WikiTree: A different sort of web site for genealogists

I recently had a wonderful opportunity: Chris Whitten, the Creator of (his page is agreed to let me interview him about his genealogy web site.

WikiTree is a genealogy site where you can upload your genealogy data and compare it to data others may have on the same people. If you have a match you can merge the two entries on the same person and that way establish some connections.

I recently had a wonderful experience with this site in this way. A third cousin, the granddaguther of one of my granmother’s cousins, found me on WikiTree and we have exchanged pictures and data.

So here is my quick interview with Chris:

Q; What is a good one-sentence description of WikiTree?

Our mission statement: To grow a single, worldwide family tree that will make genealogy free and easy for everyone.

Q:  What was the reason you decided to create WikiTree? Why did we need > another genealogy interaction site?

A: I originally started the site for my own family. I couldn’t find another tool that had the balance of privacy and collaboration that I wanted (and still don’t know of another one). At that point (circa 2004) I was still working on another site (WikiAnswers) and didn’t envision this as a worldwide family tree. It was just something for organizing my own family history, privately sharing it with family, and enabling them to add information on the fly. As time went by the idea developed. In 2008 I left WikiAnswers and devoted myself to WikiTree.

Q:  What makes WikiTree different?

I still think of the “privacy-collaboration balance” as what makes it special. The idea is a little abstract, but here’s what I mean. We developed this unique system of privacy settings and “Trusted Lists” that operate on each individual person profile. This enables you to share a profile with the people you want to share with. For modern people it’s just close family members. But as you go back through the generations, you have more and more distant cousins collaborating on the same ancestors. Because the privacy controls operate on the individual profile level we can all work on the same family tree without compromising privacy.

Q: Is WikiTree good for beginning genealogists? In what way?

Yes, I think it does work for beginners. Since I first started this when I was still a very amateur family historian (OK, I still am) I set things up in the way that made sense to me. I’ve learned a lot since then and as WikiTree has grown I’ve tried to work with advanced genealogists to figure out what tools and features they need, and how they expect things to work. But it still works for the beginning genealogist too. It’s generally considered very user-friendly.

Q:  What is the best thing about the site? What is the “worst” thing (the thing you most want to improve)

A: The best thing? Maybe that it’s all free. Every bit of it. There are no premium memberships or anything like that.

The worst thing? Probably the amount of genealogical garbage that careless users have left behind for more serious users to clean up. Some people don’t respect what they get for free. As a result, we’ve had people start using WikiTree without taking the time to understand that what they do here affects others, because we’re all working on the same tree. We’ve taken a lot of significant steps to minimize this problem for the future, but good WikiTreers are still cleaning up the

Q: Can you give some pointers on the most efficient way to use  WikiTree?

Updating profiles, in whatever way you can, is a great way to get them noticed. Any edit will bring a person’s profile to the top of the surname index. That means it’s more likely to get noticed by browsers and search engines (and, hence, by your cousins).

Using FindMatches is important, if you haven’t done much of that yet.
We don’t run it automatically yet, so it depends on users doing a search once in a while to see if their tree overlaps with others on WikiTree. This is especially important for those who got started on WikiTree with GEDCOMs. When you add a profile manually, a background search is done to see if the person might already exist. But if a GEDCOM is creating 100 or 1,000 people at once, the background searches aren’t done at all. You have to do it with FindMatches.

Thank you Chris, for a great site and for your time!


About Libbi

Writer for 30 years. Genealogy a hobby for about 40 years. Yes, I'm in my 50's, I learned about genealogy at my mother's knee!
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