Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Exploring the New Look of the FamilySearch Research Wiki -- Part One

The more things change, it seems the more they stay the same. The Research Wiki recently had a face lift. The program went from narrow limited screens to wider, more easily navigated ones. If you haven't visited the Research Wiki in a while, you might not even notice the change unless you read the notice in red on each page. The most noticeable change is the redesign of the menu items that used to appear in an outlined sidebar box. All the features and options remain pretty much the same, everything has just moved around a bit.

 The Research Wiki has now grown to over 83,000 articles and has been viewed over 310 million times. To refresh your memory or to introduce you to the wiki, it is important to point out that the Research Wiki is dedicated solely to the topic of genealogy and family history research. In addition to the more than 83,000 family history oriented articles there are tens of thousands of additional pages providing instruction on the operation of the wiki.

The Research Wiki is an entirely collaborative resource. Any registered user can add to, modify, correct or format any of the articles or pages. Due to the current upgrade, some pages and articles may not appear or function as expected. Previously, the Research Wiki had a link to each individuals "user" page where information about the individual users could be posted. The pages are still in the wiki but the link seems to have disappeared. Accordingly, I decided to set out on a voyage of exploration of the new, updated Research Wiki.

The top of the page has been completely redesigned. The former menu items have changed. The current items include the following:

  • Page
  • Talk
  • Read
  • View source
  • View history
 If you sign into the Research Wiki the menu bar changes.

The additional items that appear include the following:
  • Edit
  • Edit source
  • View history
You are only able to edit the Research Wiki if you are a registered user of the website.

A continuation of the menubar adds the ability to watch each page and also provides a search field. The watch link is confusing because it is a "Star" so you might believe that you were rating the page but in fact you are marking the page so that you will be notified every time there is a change made to that page. If you accidentally watch a page you can unwatch the page by clicking on the star. The page and read links work together and simply provide the normal view of the Research Wiki.

The Talk Page is really an open forum where users can post comments about the content or the formatting of each page in the Research Wiki. The small logo that appears in the lower right-hand corner of the pages refers to the program which is the basis for the construction of the updated wiki. Previously, the program had implemented part of the open source wiki program features but the new upgrade is more closely aligned with the standard format. For individuals who are familiar with other programs such as, the transformation of the Research Wiki will seem easier to manage. For those of the users who are not familiar with either, the change probably won't make any difference at all.

Here is a screenshot of one of the articles on the state of Arizona.

Editing articles and pages is measurably easier with the conversion to the format. The difference between making an edit and editing a source really depends on the degree of sophistication of user. Source editing requires the user to have a degree of familiarity with the standard wiki formatting commands and a few HTML commands. The Research Wiki pages contain all of the information and instruction necessary to completely operate and edit the program. 

In the jargon of the Research Wiki, an "article" refers to a content page containing information about family history related topics. All of the other pages in the Research Wiki are referred to as "pages" and containing either help related information or explanations of the structure and operation of the wiki.

Depending on the user's preference, the Research Wiki can be viewed either as a static reference resource or as an interactive, collaborative workplace.

This is Part One of a series. Stay tuned for further installments. 


  1. It may be important to stress also that this has been an upgrade of the software, so that we are now almost up to date with the latest MediaWiki version. Some of the visual changes were dictated by the upgrade. With this upgrade come several benefits, starting with the ability of editing the wiki using all browsers and not only with one, like before.