graveyards.com Blog

Graveyards.com v4.0


Graveyards of Chicago (v1.0) went online 20 August 1996.  A typical web site of its era, it consisted only of "Static HTML" - that is, each page existed in its entirety on the server, each file having its own copy of such stylistic elements as headers, footers, copyright date & author info, and colours and fonts specified in the document itself.  Such pages are easy to create, but difficult to maintain - but in the mid nineties there weren't many alternatives.  The files were generated with scripts that I'd run on the server immediately after writing content and uploading photos; these would put the page components together to pregenerate complete pages.

This evolved into what I now call Graveyards.com v2.0, about 2003.  Obtaining the USGS data set for Illinois, I loaded all of these points into a MySQL database and wrote simple PHP scripts for viewing a list of cemeteries by county and the individual cemetery records.  Having latitudes and longitudes, I added a map feature. The site name changed from "Graveyards of Chicago" to "Graveyards of Illinois" to reflect the focus on the entire state.

With Graveyards.com v2.5 in 2008, PHP gave way to Perl; and Graveyards.com was used more and more as the site's preferred name.  The site's features were essentially the same as the previous release, and there continued to be a split between the static sections (the original 1996 content) and the database-backed graveyard lists. The ugly homebrew maps were replaced with Google Maps

In 2010 I stopped using Perl altogether, as did much of the programming community, as it became eclipsed by the rapidly rising Ruby on Rails framework.  Graveyards.com v3.0 replaced the Perl and PHP pages with a Rails 3 application, though still using the same database structures as before - some of which were not compliant with Rails best practices.  To this version I added several small features, such as ability to search for a cemetery by name, and - on release of the book - lookup by QR code.

Even though now built on a modern framework, the site still had many legacy issues (foremost of these being an archaic method of naming and finding uploaded photos), and as I realized tackling this would be a huge project, the web site stagnated for several years.  That wasn't wasted time, though - I directed my energies instead toward writing my half of the book, Graveyards of Chicago.

I began planning Graveyards.com v4.0 about 2013, while working on the book, but didn't begin working on it in earnest until early 2014.  After a few false starts, I decided to start afresh - with a new Rails 4.1 project, a new empty database, a new CSS framework - and use migration scripts to copy data from the old legacy database and filesystem, transforming it into a clean, modern, and standards-compliant structure as I did so.  I also published the source code on github for all to see - as a gift of sorts to others who might be contemplating a similar site.

Graveyards.com v4.0 launched on Memorial Day, May 26 2014.  Though some content is still in its original 1996 form (the "Featured Sites" section is 1990s-style static HTML), I have plans for importing this into a database and building modern tools for editing and presenting this content.  In July, I added user login capability, which will eventually lead to a more open and community-oriented site.

Now that the web site is, for the first time since the 1990s, on a solid, modern foundation using the best available tools, I expect to add content and improve functionality on a regular basis.