I thought I’d write a post about the tech side of this blog. I’ve recently done a number of updates and figured someone might be interested in the behind the scenes aspect of what shows up here.
For starters, this is a WordPress blog running on its own server. I use the popular WordPress software installed on my own account hosted by Lunarpages. You could host one at WordPress itself, but I like the freedom of having my own hosted account. I’ve used the account to host complementary forums, software, etc. i the past and might again. Lunarpages has always been really reliable, good to work with, and it’s about $100 a year to have an account with as many databases, email accounts, and as much bandwidth as I need.
I’m using the free theme Twenty Ten with one of default themes. I’ve switched the theme several times but really like the flexibility of this one. It lets me add widgets and plugins to my hearts content. I haven’t really edited or customized the basic files any so that’s been nice.
Some of the plugins I use are Akismet to control spam, WordPress stats to know what kind of traffic I get, WordPress Automatic Update to keep things easier, and WordPress What’s New to show what has been recently updated on here.
I’ve switched recently to using RootsPersona for the genealogy charts, pages and data. I was using TNG Software, but it doesn’t integrate that will and maintaining basically two separate sites that didn’t communicate well with each other got confusing for me and users. TNG is much more comprehensive a program and I highly recommend it, it just didn’t do what I wanted. RootsPersona lets me do the basics in a nice display. It auto creates pages on the blog for EVERYONE in my database and then I can customize that individual page in pretty much anyway I want. The main downside is whenever I import my gedcom files it can be a real pain. It usually results in me having to redo all the customizing and redo all the internal links. TNG was a bit better at handling that. The basic problem is my main “creation” for my trees is done on ancestry and when I down load the tree from there as a gedcom and upload it here rather than merge people, it creates duplicates. Once I figure out how to handle that, I’ll be a happy blogger. Oh one hint, if you use RootsPersona just keep the living not displayed flag properly checked or you’ll experience major panic when all your living relatives suddenly are listed on your blog site. Anyway, so far, I highly recommend the RootsPersona plugin if you want to do a similar family research blog.
I also recently added Featured Posts Grid. It’s a plug in that finally helped me bring the right look and feel to the blog. It also crashed my previous theme and lead me to change to this one. It’s this plug in that displays the neat little thumbnail pictures at the top of my main page before the posts. I use it to display the “entry person” for each family branch. I picked the most recently deceased ancestor in each family line and consider them the “entry person”. It ends up being grandparents or great grandparents. So any of my cousins etc can find the common ancestor and then use their page to track back through the tree. However, you can use the plug in to feature ANY page in your blog so you could do it many ways, first immigrant, locations, almost anything. EDIT FOR REFERENCE: The code for the plugin goes in the main index template right after the header call.
The most recent plugin is Comprehensive Google Maps. I’m testing it still. It basically creates code you paste in a post that will display a map of the locations you choose. It’s very customizable. I’m probably going to use it to tack maps on people’s pages to display all the places they lived. I think I can also make it show where family branches came from and some other cool things. I wish it drew lines between the pin points but can’t have everything. I was creating some maps through Google maps from scratch, but it was TEDIOUS. This isn’t perfect but it generates the code for me and that’s really nice.
Both Featured Posts and Comprehensive Google Maps are probably intermediate level plugins. All the others a beginner to blogging should be able to use. RootPersona is easy to use for the basics by a beginner and has LOTS of functions and short codes for more advanced use as well. Just read the part about Parent Pages carefully or every single page may show up on your main page. I have the “Parent Page” hidden down several levels and then create my own page relationships manually for display. *
Ok, on to widgets!
The widgets are those little boxes over on the right side of the main page. We already talked about the What’s New one. It show any Page I updated recently. Next is a search box. I think every blog needs one of these. It searches all my posts and pages for keywords like names or locations.
The Tag Cloud shows all the tags I use with the ones with the most posts in bigger type. Kinda cool. The categories box is just a display of the categories I use. And yes, I am bad at consistently using them. I;m trying to go back and add tags and categories to old post and be better at adding them to new ones.
Surname Summary just displays the 10 surnames with the most individuals on pages created by RootsPersona.
Oh, my theme lets me put widgets in different areas like the side or the bottom of the screen. I use only the sidebar ones.
The meta widget just has the WordPress admin things like login etc. Archives just lets you look back at previous posts by month. And finally the links area are links I added I found useful.
Ok there is one final plugin that I LOVE!!! It’s called Press This. It works with your browser and your WordPress blog. Here’s how it works. I’m chugging along searching the internet and find something cool. I don’t want to take the time to write detailed post, but I want to share the information and also make a record of what I found and where. I can click on Press This in my browser, it pops up my blog quick post filled out with a title and has a link and brief description of the web site I’m on as the post content. I can edit the title, add a phrase or two to the post click publish and instant post. Less than a minute and I’m back to my internet searching. Really awesome! Helps me never forget where I found something. These days it’s my best research documentation tool.
That’s the tech in a nutshell.
*Pages versus Posts — Posts are what I write day to day about stuff. Pages are the backbone of the site especially using RootsPersona. I’ve set it up so each person in the tree has his or her own page. That page pretty much never changes unless the gedcom gets updated. Or I make a stylish addition –LOL. I’m adding posts all the time tracking my research. Also, I’ve organized the PAGES in a way I think works really well. It’s basically like this – Grandma is a parent page for great grandma and great granddad. Each of them are parent pages for their parents, etc. Well, that’s the idea. It has to be done manually and I haven’t finished. (all the non direct ancestors basically just stay with the RootsPersona main Parent Page as their Parent Page)
So, here’s what’s cool about doing it this way. Up on the main tabs I created a FAMILIES page and added it to the tabs. That page then is the parent of all the entry people. You hover over it and the entry people pop up, hover the mouse over one of them and their mother and father pop up, move the mouse and hoover over one of them and an older generations pops up. It basically let me create a tree off the tab and you can click any of the names and go to that persons page. You could structure it differently but the key is if each person has a page you can organize them just like on a pedigree chart.