WikiTree Challenge Reveal – Spoiler Alert: Brick Walls Falling

I have to tell you – this was just so doggone much fun!

I was a guest of the WikiTree Challenge, a community sourcing and discovery event. The WikiTree volunteer researchers were just amazing.

I already had a tree on WikiTree, which is a combination of my “own” tree and the same ancestors that other people share on WikiTree. WikiTree is a “one big tree” genealogy site. If you take a look at my tree, then scroll down, you’ll see three categories of Research, Tools, and Contacts available to everyone

This screenshot is just an example – there are lots more features and tools available.

And before you say it out loud, yes, I know about the errors and misinformation on “one big tree sites” and how FRUSTRATING it is to find erroneous information and either have no ability to fix it, or it’s almost impossible.

I’ve found WikiTree to be different.

Eight Reasons Why I Like WikiTree

Let me explain for a brief minute how WikiTree works and why I like it.

  1. WikiTree is entirely free, all-volunteer, and encourages cooperation and collaboration between and among genealogists.
  2. You can upload your GEDCOM file and connect your ancestors, or you can simply enter yourself and your ancestors until you connect with an ancestor that already exists in WikiTree. In my case, that would have been my grandparents. WikiTree has many profiles of ancestors, so that process shouldn’t take long unless you have a family from an under-represented region of the world.
  3. WikiTree has volunteer moderators who are experienced and assist if issues arise. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you think something is in error for your ancestor. You leave a comment on that ancestor’s profile card, but the profile manager doesn’t respond. You’d like to have the questionable data evaluated, so you have the option to ask for assistance from one of the moderators.
  4. WikiTree has a GtoG (Genealogist to Genealogist) Forum where you can ask, or answer questions.
  5. You can post questions, comments and in many cases, edit the profiles to provide additional information.
  6. The research comments remain in the thread of the ancestor, including links to other resources.
  7. Descendants can post their Y and mitochondrial DNA information if they descent appropriately to be relevant to that ancestor – along with autosomal information so you can see if you match.
  8. WikiTree is free and doesn’t replace any other resource. In other words, you still need to test your DNA elsewhere, and you need those data and document subscriptions for research resources. You record the findings and documents from all the sites in one location in WikiTree for each ancestor.

WikiTree is Fun

As we genealogists all know, there are trees and various sources of data in many, many individual places, much of it online. However, there’s still a huge amount that isn’t online, hidden in musty courthouse basements, and/or resides in researchers’ file folders.

WikiTree is a central location where all of those various resources and hints can be sifted through and gathered together – and it’s available for everyone free and without a subscription. I think of it as my wiki genealogy repository. Otherwise, my ancestor’s data is scattered in many locations – and held in many trees online – none of which I can influence except my own. I can and do contribute on WikiTree.

Unlike some subscription services, researchers can have an ongoing dialogue about, let’s say, whether Abraham Estes’s wife, Barbara’s birth surname was Brock – or not.

Her surname has (erroneously) been reported as Brock since the 1980s when a NOVEL was written using Abraham and Barbara as characters and ascribed Brock as her surname. Literally, almost every tree on the subscription sites shows Barbara’s surname as Brock, but there is not one single shred of evidence that it was. Even the author later said he was sorry he had done that and had no idea people would latch on to that as gospel. After all, it was a novel. But they did.

You can take a look at Barbara’s profile here and the comments and documentation as well. In essence, WikiTree is your opportunity, aside from your own tree wherever you place it, to be sure there is at least one public location where your ancestor’s information is provided and compiled correctly – and that the discussion of why is preserved.

When I’m researching, I appreciate that I can see the back and forth dialogue. WikiTree assures that exchanges remain respectful.

My Challenge Week

My WikiTree challenge week ran from 10-13 to 10-20. In advance, I reviewed my ancestors and commented where I thought there were questions or issues. Yes, I was hoping for help, especially with certain particularly thorny ancestors.

It was all I could do to behave and not peek during the week. I can’t even express how excited I was.

I didn’t have any specific expectations, in part because I’ve been a genealogist for so long. But of course, I was hoping for some brick wall breakthroughs!

Finally, the big reveal day arrived!

You can watch the reveal here:

You can also see a summary of the highlights, here.

Given that challenges are a community event, WikiTree has made it fun by awarding points to researchers for various things. Scoring is explained here.

In addition to the WikiTree community, my blog followers who weren’t able to get on the WikiTree team at the last minute contributed as well by sending me hints and info. Thank you so very much. I love you folks!

Mindy Silva, the Challenge coordinator, began by creating a fan chart that showed where I had brick walls available to fall.

In fact, several of these walls did fall, leading to additional generations being added to that line as well.

I was gobsmacked.

In particular, the Henry Hill line out of Vermont has proven very confusing and the German Drechsel line is daunting.

I’m extremely grateful for the many Dutch records and how well they are preserved. This facilitated moving back several generations on two lines, here and here. Additionally, it was also discovered that one Piers de Jong changed his name in 1811. As if Dutch records and surnames aren’t difficult enough!

For Dorothy Edmiston, we have more information, but I still need to be convinced. My sticking point is that our only data source is a will in 1749 that refers to a Dorothy Edmiston as a daughter – but we know that our Dorothy was married to Thomas McSpadden in the mid-1730s. This is not a criticism, but in fact leads me to my next point.

It’s All Hints

I’ve heard it and even said it. One big trees are frustrating because there can be so much misinformation. The same is true for individual shared trees, too, of course, and they multiply like ants. In most cases, you can’t do anything about it, but you actually can at WikiTree.

Treat everything as a hint.

That’s my rule of thumb: It’s all hints!

Try to prove or disprove everything. You may well find that the proof is actually in the profile, or in the links to other resources. Remember to share your actual findings in the person’s profile so someone else doesn’t have to replow the field you just plowed.

Post your comments. Read the threads. There’s gold there. Even if you disprove something, it’s wonderful to know why it arose in the first place. In one case, someone finally found the original source of a family story and why a specific piece of information was given.

But There’s More

Sometimes I think we focus too much on breakthroughs and not enough of documenting what’s available. I try to do this in my 52 ancestor stories, but adding the resources in WikiTree and making sure they are accurate is important too.

More than 3100 edits of my ancestors’ profiles were completed during the challenge week.

In addition to everything else, lots, and I mean a LOT of cleanup and housekeeping took place.

For example, look how nice this profile page for my great-grandmother, Ellenore (Nora) Kirsch (Lore) looks now thanks to Cheryl Hess Smith’s hard work. I am so very glad to see the information from the articles I’ve written about my ancestors being integrated into these profiles. They asked and I gave permission for information from any of my articles to be used.

Trust me, Nora’s profile looked nothing like this before.

Are We Related?

Who are these people who spent so much time on my ancestors’ profiles? Am I related to them? Is that why they expended the effort? I expected the answer to be yes.

Just for fun, I decided to see if I am related to each person who worked on the challenge.

It’s easy to tell if or how you are related to someone on WikiTree.

Go to their profile, then under their profile information, select “Relationship to Me.”

If you don’t see these options, the profile owner may have opted to keep this type of information private.

If you want to see how you are related to me, click here for my profile. If we are related, tell me how and through which ancestor, along with your profile ID in the comments. Who knows, the WikiTree Challenge volunteers may have been working on your ancestor too!

For each of the team members who worked on my branches this week, I checked to see if and how we are related. The results are shown below, with birth surnames shown in parenthesis.

As I viewed the profile for each person, I was dumbstruck at the number of cumulative contributions by these volunteers. Are you ready for this – these 35 people have contributed well over 1.5 million times – and growing every single day.

Relationship to Me

Let me explain how this works.

Jayme Arrington was the MVP this week, meaning she made the highest number of contributions that received points. Thank you, Jayme.

Jayme and I are 12th cousins once removed and I’ve provided the relationship link so you can take a look if you wish. Yes, each step needs to be proven for both people.

  • Jayme Arrington – MVP – 12C1

Relationship link

54K contributions

Jayne is an amazing contributor! We are related through our Connecticut Puritan line that extends back to England.

  • Dieter Lewerenz – no relationship

23K contributions

Top bounty hunter – congratulations!

  • Cheryl Hess Smith – 11C1R

Relationship link

91K contributions

Look at that – 91 thousand. Wow. Just wow.

  • Margreet Beers

25K contributions

Margreet is Dutch and I bet you can guess who did some of that work on my Dutch lines!

  • Greg Lavoie – 9C through Abraham Dugas

Relationship link

35K contributions

We share Acadian ancestors. There’s an old saying that if you are related to one Acadian, you are related to all Acadians!

  • Donna (Tucker) Baumann – 10C1R – through Katherine Duxford

Relationship link

51K contributions

Donna and I share Puritan ancestors.

  • Kathy Rabenstein – not related

83K contributions

Kathy made 151 edits to my ancestors and added 22 of their relatives. I would have gone down some rabbit hole never to be seen again!

  • Ann Browning – not related

5K contributions

Ann created a new ancestor for me. I’m grateful to be among her contributions.

  • Rosalie Martin Neve – 12C

Relationship link

29K contributions

Our Bowling line is from Lancashire. It’s fun to find connections. Given that she’s a WikiTreer, I’d bet she has seen my Bowling articles that include Charnock Richard, where our ancestors lived.

  • Chris M. Ferraiolo – 7C2R

Relationship link

15K contributions

Chris and I are related through my difficult Hill line which intersects with the Drew and Downes line. Look at this.

Chris and I share 70 common ancestors on multiple unrelated lines. (Hint – he has Acadian ancestry too)

Isn’t this WikiTree feature cool!

  • Kathy J. Nava (Urbach) – 19c2R

Relationship link

2K contributions

If these lineages are correct for both of us, we connect in the royal lineages of England. I’m not convinced my side of this lineage is accurate, but I need to research my Rice line more anyway and this provides motivation.

  • Maddy Hardman

131K contributions

OK, I’m just blown away by the sheer number of Maddy’s contributions. She must help other people all day and night. Does she ever sleep?

  • Paul J. Gierszewski – no relationship

47K contributions

Paul created 9 relatives and made 83 edits. Paul, along with several other WikiTree volunteers works on Source-A-Thon‘s too, where the goals is to – you guessed it – add sources to unsourced information on trees.

  • Lucy A. Selvaggio-Diaz – 15C1R

Relationship link

46K contributions

Lucy edited 16 profiles and added several relatives.

  • Jennifer Robins – 10C1R through Katherine Duxford

Relationship link

52K contributions

Ah, look, this means that Donna, Jennifer, and me are all three related through the same ancestor.

  • Karen J. Lowe – 10C through Mercy Prence

Relationship link

185K contributions

Our common ancestor, Mercy Prence was the granddaughter of Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim minister.

I can’t even imagine 185K contributions. My cousin is AWESOME!

  • Melanie McComb (Doherty) – no relationship

2K contributions

Melanie created two ancestors for me!

  • S. Johnston (Ellingson) – 15C

Relationship link

4K contributions

Ok, I really do have to get busy researching my Rice line to see if I can figure out if Thomas Rice is the son of Edward Rice and Mary Elizabeth Claiborne Harris. Group 4 of the Rice DNA Project is the line of my Thomas – more research is definately needed.

  • Laura A. DeSpain, Challenge team captain – 11C1R

Relationship link

40K contributions

Another Puritan lineage connecting through the Hill, Hall, Richardson lines out of Connecticut.

Thanks, Laura for being my team captain!

  • Elaine Weatherall – 17C2R

Relationship link

5K contributions

Our common ancestor relies upon being connected to Francis Pafat via an illegitimate birth. I wonder if there’s a way to prove or disprove this. Hmmm…

  • Michelle R. Enke – no relation

26K contributions

Michelle added two relatives and made several edits.

  • Mindy Silva, hostess of the WikiTree Challenge events – 11C1R

Relationship link

91K contributions

I think that one of my ancestral links, Jotham Brown’s father, is incorrect on WikiTree so I’ve added my article about Jotham that shows his early connection in New Jersey. Y DNA connects him with that line too. Unfortunately, that means that Mindy and I probably aren’t related.☹

  • Joan E. Whitaker (Williams) – no relation

122K contributions

Joan added a relative and cleaned up several profiles.

  • Nancy L. Wilson (Cox) – 16C

Relationship link

14K contributions

Our common ancestor, Reynold West, is a member of the Magna Carta WikiTree Project. Do you have any Magna Carta sureties as ancestors?

  • Ellen Smith – 7C through Mehitable Wood

Relationship link

119K contributions

Our common ancestor, Mehitable Wood, has several people listed who are descendants and provide their autosomal test information. I need to check and see if I match with Ellen or anyone else who descends from Mehitable.

I love the ability to add the different types of DNA tests for each ancestor. I use WikiTree often to check for both Y and mitochondrial DNA descendants. If everyone tests their autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, and males test their Y DNA at FamilyTreeDNA, this would eventually allow nearly every ancestor to have their Y and mitochondrial DNA information associated with their profile.

  • Tommy T. Buch – no relation

13K contributions

Tommy has worked on many WikiTree challenges. Often, people who have been the lucky recipients say thank you on the profile of the various volunteers – and Tommy has several.

  • Yann Le Ny – no relation

1K contributions

It looks like Yann just joined WikiTree in the spring of 2021 and has already made more than 1000 contributions. Welcome and thank you!

  • G. Price – 9C through Thomas Durham

Relationship link

2K contributions

I am really impressed that she has provided for her “Digitial Afterlife,” something we all need to do. I need to take this same action, and so do you. Take a look at what she did, here, by scrolling down.

Stephen Tomaszewicz – no relationship


Stephen worked on cleaning up several Dodson profiles, even though they aren’t his family lines.

I was startled to discover that most people were contributing on lines that aren’t their own. Just from the kindness of their hearts.

David A. Lambert – 9C

Relationship link

200+ contributions

David is the Chief Genealogist at American Ancestors of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, so it’s only fitting that we connect via my Hill/Mitchell/Andrews line. I would wager a guess that I can count on the information for our common ancestors, Joane and John Andrews, being accurate.

Eileen Robinson (Bellamy) – no relation

1K contributions

I wish we were related. I find Eileen’s bio very inspiring. Additionally, in 10 days or so since I originally wrote this article, Elieen has gone from crossing the 1000 submission threshold to 1905. Hats off to Eileen!

Janet Wild (Langridge) – no relationship

74K contributions

In addition to working on my challenge, Janet has participated in other challenges including being the captain, has been a project team lead and a one-name-study coordinator. I didn’t realize that WikiTree had one name studies. I need to go and check this out!

Karen L. Stewart – 10C

Relationship link

8K contributions

WikiTree has different privacy levels. Karen has set her privacy level to “Private with Public Biography and Family Tree.” You can read about the various levels and what they mean, here.

Jelena Eckstädt – no relation

74K contributions

When I saw Jelena’s German name, I thought sure that we were related. Alas, no, but I was still the beneficiary of her German expertise.

Anon Sharkey (Cormack)

44K contributions

Anon may want to remain anonymous, but with almost 45K contributions, Anon is clearly making a huge difference.

Thank You One and All

I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to everyone for working on my ancestors during my WikiTree Challenge week.

If I worked on 10 items a day, for a year, I wouldn’t have been able to get this done. It’s not just time. I was the beneficiary of the expertise and determination of these amazing volunteers.

Truly, the holiday season came early for me this year!

Thank you one and all.



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44 thoughts on “WikiTree Challenge Reveal – Spoiler Alert: Brick Walls Falling

  1. Roberta, you have given SO much to the genealogy community through your research, writing, and simple kindness. It’s about time we returned some of the love to you. I’m thrilled that so many pieces fell into place during the challenge week! Best wishes from Jane, your Miller cousin.

  2. Roberta, your tree was definitely fun to work on and the first thing I did was confirm that Drew line where we share common ancestors. I’ll have to check out the Acadian connection at some point. It’s very cool to meet an awesome cousin. (I’m Chris M. Ferraiolo, btw)

    Glad you had a fun week! We sure did! Keep it up!

  3. Well now, Roberta. We may just have to add more to your branches lol. I’m keeping you as a cousin anyway. It was such an honor to work on your branches and give a gift to someone that has helped so many! You know where to find me now if you need me.

  4. This is cool stuff . . . and . . . yes, you and i (Collins-3637) both descend from ‘Barbara unknown’ (she’s 7th g’grandma for us both, and we are 8th cousins) – you from her son Moses, me from her son Richard . . . but i think we have discussed that in the past, long ago . . happy huntin’, b from Cupertino

  5. I’m so happy this worked out so well for you! I thoroughly enjoy your articles here and elsewhere. I had signed up to help with your week on WikiTree but alas, life had other plans (namely a new job, so not a bad thing). I used the relationship finder and was surprised to see we’re 10th cousins, apparently, or at least according to WikiTree. MRCA is John Hackley, Hackley-53.

    • Congratulations on the new job. That old saying. Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. I need to go and look up our path.

  6. Ok. I will take that as a resounding endorsement. I have stayed far, FAR away from One True Tree sites, but you make me seriously consider it. There seems to be much more “active curation” here than on that other site.

    I assume living people are hidden. Normally, I start public trees with the grandparents. It’s fairly easy to suss out who my parents are, you see. I don’t know if there’s as much Southern Appalachian endogamy in my tree as there is in yours, but 7 of my 8 great grandparents are tied to somebody “on the other side” … and often in more ways than one.

    Hubby’s tree, so far as I know, is endogamy-free. And he has one line that could use some crowd sourcing. Thomas Russell married (possibly a Hutson woman) **after** the 1860 census. They had 2 children, and she died. He married wife #2 **before** the 1870 census …..

    And I have a similar-ish problem with a friend I’m helping find birth parents.

    I’m gonna have to seriously consider this.

    • Yes, living people are shielded. There are several options for privacy and your close portion of your tree including total privacy. Take a look at that. You can still search for your ancestors without a tree but it’s a lot easier with a tree which serves as a bookmark of sorts.

      • Saves having to hunt for them. There’s probably an “advanced search” option, but I haven’t found it yet.

        I’m going to have to study on this some more. I like what I’m hearing, though.


  7. Roberta,

    Or should I say cousin? I checked it out and we are 8th cousins at least 14 different ways and 9th cousins in 14 other ways. Of course with a last name like Landry, I’m sure you can tell where the connection would be. I saw the names Forest (Foret) and Dugas on your fan chart and knew there would be lots of connections to follow.

    My WikiTree is at

    I, too, am a big fan of the site.


    • I truly was thrilled. What more could a genealogist want than many people focused on their genealogy for a whole week.

  8. Hi Roberta. This article is great! I absolutely love that you listed every single significant contributor to your challenge week. You went through them all, looked at who they are, and gave them a shout out. Nice.

    • Hi Chris. I also thanked them on their own profiles. Time can only be spent once and they spent some of theirs on my ancestors that week, and based on their contributions, they regularly spend time on other people too. The very least they deserve is a thank you. Thank you for WikiTree.

  9. I am a great fan of Wikitree and these days when I blog about a relative I update the profile as I write the blog and I include the Wikitree link(s) at the bottom of my blog post.
    You and I are 13th cousins 3 times removed. Marvellous to explore new ancestry paths.I have to confess to previously being unaware of this 15th GGf John St John

  10. I watched that reveal and the WikiTree team did a tremendous job of breaking brick walls and filling in leaves on your tree! I’m also amazed to see how many cousins worked on your tree.

  11. Apparently, you and were both just recently working on the Thomas Rice line and have similar concerns about the connection to his parents. Fortunately, we’re still 8th cousins through him, not his parents, and we have another 169 common ancestors, assuming all the other lines are confirmed. 😎

    Fun write-up and now I’m going to have to dig into this challenge project when I have time.

  12. Thanks for the favorable review of wikitree. I fear that you over-rate in some categories, and people might be discouraged if they don’t encounter the more useful features.
    I spend a great deal of time on the sourcing challenges. A large part of the deficient profiles were put there via gedmatch without checking to see whether supporting sources are present (usually some are available but require searching multiple places). The challenges encourage shortcuts lacking in readability and skipping multiple important sources.
    I wish more people would post DNA. One of the more useful consequences is facility to search multiple common ancestors,as distant DNA connections frequently are complicated. I don’t plan to check on our 289 common ancestors, beyond that our 8th cousinship isn’t fully supported although it appears consistent with my mother’s DNA (which I haven’t figured out how to post).

  13. Hey, Cuz!!
    We are 18th cousins via MRCA Joan (Rede) Cotton (1380-1445)! Lots of [unknown confidence] tags along the way, though.
    I’m Elston-476, FWIW.
    I am astonished to learn names of the ancestors along the way back to Joan. I was only aware of the ones back about 10 generations. Of course the number of ancestors increases by a factor of 2 every generation back, so 18th cousins have 2 raised to the 19th power, each (half a million or so), making a common ancestor somewhat more likely than you might otherwise expect . . .
    I, too, am an avid Wikitree user (but not at the level of the folks that participated in your challenge) and appreciate the emphasis on sourcing.
    Thank you for this most recent blog post – it was fascinating!

  14. Hi Cousin Roberta,
    I have long been a fan of WikiTree and like using the DNA Confirmation feature. I just started a Big Y Founder project at FTDNA you might find interesting: ‘Montgomery of Scotland’ Founder Project for Haplogroup J-Z35794. I am using BigY, autosomal DNA, GEDmatch and WikiTree tools to confirm DNA relationships back to the 12th Century in Scotland. You and I are 11th cousins once removed through Mary Unknown Brewster. Lewis-20217

  15. Wow! If WikiTree helped someone as diligent as yourself, as someone not nearly as adept, I’ve got to try this challenge. Thank you!

  16. Hi 10th Cousin twice removed (Kotecki-29). I share the same ancestor with you as Jennifer Robins. You can guess my own research does not go back as far as Katherine Duxford Richardson. I have been using Wikitree to copy the family stories and information that was collected about 20 years ago by my cousin who got it from the local church records that aren’t on line any place, supplementing with my research in the Polish archives that the indexers in Poland are adding to all the time. But the main reason I’m spending some time nearly every day at Wikitree is that her information is invaluable, but where else can I put it so someone can find it this easily? The Wikitree format is perfect for adding the narratives she wrote about a third cousin who was bowlegged and or the woman making cookies for the neighborhood children after school. I don’t have thousands of entries – I’m trying to make the ones I do rich!

  17. Roberta! We are 8th cousins, once removed, and our common ancestor is Ann (Hewes) Rice (abt 1664 – aft 1722). We have 163 ancestors in common, and I already know how to play that game on here. It is great fun! Be well, David (Shannon-2493).

  18. Hello Roberta, very interesting indeed. I consider to join wikitree but I´m not sure how to protect names/dates of living relatives if I transfer my GEDCOM file to wikitree. Is there a reliable way to do that? I looked for information but could not find it at wikitree.

    • Living people are automatically protected. Yes, you can upload your GEDCOM. I would have to Google to figure out how. It’s been a long time since I did that.

  19. Thanks for the great article. I’ve been looking at Wikitree but the one tree model put me off…. will reconsider now.
    You keep trees at many sites. I’m interested in how you manage to update them all with new information, without going beserk.

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