History of Cemetery Records Online
by Steve Johnson, April 3, 2009 (originally written March 1, 2000)
Since 1983, I have been involved in online computing, using my old TRS-80 computer and a 300 baud modem. Anyone remember acoustic couplers? Me and my friends would spend hours into midnight hopping from one bulletin board to another.
In 1992 I started researching my ancestry. I spent many weekends driving up to the Los Angeles Family History Center, piecing together my family's past using microfilms and books.
In 1993, now with my aging Atari ST computer, and a speedy 9600 baud modem, I used the old FidoNet bulletin board network to interact with genealogists across the country, sending out e-mails and finding distant cousins.
It wasn't until 1996 that I began surfing the web, searching for ancestors. I was searching for surnames on Alta Vista and found several websites that had cemetery transcriptions. I wanted to find cemetery records for various cemeteries that my ancestors were buried in. But I was not able to find a central directory of cemetery websites. So in March of 1997, I created a web page named "Cemetery Interment Lists on the Internet" as a directory of cemetery web sites that provided online records.
The web page was actually hosted on my personal website that I had created a month earlier. The site was coded by hand using a text editor. I spent several hours each day combing the 'Net for cemetery websites, and organizing the links geographically. I soon broke out the links into separate state pages. With all different pages, I created an external style sheet file to control the design.
I submitted the website to all the major search engines, and wrote to all of the USGenWeb county coordinators. Within 6 months, the site was receiving about 500 visitors a day. Yahoo was the only directory that would not list the site. I later learned it was because the site did not have its own domain name!
Some visitors starting sending actual recordings of tombstone inscriptions that they compiled. I originally had not intended to publish these. At first, I had referred them all to Pam Reid, the creator of the Tombstone Transcription Project. But some of these people specifically wanted me to publish it on Cemetery Interment Lists on the Internet, because they wanted their records to get as much exposure as possible. I had plenty of web space then (a whole 5Mb) and went ahead and published them.
By December of 1998, the site was receiving about 800 visitors a day. The server that hosted my personal home page could not adequately support the traffic. It was just one of those slow servers that hosted the freebie webspace you got as part of your dial-up ISP account. I needed a faster server and more space.
I registered the "interment.net" domain, and set up a site with Hostpro. I also purchased Microsoft Frontpage 98, and converted the entire site to a Frontpage web. I submitted the site to Yahoo, and this time it was accepted. By March of 1999, the site's 2nd birthday, we were getting about 1,500 visitors. The Yahoo listing really made a difference.
Because of the change in domain names, I had to contact the webmasters of all the websites that linked to ours. I was able to run searches on AltaVista to find about 300 of these sites. Most of the webmasters complied with the change. I figure there is still another 300 sites out there still linking to the old URL. In fact, I still have the old site up, but all the pages are redirecting to the new domain. The old site continues to be one of our largest referrers of visitors.
By the following June, several visitors were sending me their cemetery transcriptions. At the same time, I was finding that so many of the websites that I was linking to had moved to different domains, thus breaking the links. I made the decision to focus on publishing cemetery records. Linking to other sites became a secondary focus.
On June 6, 1999, in order to support the new goal of publishing records, the site went through another major redesign, and was renamed to "Cemetery Records on the Internet".
Up until July 1999, the site was funded by my own personal finances, which was next to nothing. But now, it was costing me. The site demanded so much of my time, and the mostly hosting fees also cutting into our budget, I began selling advertising space to offset the costs.
In July 1999, The Cemetery Column was born, to serve as an electronic journal of articles covering topics relating to cemetery records, cemetery preservation, cemetery history, and general genealogy. I wanted to create the Column to serve as a dedicated media outlet for cemetery recordists.
On December 1, 1999, traffic reached 2,000 unique visitors per day. The server we were hosted on was creating a bottleneck, causing difficulty to some visitors. We moved the site to its own dedicated server. In addition, we began developing the site using Macromedia's Dreamweaver, and launched the fourth design. On top of all that, the was renamed to "Cemetery Records Online".
It was also around this time Maggie Rail joined us to help out. She had previous experience publishing cemetery transcriptions online with the Washington State GenWen Archives. Eventually, she took over operations here at Interment.net as the editor.
By 2001, with Maggie holding down the publishing duties I was able to focus more attention building publicity through magazines like Family History Magazine and others, electronic newsletters like RootsWeb, and doing smaller publicity arrangements with other websites and organizations. Visitorship to Interment began soaring in the Summer of 2001, until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which caused visitorship to plummet for the next several months.
It wasn't until January of 2003 that visitorship caught back up and surpassed the levels saw in Summer of 2001, and then soared again hitting a high point of about 16,000 visitors per day in March 2003. But a couple months later, Google, the most popular search engine at that time, made radical changes to its search algorithm, and suddenly traffic to Interment plummeted over the next several months, hitting lows of about 7,000 visitors per day by September 2003.
The next several months saw an "up and down" rollercoaster traffic patterns, where visitorship hit highs of 16,000 per day, and then Google making more algorithm changes, bringing it back down as low as 7,000.
In May of 2005, I incorporated web publishing operations into a company called Clear Digital Media, Inc.
To remedy the up and down "rollercoaster" like traffic patterns created by Google's constant algorithm changes, we converted the What's New page into a weblog in November 2005, and converted the Cemetery Column into another weblog in February 2006, to escape some of the penalties that Google scores inadvertently on websites that shouldn't be penalized. Thus far it appears to be working, as visitorship is peaking again, reaching highs into the 17,000 range.
Converting the What's New page and the Cemetery Column into a weblog format also automated many of our manual tasks, and brought us access to a whole new world of weblog search engines and RSS syndication.
As of today, April 2009, Interment.net continues to be within the top 15 of the most popular FREE genealogy websites. Though several more genealogy websites, both free and commercial have appeared, giving us lots of competition, Interment continues to push on giving cemetery transcribers and genealogy researchers a place to find online burial records.
- Steve Johnson
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