Sunday, June 14, 2015

In support of Wikipedia

When speaking to others about Wikipedia, I often get reactions not unlike the attitudes toward the public family trees found all over the Web (but predominantly on, namely, that you should never trust it, because it is nothing but errors.

Of course, one major difference between Wikipedia and public family trees is that each tree is normally the work of an individual, while a Wikipedia article can be the work of dozens if not hundreds of individuals. I suppose one could more reasonably compare Wikipedia to the unified family trees found on such sites as FamilySearch (to name the best-known example). And yes, even there, there are errors too.

The problem with the nay-saying on Wikipedia is that it seems to deify information found in print, as if one could leave critical thinking at the door and embrace whatever one finds in black-and-white on paper. Maybe genealogists have forgotten that printed family histories can be just as prone to error as anything one might find online. And the same can be said for non-genealogical print works. We imagine that there are armies of editors fact-checking anything that ends up in print, but the reality is, errors are printed and they *may* be caught and corrected in future printings or future editions. Or may not.

I'm not alone in these thoughts. I just discovered the following article, which expresses the same idea: "Why It's Time the World Embraced Wikipedia".

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A few tech/genealogy words you may be typing/using incorrectly

[UPDATED: March 1, 2017, to include several F+W Media names]

Genealogical research is one of those activities that requires crystal-clear communication between researchers, in order to prevent misunderstandings and to facilitate searching for needed information.

Unfortunately, our hobby and profession that requires very close attention to detail nonetheless often suffers from sloppy language usage.  So let me lay out a few terms that could be more carefully written (the company and product names below are typically trademarked):

  • Upload/download.  In a general sense, you upload *from* your own device (usually a desktop or laptop computer, but increasingly a tablet or smartphone) and upload *to* an online server, usually using a website.  For example, you might upload a photo from your tablet to a photo-sharing website, or a GEDCOM-format file from your desktop computer to a website that lets you share family trees with others.  The opposite, then, is that you download *from* a cloud-based server, and download *to* your own device.  You might download a census image from a records-hosting service to your smartphone, or download a set of DNA test results from a DNA testing company to your laptop.  (If it helps, think of your own devices as "down" and all those Web-based services, increasingly referred to as "cloud-based", as "up".)
  • FamilySearch,, Findmypast, and MyHeritage. FamilySearch is one word, with the S capitalized. does not have the "C" capitalized.  Findmypast, which is one word, is a bit tricky, since it "styles" its logo as "findmypast", but unless you're using its actual logo, capitalize it (and no other letter in its name).  MyHeritage is one word, with the "H" capitalized.
  • GEDCOM and GEDmatch. As more and more people have begun using GEDmatch, these two similar sounding terms have caused some confusion.  GEDCOM is an LDS-supported file format more than 30 years old, allowing the communication of genealogical data (ergo its name, GEnealogical Data COMmunication, or GEDCOM) between one genealogy database program or online family tree server and another.  GEDmatch is a website allowing the comparison of autosomal DNA test results from any of the 3 major U.S. testing companies. Things get a bit confused not just because of the somewhat similar names but also because you can upload a GEDCOM file to GEDmatch (aren't you glad we already covered "upload to"?).  
  • HeritageQuest Online. The HeritageQuest part is one word, with the "Q" capitalized, and is written that way with the intention of reflecting the name of its owner, ProQuest (also one word with the "Q" capitalized).  "Online" is part of the name, so include it if you write about it.
  • RootsWeb, RootsMagic, and RootsTech.  Each of those are one word, with the second part capitalized. They aren't related to each other, unless you count the RootsMagic-Users mailing list, which is hosted at RootsWeb (along with more than 30,000 other genealogy mailing lists). RootsMagic users often abbreviate their product as RM.  The RootsTech logo is styled as "rootstech", but unless you're using the actual logo, write it as RootsTech.  
  • Family Tree DNA, Family Tree Maker, and Family Tree Builder, plus at least 3 service marks belonging to F+W Media.  First, they are unrelated. Second, Family Tree DNA is three words, but its logo styles it as one word.  (The company and its users frequently use the shorter form of FTDNA.)  Family Tree Maker and Family Tree Builder, competitor family tree software programs, are three words each, but Family Tree Maker users often abbreviate their product as FTM.  Finally, F+W Media has a number of services that begin with Family Tree, including Family Tree Magazine, Family Tree Books, and Family Tree University.
  • GenealogyBank and The former is owned by NewsBank, so its name reflects that relationship (one word, the second part capitalized). The latter's own website sometimes writes its name as "NewspaperARCHIVE" and sometimes as "NewspaperArchive", so I'm not sure what to recommend there. I suppose you'll be correct no matter which one you choose to write.
Did I overlook a genealogy-related term that you frequently see mistyped or misused?  Let me know.