Hello, I'm Brad Patrick, an amateur genealogist and lawyer living in Tampa, Florida. If you have contacted me in the past relating to information about Washington County, Ohio, or Slovakia, that's me. I am a big fan of wikis and previously was the executive director and general counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., the people who run Wikipedia. I have a user page at Wikipedia as well. My personal website has my genealogic information in a static form. I enjoy family history and do it for the love of it.

Brad Patrick on vacation in St. Augustine Florida, June, 2006
Brad Patrick on vacation in St. Augustine Florida, June, 2006

The single greatest thing you as a contributor can do is cite your sources - and that does not mean just what you found on someone's page on the internet. The success of this project will come from people sharing information which has documented sources and original source material attached to it. Anyone can compile a big list of names. I sure have, and now I have to own up to the fact that when I started, my documentation skills were atrocious, and a whole lot of work will need to be recreated completely. What separates name collectors from genealogists is the texture, the richness, and the loving detail of their family stories. Not all of it is pretty.

Rule #1, "Start from the known and work to the unknown." Don't assume anything. Be clear about what evidence you have and what you need to fill in the missing parts of the puzzle. Rule #2, "No shortcuts - prove it out". Begin with what you can show to be true, and only after you have satisfied yourself that you have a good set of proof for that person/event should you take the next step back. Rule #3, Person, Date, Place, Evidence. Repeat. At every point, you are asking WHO this is, WHEN it happened, WHERE it happened, and WHAT records exist. The best events have all of this information; sometimes you have to work at answering each part of it. It is the never ending cycle of genealogy.

Part of what makes wiki technology so special in this context is that all of the research can be documented and communicated to a huge group of people. Here on WeRelate, use talk pages to share that you know what you don't know. Be clear about where your information runs dry and what sources and approaches you think might help solve a problem. Experienced genealogists have a bag of tricks they draw on to solve most problems. Keep your eyes out for advice on how to tackle problems from new or different angles, based on the materials available in that time and place.

Do not believe everything you read on the internet. Adopt a default position of suspicious interest. Allow the quality of the source material to support your conclusions about genealogical problems. Weigh the evidence critically, and then see where you end up. New information equals a new opportunity to re-evaluate what you have concluded previously.

I believe very strongly that genealogy is an endeavor rooted in humility rather than hubris. If you know everything already, well, congratulations. I don't. I'm sure I will learn from other researchers who have much more experience in a particular region, or with a particular kind of record evidence. I look forward to situations where I know the information I have accumulated is only the tip of the iceberg, and there is a massive block of new understanding waiting to be revealed. Genealogy is the pursuit of pure knowledge that is ultimately personal to you and your family. It is, in my view, a labor of love, longing, and luck. You love to find new information. You long to understand what made your ancestors special. You luck out and sometimes you hit the motherlode. It is always an incomplete puzzle. Genealogists are some of the nicest folks you will ever meet. They are also fascinated by human frailty and the endless capacity of man to get things flat wrong. If learning is the result of our mistakes, genealogists as a group are some very well-schooled folks.

Genealogy is a big window into life's rich pageant. Some of your ancestors were wonderful people. Others weren't. Ne'er do wells, criminals, bigamists, double-cousins, who knows what you might find? They were not always chaste emblems of all-American wholesomeness; they were downright frisky. You may have ancestors with 20 or 30 children by a succession of wives who died in childbirth. You may have reasonable doubt about the number of months between a marriage and a birth versus what family lore says about such things. A good genealogist is open to all sources of information, and is a critical thinker weighing evidence. Maybe Great Aunt Sally really did get pregnant before she married Uncle Herbert. Try to always be aware of what presuppositions (cultural, moral, religious) could affect your view of information.

I'm looking forward to meeting new people, becoming reacquainted with people I have corresponded with in the past, and helping new folks looking at the past for the first time. I got started when I was 8 years old and I couldn't understand how my grandfather could be the same age as his aunt. Simple question, amazing answer, and years and years and years later, I'm still curious about who they were and how they contributed to the fabric of American life.

UPDATE - I decided to upload my GEDCOM to get acquainted with this software and wiki implementation. Time will tell if that is a good thing or not. I'm deeply embarrassed by how bad some of the notations, place names, etc. are. Lots of work to do on them. Gentle reader, if you find something wrong with the place name (something as simple as HamilCo, i.e., Hamilton County) please FIX IT.