There are so many things that can be done with a WordPress site, this particular article goes into yet another branch of that development. The “sky is the limit” as we say here. In this particular instance our client had a database that was hard to navigate and work on from the backend of WordPress due to the software that was used to maintain and display the information. It was also probably slowing the site down in ways as well due to how all of the data was actually stored.
When we onboarded Loutit Library of Grand Haven, MI we gave them the usual red carpet treatment and made sure to take care of all of the main pain points in their web endeavors. This particular project is based around the genealogy department and the archives that they maintain. As of this writing they maintain and make available oral recordings, historical atlases, and birth / marriage / death records. Each of these archives required a different kind of build to make it efficient for the end user as well as the client that would be maintaining them.
As mentioned above there were two main pain points that the library and it’s staff had to deal with. The main one was customer service, obviously that was remedied right away. Having a web developer / host that is available is extremely important and that’s one of our main operation standards. We understand that your business is important to you and we make sure that we are available to help keep it running.
The other pain point, the one that is addressed in this article, is the fact that they had a archive system that only one person could maintain due to the complex nature of the setup, and that one person was the developer. Unfortunately that isn’t going to work by any stretch of the imagination. When we build sites we build them so that the client can run and change things on their own, ownership is very important.
For these improvements we had several hurdles to clear to make sure that it all webbed together and still provided a good experience for the end user. The atlas images as well as the oral histories were the simpler things that we did in this.
Since we have a lot of different files that are important to these archives we used Google Drive as our cloud source and prepared everything there to be connected to the site and served there. With the API connection we were able to keep the storage of the server a little less cluttered and the data more secure and more easily spun up for the user.
Atlases are shown as lightbox images and the oral histories are playable on the website by the user. All loading fairly fast thanks to our connection. All of the files are hosted on the cloud and accessed by the user when necessary.
With the simpler things out of the way what I would think as the fun part comes in. The obituaries, marriages and death tables. One would think that creating these in a spreadsheet and simply linking them into the website would be super easy, and in fact doing just that is. It’s also not effective nor scalable unless a user has cached the site and the cache were to not get refreshed.
In order to create three connected databases of 80,000+ lines of data that continues to grow daily that can continue to be built upon in the future was where the challenge lies. With that all of the data had to be able to be called to the site in quick manner so that the user doesn’t have to wait for a super long time to be able to load into the site. Lastly, it all has to be usable by the person doing the historical research .
To put it simply we took the source material and manipulated it through Google Sheets in a number of ways using several files and organizations. Some may say that there are other ways that this can be done however through my research and planning of the project my main goal was to make sure that the setup was able to process quickly, and most importantly be scalable for the future as the database continues to expand. With the way the database is currently setup and displayed there are no necessary changes for at least 20 years conservatively, data just needs to be input.
Even though the genealogy database looks as though it may be somewhat complex it actually has a lot of room to grow still in terms of other capabilities that could be added to it if necessary, especially for statistics etc. which is one of the nicer aspects of having it broken into the pieces that it is that all work together. At any point data can be extracted and branched off for further manipulations if necessary for different kinds of research.
As always this site was originally put together with Dog Ear Marketing Web Design doing the design and layout of the site while I worked with the backend functionality that allows it to be the workhorse that it is. Throughout my career everyone always wonder why I take on these “odd” and extensive tasks to make WordPress work so hard and it’s because we can. We can make WordPress do things that others choose to pass up or create other solutions for that create fragmentation on business websites. I look forward to expanding this project specifically as the genealogy department expands further making more knowledge available to the general public.