Last year we started a family history Wiki, in the hope that it might make it easier to cooperate with others in gathering family history. The Wiki format, which has been so successful in compiling Wikipedia, one of the most useful encyclopedias the world has ever seen, seems ideal for family history, where members of families all over the world can contribute different parts of the family story.
We began the family wiki in May 2008, and it seems to have attracted plenty of visitors right from the start — more than this blog, in fact. I thought we might get 2-3 visits a day, perhaps 40-50 a month, but it has been quite a lot more than that, rarely dropping below 25 page views a day.
Since each visitor usually looks at more than one page, the actual number of visitors is also quite interesting. It seems that it has rarely dropped below 20 visitors a day.
OK, not everyone who visits the site is related. Some may see a surname that they are interested in, but find that it is a different branch of the family, especially with common surnames. They might come, look at the index and a couple of pages, and see there is nothing connected with them, and leave again.
That is rather discouraging.
You can see how discouraging it is by seeing the number of page edits, which has dropped since it started. Also the number of editors is revealing. Only one other person has contributed anything to the pages, and I’ve had to write all the rest myself. The essence of a wiki is that it is cooperative, and many people contribute something to the full story, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. But surely some of the people who visit find a family that is connected to theirs, and could contribute something to the story. And only two left messages.
There is also the question of where visitors come from.
Most of our families were originally from the UK and Canada, and some are from Germany. Some were Huguenots who went from France to Prussia in the 17th century, and spread from there to other parts of the world. The recent generations are in Southern Africa, but we also have others in places like Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
Most visitors are from the USA, probably because more people there have internet access than those in other places. But there are relatively few from some of the countries where most members of our families came from or are living now.
So if you go to our family Wiki and find you are connected to any of the families there, please consider contributing something, however small. Ask if you can become an editor — if you can show you are related, we’ll make you one right away. And add something to one of the pages — an anecdote, an extract from a will, whatever. It doesn’t have to be perfect — that’s the beauty of a wiki. Someone else can polish what you write, and one story sparks off another memory, so someone else can expand it and put it in its context, and that way we all benefit.It can be a legend, a rumour, a story you were told, a black sheep in the family. If it’s a legend or a rumour, just label it as such — those things too are part of the family history.
Of course if we are sixth cousins we’ll have a relatively small proportion of our families in common. So what do you do if you want to write something about one of your relatives who isn’t related to us? Why, start your own family wiki, of course, it’s quite easy to do, and then we can link them for the common relatives.
So please, don’t just be a leech, sucking information from web sites without giving anything in return. You can learn lots of things from the web, but you can also pass on sometrhing of what you have learned so that others can benefit. Please visit our family wiki, but if you are related, please contribute something as well.