Tuesday, April 07, 2009

the passion of genealogists

A couple of months ago I published some web pages on archiving stuff. I made them at the request of friends who'd simply asked for some advice. They expected me to email them a short list of resources and -- though thanking me -- were a bit taken aback when I gave them the links. I did the extra work partly because I couldn't think of an easier way to answer their questions without being overly simplistic and partly because I hadn't put together a how-to site before and wanted to give it a try.

It was a coincidence that the two closely-related requests came at about the same time. Both were second-hand: One was on behalf of a small museum-archive run by volunteers the other on behalf of Lithuanian community web sites in foreign countries. The museum-archive is the General William C. Lee Airborne Museum in Nunn, North Carolina. The Lithuanian community is the Lithuanian World Community -- in Lithuanian: Pasaulio lietuvių bendruomenė with centers in 36 counries.

I was told that the museum-archive possessed a mass of disorganized papers, records, and photos and that the volunteers who ran it had little idea how to organize and preserve these holdings. In response I prepared a set of pages which I called A Guide for Organizing, Cataloging, and Preserving Collections of Papers, Photographs, and Other Records. Once I'd done most of the research and had roughed out the design, I got some help from friends to make it more appealing and user-friendly.

I was told that the Lithuanian World Community needed help in preserving the web pages of its member groups, over which there is no central direction or much in the way of coordination. In making this second set of pages, I used the pattern I'd established for the first set and then linked the sets to each other. This set is called A Guide for Archiving Web Pages.

I haven't had any feedback from the target organizations, just the the acknowledgment/thanks from my two friends.

A few weeks after putting up the pages I posted the links to the "What's New" section of a genealogical portal called Cyndi's List. I also put a visible stat tracker on the front page of the first set and a bit later put invisible stat counters on the other pages. Using the stat reports it's since been kind of interesting to watch what happened after the appearance of the links on Cyndi's List.

The first site (Guide for Organizing...) had received a few hits based on Google searches before the appearance on Cyndi's List; the second one had received none at all. Within a day of the posting on CL the first site got hundreds of hits -- over 600 that first week. Since then it has continued to receive a respectable number each day, gradually declining from around 60 a day to five or six.

At first, as you'd expect, they all came from the CL referral -- that is, people clicked through from the CL post to the page I'd made. It's surprised me, however, that I quickly began to see referrals from email messages. People were sending the link to others. Next I saw quite a few hits on the page without any referring page at all. People were typing in the url or using copy/paste rather than clicking the link on Cyndi's list or in an email message.

I also began to notice that people would spend time reading the site and then come back to it later in the day or during the next couple of days. Many would explore all the pages on the site before exiting and many would exit to external pages to which I had provided links.

In all, from the time I began tracking the top page of the "Guide to Organizing ..." site until now, the site has received some 1,434 visits. Because of cookie issues, you can't tell exactly how many of these are "return" visits and how many are "unique" -- that is to say one-time -- visits, but the proportion of one-timers seems to be about 60%. Stats show that the proportion of folks that don't click a link to access the site (the ones who type in the url or use copy/paste) is about 40%.

These numbers differ greatly from others I've seen. My personal blog gets 150-200 hits a day and a very high proportion come from Google searches. Very few have no referring link and very few are returning visits. People spend a short time on the page they've hit and do not generally explore other blog posts. Because it's a blog, people can access it via RSS or ATOM feeds; I don't know how many do that however. Other blogs I've created have specialist appeal like the archive pages, but the niche communities they serve are very small and they consequently receive only a few hits a day.

I'm pretty sure the archive page stats reflect the dedication of the genealogical community in the US. The pages I created are not primary genealogical tools and have only indirect value for genealogists. I didn't make them with the needs of this group in mind and for this reason the interest they hold for people doing this kind of research shows a high level of commitment on their part, not just to the research but to the organization, conservation, and dissemination of their archival holdings and products of research.

Here's the header image, subhead text, and intro section of the top page of the first site.

Advice on Archival Management to Help You Set Up, Maintain, and Provide Access to Small Collections of Personal Papers, Family Records, and Other Holdings

This informal guide is a compilation of information from readily-available sources in online and printed formats. It is an introduction to a complex and difficult subject that is intended to help you organize and preserve collections of papers and other possessions and to make them available for use. As a short introduction by an interested amateur, it does not pretend to be an authoritative reference tool and should not be taken as one.

You can use this brief introduction to archival management as a reference guide, an informal tutorial on setting up a small repository, or as an introduction to a phased approach to organizing and conserving a small family or personal collection. Take a moment to scan the topics that are treated in the following sections.

If your holdings are not extensive, your time limited, and your budget tight, you should probably make a relatively modest first set of steps (as described in the Start Small section) and then decide whether to go further. If you have a relatively large collection on which you have already been working for some time, you might wish to begin somewhere within the tasks that follow the Start Small section.
Here's the header image and intro to the web archiving pages:

This guide for archiving web pages is a component of the Guide for Organizing, Cataloging, and Preserving Collections of Papers, Photographs, and Other Records. It is an introduction to a complex and constantly evolving subject for those who are responsible for relatively small numbers of closely-related web pages. Neither comprehensive nor professionally vetted, it is a brief overview by an interested amateur and is intended as a starting point for research on the topic.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Jeff said...

Thanks, Joannah; I'm glad you like the blog.