Geolocating your rural cemetery for the world

Working with old cemeteries and burials, online or on the ground, often means trying to explain to others where, exactly, it is located.

Google’s maps have become the number-one goto resource for all things geolocated; to find restaurants, parking spots, even the faster route during morning rush hour. But it is woefully under-representing small cemeteries in the countryside. Sure, you can drop a location pin and create a map or list of directions – but that’s like marking an X on a paper map: it only exists on that one map, and only you and maybe the person you shared the url with know what it means.

Enter OpenStreetMap.Org.

On OpenStreetMap.Org (OSM) you can add your cemetery’s information to the database, or edit it if someone already did (and maybe got a detail or two wrong.) You can mark a point (such as the location of the church or chapel), or a line (like the road between sections), or an area (for example, the outline of the entire cemetery, or a section within the cemetery, or even a single grave plot.)

As soon as you save your edit, you can look at it on the map – it still hasn’t been shared around the world yet, but it will be over the next hours. And, once you can look at it, you can create an image of it, or you can create a url to share your map point, or you can create a blob of html to embed the map in your web page.

SVG map generated by OpenStreetMap.Org
SVG map generated by OpenStreetMap.Org

Now, here comes the magic: when I created the entries for St. John’s church and cemetery, Google Maps just had the church. Now Google displays a green field for the cemetery, and will probably soon have a name on that green field. Mapquest had nothing, but now has the church and cemetery. Bing, Yahoo!, and all the other search engines with maps will soon, if not already, have the name of the cemetery and its location in their database. And the spiders now search for mentions of St. John’s Catholic Cemetery near Argyle, MN, so the Marshall County page will become higher-ranked and appear in more search results.

Creating a regional coordination page on GenWeb.io/WordPress

GenWeb.io is set up primarily for the purpose of hosting regional coordination pages like the County Coordination sites of the state-level organizations of The USGenWeb Project. And it does so using the open-source WordPress software.

WordPress is popularly known as one of the, if not the, pre-emminent blogging platforms. But a regional coordination site is not a blog, in fact almost nothing like a blog! Yes, and no.

Backgrounder

The software is actually a content management system (CMS), an application for publishing, modifying, organizing, deleting, and curating all kinds of content and media on the internet. It also offers tools to support collaboration in doing so. Although they are intended to avoid the need for hand-coding html, CMSes may also facilitate writing code by hand.

One of the ways a CMS reduces the amount of html-writing is with reusable templates, so you can focus on writing what goes into a page rather than putting most of your effort into creating what each page looks like. With WordPress specifically, every page loads with a similar look-and-feel with some variations for type of page content and depending on the specific ‘theme’ you select.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbWordPress, while it is a great blog, also lets you display a ‘static’ page instead of a blog when visitors first arrive at the site. You can edit this page within the same editing environment used for writing blog entries. This editor lets you choose either a WYSIWYG view (Visual), or a source code view of the almost-raw html code (Text).  And you can flip between the two views with a mouse click. Now the magic of this static page is that it, too, is displayed inside that look-and-feel template, allowing you to add the USGenWeb and state project logos and links to every page in your site.

The step-by-step process

Once you have your GenWeb.io account and domain, the steps are extremely simple.

  1. Create your landing page.
  2. Tell WordPress to use it as your static page.
Create the page

Go to your site’s Dashboard, which is the control panel for site administrators. Select Pages from the left sidebar, and then Add New to create a new page. (Normally we abbreviate this as Dashboard->Pages->Add New. Less typing for me, and I am lazy.) This brings up the page editor, with two primary editing fields – the title field and the larger body field which has several editing toolbars above it.

Enter the title you wish to use for your landing page; Welcome or the name of your region are pretty good choices to start.

In the body field you can do almost anything you like to create your new home page. The editing toolbars are self-explaining, for the most part. Use the ‘Preview’ button in the right side-bar to load a new tab with exactly how it will look for your guests (minus that top toolbar – guests don’t get that.) You can change this at any time, so for now just throw some text up there as a place holder – LOREM IPSEM…

Now save it by using the ‘Publish’ button in the right side-bar. The page is now published on the internet. But it is not your landing page, yet.

Tell WordPress to use it

Once you have the page how you want it, hit the publish button in the right sidebar. This page is now available on the internet! but it is not your landing page yet.

Go to Dashboard->Settings->Reading. The top item is ‘Front page displays’. Click the radio button beside ‘A static page (select below)’. Select the page you just created from the ‘Front page’ drop-down menu. Then click the ‘save changes’ button.

Voilà! your visitors will now be landing on the page you created! BUT – what about the posts? Most of us will still want to use WordPress’s blog abilities to make announcements, report news or events, or even to keep subscribers organized. Create another page – and it can be just a title and no body – and go back to Dashboard->Settings->Reading, select the ‘Posts’ drop-down menu, and select this new page, and save changes again.

You will probably want to add a link to your new Posts page from your new Front page, but that is another how-to article at a later date.

Conclusion

By creating a static page for WordPress you magically turn a blogging software into a website management software, and you can still blog on it. Using the WordPress ‘themes’ you can focus time tweaking your ‘look’ once, and it will be applied everywhere all the time. With WordPress you can arbitrarily add pages filled with your own html code, or you edit from a WYSIWYG editor view.

But don’t start dreaming up menus and sidebars yet – because WordPress has that all covered for you, and makes it so easy you won’t believe it.

Registration is (slightly) broken

Always fun to find something not working in a new system!

WordPress simplified logo, from WordPress.Org
WordPress simplified logo, from WordPress.Org

Apparently newly registered users – the ones who do not have a website created for them – are linked inappropriately to an administrator profile when logged in. This means the handy link in the upper-right corner of the logged-in views does not work for them, and they may get “you do not have permission”-type errors if they follow that link.

The best link to a user’s profile page is http://[projectname.]genweb.io/forums/users/[yourusername], which unfortunately is not displayed anywhere except on a forum topic to which you replied. This is not optimal! but it does work.

[Hello world!]

We have landed!

An official logo of The USGenWeb Project, from their logos page
An official logo of The USGenWeb Project, from their logos page

GenWeb.io is officially opened, a network to support genealogy on the web in harmony with other online genealogy projects. This particular project is created to address a perceived need for a CMS-based approach to publishing content on the internet. It is closely aligned with The USGenWeb Project, the grand-parent of spontaneous organizing of free genealogy content on the internet.

Watch this space for news as we develop and expand our support for family archivists and genealogist!