If Everyone Agrees, It Must Be True
Searching on the Internet often produces some interesting comments. Last week I turned up the following:
A researcher on a genealogy wiki asked for the source of information someone had provided. She couldn’t find the source herself, but added: "I believe the info is correct as several people entered it, even though some of the dates are different."
Another commented [tongue in cheek], "I feel so much better knowing this. Phew."
And another, "Yup, that really confirms it for me!!"
And a third, "Just think of all those trees copied and copied, ad infinitum on various websites . . . the more you copy them the more accurate they are!"
The following definition of "wiki" is found on a website called "Tech Terms:"
A wiki is a Web site that allows users to add and update content on the site using their own Web browser. This is made possible by Wiki software that runs on the Web server. Wikis end up being created mainly by a collaborative effort of the site visitors. A great example of a large wiki is the Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia in many languages that anyone can edit. The term "wiki" comes from the Hawaiian phrase, "wiki wiki," which means "super fast." I guess if you have thousands of users adding content to a Web site on a regular basis, the site could grow "super fast."
So by definition, a wiki is the perfect place for genealogists with common ancestors to share information with each other. And therein lies the problem. If the information is shared but does not carry a source how do you know whether it’s valid or not? Well, if everyone using the wiki agrees, it must be correct, right?
NOT! This is the biggest danger in Internet genealogy. Keep on repeating something and soon everyone will believe it and perpetuate it forever. Look at some of the erroneous trees on Ancestry.com, for instance.
Even Wikipedia, the mother of all wikis, warns: "A defining characteristic of wiki technology is the ease with which pages can be created and updated. Generally, there is no review before modifications are accepted. Many wikis are open to alteration by the general public without requiring them to register user accounts. Many edits can be made in real-time and appear almost instantly online. This can facilitate abuse of the system."
I will confess to being Wikipedia user, mostly for information about historic or geographic areas. Usually these sites have sources and seem pretty reliable. Wikipedia can be handy for finding links to definitions, descriptive information and interesting tidbits not easily found otherwise. The more you already know about a subject, the better you can evaluate what you find on a wiki.
So what about sources? Wikipedia, nor any wiki for that matter, should probably never be used as a source in doing genealogy. A genealogical source is evidence that something happened. The ideal source is the original record of an event made at the time it occurred, preferably by a witness to the event. The farther removed a source is from the original event, the greater the chance of error in the information contained. By definition, a Wiki is a not a source.
Information in a wiki is usually unsubstantiated, may or may not be valid, and may be hard to confirm. When posting to a wiki be sure to include your source so a reader can validate the information. Otherwise, let’s use wikis for fun but avoid basing our genealogical conclusions on them.
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20 November 2012