Saturday, December 29, 2007

A lesson in broken links

Recently someone submitted several new links through the form on Cyndi's List. There are several guidelines for submitting new links. Three of the points read as follows:
  • First verify the address before submitting it.
  • Type the address carefully for complete accuracy.
  • For error-free submissions, use the "copy & paste" function on your computer to highlight and copy the address from your web browser window and paste it into the text box below.
That seems straight-forward to me. The links are automatically added to a waiting area page on Cyndi's List (What's New) and they are sent to me to be forwarded to the mailing list. So, if links are submitted I assume the submitter is following the guidelines. I also assume the submitter cares about the link(s) they are submitting, thus the reason they submit. Well, you know that old saying about why I should never assume anything.

Links are often submitted to my site without much care. Incorrect URLs (addresses), no descriptions, poor descriptions, misspelled words, lack of've heard some of this from me before. But, that isn't what this message is about today. Today it is only about the incorrect addresses that cause broken links.

I don't normally pick on specific people or instances, but this one is still haunting me today, over a month and a half later, with dozens of e-mails coming to me to report the failed links. On November 15th someone submitted a link for each US state to a site called 51 new links (don't forget DC). Of those 51 links, 43 links were submitted with bad addresses and are broken. Further, the submitter didn't use consistent descriptions, so they obviously weren't merely doing a copy and paste (if so, the description would probably have been the same over and over again). 43 broken links, newly submitted, means extra work for me to now fix them on my What's New page for November (; 43 links are forever broken in the mailing list archives (; there are numerous wasted e-mails back and forth reporting the broken links to me; and a bunch of wasted time for all of you who tried to use those links. In the end, the broken links defeated the purpose of submitting them to my site in the first place--to get visitors to that site.

Now to the lesson in broken links. If you encounter a broken link you might be able to find the correct address yourself by looking carefully at the URL. In this case, the broken links resulted because the submitter put the first letter in the name of the state in uppercase instead of all lowercase letters. For example, they submitted this:
when it should have been this:
Another issue with the link for New York was easy to spot. It was uppercase, but they also left off the hyphen used in the two-word names for other links. For example, they submitted this: York
when it should have been this:

Another thing you can do is break down the address and move up directories to the main directory. In the examples above, just backtrack through the address, removing first the state name:
In this example you are taken to a page which is an index of all of the links to each state page. If this example hadn't worked we could just backtrack more through the address and go to the main homepage at:
If you haven't already learned these tricks, start looking at URLs for web sites to see if you might figure out broken links that you happen upon. I'm off to fix the links on the What's New page.

Successful surfing!


Anonymous said...


I know many people who have had major computer problems towards the end of 2007, including hard drive crashes. You will get through it. I did notice a link that does not work for December, the very last entry beginning Hughes, etc. Despite all the difficulties you really do a fantastic job. I applaud you for your wonderful web site. I check it everyday. You have the most comprehensive list of resources anywhere. I linked to one of the new sites you had for January and was lucky enough to find a huge amount of information on my family through the Ohio Cemetary listings, mostly information I did not already have. Persistence pays off. I have been to some of the sites before, without any real luck, but all of the sites are constantly updating and adding information. It is nice to know there is one place, your site, that pulls it all together. Thank you so much for your dedication, and having the drive and passion to pursue your love of genealogy, and make it so much easier and more fun for the rest of us genealogy buffs.

Frank 'Wizard' LaLonde said...


I echo the praise anonymous gives your site. I've used it quite a bit, and it was actually the first genealogy web site I ever visited. As to bad links...I take the attitude that ____ happens. I normally try some of the steps you advise (such as backtracking through the URL). Sometimes this works, sometimes not. And as for the upper-case/lower-case dilemna (sp?), again...this may require going to the root directory (ie: I have also noticed that in the past (not recently), a URL will not work unless it's preceeded with a prefix such as 'www.' I do sympathize with you over the extra work, but I assume the person who submitted those 'bad links' had good intentions. That doesn't help much, but it may take some of the sting out of it. Anyways, thank you again, and please keep up the good work.