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Reference Centre, Planning, Website Review

Cyndi's List   rating of three gold shieldsGShield-onehalf.jpg - 1416 Bytes

Cyndi Howell and her husband deserve a tremendous vote of thanks for providing this link service freely. They also have to be admired for their tenacity in continuing to routinely, albeit slowly, service the list. I would imagine that the commitment of time and resources in maintaining a website of its' size and complexity could easily become overwhelming.

Cyndi's List was one of the first internet sites to organize links specifically for use by genealogists. To this day, the list can serve a valuable function as a direction post for many researchers. I also refer many newbies to Cyndi's List 'county pages' for a quick start - quick access to relevant sites. However, as one becomes more sophisticated in their search this link site becomes less and less important as a primary launching pad. Yet, ironically, the more sophisticated one becomes in their search, the more that researcher needs to review some of Cyndi's List undiscovered regions.

The first issue that needs to be addressed concerning Cyndi's List is its' complexity. It appears to be well organized along a hierarchical structure with a main index linking through to individual country pages, which, in turn, link through to individual county, provincial or state pages. Its' clean structure allows one to navigate quickly to the topic of interest and on to links that may be of benefit within that topic.

However, there appears to be a disconnect between the categories that can be reached from the home page via the link to "Categories" in the top menu of the page and those that can be reached via the "Browse Categories Alphabetically" links at the bottom of the home page. For instance, after clicking on the top menu link to "Categories" a list of alphabetically-arranged categories appears where one will find a link to topics concerning the "United Kingdom & Ireland". But, using the "Browse Categories Alphabetically" links at the bottom of the home page one cannot directly reach "England" without first browsing under the letter "U" for United Kingdom. Furthermore, using the "Browse Categories Alphabetically" links is confusing in itself in that all categories of topics beginning with the letter "H", for example, are not included in that list of links. This list of links includes subjects such as heraldry, Hit a brick wall?, Homesteads, Huguenots, et cetera, but no geographical places such as Hertfordshire or Hungary. Consequently, one could easily see something of interest in this list that may be overlooked on the "Categories" menu item simply because one did not think to look on both indices for a particular topic. Conversely, one could entirely miss a geographical place if relying solely on the "Browse Categories Alphabetically" links at the bottom of the home page. The "Browse Categories Alphabetically" links need to include every single item of a particular beginning letter that can be found on the site.

The "Categories" menu item is the primary gateway to pages concerning individual countries. Be aware, though, that if you are searching on this index for a link to a country such as Hungary or Estonia that such a country may have been included in either the Eastern or Western Europe, or Baltic States listings. The links to Eastern Europe and Western Europe are not indexed consistently. Where Western European countries have been specified under that heading, countries that have been included under the heading of Eastern Europe have not been specified. This would leave a newbie in a considerable quandry if he or she were searching for a link to Hungary, for instance, as such a link is to be found nowhere on the site.

Problematic, too, in Cyndi's List are the links from her page to independent websites. Websites are assembled, removed and ferried from server-to-server faster than one can write their own name. Cyndi's List has grown to such a size and complexity that much lag time exists between the premier of a new website and the link to that site actually making it on to Cyndi's List pages. Lag time also occurs between the removal of a website or switch to a new URL (uniform resource locater) of a website. Most independent website owners do not take the time to inform any linkers of their demise. Neither are they likely to inform any linkers of a switch of domains or ISPs (internet service providers). Favourite links that were initially found on Cyndi's List have long since been bookmarked or added to favourites' lists. Fresh links to debut websites and otherwise relatively new resources are found on more popular and frequently-visited websites and mailing lists. Alternative link pages, for example Genuki and GenWebs, which have a more focused relevance - translate this to mean 'quick-access-to-hard-data' - to a search are found, bookmarked and quickly override the links found in Cyndi's List pages.

As researchers continually return to favourite websites they are alerted to changes to that site, including removal, updates and any changes in the URL (uniform resource locator), mergers, acquisitions and divestments of genealogy resources and companies. Little wonder, then, that a proportion of the links found throughout the pages of Cyndi's List will be defunct. This is not a problem that is unique to Cyndi's List. This is a net-wide problem and defunct links will be found on just about every site. In the case of at least one evolution, 1837Online, it is still shown as such in Cyndi's List. The link to Find My Past, which evolved from 1837Online, does function though it probably relies on a robust redirect from the Find My Past website rather than an updated link on Cyndi's List end.

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