Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Family History Wiki

Two of the Internet's greatest advances, the search engine and the wiki, lend themselves naturally to the accretion of family history information. Indeed, search engines and wikis existed in genealogy before the Internet was in common use. Family search programs running on DOS used access searchable databases of names. Newfound genealogical information was mailed to Salt Lake City on paper or floppy disk to add to the database.

The Web's ubiquity helps this process happen quickly and easily from anywhere with Internet access. The Church's website familysearch.org allows visitors to search multiple sources for a deceased person's data. It also is a wiki; people can contribute their family history data. For example, when I looked over my grandfather Tyrus' Ancestral File online, I saw that three people had submitted information, most of which was accurate. However, a contributor who did not know Tyrus' death date must have approximated the burial date, listed as two years before the death date. Tyrus' wife, who passed away a few years ago, was still marked "living." The information gaps motivated me to register as a contributor to familysearch.org.

As I looked over my grandfather Tyrus' record, I remembered that I had read to him when I was five years old. My family has photos from that visit, as well as from when my grandparents were young and recently married. My father still has the old straw hat that Tyrus used to wear when he farmed. Photos and stories enrich the family history, for they remind us that behind each name is a real person. Many family history websites devoted to particular families have such treasures. I would like to see FamilySearch's Ancestral File allow contributors to provide links to sites with more in-depth histories. While the search engine and the wiki aid today's genealogy, a third innovation, that of digital photos, deserves to find greater use in the work.

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