Lately, I have spent a lot of time on WikiTree, an online, single family tree.
For many years, I had been skeptical of these single tree websites (Family Search's Family Tree comes to mind; you can feel my anguish here: Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned), but WikiTree has changed my mind.
The concept of a single family tree only works if there are community guidelines that everyone adheres to, so users are asked to sign an honor code. Signing the code results in a community that works together on creating a single, well-sourced and documented profile for each ancestor ... and we are kind to one another as we do so. So far, it has been pretty amazing. Everything works as advertised!
Some people are leery of putting all their research online, and I get that. Especially after spending hours in archives and other repositories working with material that is not available online, you certainly don't want your hard work to be contradicted by somebody whose grandma says "it just ain't so." But that's where the "community" part kicks in -- you work together to fix it. Documentation is your ammunition against that kind of ignorance. If you can document your assertions, even 1,000 undocumented trees that say otherwise won't stand up to your facts.
Even if you don't want to put your entire tree on the site, here's a reason why serious genealogist should consider using WikiTree.
Remember the FAN principle?2 Elizabeth Shown Mills reminds us to study in depth each friend, associate, or neighbor our ancestor interacted with in order to learn more about the context of their lives and break down brick walls. WikiTree is the perfect platform to record this information in a convenient place.
Unlike traditional family tree software or online trees, where all you can do is link facts to a tree, WikiTree is essentially a blank document with links to other blank documents within the structure of a family tree. Serious genealogists prefer Word documents over family tree software precisely because "trees" lack the ability to integrate the research reports that are so necessary to analyze our data. On the other hand, trees make it very easy to see where a person fits within a family. When used optimally, WikiTree is the best of both worlds -- it combines the power of analytical narrative with the visualization of a tree.
But back to the FAN principle. I love using WikiTree to build out profiles for the individuals my ancestor associated with. I don't want to clutter my personal tree with random people I may not be related to, but I do want to understand their lives and how they interacted with my ancestors. At the same time, when I create research reports on all these FAN members, it is easy to lose track of them in my computer.
WikiTree's structure is set up for the way my brain works, so I'm focusing my energies on documenting the lives of the people who were tangentially part of my ancestors' worlds and linking them to their family members.
Here's an example of a profile I recently created for John H. Wood. John was not a blood relative, but he married an ancestor's cousin and was part of his larger community, so he's a member of the FAN club.
One of the more interesting things you can do on WikiTree is create what they call "Free Space" pages. The purpose of these pages are for users to explore any subject in greater depth. I use them as a sort of landing page for ongoing projects, including FAN research. Here's one where I am working to create profiles for all the men who were aboard the SS Jean Nicolet when it was torpedoed and then brutalized by the Japanese in World War II. Another project I'm working on is to create profiles for enslaved people as I encounter them in deeds or probate records. My free space page Prince William Slave records is a place where I'm keeping notes on some specific records I'd like to work on when I have time.
Another free space page, William Robey's FAN club, examines the people who signed a letter in support of my great-grandfather's application to join the D.C. police force. His application was successful and he was a police officer for a number of years, but he was not an exemplary member of the force. Interestingly, many of the names on his letter of support were active members of the Womens' Christian Temperance Union or similar groups. Since there was, let's just say, a "contradiction" between the man and his glowing recommendation, I'm curious to find out who was not telling the truth and why!
1 "About Wiki Tree," WikiTree (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:About_WikiTree : accessed 5 Aug 2022).
2 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-11-identity-problems-fan-principle : 5 Aug 2022).