Once you’ve dug through the photos in your family’s basement, called Great-aunt Mary to find out everything she knows about the family, and sifted through the file folders of old letters and other miscellaneous family papers, it’s time to turn to research to uncover more about your ancestors. But how? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a one-stop shop where you could find out what records were available for each place your ancestors lived? Wouldn’t it be convenient if there were one website that had information about how to make sense of any records you find?
Here’s the good news: there is such a website—FamilySearch’s Family History Research Wiki! Although no single website could ever have absolutely everything you ever need to know about family history, with more than 84,000 articles covering 244 countries, the Family History Research Wiki comes pretty close!
You can visit the wiki by going to FamilySearch.org/wiki/en, or, at the top of the FamilySearch.org home page, hover your mouse over Search, and then click Wiki. Much of the wiki is locality based. You can browse by locality by clicking the map or typing a place-name in the search field. You can also search the wiki by topic. Just type a keyword of a research topic or record you’re interested in learning more about. Don’t type in names of ancestors though. The wiki’s purpose is to help you learn more about records, search strategies, and the “how to” part of family history. It’s not designed to search for information about specific people.
Now that you know what the wiki is, you might be wondering what it can do for you. Simply put, the Family History Research Wiki can get your family history research on the fast track to success. Here are four things it can help you do.
1. Gain a Bird’s Eye View.
To find information about your family, you have to look in records created in the places in which family members lived. But what records should you use and how should you access them? The Family History Research Wiki is the perfect place to figure that out. The locality pages give you the overview you need to get started and figure out how to research about a place you may never have researched before. The pages often provide a general historical background and a discussion of major records and then direct you to the sources most likely to help. Should you focus on civil registration records or church records? Did census records exist in that place? What about probate records? The wiki can answer these questions. It will also include information about what indexes have been created along with links to direct you to them. All this can streamline your efforts and help you avoid wasting time.
2. Dive Deeper in a Place.
A lot of the information on the wiki is organized around place jurisdictions (such as the state and the county). At the broadest level, you can find information about a country. But in most cases you can drill down much further. For example, each state in the United States has its own wiki page as do many counties. Looking at the wiki for different jurisdictions can be useful since the various pages contain different information about records that were created in those particular jurisdictions.
On the locality page, you should find a list of topics. These topics include record types such as court records, church records, and newspapers with information specific to that place. You’ll also find links to family history societies, archives, and libraries.
3. Find Resources That Solve Your Research Problems.If you’re stuck on a research problem, there’s a good chance the wiki can help you solve it. Are you researching in a country with an unfamiliar language? The wiki has word lists in several languages that have the most common words found in genealogical records along with their English translations. If you’re stumped by the handwriting, a handwriting guide could be the perfect solution. If you need help navigating an important gazetteer or even making sense of the columns in census records, the wiki can help with that too. Other useful resources you can find in the wiki include letter writing guides, maps, and guides to using certain records, such as the Hamburg passenger lists.
4. Link to Other Great Resources.
The wiki contains a wealth of information on its own. But it doesn’t operate in isolation. One of the best things it can do is link you to other valuable resources relevant to your research. When a wiki page talks about cemetery records, chances are that if there are any records online for a certain place, there will be a link directly to that collection. Links will lead you to record collections held by FamilySearch as well as collections on other websites. Generally, you’ll also find a description of the collection so you can clearly understand its scope, such as years covered and how complete the collection is. In addition to links to records, you can sometimes find links to additional information on a topic.
If you haven’t spent time with FamilySearch’s Family History Research Wiki before, give it a try, and see what it can do to boost your research. Even if you’ve used it before, it might be time to make another visit. One of the greatest things about the wiki is that it’s constantly expanding. If you discover something you need that you can’t find in the wiki, maybe you should consider doing some research yourself and adding it! After all, like other wikis, the Family History Research Wiki is open to contributions and is built by the community. This means it’s only as good and complete as contributors make it.
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