A Free Road to Your Ancestors?
WikiTree is what some would call a new kid on the block. It’s only been around since 2008, but in that time, it’s grown to include over 24 million profiles and more than 740,000 genealogists from around the world.
As a 100% free platform, WikiTree lets you trace your ancestors and build your family tree at no cost. It’s probably most well known for its collaborative-like nature, because there’s only one giant tree. That means one profile for every individual on the planet. And everyone can contribute to these profiles to help you with your research.
It sounds promising, but does it actually deliver? Is the family tree software easy to use? Can you find your ancestors easily? And what about those historical records you so desperately want to locate?
I tested every aspect of WikiTree, with nothing left unturned. You can find everything you need to know about WikiTree, including its advantages and not-so-great features, in this review.
An Empty Promise
When I started out with WikiTree, I was hoping for better, especially since you can upload GEDCOM files to your profile and input data automatically. But after navigating through the system, I was left very disappointed.
First of all, it’s difficult to decide where to go from the overwhelmingly long list of sections. I found that it’s best to start building your tree if you go to ‘Profile’ under your name tab. From here, you can see your card, and start filling in the blanks for your mother, father, and so on.
As for how it looks, don’t expect much. Your tree is anything but exciting. In fact, it looks like an outdated webpage to me, but it functions just fine.
Adding your family members this way is straightforward. Click on the highlighted areas to connect your ancestors to your family tree.
It takes you to another page to add their info, which includes their names, birth and death dates, gender, and resident location. As you enter info, you’re notified of any suggested matches that already exist in the system. I liked this feature, as it’s easy to merge people and prevent duplication.
Finding records was a painful experience. I couldn’t locate any birth, death, or marriage certificates for any of my family members, even though I’d found them on other sites. If you’re after historical records specifically, you’d be better with Ancestry. It has a huge bank of records with an easy-to-use searching tool.
One positive is that you can upload GEDCOM files, though it’s not as easy as I was expecting. You can’t import family trees, because WIkiTree functions as one, collaborative family tree shared by all users.
You can use your GEDCOM to upload data and add to existing or new family profiles. It’s more manual than you’d expect, as you have to review all potential duplicates and validate each piece of information, so I’d only recommend it if you have a small file. You can’t upload any DNA at all.
5 Standout Features of WikiTree
Upload GEDCOM Files
With WikiTree, you have the ability to upload GEDCOM files to your profile. This lets you import essential data from trees you have on other sites, including birth and death dates, biographies, locations, and anything else relevant. This helps you build out existing profiles on WikiTree and create new ones easily, too.
Once uploaded, you’re directed to the GEDCOMpare tool, which helps you compare the data you have to data that already exists on WikiTree. This helps to prevent duplicates and errors with information. You can review potential matches, create new profiles, and add data to existing family members to help build your tree.
You have to be a ‘Wiki Genealogist’ to import a GEDCOM file. That is, you must upgrade your account to Family Member level and sign the Honor Code to give your agreement to building an accurate, reliable tree. But it’s free.
Build Biographies, Create Memories
WikiTree allows you to build family members’ profiles beyond the typical name, birth date, and location information.
You can create biographies for each person you add and build a picture of their life. WikiTree helps you by summarizing any info you’ve added so far, such as when they were born and if/when they passed away.
Include key life events, information about their career, likes and dislikes, or just as much as you know about them. The more detail you add, the more you can contribute to the shared WikiTree, helping other users paint a picture of their ancestors.
Make sure you include sources to validate your information. This is something WikiTree feels very strongly about, and wrong info could get your account locked.
You can also add personal memories to your family member’s profile, whether that’s something you remember yourself, or a memory that someone else has shared with you during your research.
Shareable on Social Media
Your profile links and family tree are both shareable on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. You can download a shareable image of your tree to post directly on your platforms.
Any family members you have on social media can help you to start filling in the blanks and may even be able to put you in touch with distant family members that could also be a member of WikiTree. Sure, it’s not the nicest of trees to look at, but it can help you overcome those ancestry brickwalls.
You also get a shareable WikiTree link that sends people directly to your profile. Your profile comes with standard privacy settings, which usually includes private, with a public biography and family tree. If you change your privacy settings, you can make your profile more public so others can find it and connect with you more easily.
From One Genealogist to Another
WikiTree has a G2G (genealogist 2 genealogist) discussion forum where you can post questions, introduce yourself, respond to other questions, and share family photos.
If you’re unsure where to turn to next or you need help navigating through WikiTree, you can post a comment or question here and ask for help. Likewise, you can help others with their research and provide tips, too.
You can vote questions up or down so they appear higher on the dashboard. And you can also add tags to associate your question to a topic area that can be found easily by other users.
If your question relates to a specific person on your family tree, you’re encouraged to link it to their profile. That way, you can track responses and keep all of your research in one place. It also means anyone else watching that profile can see the questions you’ve asked.
Leave a Link to FamilySearch
FamilySearch is another genealogist software that lets you create family trees. And WikiTree lets you connect your profile to it. This is great for extending research, especially since FamilySearch is home to one of the largest historical databases.
You need to sign in to both FamilySearch and WikiTree to link the two platforms together. Once you do this, it suggests potential matches on FamilySearch based on those on your WIkiTree family tree. You can select “Create Match” if you find who you’re looking for.
Any matches you create then have a link to their FamilySearch profile from WikiTree. You and anyone else with a FamilySearch profile can navigate to both easily. And if you’re also building a tree in FamilySearch, it saves you tons of time as everything is copied over automatically for you.
You’re on Your Own
If you already know a lot about your ancestry, maybe from a DNA test, then growing your tree won’t be too tough. Otherwise, you’re likely to run into blanks right away. And either way, you’re on your own.
WikiTree doesn’t give you any research or profile hints, like many other profiles. But FamilySearch sends you tips on adding sources, finding records, and even suggests people that could be part of your family tree. So if you need help, it’s probably worth linking your profiles, and adding in any info you find from FamilySearch to WikiTree.
You can use WikiTree’s connection finder to connect with ancestors. This allows you to search for a WikiTree ID with your own to find a connection. Obviously, if you don’t know the ID, or even who you’re looking for, it’s not ideal. I wouldn’t recommend it as a general searching tool, but rather a way of connecting with people you already know are out there.
The best way to track down ancestors you don’t know existed is to use the search tool. Here, you can search by surname, first name, birth date, location, and other fields.
I like that you can filter your search for dates within a specific time frame or choose whether to ignore name variants, as it helps you get a better result. Saying that, I couldn’t track down any of my family members with this tool. Not even my mother or father.
Any profiles you create are added to your watchlist. If you’re a trusted member (can edit a profile), then they’re displayed here. If anyone changes or adds information to these profiles, such as possible ancestors or sources, you’re notified right away. This can also help you trace other family members, using other people’s research.
Although you can’t upload any raw DNA results, you can potentially find ancestors if you know your GEDmatch ID number. Use the search function to locate family members on WikiTree with the same GEDmatch ID number. Or search for names manually.
WikiTree is a completely free platform, so you don’t pay a thing to use it. But that’s probably one of the reasons why it’s so limited.
WikiTree asks you to upgrade your account for many different reasons. For example, to add ancestors to your family tree you must upgrade to a Family Member account. I was expecting to be hit with a small fee, but to my surprise, all upgrades are free.
If you sign the honor code, you can upgrade your profile higher to Wiki Genealogist level. This removes limits on how many images you can upload, how many profiles you can add, uploading GEDCOM files, and some other features. It’s still free, though.
Ask the Wiki Community
WIkiTree offers various support channels, but unfortunately, that doesn’t include a direct phone number or live chat. So to get answers to your questions, your only option is to reach out to the Wiki community.
You have access to the G2G forum, where responses are pretty quick. I asked a question about how to upload GEDCOM files correctly and received a response in less than two hours.
You can also refer to the help center of the website, which lists links to detailed web pages about how to use sections of the site and what they’re for. Here, there are how-to guides for beginners, too, which are good for getting you started with the platform.
As far as family tree builders go, I’ve seen much better than WikiTree. It has its advantages, including the fact it’s free and you can connect with long-distant cousins anywhere in the world. Plus you can link your tree with FamilySearch. But there are a lot of drawbacks, too.
Your family tree isn’t exactly picturesque and it’s not the nicest of dashboards to use. Then there’s the historical database – who knows how big it is? Or if there are even any records to access at all, since I couldn’t track down any records I was looking for. And I couldn’t find any of my family members either.
It’s an OK free tool for connecting with family members, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anything else.
If you want a truly reliable family tree builder that’s easy to use, great for researching, and tracking down ancestors, consider a platform like Ancestry instead.
Or if you still want nearly everything you can get from a paid service for free, read our review of FamilySearch. It has a huge database of records and it’s full of other great features, too.