living people in the public eye, for instance, the Royal Family and some celebrities. As you can see from The Queen’s profile her biography contains her complete date of birth as it is public information but at the top of the page the system just says born 1920s because she is living, if you move up to one of her parent’s profiles, it contains the complete date and place of birth and death.

The Open Domain

Once ancestors have reached the open domain their profiles become open for all to see. Each profile has a profile manager who is responsible for taking the lead, so unless you have a very close relative already using the website you will no doubt be the profile manager for your grandparents and great grandparents. Sometimes there can be two or three profile managers that take joint responsibility, maybe second or third cousins.

One exception to this is orphan profiles that may have been created by somebody who joined the tree and left or may have an interest in a specific area or event and create a profile for the people who were there to include them but have no specific interest or relationship to that person.

WikiTree Projects

As the main point of Wikitree is the collaboration it is not just made up of a lot of individual genealogists building trees that run into each other, although at a personal level that is the desired result. To find new cousins and those we share our genes with. It also comprises several project groups, you can see the full list of them here, although that list contains several sub-projects.

Projects I have joined

The England Project

The first project I joined was the England Project, given that I live here and so far all my ancestry is in this country it was a bit of a given. When you join the England Project you take part in the Orphan Trail which works with some of those orphan profiles I mentioned before. The first part of this OT1 involves initially improving between one and three (depending on your experience) orphaned profiles that are from the 1800s/1900s using census records and parish records. After this, you tackle profiles from the 1700s. This was the final profile I completed to finish my OT1.

If you join the England project you get your Project member badge, which my profile proudly displays:

My WikiTree Badges

after completing OT1, you get your sticker to add to your profile and you can go on to work on OT2 (profiles from the 1600s then 1500s) which I have begun, and/or join sub-projects. I have joined The Yorkshire Team and the Cornwall Team.

My WikiTree Sticker collection
My WikiTree Stickers

Topical Projects

The topical projects involve a wide variety of themes from interest is a specific graveyard, notable individuals, events like the passengers of the Mayflower or a wide variety of military interests.

Functional projects

The other type of project involves taking on specific roles. Like profile improvements, connectors who work on connecting stray profiles (or groups of profiles) up to the main tree, I have joined that team and have the badge above. Sourcers, who work on adding sources to profiles without any. Not to mention Data Doctors who fix those errors. Who hasn’t had a moment at some point of their genealogical journey when they have accidentally added the wrong source or similar.

Projects can become profile managers, as you may have noticed on the Queen’s profile, it is managed by the England Project.

What sets WikiTree apart?

There are an awful lot of genealogy websites and software programs available for genealogists. A couple of years ago I wrote about RootsMagic that I was using at the time, although I have since switched to MacFamilyTree, I will talk about why I did that in a coming post. All of these programs and websites have their strengths and weaknesses depending on what you are looking for. But they all have one thing in common they are primarily a database and have the limitations of a database.

This is where Wikitree shines. It has a limited database for the basic information like dates and places of birth, marriage and death, but then it gives you a wonderful Wiki style blank page for you to create the profile as you would like, having space to actually tell the stories that need to be told. it is true that many individuals are found in the basic bmd and census (in the correct era) records and not many places besides that, but then other individuals are to be found in the newspapers, mentioned in magazines and in inquests reports. WikiTree gives you the space to tell these stories.

Who is WikiTree for?

As you may have come to realise reading this, although at its most basic level WikiTree is a website that you can use to build your family tree, it would be wrong to limit it to genealogists. It is also a great place for those with a passion for historical events to bring the story to life. If this has made you curious and you are thinking about taking up Genealogy, you could begin with my Tips for New Genealogists.

Do you need to be experienced to join WikiTree?

Not at all. In my case I was experienced so I have a whole family tree ready to go and be developed on the site, it will take me quite a while to do this as well. However, if you are completely new to the subject of genealogy and would like to get started I suggest this is the VERY BEST place to do that because there is a massive supportive community in place ready to help you. I can’t speak for all the Project Teams but I know for a fact when someone joins the England Team they are given an appointed person (or Trailblazer to use the official term) to help them on the journey. What other application does that? This is why I felt the need to write a Wikitree Review.

Until next time,

Tips for new Genealogists

Tips for new Genealogists

It is now three months into the CoVid 19 lockdown and I have beavering away at my family tree. I am sorry if I have been somewhat quiet on social media, when I get my head stuck into a project it is very easy to lose myself. Although I have found some new information for my tree, this current large task is very much an editorial one. I am going through tidying everything up and organising my sources properly. While doing this I have corrected a few beginner errors along the way; so this seems like a great time to share some tips for new Genealogists.

Family History Software

If you are just setting out on your family history journey the number one piece of advice I can give you is to decide on what software will work best for you. I began with Family Historian and there are many things that I like about it, but later I switched to RootsMagic. My main reason is that I prefer how it handles sources, but there were a few other factors that went into my decision.

My only real complaint was when it comes to updating to new versions the company has the frustrating policy of keeping you in the complete dark as to when it will arrive. This is completely different to the working methods of most software I have been involved with as a beta tester. If you are happy to wait a year or two for a new version to arrive I really do recommend the program.

I however jumped ship again and began using MacFamily Tree which, unlike RootsMagic looked like it was made in the current era. It has a beautifully clean, customisable aesthetic and my mantra has always been things should be useful or beautiful but preferably both, the same is true of my software choices, you spend a long time in your apps of choice, I will write about MacFamilyTree soon.

Testing and Trials

Many genealogy programs offer free trials. If I was starting over now, I would use a base tree of thirty to fifty people and try as many as possible. You should be able to get a feel for what works best for you. Don’t forget to bare in mind how you wish to share your findings. Do you want to share it on the web, print several charts or produce a book for example. Knowing the answer to this will help you make your decision about which genealogy software may be right for you.

Sources are everything

Genealogy is at its most simplest the process of gathering data about your forbearers. In any project that involves gathering information, the vital thing to remember is where that data came from. In other words the source. Although many of these facts will be gathered via the internet there are so many more possibilities. Physical monuments like Graves and War Memorials, Parish registers and books, not to mention verbal histories provided by your oldest living relatives.

RootsMagic Sources

RootsMagic have a great range of templates to organise your sources. This is the winning feature I mentioned before. When I used Family Historian each and every family census entry created a new source and I ended up with thousands. The big project I have embarked on is to slim this down. The RootsMagic provides a way to have a central record and many uses of it. For example:

An image of the citation tab of the RootsMagic source detail.
The 1941 census for the Liskeard Registration District

Here is the citation tab of a source record for an online database. The yellow section refers to everyone and the green section to each specific entry. I could have used just one source for everyone mentioned in the 1841 census but I have decided to use one source for each registration district to break things down more.

An image of the details tab of the RootsMagic source reference.
The details tab

The details tab lets you enter any information specific to each entry. In the case of the census this is the transcription of the information provided. As you can see there is also the web tags button at the top of this screen where you can enter a direct link to the webpage the information is found on if you desire.

So many sources

As well as the online database source template (which I use an awful lot) there are templates for email messages, small, medium and large gravesites. Certificates, Online family trees, wills, tax records, maps etc. etc. the lists is huge.

Dates, Spellings and genealogical puzzles

Once you have organised the system you are going to use and how you will record all the information you find it is then time to get stuck into the research. I thought I would share some of the mistakes I made as a new family historian.

  • Names were very often spelt in a variety of ways. For example my primary line Penter, has been recorded as Pentire, Painter, Pentur and Pointer on various documents. The more unusual the name the wider range of spellings seem to exist, especially if someone who was illiterate moved to a new area.
  • Dates, once again especially with the illiterate they often seem to have guessed at their age. Although the census was taken every ten years I have individuals who have aged anywhere between 7 and 13 years during this gap. There were many people I discounted initially assuming they couldn’t be the right person because their age was wrong.
  • Missing people. Sometimes individuals seem to be truly missing from a census. In my experience when a whole family are missing I have tended to find them with the surname spelt completely wrong, the name variation does not always work for instance when Penter was transcribed as Lenter. Try searching for the given name, birth year and birth place this can be useful.

Genealogical Providers

As you will no doubt be aware there are many providers of online information for Family Historians, as I am based in the UK I am going to focus my information on this country.

Free Information

A great way to get going is using free data, here are a few websites that can help.

There are county schemes for many other counties, there are two I have had personal involvement with. An online Parish Clerk is someone who takes responsibility for the historical records for a specific parish.

The big players

We now get to the subscription records. These websites have got many databases, several of which include scans of the original records as well as the transcription. As well as the standard census and birth, marriage and death records you can find a whole range of useful information including, wills, school records and military service. I have found that county parish records are usually on one or the other website in greater detail.

Find My Past My go to place for Devon records. Old Newspaper and Probate registers.

Ancestry My go to place for Yorkshire records.

Why become a Genealogist?

If you are intrigued and would like to know more you may wish to check out my post, Genealogy for Spoonies. I have to warn you though, it can be addictive. This is not always a bad thing though because the research process is quite mindful and can help distract you from pain. Oh, and I have found relatives on the other side of the world thanks to the tree I publish online! If you would like me to cover RootsMagic in more detail drop me a comment below or via social media.

My Tips For New Genealogists

If you are completely new to the world of Genealogy the very best advice I can recommend it to join WikiTree, I wrote about it in the post WikiTree Review Linking up Genealogists. If you have any English ancestry (wherever you live in the world you could join the England project and will be mentored through the process. It is literally like a course for free. So those were my tips for new genealogists. I hope you have found some of them helpful.

Until next time,

Find my Past: Why I like it

Find my Past: Why I like it

Following on from last weeks post when I talked about why I switched to RootsMagic my healthy spare time is still completely absorbed with my Genealogy. Because I splay my research out in every direction, I take things beyond my own family history. I can be just as caught up with finding records for a second cousin of somebody who has married into my family as I am with my blood lines.

If I’m honest, I love solving puzzles and pouring over ancient registers and seeing the reproduced images on these records written over a century ago is one of the reasons I am so passionate about Find My Past. Not to mention why I joined the WikiTree Project.

Immersed in Information

Over the last twenty years, I have spent a fair amount of time pouring over ancient parish registers. I have looked at images saved on Microfiche in records offices and also at home as I am lucky enough to own a Microfiche reader (I don’t have the space to keep it out, so being heavy and bulky I sadly can’t use it very often). I also have in the past received discs of photographed register images for me to transcribe as part of volunteer projects like the Cornwall OPC and Wiltshire OPC schemes.

I am very grateful for all the voluntary projects where people transcribe records to make them available to the public for free. I still make use of websites like FreeReg at times when I have hit a brick wall. However, when it comes to transcribing information we have to deal with one important fact. The transcribers are human, and humans can make mistakes.

During my time spent transcribing for a Cornish Parish, I know I had at least one error reported. Sometimes it can be a transcribers error which you pick up the moment you see the original, and at other times the original is in bad shape and at times barely legible meaning the person trying to read it has to use some best guesses.

Seeing is Believing

Why Find My Past? Not only does having the most extensive collection of British Parish Records online give me the best chance of finding the information I am looking for, but also, I get to explore the original copies of the registers and other documents. There is one advantage a researcher has over a transcriber; they know what they are hoping to find.

Missing from the Census

Let’s use the example of my maiden surname, Penter, which is thankfully rare. I have had the experience of finding every member of the family present in the 1860 and 1880 census but missing in 1870. Yes, it is possible they could have all been abroad and returned, but that is very rare. The more usual behaviour seen in various strands of my history involves the man going abroad first, probably to look for work and either returning or the family emigrating to join him. Naturally, I am not including military men or wartime periods.

Why can’t I find families

So, to get back to the family in question; I felt that they should be found, or at least some of them. Because I have access to the scans of the original records I was able to work my way through the Parish page by page and low and behold I found them with the surname having been transcribed incorrectly, partly due to the way it appears in the original image. Because I have access to marriage registers, I get to see how the couple have signed or marked their name as well which helps to understand their level of literacy.

How Literate were my relatives?

If the couple has both marked the marriage register with a cross, there is a good chance they may have given their name orally but been unable to spell it, leaving it to the person taking the census or writing up a baptism to make an educated guess. There seems to be an apparent correlation between clear writing from an individual and the ease of finding their records in a search engine!

TOP TIP: If you have been struggling to find historical records for someone in your family, check the marriage register (if they married) and see if it is signed or not. If the entry is marked with a cross rather than a signature, it is worth trawling through records rather than relying on search engines to do the work.

Find My Past Gems

As well as having a better chance of finding missing information when you look at the original records you also get the chance to spot all sort of little pearls of local knowledge, I’ve seen a burial record for ”an unknown man washed up on the beach”. That will have been a bit of an event in a small village community. In the 1939 register, you will see that it has been updated by hand after the date with new married surnames.

In the News

Family History is a lot more than the basic vital statistics of a person’s life. Find my Past have an extensive range of historical newspapers digitalised and this can be a great place to find any news stories of your ancestors. Be it good or bad news it all helps to paint a picture of who they are.

What are your go to websites?

Who is your favourite genealogy data provider? Do you use Find My Past? I have quite a few in my arsenal, but I am always eager to check out new ones. Why not drop a comment below? If you have been inspired to give Find My Past a try, I’d love to hear about that too.