The first place many genealogists turn when researching a new location or event is Wikipedia, the on-line community encyclopedia we’ve all come to love (well yes, and maybe hate just a little bit, too). With over 22 million articles written by volunteers from over the world, it’s an amazing resource. In fact, it is so often a “go-to” resource for learning about a topic that it can be disheartening when a Wikipedia search comes up empty.
Just recently, while researching a deadly tornado that ripped through Mount Carmel, Illinois in 1887, I sought out the town’s Wikipedia entry expecting to find some leads and a helpful list of sources to guide me in my research. What I found under the history section instead was a single paragraph that read:
In the 1920s there existed a famous hotel and resort that existed in Wabash County nearby the Grand Rapids Dam on the Wabash River. The hotel was named the Grand Rapids Hotel and was owned by Frederick Hinde Zimmerman. During the hotel’s nine year existence it catered to individuals from all over the United States. In July 2011, John Matthew Nolan wrote a detailed history of the Grand Rapids Hotel.
Obviously, there is much more to Mount Carmel than the Grand Rapids Hotel. And therein lies the wonderful promise and potential of Wikipedia. As a collaborative, free and open information source, anyone can easily start or add information to an entry, and any one can offer constructive criticism or corrections to existing entries. The encyclopedia offers a “history” view which allows you to see all changes that have been made to the text of an entry. And, of course, the most reputable entries are well documented with citations and sources.
As genealogists, we should all see it as our duty to correct misinformation and add everything we can to the community body of knowledge that is Wikipedia. Taking my own advice, I recently added a section to the Mount Carmel entry describing the tornado of 1887, thanks to excellent research provided by www.gendisasters.com. It is a simple way to give something back to the on-line community of information sharing, I urge you all to give it a try.