Preparing for 2017

As we the end of the year draws close, and we look ahead to the coming year, it is time to assess where we are at and where we are going.

The past six months have been challenging – new server equipment, moving the server hardware to a new hosting location, new ISP, and dealing with physical issues (one of which is ongoing.) We have just upgraded to the latest stable release of WordPress, and a dozen or so of the opensource and commercial plugins, themes, etc. We have added a Piwik server for counties which wish to monitor their site traffic, and increased storage for all sites dramatically.

In the next six months we hope to add an installation of WebTrees, a collaborative genealogy presentation and management software, and an authentication platform which will work across our primary services (but has yet to be determined.)


One of our hosted sites, Marshall County Minnesota, is building a collation of Obituaries.

from Nashville Funeral and Cremation
from Nashville Funeral and Cremation

This is an interesting idea, but it really isn’t the best way to do this job.

The USGenWeb Project has a range of archive efforts underway, including an Obituary Project. The Minnesota page of the obits project includes a Marshall county page, which includes links to a collection of obituary text files. Assuming this site has a good history of resilience and has a back-up plan/system in place, this is where the obituaries should be collected.

However, such archives should likely be made available via a standardized API allowing multi-modal CRUD. The Archives Project of USGenWeb is static.

So, until a better option is made available, Marshall County can (and should) continue to host these obituaries any way that works for that county.

Surnames: Forums versus contact lists

from Commons.Wikimedia.Org
from Commons.Wikimedia.Org

We have all come across them – a list of people who are all researching the same surname as you are. Excitement! Compatriots! Cousins! You click on a name and up pops your e-mail client, and you feverishly type away a quick note of introduction, explaining where you found their e-mail address and your shared interest in the ‘Doe’ surname, and send it off with a flourish. On to the next name in the list!

And in a few seconds you get a notification from a mail server explaining that it cannot deliver the e-mail because the [inbox is full/e-mail address not found/account is inactive]. Or fill in the blank. And the same is true for all, or most, of the names on the list you found.

There are a few ways around this. One is, as a regional coordinator, to use a forum, rather than an e-mail contact list, because then a question asked and answered is available to many other people to find. And asking the question once may have many people view the question, increasing the chance of an answer being found.

A problem with forums is: people need to visit them to see the questions. So if you have a forum, you need to advertise it – hopefully on every page of your site!

And you need to use it. An active forum, where things are regularly changing and updated, questions answered accurately, will convince people to ‘sign up’ for receiving e-mail notifications of new topics. Or to add a ‘feed’ to their news browsers. Or just to stop by regularly. Your forum needs to become a valuable resource to people.

But the nice thing about that is – as it becomes valuable, more people will become involved, which makes it more valuable yet!

bbPress logo
bbPress logo of course supports forums. Right now we have the WP ‘bbPress’ forum enabled, but there are other forum integration options as well. Do you have a preferred forum software? there’s probably a way to run that on

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.