Saturday, December 11, 2010

Navigation Aids for Genealogy Sites

One of the challenges I had in designing a genealogy web site was providing visitors with navigation aids that would let them access and understand the relationships being presented. There are over 7,000 persons included in the site, each presented by an individual narrative. The web site is built using John Cardinal’s SecondSite program, which creates the site directly from my TMG database. SecondSite automatically provides all of the standard hypertext features, including elaborate linking of persons to other persons, and to places and sources. In addition, it builds a master index, a surname index, and a place index with reverse links from a place to persons associated with that place.

The above aids work fine at a micro level, when you are following the details for one individual out of the 7,000+ in the web site. This is probably fine for the viewer who arrives at the site after a search for a name or place. They can quickly navigate around and learn what they want. My Google Analytics results show that to be true, with many viewers arriving after a specific search for an individual and viewing 4 or 5 pages before leaving the site. But what about visitors who get referred to the site through a link? How do you provide a summary of what the site is about, engage their interest, and explain how to access the data contained in the site in a way that is useful and interesting? That is the real challenge in my view.

These are the techniques I currently use on my web site. I am sure they are not adequate, but hopefully they provide a little context for new visitors:
  1. I use a “portal” page as an introduction to the web site, rather than the “main” page generated by SecondSite. This allows me to explain the overall theme of the site and provide links to a number of essays that try to explain some of the stories behind the data (for example, the effects of the Thirty Years War on family interrelationships in the area).
  2. I make extensive use of charts, which are easily created and are a key strength of SecondSite. For each of the original settlers in the Palatine after the Thirty Years War, I provide a descendant chart. For each individual’s narrative, there is a linked list of charts they appear on. Viewing the list for an individual, you quickly see who their ancestors were. Clicking on a chart link takes you to the chart, with the individual’s box highlighted in the upper right hand corner of the page. From there you can navigate around the chart. Clicking on any box takes you to the narrative page for that person with all of the details.
  3.  I provide a set of custom index pages on various themes. These are annotated linked lists of notable individuals. For example, I include a (incomplete) list of first settlers in the area after the Thirty Years War; a list of notable Velten ancestors who lived in the area; the known Velten immigrants to the US; a list of other, related immigrants to the US, etc. These annotated lists act as guides into the set of narratives and hopefully provide some context to aid browsing.
  4. Finally, I have a “What’s new” index, listing the people who are new additions to the site or whose data has been edited. It is an attempt to aid returning visitors to find what has been added on the site.


  1. I use TMG but have yet to try SecondSite to creat a website. Call me chicken....
    I love TMG though - it is a great (if sometimes complicated) program.
    Theresa (tangled trees)

  2. You don't need to publish a web site to benefit from SecondSite. You can view the web pages locally on your PC. Most people discover it is very useful for discovering errors and omissions in your data. And it is very easy to generate a simple web site.