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A Tutorial for Family Researchers

The GenealoWiki website is a treasure trove of family histories, folklore, family events, countryside happenings and the births, marriages and passing away of our ancestors. You have an opportunity and a place to record the scribblings of your family past and to share all these marvelous stories with others. Anyone can contibute with simple browser skills, and this is how you can do it.

Getting Started

You got this far. And you found the website interesting. Hopefully you also found some of your ancestors tucked away in some of these pages. But it's not exactly right. Great-grandfather did fight in the war but he was thrown into a different battle. Your great aunt on mother's side didn't live in the big city; she grew up in the next county. And so on. Dates might be wrong, the children are in a different order, the name of the town is not spelled right. Or worse, your grandmother is missing altogether. How can you fix it?

Get Registered

Anyone that wants to contribute to GenealoWiki needs to register with the website. If you haven't done so, please go to TWikiRegistration and fill in the form. Please add your location and family surname interests so that the rest of us can collaborate with you.

Okay, you did that and have come back here. So let's start working on your family topics.

An Introduction

You can see this website looks like an opened book, just like the family book you always wanted to write for your own family. The right-side of the book will be the pages for your stories.

The Website Name

Oh yeah. Why does this website have a strange name? Originally we were using a website called "Family in Sepia" which is still in use. But conventional websites do not allow other people to get in to add their stuff, and we wanted a site that featured family stories. So along came a neat new software web tool called "Wiki". If you have ever visited you have seen collaborative websites in action. So we called ours GenealoWiki for fun and besides, all the good names have been registered already.

The Layout

The Left Page

The left-side of the book is the table of contents, always available. Near the top is the topics for general use: Welcome, Register, Changes, Topics and so on. More on those later. Lower down, under Twiki Webs we have the family surnames that have already been started. If you have a family surname that you want started, email the webmaster for help.

The Right Page

The right-side of the book is where your family stories will appear. Generally the page starts at the top with the ancestor's full known name at birth, followed by a little outline on them. This snippet is used by the search engines for others to see, so it is useful to say something worth finding by others.

The nice row-and-column table is the vital statistics: birth, marriage, death with the dates and locations if known.

Now the immediate family: the parents with links to their pages if possible, and the children with year dates and links as well. With that you have now taken care of the "hard facts" on your ancestor. Now we need the "soft facts"- the family stories, the folklore, their lives, loves and losses. Get the tissue box handy.

Actually, there is a little more paperwork at the bottom, usually. The Footnotes is for all those loose sticky notes that don't seem to have a place inside the story but are important for the reader. The Sources list IS IMPORTANT to many family researchers. State where you got your information so that someone else can find it later for their research.

Further down the page we have more technical stuff. If there are images on the page they will be listed in a special table here. You can click on an image name if you want to capture a copy for your use.

Next in a grey box we have the entry point for editing the page, attaching images and other tricks. That comes next.

The Grey Box at the Bottom

At the page bottom is a little grey area with a bunch of selections. We'll explain their functions later on:
  • Edit - This is where we will update the right page.
  • Attach image or document - how those useful photographs get into the website.
  • Printable version - Select this when you want to print a page; it hides the left page and saves on colour ink (the background goes white).
  • Raw text - a peek inside without making any changes.
  • The rest are a bit more technical.

Depending on your web browser, some of these selections are also available at the top of the page; they work the same way.

The "how to..." stuff

So how do you explore this family story resource?

Find a relative

First go to the surname you are researching. On the left page, if the surname appears in the column, click on the name. That should take you to the welcoming page for that family.

Now click on Name Index on the left page. This takes you to the list of biography pages for this surname. Hopefully you can find someone familiar to your research. The Name Index page has three main sections:

  • The Surname list sorted by the given names, with birth and death years. Check carefully because the website might have the given names reversed from what you might know.
  • The Surname list by decade. This has the same information but grouped by decades. Handy if you know the year for Joe Smithe but the surname list has several.
  • The Related Surnames has the spousal information where known.

The Name Index page does not have everybody in the website listed. Only people and their spouses that have a biography page are listed, so children might not appear on the list.

Back to the top...

Edit a Page

Suppose you find Uncle Elmer's page but it is messed up; dates wrong, family names off, and he just didn't die that way. Don't get mad, get editing. It is time to get your hands dirty by digging into the internal workings of GenealoWiki. And it’s not too difficult, I promise.

You are already registered in GenealoWiki; you just have to remember your login and password. You did write it down somewhere, right? Go to Uncle Elmer's page, scroll to the bottom and click on Edit. Go through the login. You get a new page displayed called UncleElmer1877 (edit), or something like that.

Have a look through. This is not technical HTML, at least not most of it. If you want to see it but not in Edit mode, you could have clicked on Raw Text instead. But Edit is what you really want.

If you want after your editing, click on Save and you are done. This should return you back to the bio page. What are the other options at the bottom of the Edit page?

The Preview button is a great feature. It allows you to verify your editing without saving (yet) or leaving editing. To return from Preview to the edit page, just click on your browser back-arrow button.

The Release edit lock allows another person to immediately edit your page right after you. Normally, leave it unchecked. This feature is to prevent “edit rages”, where people may be trying to overwrite others’ works. A problem with big wikis like Wikipedia, not with ours.

The Minor changes, don’t notify checkbox is if your edit is just minor and there is no need to activate the automated email notice that goes out to other registered parties. The QuietSave button does the same thing. The Checkpoint button does an immediate save without exiting the Edit feature. And Cancel will get you out of edit without saving. Or you could just use your browser back-arrow to do it, the edit page will self-expire.

So now you are armed and dangerous and licensed to edit. Back to the top...

Add a biography page

Opening up bio(graphy) pages on your grandmother's family is easy to do. Let's set up a fictitious son of Jacob Benedict to show you how to do your own. Jacob's page is already set and the children are listed. Now we want biography pages for his children. Let's say the family is going to be:

  • Father: Jacob Benedict born in 1861 and died in 1923
  • First child: Charles Burton Benedict; born in 1882 and died in 1889

First I go to Jacob Benedict's page where all the children are listed. I go into edit mode. The first child is Charles Benedict and his line looks like:

1. Charles Burton Benedict; 1882-1889

We want to make this a hyperlink into the new bio page for Charles. So I change the text to be:

1. [[CharlesBenedict1882][Charles Burton Benedict]]; 1882-1889

I'll now save the changes and look at Jacob's page. So what did I do? The web engine we use is called TWiki, and it treats certain words specially. If TWiki sees a word that has a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, with the first character as upper-, then it takes this as being a TWikiWord. This causes a headache with scottish names like McTavish, but there is a way to handle that. A TWikiWord points to (usually) another page in the website, such as a biography page.

So I combined Charles' first and last names together to make a TWikiWord, then tacked on the birth year for good measure: CharlesBenedict1882. This now becomes the name of the new bio page; the birth year is added for assured uniqueness as there are several other "Charles Benedict" names already in the website.

If the date is uncertain, say 17??, then I would use 17--. If there is no birth date, then I'd use the death date. If there is no date, then maybe this ancestor should stay buried until we have enough information to dig him/her up and put them into the website!

Why not just use the son's full name? You could, as in CharlesBurtonBenedict; but the TWikiWords get unwieldly when they are excessively long. So avoid unless you have to use it for clarity or for uniquiness.

What about the square brackets? That is to make the displayed text appear normal to readers. It is optional, but when you use it, it looks like this:

[[TWikiWord][displayed word]] 

So what gets displayed is not changed from what it is now, except we have a link to the new page for Charles.

So I am looking at Jacob's page at the Charles line and it isn't quite right. I see "Charles Benedict" with a small and underlined question mark at the end of his name. It looks like this:
Charles Burton Benedict?. This invites me to create the new bio page for Charles by clicking on the question mark. When I do this, a new edit page opens up, the top says in bold text: CharlesBenedict1882 (edit) and it shows my name as the person who is editing. So far, so good.

Now to save you a whole bunch of cut-and-pasting, we have a person template ready to plop into this page. Note the two buttons at the top. Click on the Person button. It will fill in the template for you. Now go ahead and add your relative's story as you have already done elsewhere. Use the Preview button from time to time to change on the progress; you use your browser's back-arrow to return to edit mode. When done, click on Save.

Back to the top...

Add a photograph

Page layouts

Writing style

Surname webtopics

There is a pattern to what we put into the person's panel. I sent a template file to Susan (see attached text file). So when you open up a new person's panel, just copy-all the text in the template and paste it into the edit panel.

You will see an initial text at the top of a new person: "-- DonaldElliott - 24 Nov 2005". This is automatically set up by TWiki so we know who created the file. I'd appreciate if you would paste the template ahead of that line, moving the line to the bottom for now.

You also see a reference number at the beginning of my entries; something like: Reference: ==135.225.6

This is my personal way to keep track of ancestor lines in one family. We are very lucky with the Benedict line in North America; there is just one Benedict that started it all in N.A., namely Thomas Benedict. He is #1. His seven children are referenced as; 11, 12, 13 up to 17. Then the children of them would be; 111, 112, or 171, 172 and so on. So your Daniel Benedict, who is Reference: ==135.225.6, is one of the 6th descendants from Thomas. Daniel's grandfather would be Joshua Benedict, 135.22 (just knock off the last two digits).

William Case Benedict, an ancestor of Susan, is 135.223.1. If you compare Daniel's ref. # to William C.'s ref. #, and you had nothing else to work with, you would know they share a common grandfather and that they are cousins.

What happens if there are more than 9 children? This happens with both William Case B. and with Smedley William (must have been a fertile family line by that time). We start with letters after 9. The tenth child of William Case B. will be ref # 135.223.1A.

What happens if we find out a birth date was wrong and the Twikiname is now wrong and the reference number is out of sequence? C'est la vie. Let it go. Keep the original values and just add the extra child. I'll live through it.

LInks to other family relatives

Census tables

Children lists

Birth/Marriage/Death tables



Edit styles:


this makes the text into a header: larger font and in colour.

this makes for a line all the way across the page. A separator.

another header, only not-so-large font.

| word | another word | makes a neat little table of rows and columns.

| word | another word | same as before, but this becomes a table header

It wants a password (why)

Raw Text

Add a new topic, how???

If you make a mistake.

Lists with bullets ("*")

Lists with numbers

Table of Contents

Some further notes to be refined:

I understand the reluctance to barrel into a new website and muck it up, but really, anything you do is easily reversable, if we need to. So go ahead and muck. This TWiki is new to me as well, but it is turning out to be the best web tool I've found for family collaboration. So here goes: New pages This is the neat trick in TWiki: opening up new pages. Here is the secret: TWiki words. When you write text in the edit mode, any time you have words that start with upper-case, then small-case and at least one more upper-case, becomes a TWiki word. Examples: Maria Michel. not TWiki because these are two words, with the space, Mariamichel. not TWiki because only the first letter is upper. MariaMichel?. This is a TWiki word. For a useful TWiki word in GenealoWiki?, we add the year of birth: MariaMichel1731?. If you do not have the birth year, then use the death year. If you have neither, then perhaps this ancestor needs more research before it is worth opening up a new page for them. The year is added to make sure the TWiki word will be unique. Just MariaMichel1731? will work fine. But it will be displayed just as you typed it: MariaMichel1731?. To make this more user friendly on the page, we do a trick with square brackets: Maria Michel?; b. 1731. The first [ ] pair is for the TWiki word; the second [ ] is for your display on the page. Once you do that and save the page, the names on the page now look funny. They are in a different shade and have a superscript question mark at the end. If you click on the question mark, this will OPEN the new child page for you, and in edit mode. Note the two buttons at the top. If you click on PERSON it will fill in the person template for you. If you have a child with little information, just leave the name as it is now. No use opening up a page if there is nothing to really add. The Footnotes area at the bottom is useful for loose information. A good place to see more explanation would be: Children I agree with your point on numbering lists. It works for my Benedict line, only because they are fairly well researched. If dates are missing, then you should not number. Here is the trick: in edit mode, precede each name with three spaces, an asterisk and one more space. Don't bother with an extra line space between the names. You will get a nice bulleted name list. I'll leave you to try it out, but the Parents: list works this way. As a further comment on numbering and other formats- there isn't a list of rules for this website, only guidelines. Do what works for you. The stories are more important than the layout. So if you have a creative thought on improvements, just go ahead and incorporate them. They are your ancestors you'll have to answer to someday, not the other webbies. ... sorry, poor humour... Headings TWiki makes it easy to set up headings. That's the bigger text in maroon, such as "The Family of Maria Anna Devoe". In the edit mode, that looks like, "---+++_The Family of Maria Anna Devoe_". Some explanation. the "---" dashes means a heading follows. The "+++" pluses calls for the depth of heading; one + is the top heading (big, bold); more pluses are for lower-level headings. The two underscores that fence in the text will make it italic text. Using asterisks to fence instead will make it bold. Some examples are shown at the bottom of the edit page. I use one + for the main name at the top, three +++ for other headers, sometimes four. Table of Contents Once you set up headings, you should add a table of contents at the top. So again in edit mode, just below the person's name at the top, put this on its own line:

, all in caps. Have a look at her father's page, Daniel Thevou for an example. In my Benedict pages, I use for headings: "The Early Years of ..."; "The Parents of ...", "The Revolutionary War" (or Civil War, or Riots, or whatever), "Emigration to the New World", "The Final Years for ..." and "Footnotes". I sometimes set these up as just headings for now, to remind me later on or to encourage others to add more to the story.

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-- JimBenedict - 22 Jul 2006
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