FamilySearch Wiki:Introduction

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Most of this information was presented at the BYU

Computerized Genealogy conference in March 2008, and

appears in 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 any

locality. Here's an overview of our vision and an

invitation to join us.

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

important ==

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

undeveloped ones.

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 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

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 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

clicking here.

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.