The Challenge of Growing One World Tree 7

From the Editor:
Curious about WikiTree? Now is your chance to ask the people behind the tree all of your questions. Share them with us in the comments below, and we’ll share WikiTree’s answers with you in an upcoming post. Don’t hold anything back. Chris and company are here to answer the questions that may help you use WikiTree more efficiently (or even those that are keeping you from using WikiTree currently!) Do you have a particularly heavy-hitting question that you’d prefer to email us privately? Send them to


Many thanks to Chris Whitten and the team of WikiTree for being the IDG guest post this week! Visit them at


The Challenge of Growing One World Tree


WikiTree’s mission is to grow a single, worldwide family tree.


It’s designed to connect us all under one canopy, in one family forest. Rather than a collection of unconnected trees, WikiTree is a single tree where every ancestor has one profile that all the descendants and researchers share.


Is this a realistic goal?


One world trees have been tried before on various websites and there have been issues with the concept. Many people’s trees include unreliable information. When these trees are put together on a shared website, the mistakes get perpetuated. The incorrect information gets redistributed and the mistakes never get corrected.


How Mistakes Get Corrected on a Wiki


Mistakes happen on WikiTree too. All the time. The difference here is that mistakes can easily be corrected.


This is what being a wiki is all about. Wikis are a special type of website designed to make it possible for a community to productively collaborate on a common goal.

The most famous wiki is, of course, Wikipedia. Misinformation and mistakes do get published on Wikipedia. But they don’t get perpetuated. As easily as one contributor can add incorrect information, another contributor can correct it. Over time the good content drives out the bad.


Why isn’t it the other way around? Why doesn’t the bad content drive out the good, like how some shared tree projects have devolved into jumbles of misinformation?


In addition to the most basic feature of a wiki—that mistakes can be easily corrected by others—another essential feature of a wiki is activity tracking. You can see who changed what. You’re alerted when someone makes a change, and you can see exactly what was changed. On WikiTree we have activity feeds and e-mail updates that show you recent changes to your family members’ profiles. From these you can dig deeper and see all the details.


The Wiki Genealogy Community


Another essential feature of a successful wiki, a much less concrete one, is having a good community of contributors.


Despite the features of a wiki that allow for productive collaboration, it’s still possible for bad contributors to drive out
good ones. If you have too many of the former repeatedly making mistakes, the latter get discouraged and stop correcting them.


This is a challenge for all wikis, WikiTree included.


The foundation for productive, positive, enjoyable collaboration on WikiTree is our “Wiki Genealogy Honor Code“. We require all active members to digitally sign it, explicitly saying that they agree with its nine simple principles. It includes points about citing sources, crediting other researchers, and respecting copyrights and privacy. Click here to read the Honor Code.


Experienced genealogists know how important it is to cite sources. Disagreements about facts are common; most of these disagreements can be resolved by saying where you got your information.


If a disagreement can’t be resolved because one party doesn’t care about fixing a mistake (sometimes it’s hard to let go of a family myth), refuses to cite sources, or otherwise won’t communicate or collaborate with their cousins, they’re in open violation of the Honor Code and can be kicked off WikiTree.


We know that the goal of creating one worldwide family tree is ambitious. We have a long road ahead of us. But I hope you’ll agree that we’re headed in the right direction, thanks to a solid set of collaboration tools and a generous, positive community of wiki genealogists.


© Chris Whitten /





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7 thoughts on “The Challenge of Growing One World Tree

  • RoreyCathcart

    Recently received my invite from one of the generous contributors willing to invite non-family. I’ll admit, I’m skeptical. However, I’m going to jump right in with the line of my family for which there is bad blood and disputes amongst the various researchers! I’ve been planning to do a surname study on this very line just to combat the misinformation.

    It is a great concept. I love the Honor Code and hope that it is really taken to heart by all contributors. I think it will be important for those with larger voices than mine in the genealogy community to be advocates for the long haul in order that the site/concept does not devolve the way others have.

    For me personally, the questions most on my mind are dispute resolution and source quality. I can cite sources all day long but in a dispute over a particular pc of evidence or an entire line it is the relative quality of the source that matters. For folks who are personally invested in their version, a Family Interview-while a legitimate source-does not trump my probate records. Who arbitrates an edit-war in this environment.

    Sorry, long comment, but this subject is near and dear to my heart.

  • Chris Whitten

    Welcome to WikiTree, Rorey!

    That’s a good question about edit wars. I’ll save my answer for the upcoming IDG interview post that we’re planning. (Although, if anyone else has comments on this in the meantime I’d love to hear them.)

    Thank you, Stephanie & Co., for including this guest post.

  • RoreyCathcart

    Thanks for the response Chris.

    I’ll look forward to the interview post. I would recommend describing also, the privacy options in that post for folks who are not yet members. I know that was one of my initial concerns.


  • Stephanie

    How should we deal with contributors who are unresponsive to ‘Trusted List’ requests for us to update or correct our own direct relatives that appear in their tree? I know the goal is to create just 1 profile for everyone in the world and thereby minimize duplicates, but I’ve been noticing a possessiveness with people wanting to retain master control/ownership and not open up profiles to Trusteds at all. Do we just skip these relatives then and leave holes in our own data, or could there be a way to reference the existing profile but without having editing abilities? Feedback appreciated. Thank you!

  • RoreyCathcart

    Stephanie’s comment is important. It goes to #1 on the Honor Code – We Collaborate.

    But it also brought to mind other questions.

    1) Gedcom uploads. If there is to be one profile per individual how are the gedcom uploads of multiple contributors with a shared ancestor ‘merged’?

    2) If I have Sarah Ann Cantrell in my family tree and another member has Sallie A Cantrell which we later discover are the same person, how are the two individual profiles merged into a single person profile?

  • Michelle Goodrum
    Michelle Goodrum

    Interesting post and discussion comments. I’ve been skeptical to contribute to online trees and the issues described above are of interest. I do like the honor code and will be interested in upcoming discussions and how to resolve the issues mentioned in the comments. Hopefully you will convince me to jump in and give it a try!