Ryan Taylor Cyndi's guide to going online


About Ryan Taylor

Dave Obee's
tribute to Ryan

Ryan's Columns

Ryan's Books

Devonians in

Back to

By Ryan Taylor

Everybody's genealogy is on the internet, right?

Of course not. But one way to put yours on the internet, and be sure it is correct, is to have your own website.

A new book by Cyndi Howells, owner of www.CyndisList.com, describes how to go about it. Cyndi's List is an online listing of more than 200,000 links to genealogical sites worldwide (including many Canadian ones).

Planting Your Family Tree Online: How to Create Your Own Family History Website starts at the beginning, with deciding what you want a website for, and how it should look. Howells explains how to register a domain name, and where to look for a home for your site. As an aside, she says, "The subtitle for this book could have been 'All the things Cyndi learned the hard way,'" so you can benefit from her experiences.

When people are discussing websites, they often spend a lot of time on appearances. I used to think that in genealogical sites, it was the information that mattered, not the colours and graphics. However, those of us who use the internet daily for our business, or simply to scoot around looking for diversion, have become more sophisticated about websites. They do have to be appealing to keep us looking.

Howells makes a good point when she asks, "Are you creating your site for your own personal entertainment, or as a way to reach out to fellow researchers or long-lost cousins?" I believe she expects the answer to be 'researchers and cousins' but I suspect a great many people with their own sites maintain them for their own amusement. They simply enjoy the work that goes into creating them.

Howells provides a great deal of helpful background information, about how search engines work, for example. Her straightforward way of presenting these explanations takes the mystery out of them-a good thing for those of us who might be intimidated by the whole world of HTML, the programming language of the web. There is a glossary, too.

She addresses some basic problems of using the web. Communication is the basis for everything on the web and it should be clear and complete. A particular bugaboo is the site which refers to a place without giving any indication what state, province or even country it is in. This happens more than you would think in genealogical publications, both on the web and in book form.

The other big problem is broken links. The web is like a surging sea of sites, constantly changing, some washing up on the shore momentarily and then vanishing beneath the waves forever. As Howells observes, when you provide links on your website, 'you need to know that maintaining them requires some work'. She refers to sites with many broken links as suffering from 'linkrot'.

If you are going to commit to creating a site, realize that it is an ongoing piece of work, which will need you to visit regularly to update and fix. While it is not something to be undertaken thoughtlessly, it can be an exciting ongoing project. And it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll meet a pile of interesting people.

To avoid the linkrot problem in her published book, Howells is providing a version of the text on her website at www.CyndisList.com/planting/ where she promises the links will be checked and updated regularly.

If you'd like to publish your genealogy online, this book is a good place to start. If you want to learn more about website creation and maintenance, it will also work. Howells' reputation as a person who can communicate on everybody's level has been confirmed.

Planting Your Family Tree Online can be obtained from your local bookstore, and online at amazon.ca (for $20.29, 30% off the list price) or amazon.com.

Posted April 20, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

Sponsored by Interlink Bookshop and Genealogical Services and hosted by Islandnet.com