Expanding Our On-Line Footprint

Programmer At Work

Programmer At Work

Over the past few weeks I’ve performed a major upgrade to our small home on the Internet in the form of a genealogy section. This is a project I’ve been wanting to do ever since I re-launched this website, and finally took yet another plunge. It’s already turned into a big project, but one that’s well worth doing.

I was inspired in part to launch this new site because a few months ago I received several boxes of Dad’s papers from my brother Howard. Howard had been storing Dad’s belongings ever since Dad passed in February 2004, and this past summer finally got around to going through it. He discovered a lot of genealogy material that Dad had collected in his last years, really good information that took a lot of research.  I have also amassed a lot of old photographs and family information over the past years from other relatives and really want to share it on-line.

The genealogy site is a proprietary software package named “The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding” (TNG), and has been around for at least 15 years. It’s probably one of the better genealogy packages available for small sites like this one. I had used an earlier version of this software on the previous PHPNuke powered website so I went into this project knowing what I was getting into. Which is different than most projects I launch.

The TNG software is built as a stand-alone website system, but does offer the ability to integrate it into other popular open source packages including WordPress. At least in theory. The earlier incarnation offered the ability to integrate into PHPNuke, but it did not integrate well. Given how flexible WordPress is I’d hoped to have more luck this time around.

I purchased the package and performed the down load about one month ago, and that was the last part of the installation to go well. First up, I had to upload the several hundred TNG files to my server. The normal utility to use for this is FTP, but the last time I used my FTP software was before I migrated to my present host. After a week of screwing around trying to figure out FTP settings, I discovered my host had a built-in utility for uploading mass quantities of files. I cheerfully dumped my FTP utility.

Next up was performing the configuration. The TNG package does include an on-line configuration function, but I could not get it to come up. The problems seemed to be file permissions to the TNG home directory I created for the package. After another week of messing with it, out of pure desperation, I renamed the TNG home directory to a name other than the recommended default name, and everything worked. I remain baffled; but I did give a small prayer of thanks to the Gods of the Internet for bestowing their favors upon me.

Once past that hurdle the installation went smooth. Right up until I moved to the TNG – WordPress integration. The integration includes a module that gets loaded into WordPress as a plugin. I performed the plugin installation, stepped through the configuration procedure, and excitedly pulled up the WordPress page that would display the integrated TNG homepage. The WordPress page was blank, completely free of any TNG software. Then I discovered the TNG plugin was causing my WordPress site to crash.

I spent another week on the TNG help forums hoping someone could provide clues to my integration problems. Although I received some helpful suggestions, nothing helped. As best as I can tell, the integration is dependent upon the particular WordPress theme selected, and I didn’t have the magic theme that would work. Not being willing to redo my theme, I regrouped and took a different track.

I’ve opted to go with running TNG as a separate sub-domain, appropriately configured as “genealogy.charest.net.” I’ve built some links in the TNG site back to this website, and built links here to connect to the TNG site. I actually think this two linked site approach might work better than trying for a full integration. I suspect as time goes on my genealogy site will take on it’s own “personality,” and will need to be developed separate from the blogs and photo albums on this site.

The TNG package doesn’t have the flexibility of themes the way WordPress does. It does offer a small selection of built-in themes, none of which I particularity like so I went with the least ugly choice. Strike one up for open-source vs. proprietary software. The TNG themes can be user-modified but that requires going into the configuration files and editing PHP scripts, something I don’t have the energy to do right now. I’m putting TNG customization on my To-Do list for when I’m really bored. Expect to not see any genealogy site appearance changes for few years…

Last week I started uploading new genealogy information.  All told, I have the makings of building a pretty nice genealogy site, given that I find the time to upload everything.

So please feel free to jump over to our new companion website “Our Family History: Genealogy of the Charest Family” and explore. The Charest family has an interesting family history, one that I’m very proud to be a part of.

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Ron Charest

About Ron Charest

Ron is a native New Yorker and 22 year Navy veteran. He retired from active duty in 1996 and went on to build a successful post-Navy career in logistics. Ron currently works for a major Government consulting firm based in Washington D.C., and together with his wife Weifang make their home in Northern Virginia.