- Most of this information was presented at the BYU
Computerized Genealogy conference in March 2008, and
appears in the
compressed version of the
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 any
locality. Here's an overview of our vision and an
invitation to join us.
- 1 Our mission and funding
- 2 Our employees and volunteers
- 3 Challenges in providing research advice
- 4 Our strengths as an organization
- 5 The answer? Community!
- 6 Community sites and quality
- 7 One contributor makes a difference
- 8 Combining a wiki and discussion groups
- 9 Leveraging our strengths
- 10 An invitation
- 11 Contribute!
- 12 Subjects outside the wiki’s scope
- 13 LDS folks: serve a mission in your pajamas
- 14 You can make a big difference!
Our mission and funding
The mission of the Family History Department of The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is to provide
genealogical records and services to customers worldwide.
Our services are free, as are most of our products --
including data sets online. We have occasionally offered
products at cost, such as genealogical records on CD-ROM.
We are funded by tithing dollars contributed by members of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We do not
receive funds from any profit-making companies with whom we
collaborate on projects.
== Our customers -- and why serving every country is
We serve (# million) customers per year. The overwhelming
majority of our customers are not LDS. Our customers range
from the richest of people to the poorest. They ask us how
to find ancestors in all countries -- developed ones and
Some people are curious as to how there could be a demand
for genealogical research support regarding a country where
people live on a dollar a day. If residents there must
focus their time and resources so heavily on mere survival,
how could anyone there be doing genealogy? One of the
answers lies in emigration.
When survival is tough in a country, people tend to
emigrate to countries where life is easier. In countries
where life is easier, people tend to have leisure time.
Some choose to spend this time learning about their
ancestors. Descendants of emigrants often become
disconnected from their heritage and want to learn about
their families. Thus, FamilySearch receives questions
regarding genealogical research in even the poorest of
countries -- including those where genealogy is an oral
tradition rather than a process of documentation.
Our employees and volunteers
It takes a lot of people to provide millions of patrons
genealogical research support worldwide:
- More than 1,000 employees and missionaries serve in the
Family History Department and the [[Family History
- More than 55,000 family history consultants help patrons
in 163 countries.
- More than 10,000 volunteers help patrons at 4,500 family
history centers in (#) countries.
Challenges in providing research advice
In 2007, we decided that in order to serve our customers
successfully, we needed to solve some challenges:
- Provide content for more places. (In 2007 our publications
covered 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
- Revise content more often to maintain its usefulness. (In
2007, most of our publications were at least five years
- Increase the number of missionaries and family history
consultants to accomodate patron demand.
- Identify records worldwide.
- Provide local lessons. (FamilySearch generally provides
only general lessons that work everywhere. But the best
genealogy advice is specific and local!)
- Make content easy to find. (The Research Guidance tool on
FamilySearch.org 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 (55,000+ family history consultants
- 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
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.
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 http://wiki.familysearch.org.
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 FamilySearch.org 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 pajamas
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, send an e-mail to Family History Research Support by
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 wiki.familysearch.org 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?,