Letters from the Front | My Grandfather’s Letters 1914-1919 is a tribute to John Adams of the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, from his letters from 1914-1919, preserved for all time on the web by his grandson of the same name. This John Adams calls himself, “John the Geologist.”
The site is on WordPress and it categorizes the content in some ways worth sharing to help us all learn better about how to blog our family’s history.
A WordPress site is made up of posts which are timely bits of content, the day-to-day articles and news, and Pages, with a capital P, which are the pseudo static “timeless” content such as your About, Contact, Policies, and other web pages. The posts are grouped by categories, using WordPress Custom Post Types.
John’s created “Letters from the Front” with the main navigation set by the categories, representing the years in which the letters were written.
This is highly unusual but appropriate as the category years chronologically showcase the story of John’s grandfather’s years in the army during World War I.
The front page of the site is static, featuring images of documents, letters, postcards, and photographs that point towards subcategories covering key events in each year. The Training subcategory is under the category 1915 and covers the time of his military training with pictures and stories of his fellow soldiers and training adventures.
What is more unusual is the fact that the posts are dated according to the letters and postcards date. It is as if his grandfather were blogging his experience back in 1914.
Most of the posts feature a Google Map pointing to the place described and from which the letter was sent. When available, his grandson adds details that add a little more information to the story in brackets, helping us keep track of the storyline.
This is a magical adventure in the usage of WordPress as a genealogy and family history and preservation site, as well as a beautiful and lovingly preserved bit of family history, and one person’s story of World War I.
Using WordPress to Create the Site
The grandson presented the story and techniques behind the site at WordCamp UK 2012, which caught my eye.
The subsite of his main WordPress site uses the Custom Post Types in WordPress to create the unique taxonomy – the ordering and categorizing of the content through the use of a breadcrumb style, grouping the posts under specific categories (tags or taxonomies) in accordance to the years, dates, location, and general timeline.
It also uses multiple authors, all deceased authors, to tell the story, along with back-dating the posts to keep the timeline perspective real, also in keeping with the story.
The challenges of creating posts dated back to 1914 were met with a bug in WordPress that prevented posts from being dated back past 1970. Luckily, this was resolved, allowing Grandson John to back-date the posts. Think of the possibilities for that in family history storytelling!
John also created a Custom Post Type for Field Postcards, which resemble the original Field Postcards, cards printed up for the soldiers to send to their family and friends to report on their status. The originals have aged and blurred over time and his virtual recreations are spot on, as he showcases in the slideshow.
The slideshow highlights other techniques and WordPress Plugins he used to create the site. They include:
- default-sort-ascend WordPress Plugin to change the sort order of the posts to keep the in chronological order rather than the traditional reverse chronological order.
- WP Geo WordPress Plugin to create the Google Maps with the points of interest set from within the WordPress post.
- Post Type Convertr WordPress Plugin which converts a post to a different post type, excellent for helping sort posts into Custom Post Types.
- WP SIMILE Timeline WordPress Plugin to create a timeline of posts and image links for a lifestream timeline.
- An Author Bio Widget and Plugin that features the author information on the posts. You may test and choose from those featured in Managing Multiple Authors: Showcasing the Authors to find the one that most meets your needs. See also, “Genealogy Blog: Blog Contributors – Wanted Dead or Alive” for tips and techniques for add deceased authors to your WordPress family history site.
He also used the following WordPress Plugins related to GEDCOM files to display family trees and genealogy files from his family history/genealogy software.
- RootsPersona WordPress Plugin
- rootsPress WordPress Plugin
- Genealogy WordPress Plugin
- WP Family Tree WordPress Plugin
With the power and flexibility of WordPress, combined with new WordPress Plugins to help family historians and genealogists, I’ll be on the look out for new and interesting uses of WordPress on family history sites for us to learn from.
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