My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

WikiTree and the FAN principle

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.

WikiTree's mission is "to grow The Free Family Tree — one accurate, shared tree that connects us all, and is accessible to us all for freeforever."1

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


"About Wiki Tree," WikiTree ( : accessed 5 Aug 2022).

Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : 5 Aug 2022).


  1. Kathleen, what a great Blog. I have used Wikitree for many years and I am happy with where it has led me, but your comments opened up some brand new avenues for me. I am anxious to investigate your usage of Free Space, a whole new concept to me and I will do so here soon. In the meantime, I love what you are doing here on your Blog. It is clean, brightly and intelligently written, and very attractive. I used to use Blogger years ago, but switched to WordPress as the engine for my blog. I mostly concentrate on historical activities, especially in the world of the US military (I am a retired Navy Sailor), the rock and roll of the 1950s and 1960s, and whatever else interests me (my Personal Perusals). I have researched my Wikitree Auld (Scottish for Old) family back to my 7GG grandfather, the original Auld in my family to immigrate to the US (Talbot County, Maryland) as a young single lad from Ayrshire, Scotland. Much of my lineage is also detailed on my blog. I hope you will visit me there at: and all the best here on your Blog. I look forward to following you here.

    1. Thank you for your comments! And thank you for your service. I grew up in a military family, so you might be interested in some of my earlier posts (see, for example: and I just added a button on the sidebar so you can follow my blog. I'll be sure to check out your site, too. All the best, Kathleen

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  4. What a great profile you created for John Wood! I, too, love the 'white space' of a profile. I love the ability to add formatting that will make the profiles fun, and easy to read! I'm also a huge fan of Space pages. I have used them for so many things.
    Thank you for your work on WikiTree, and for the wonderful blog!

  5. This is FANtastic, Kathleen! Sorry -- I couldn't help myself :D

    Seriously, though, your use of the WikiTree features is a perfect example of the richness of the site. I've been a WikiTreer for a long time, and some days I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the possibilities!! Thanks for showing some great ways to capitalize on free-space pages and the interconnectedness of the tree.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Julie! Initially, I was attracted to WikiTree because of it's structure and layout, but I've really become energized as I've learned how complex it can be. Like you, I feel like I'm just starting to understand all the ways I can use it.

  6. I run mine out to about second cousins of inlaws, and a couple of generations up and down, so it's pretty close to this. It also makes for a large tree!

  7. I have looked on you tube to find how to use the ancestry share link to share documentsto wikitree. Epic failure. any instructions?

  8. What a great idea! I have been researching the witnesses on my great-grandfather's delayed birth certificate. I hadn't even thought of adding them to WikiTree (bad me!). That will be one of my next projects. Maybe I will eventually get it figured out how they were connected to my great-grandfather. :)

  9. Bonnie M Campbell-SchmelzerAugust 13, 2022 at 10:17 AM

    Thank you for this information. I’m new at this and very excited to build resources to research my family ancestors, as well as weed out fiction from facts. I appreciate any and all free avenues such as this, to discover factual information. Since the Campbell family disowned my grandfather, I only know what my grandmother, Marguerite “Peggy” Price (who married Price Archibald? Campbell) and my dad, Charles Alfred Campbell, told me. I want to know if it’s true Price was disowned for marrying the model Peggy Price who, if the stories of her unconventional and “wild” lifestyle, are true. She became a famous author of steamy romance novels under an unknown pen name. She continued to receive royalty checks up to her death on March 14, 1968, at age 99. Even on her deathbed, she refused to tell my parents the pen name she used, or the titles of her books that were still being circulated. She said that she didn’t want any of us to read her novels, as they were based on her true life experiences. Her promiscuous lifestyle led to Grandpa’s death when he found her love letters hidden in their wine cellar. They also owned a very successful antique international business and store in Kansas City, MO. I was told their store was somewhere in the downtown area. I found the address of their home going through the very few papers Dad held onto. Peggy came to live with us in Rochester, MN in the early 1960s immediately after Price died in their home. Evidently, when my parents went to help pack things up, my dad, out of anger and grief, burned the letters and other papers that were the source of Price’s broken heart and death. I’ve been told some extraordinary stories that involve famous people that my grandparents called good friends. Due to this “unholy” Hollywood group, the religious Campbell Clan down south demanded that Price leave or divorce Peggy that tainted the Campbell name. Price wouldn’t, even after his cousin Wes, tried to use their close friendship as leverage. Price remained with the love of his life and mother of his only son, and lost his entire family. That’s the last time my dad said he saw Wes and his son, Glen. The entire Campbell Clan disowned us, leaving me with so many questions that I’m working on to find truths. If anyone has suggestions for me, I’m all ears!