Collaborative Family History

March 13, 2007

Revision Based Collaboration

Filed under: Collaboration, Family Pursuit, Research, Software — Michael Martineau @ 2:16 pm

I am excited to see the progress we have made in developing the Family Pursuit genealogy management software. Finally, this week we will be demonstrating how Family Pursuit enables families to not only collaborate by locating and contacting distant relatives, but also provides a platform where they can coordinate and organize their research. I’ve needed this functionality in my own family which is why I have spent the last few years developing this product.

One of the difficult challenges we have faced as we designed Family Pursuit is how to enable multiple family members to truly collaborate and work together in a common family tree without stepping on each others’ toes. After looking at several options, we determined that a wiki approach would be the best solution. This would give family members the flexibility of making changes, without fear of losing any data.

I personally believe this is the best choice for a collaborative environment. In Family Pursuit, we allow family members to make whatever change they want to the data, but the system stores all changes. That way, less experienced (and sometimes more experienced) family members who make mistakes in their research can revert the changes they made to an earlier version. Often, I have found that genealogists need this functionality even in their own personal genealogy software. They make a change based on information they find, only to find later that they had made a mistake, and the original entry was correct.

I realize this level of collaboration is new to many genealogists, but I believe it is the wave of the future for genealogy research. It will enable families to collaborate in a way they never had before.


  1. This software sounds very promising. You seem to be addressing some of the very problems that I have run into while trying to collaborate family history work with other family members.
    If you are looking for people to help beta test this software, let me know. I would be happy to help.

    Comment by Dave Olson — March 14, 2007 @ 8:46 am

  2. How will you resolve issues of whether to use latin or vernacular names, European or North American dating, when dealing with other countries - which language to use….

    Comment by Bill — March 14, 2007 @ 8:16 pm

  3. Sounds like a great ideal. I am waiting for more information.

    Comment by Roger Wells — March 15, 2007 @ 6:43 am

  4. This software sounds very exciting. I am very interested in having an online program with all the capabilities mentioned. As a computer industry professional who wishes she were a genealogist, I would really like to be a part of the beta testing.

    Comment by Melissa — March 16, 2007 @ 10:35 am

  5. It sounds nice to be able to roll back changes, but is it possible to permanently disagree, i.e. have 2+ “official” versions?

    Comment by Bob — March 16, 2007 @ 11:52 pm

  6. Sounds exciting. Can’t wait to see what you have in the works. The human interface requirements will be, in my opinion, the most important. People with differing confidence levels and experience levels in both computers and genealogy will be working together. this can be frustrating at times. I too would like to volunteer to beta test if you need testers.

    Comment by Chuck — March 19, 2007 @ 6:35 am

  7. Congratulation on your efforts to create a wiki-based, collaborative genealogy research and publication web site. Having studied most existing wiki-like genealogy web sites, I find their most common fault is a lack of emphasis on scholarly research and quality publication standards. You need to avoid the present, ongoing Wikipedia syndrome of questionable accuracy. Have you considered the quality controls being being used in the planned Citizendium wiki successor to Wikipedia ( )? Will the Family Pursuit project have some method of enforcing good genealogy standards? Demand solid source documentation? Require all postings to be by registered participants using their real names? These are important to attracting serious genealogists willing to invest their time and skill, while discouraging anonymous name collectors.

    Comment by Malcolm A. Young — March 19, 2007 @ 7:47 pm

  8. Bill - The Family Pursuit system is designed to handle any number of names and has the ability to identify the type of name. It can also handle multiple date formats. Unfortunately the initial release will only be in English, however, we will add additional languages in the future starting with the most requested by our users.

    Bob – Family Pursuit is designed to allow conflicting information on all facts, names, events and relationships. Thus, “2+ official versions” is not a problem. Family Pursuit is also designed with a very strong emphasis on sources.

    Chuck – I agree with you that the “human interface” is critical for our users. A lot of our time has been devoted to making Family Pursuit as easy to use as possible for the novice while still providing powerful tools for the experts. I believe we have made great progress in this area.

    Comment by Michael Martineau — March 20, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  9. Malcolm – Good questions. One of the reasons we chose a wiki model was so less experienced genealogists can make a mistake, with no permanent damage. We want to encourage everyone to get involved with family history, not just the experts. We believe that everyone can help in a meaningful way. We are aware of vandalism that can occur in a wiki based system, thus we will not allow any anonymous edits. All users who wish to participate must identify themselves. As mentioned in a previous comment, our system focuses heavily on sources. We offer many unique tools to facilitate the use of sources. Can someone enter in a fact without a source? – Yes. Some people believe this is a problem. I don’t. I believe it’s a loose end that will give family members a goal for a collaboration effort (i.e. get your family involved in finding the source, or disproving the fact).

    Comment by Michael Martineau — March 20, 2007 @ 11:18 am

  10. Thanks, Michael, for the response. I remain convinced that some form of friendly, helpful editorial control will be necessary to assure scholarly, accurate postings. It doesn’t have to be as formal as true peer review in the quality genealogy journals, but without some form of editorial control, FamilyPursuit postings will have no more crediability than,, etc. If that fits your objectives then that’s what you will get. I wish you well.

    Comment by Malcolm A. Young — March 20, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  11. Michael, congratulations on your insightful and timely initiative. I can think of the need for a number of genealogical collaborative models from:
    o wiki (anonymous contributor, peer) model. Although wiki was designed for mass collaborative authoring as in wikipedia, the lack of entry barriers, has led to wikipedia integrity problems. If sustainable integrity is required, wiki is probably more appropriate for small-scale collaboration which appears to be the initial target audience for Family Pursuit. Enter Citizendium as discussed by Malcolm!
    o citizendium (invited contributor, editor/expert) model. One possible collaborative genealogical example applicable for Citizendium is

    Comment by David J. Hopkins — March 20, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

  12. Are you going to allow the up loading of gathered information, which allows source material to be included. As time taken to manually load all the information I hold took take me the rest of my lifetime.
    It sounds wonderful just what we are looking for for serious collaboration for our members

    Comment by W. Paul Featherstone — March 21, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  13. I’d like to echo the concerns of David and Malcom for some sort of editorial control tools — or, as Citizendium calls it, “gentle expert oversight”. As a serious genealogist who places great emphasis on the quality of his data, I’m quite excited by Family Pursuit’s emphasis on sourcing. However, I’m about to embark on a major collaborative genealogical project involving potentially tens of thousands of names, and I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of allowing unsupervised change access to my data. Disallowing anonymous editing is a good start, but how about giving your users the choice — make the ability to restrict access an option, then let us decide.

    CJE Culver

    Comment by CJE Culver — May 26, 2007 @ 1:55 am

  14. Re: #13 - Yes, CJ, and that “gentle expert oversight” model is sometimes called a “benevolent dictatorship”, but I prefer your version. BTW I’m very interested in the collaborative project you refer to, if it fits the Citizendium model. If that project is available to look at, please email me the contact at so I may consider it. Thanks.

    Comment by Malcolm A. Young — May 26, 2007 @ 11:15 am

  15. Hi,
    Once again - sounds interesting.
    Any new software on this subject is welcome. I’m now having a 1,500,000 individual database on-line and as you may understand I’m always looking for even better solutions. Our database is a joint venture between an increasing number of researchers - everybody contributing to the “common good”.
    So - if you are interested in how it could work with a rather big mass of material - drop a line!

    Comment by Sounds interesting — July 13, 2007 @ 2:42 am

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