Solutions for Broken Website Links

Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.

Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you. 

broken genealogy website links solutions

I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:

“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.

Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”

That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.

How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared

I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!

Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!

The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!

Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:

1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites

1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.

wayback-machine-result

You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.

One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.

This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages. 

save this page Wayback Machine

To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.

The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.

2. Google Your Question

You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it! And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google. 

If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided. 

Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.   

Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:

  • When did world vital records close?
  • Sunset notice for World Vital Records  
  • Who acquired World Vital Records?

world vital records search

As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details. 

When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.

Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.

3. Google the Content 

As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.

Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.

Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.

Here’s an example of how this works:

In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)

Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.

Obvious, But Not Always 

While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.

Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.

This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?

Lisa Louise CookeAbout the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and columnist for Family Tree Magazine.

Trove: Australia Digitized Newspapers and More

This free video (below) introduces Trove, The National Library of Australia’s online catalog and digital archive for all things Australian. Trove digital archives genealogy

If you have roots in Australia, I hope you are using Trove. When I first covered it in the Genealogy Gems podcast a while back, it was a fairly new resource and I shared how it is chock full of 76 million digitized newspaper articles. Now that number exceeds 200 million records! The site has expanded its other content, too. If you haven’t looked for your Aussie roots on Trove recently, you’re really missing out!

Trove helps you find and use resources relating to Australia. It’s more than a search engine. Trove brings together content from libraries, museums, archives and other research organisations and gives you tools to explore and build.

Trove is many things: a community, a set of services, an aggregation of metadata, and a growing repository of fulltext digital resources.

Best of all, Trove is yours, created and maintained by the National Library of Australia.

Australian genealogy congress bannerThat’s how the site introduces itself, and it sure lives up to its claim. As shown in the video below, Trove lets you search among “zones” of online content:

  • digitized newspapers; journals, articles and data sets;
  • online and offline books, audiobooks, theses and pamphlets;
  • pictures, photos and objects;
  • music, sound and video files;
  • maps, atlases, charts and globes;
  • diaries, letters and personal papers;
  • archived websites;
  • people and organizations; and
  • a zone for user-created lists.

You can browse these zones individually or search them all with a single click. You can search for just items available online, in Australian-only content, or just in libraries you specify. Creating a free user ID allows you to personalize your experience and participate in online forums. From my U.S. perspective, it would be like having the Library of Congress main website and all its offshoots such as Chronicling America rolled up together with WorldCatArchiveGrid, Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine–but focused entirely on my country.

When it comes to those nearly-200 million newspaper articles, you can search these by keyword or browse by newspaper title, state, date, category (article, ad or list) or tag. Refine search results by place, title, Newspaper Book Covercategory, whether illustrated, decade and even the length of the article. You can even sign up to receive alerts to newly-posted material that matches your search criteria.

Remember, newspaper research in genealogy isn’t just about obituaries or wedding anniversary announcements. It’s about understanding the daily lives of our ancestors, and I share more strategies on uncovering these gems in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers (available as an e-book or in print).

Here’s a video from the National Library of Australia with an overview of Trove:

Click here to search newspapers on Trove now.

MORE Australia Genealogy Gems

New Australia Genealogy Records Online

AncestryDNA in Australia and New Zealand

Assisted Immigration: Queensland Passenger Lists

 

 

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. It’s PACKED with European military records from WWII back to the War of 1812. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!

BRITISH POWs IN JAPAN. Over 56,000 records pertaining to the 37,583 British and Commonwealth soldiers released from Japanese captivity in 1945 are now available on Forces War Records. ‘This collection…lists the soldiers, along with the occasional civilian, who endured these conditions. Prisoners were only obliged to provide their name, rank and number so the amount of military information is limited, however the records do include the date of capture, the camp in which they were held and the date of liberation, be that through release, escape or death.”

BRITISH JEWS IN WWI. Findmypast’s new British Jewry Book of Honour 1914-1920 “contains nearly 57,000 color images and transcripts of [an original] two-volume book published in 1922 to record and honor” contributions of more than 50,000 Jews to the British and colonial forces during World War I. “It describes Jewish enlistment, casualties, military honors, Jewish units and the work of Jewish hospitals and other Jewish institutions and agencies. Importantly, it contains alphabetical lists of those killed in action, those who were awarded military honors and the nominal rolls of Jews who served, listed by service and by regiment.”

BRITISH WAR OF 1812. The British Army Casualty Index War of 1812 now at Findmypast “contains the details of over 12,000 soldiers in the British Army who died, deserted, or were imprisoned during the War of 1812 (or the Anglo American War)….Each record consists of a transcript of the original source material that will reveal the soldiers name, birth place, former occupation, rank, regiment or unit, place or action, company officer, company number, removal date and manner of removal – this may include information on how a soldier died or whether he deserted or was a prisoner of war.”

SCOTTISH CHURCH RECORDS. A new Findmypast collection, Scottish Covenanters 1679-1688 contains over 81,000 records of The Covenanters, a “Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland, England and Ireland, during the 17th century….The records list the individuals who signed the Covenant…[and] a transcript created using sources held by The National Archives and the National Library of Scotland…[with] the Covenanter’s name, county, a description (often their occupation or relatives) and place.”

WWII in EUROPE. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has launched a new online database of British, Irish, and Commonwealth WWII casualties. It will now be possible for the first time “to see the original records of all 1.7 million individuals the Commission commemorates.” According to a press release, “The digitized records cover British, Irish and Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War, together with records for most other nationals commemorated at CWGC sites: this includes the records for German soldiers.”

We love seeing all these new genealogy records online every week! The trick is to get the word out about them. Will you help us by sharing this post with others?

Registration for FGS 2018 Is Open

Here’s the latest news from the Federation of Genealogical Societies and their 2018 conference.  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 3 May 2018 – Austin, Texas Registration is open for the Federation of Genealogical Societies Annual Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana 22-25...

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