There are several SE sites that downplay the value of Wikipedia entries for many reasons. Most of the time if the information in the Wikipedia link is true or relevant there is usually another site or reference with greater authority that will say the same thing.

Since much of genealogy is about finding credible evidence and being able to back up that evidence, should we hold to a similar standard of authority for the links and evidence provided on genealogy.SE?

At present simpler issues like generational titles and double dates come to mind, but these issues could become more complex or nuanced as the site matures.

Edit: (Other SE sites have tackled this problem before, and Genealogy.SE might benefit from what they've concluded.)

  • I think Wikipedia is perfectly fine. However, if people can provide sources from more than one site, that is optimal. This goes for any site. If all sources on a post are from one site, it's not that great.
    – Luke_0
    Oct 11, 2012 at 18:36
  • How would the Research Wiki maintained by Family Search or GenUKI match up to these criteria? They may contain information on processes or classes of sources that respond exactly to a question. Why not refer to them?
    – Fortiter
    Oct 12, 2012 at 0:19
  • Is the Research Wiki better populated now with referenced (sourced) information? Many of the Wikipedia entries have actual references (sources/footnotes).
    – GeneJ
    Oct 12, 2012 at 0:32
  • Sometimes standards differ from nation to nation, so someone linking to a data protection standard for Australia may provide the wrong information to someone from the USA... whereas the Wikipedia link may note and compare these regional differences. i.e. Wikipedia links might be more holistic for the community. Oct 12, 2012 at 5:32

5 Answers 5


Sources are sources - some are primary, some are secondary, and some are questionable. Wikipedia is by definition not a primary source. Depending on entry itself, it might be secondary or it might be questionable. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brewster_%28Mayflower_passenger%29 seems to be a well written, well researched article so I think it would be very appropriate to include it as a secondary source.

Wikipedia is also useful for references to background information (eg the Brewster link above) and for noting 'citing' references. Eg the Brewster article has references of it's own. Without having the primary reference you can only reference that wikipedia article 'cites' the 5 references it gives for the fact that William Brewster married Mary Wentworth.

In one sense Wikipedia is no different than werelate.org, myheritage.com, americanancestors.org, and ancestry.com in the sense that it provides access to information others provided. The difference comes with respect to the actual information provided and the quality of that information with respect to original sources.


I think we should just let people source whatever they want and not police it. It's up to them what they think is best.

I've never seen this as a problem on, say, Stack Overflow.

  • I agree. One point I would add is that the more sources there are the better. By more sources, I don't mean more pages from the same site. I mean more unique sites (or books).
    – Luke_0
    Oct 12, 2012 at 2:27
  • It has been a problem on other SE sites, e.g.: meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/289/…
    – fbrereto
    Oct 12, 2012 at 6:12
  • 1
    @fbrereto - I'm somewhat skeptical about that. :-)
    – lkessler
    Oct 13, 2012 at 4:03

I have to think, that if the asker of the question is on this site, they are able to do a certain amount of research of their own. Referring them to Wikipedia, in and of itself, might be a bad thing if all Wikipedia had to offer was the information you referred to that is available on other sites.

But in many circumstances, in addition to the article, there are source citations that can be followed to more focused, detailed sites which provide a deeper understanding of the material originally discussed on Wikipedia.

In this question in the main section:

What resources exist for information about ancestors affected by the Expulsion of the Acadians?

following the link to Wikipedia will give you some interesting and, in this case, very on point websites on which to do further research.

  • 1
    To play devil's advocate here, wouldn't an answer that is arguably more helpful take you directly to the "very on point" websites mentioned?
    – fbrereto
    Oct 11, 2012 at 22:26
  • 1
    I assume that you are not advocating pasting a bunch of links copied from Wikipedia rather than a link to an article in Wikipedia. In many cases, a reference to an overview (secondary source) is a practical and efficient response to a question that may not be a focused as it could be.
    – Fortiter
    Oct 12, 2012 at 0:15

You should not link to Wikipedia, Wikipedia should link here.

Keep in mind that Wikipedia does not demand truth or accuracy, but does demand that articles are sourced. So, you should be always be able to replace a link to Wikipedia with a link to a more original source, and quoting the most original source available is simply good genealogical practice.

Suggest adding a remark to the FAQ about this.

  • +1: "You should not link to Wikipedia, Wikipedia should link here." That's the kind of mentality that will cause the site to do well.
    – fbrereto
    Oct 15, 2012 at 3:54

Swings and Roundabouts spring to mind.

  • Wikipedia contains a lot of well written, well researched, independent pages which are perfectly suitable to be cited here, to be used as secondary sources, to help people consolidate their existing research.

  • Wikipedia contains a lot of pages maintained by people/companies close to the topic, who seek to maintain the page as close to the truth/reality as can be ascertained

  • Wikipedia contains a lot of pages maintained by people/companies close to the topic, who have a vested interest in maintaining a specific viewpoint that is deliberately not 100% accurate (eg commercial data that exaggerates capability, or engages in propoganda)

  • Wikipedia also contains a lot of drivel pages, which have no place on any SE site.

I'm happy to have a relevant Wikipedia reference given to me for information (although if I've asked a question, the chances are I will have already found it, before asking my question), but I would never consider the contents as anything other than advisory.

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