Building a Society Archive

For some time now I’ve been looking for a way to make an area genealogical society’s quarterly article index available online. They have been in operation for more than 50 years so you can imagine that there’s much to index. One member spent weeks compiling it as a spreadsheet. It’s an impressive piece of work, and an easy format to export to almost any database. The problem was finding an online database app that could give them a searchable, sortable index on their site.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon an amazing WordPress plugin called TablePress. It makes building beautiful data tables as simple as uploading an Excel spreadsheet. When the first row of the spreadsheet contains the column headers, TablePress uses that to define the columns in your data table. The Import function lets you choose to create a new data table, replace an existing one or append to an existing one. That last option means their article index can be easily updated after each issue is released.

TablePress01

Once a data table has been built, all it takes is a simple shortcode to place it on a page. As you can see in the example above, you can have text on the page with the data. I was delighted to see how beautifully styled my table was when it was first displayed. And, there is a facility built into the plugin to edit the CSS if I wish.

Simple data edits can be done online in WordPress’s Dashboard, however the size of our index data table makes that a tediously slow process. On the front end, that same data table displays quickly and both searches and sorts – visitors can sort the table by clicking the up/down icons in the table headings – are almost instantaneous.

Since the article index isn’t the only data table they plan to include, I’ve installed a separate WordPress site just for the archives. I don’t want the archives impacting the society’s site performance or vice versa so this just makes sense. By using the same theme and duplicating the site menu on both sites, most visitors won’t even notice.

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Once installed, a new TablePress section is added to the WordPress dashboard. Here you can create and manage your data tables. Once a table has been created, you’ll find each record displayed in the Table Content section. In the example above there’s only one record – the column headings. This is also where you can edit those records, but as I said earlier, that is a rather clunky process.

TablePress02a

Here you can see how easy it is to add a table using the import function. For the quarterly index, there was almost 3500 records so I chose to import them in blocks of 400 records. Each new block was appended to the existing table. This is also how we will add new records as each quarterly is released. Since most of our society’s staff and volunteers are comfortable using spreadsheets, this means they can continue working with familiar tools to maintain this and any additional data tables we should add. It will require a review of the spreadsheet’s structure to insure it is “presentable” as an online data table and that it has appropriate columns for things like tags [I love tags!] or links to outside sources.

Right off I can see this society using TablePress for cemetery inventories. Since a TablePress data table is placed on a normal WordPress page, they could have a page for each cemetery. That page could begin with a history of the cemetery and then place the inventory data table below the intro. Records could even include links to outside content – like a Find-A-Grave page if one exists. That’s only the beginning . . .

There’s still much to learn about this very impressive plugin. Looks like I have found a fascinating project to keep me busy.

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What do you think?