FamilySearch Wiki:Introduction

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This information was presented at the BYU Computerized Genealogy conference in March 2008. The following is copied almost verbatim from the syllabus. A compressed version of the Powerpoint file is also available for download. Feel free to use it to tell your organization about FamilySearch Wiki!

People seeking research advice have to search many sources to find it. FamilySearch Wiki is a Website where the community can write and update research advice for all localities. Here's an overview of our vision and an invitation to join us. 

Challenges in providing research advice

The Research Support team, family history centers, and area offices in each continent are responsible for providing research advice to genealogists worldwide. To service our customers successfully, we need to solve some challenges:

  • Provide content for more places. (Today we cover less than half the world’s countries.)
  • Provide content in more languages. (For years we had a research guide for Mexico that was published only in English.)
  • Provide more frequent content updates. (Most of our publications are five years old.)
  • Increase the number of missionaries and family history consultants.
  • Identify records worldwide.
  • Provide local lessons. (Church HQ provides only lessons that work everywhere. But genealogy advice is local!)
  • Make content easy to find. (Research Guidance is hard to navigate. Our tools need to have search engines.)

Our strengths as an organization

Taken together, family history consultants and the LDS Family History Department have some major strengths:

  • Knowledge of many genealogical topics
  • Huge volunteer base (50,000+ family history consultants worldwide)
  • Many locations (4,500 family history centers worldwide)
  • Excellent international records collection

The answer? Community!

Our list of challenges illustrates a need to increase the scale, publishing speed, and scope of research advice. Our strengths in knowledge, volunteer base, number of locations, and records collection indicate we can overcome these challenges if we work together as a community.

If community is the answer, who is doing community work well and what can we learn from them? Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia built by volunteers, is arguably the most notable community site. Like other wikis, Wikipedia allows regular people to write about their favorite topics using a simple editing tool. In other words, it allows people who aren’t techno-geeks to write content online. Most Internet users are familiar with Wikipedia, but many who have used it are not aware of a few important facts:

  • Wikipedia is the 9th most popular Website.
  • Its content is written by the community.
  • It receives 3,000 new entries per day.
  • Most errors are corrected in 5 minutes.
  • The average article has 11 edits.

Community sites and quality

Many Internet users have heard media stories about a handful of Wikipedia articles in which incorrect information was posted and wasn’t fixed for a long time. These are aberrations. One Nature study showed Wikipedia’s accuracy rivals that of Encyclopedia Britannica. Our managers have tested the Wikipedia community’s ability to correct errors quickly. When they put erroneous information on a Wikipedia page, it lasted only 27 seconds. An IBM study showed the average error in Wikipedia is corrected within five minutes.

But to what extent can a community site really offer accurate content? One way to look at this is to remember how Linux and Firefox were developed. Both were built by volunteer communities. Linux is an operating system used by the world’s largest corporations to serve out their Websites. If the site goes down, these companies lose millions. They choose Linux because it’s so stable. Linux is simply superior to operating systems built by some of the world’s best-known software companies.

Firefox is a Web browser. It, too, was built by a volunteer community. It’s very stable, and its feature set tends to grow so much faster than that of commercial browsers that Microsoft copies Firefox features in new versions of its browser, Internet Explorer.

So how does a volunteer community produce a product whose quality rivals or exceeds that of commercial products? The answer lies in the mantra often heard from Linux developers: “Many eyeballs make any bug shallow.” If enough people invest their time in contributing to a product, they tend to catch bugs early and fix them quickly. Community brings quality.

One contributor makes a difference

A common misconception about community sites like Wikipedia is that they are built by huge teams of volunteers. While it’s true that a massive number of people have contributed to Wikipedia, it is interesting to note that 75% of its content edits are made by only the most active 2% of its users.1 So in a community Website, a few good people make a huge impact.

Another surprising fact about community Websites is that only 1-5% of their users contribute. Most people use community sites to find information, not to contribute. If only 2.5% of our 50,000 family history consultants worldwide contribute content to FamilySearch Wiki, we’ll be gaining 1250 contributors! Imagine how fast we will generate research advice for all places and time periods!

Combining a wiki and discussion groups

FamilySearch Wiki is a site where the community works together to post articles, lessons, news, and events that provide research advice. But the world is a big place, and there are a lot of records out there, so the wiki will never have everything there is to know about how to do genealogy research. Therefore, when customers can’t find the information they need on the wiki, they’ll need somewhere they can go to get answers from others who know about the topic in question. If I’m researching Church of the Brethren ancestors from Pennsylvania and the wiki can’t tell me what their migration patterns were, I want to be able to get answers from Church of the Brethren experts. For that reason, we’re also building discussion groups or forums. Many will be focused on places (like Pennsylvania), and others will be focused on ethnic, religious, and racial groups (like Church of the Brethren).

Leveraging our strengths

So how will we leverage our strengths? What will be the result when we provide research advice through our worldwide community? We will:

  • Shorten the publishing cycle from months to minutes
  • Geometrically increase the number of authors
  • Boost communication between customers and experts.

An invitation

We’re eager to build this site to suit your needs, and we’d love to see you contribute your knowledge, as well! Come find research advice on Create an account and contribute your knowledge!


On Wikipedia, the most active 2% of users contribute roughly 75% of the edits.1 One person can make a huge difference, and other users need your knowledge! Adding content is easy – a significant portion of our content is added by senior citizens who have little computer experience. They can do it because it’s simple: Using the site’s editing tool is much like using Microsoft Word or Wordpad. Give it a try!

Probably the easiest way to contribute your knowledge is to add new information to an existing article. Find an article that deals with some type of information you’d use often, and then add to it. For instance, if you know a good Website for tombstone inscriptions in Pennsylvania, you can add the link to an existing article called Pennsylvania Cemetery Records. You can do it in only a couple minutes – it’s that simple!

Subjects outside the wiki’s scope

FamilySearch Wiki is about genealogical research advice. The site’s scope does not include two important domains. First, this is not a site for posting what you know about a specific ancestor. If you want to document facts about an ancestor’s life, please visit and see the section entitled “Preserve and Share Your Family History.”

Another type of content that is not for FamilySearch Wiki is that which focuses on how to use FamilySearch products like Ancestral File, IGI, or Pedigree Resource File. Such information can be found on

LDS folks: serve a mission in your jammies

Although people of many faiths are contributing to this site, there is a unique opportunity for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Want to serve a part-time or full-time mission? Hate suits, skirts, stockings, or schedules? We need experienced genealogists who can contribute useful information to the wiki. Some of our best contributors serve from home in their spare time. If this sounds like the kind of mission you could really enjoy, e-mail Michael Ritchey at

You can make a big difference!

Which little facts do you use often in your genealogical research? Could another researcher benefit from your hard-won experience? Join us on and help build a storehouse of information that you and others can use to learn how to find your ancestors!


1. Aaron Swartz, Raw Thought: Who Writes Wikipedia?, accessed 4 Mar 2008.