Friday, January 6, 2017
Growing Portals are Genealogical Super-Source Finders
A "portal" is a website that creates a doorway to a collection of other websites. The portal may be passive or active. A passive portal may be as simple as a list of websites on a certain topic or organized in some fashion. Although the organization is helpful, the portal itself is the organizational structure. A passive portal is different than a search engine in that a search engine actively add content through robotic programs. For example, Google has a search engine that creates what is essentially an index of the internet. Some of the larger portals, by their very nature, accumulate links to resources that are extremely valuable for genealogical researchers. The distinction between an active and passive portal is merely a reference to their function and has no direct bearing on their value to genealogical researchers. For genealogists, a website such as Cyndi's List is an extensive, although passive portal. It is a vast index to genealogically significant websites and has for years proved to be extremely valuable.
The website, OldMapsOnline.org, is an example of an active portal. In this case, the OldMapsOnline.org website has a search engine that lets the user define a specific geographic area and then supplies a list of maps from links to over 400,000 maps from around the internet. Portals generally do not have "content" of their own, but they link to "sources" Each of the websites linked by the OldMapsOnline.org website have their own search engines. Some of the websites are also portals and connect to their own indexed collection of secondary websites.
The distinction between active and passive portals is a matter of the degree to which the portal itself assists or actively searches for the links and provides direct access to the records or documents. Active portals usually have a list of their "partner" or associated websites. Here is a screenshot of part of the list on the OldMapsOnline.org website:
No such "participating Institutions" are necessary for a passive portal to list its links. In this case, the active part of the portal searches the collections of the participating institutions for relevant content. In the case of Cyndi's List, Cyndi Ingle has been accumulating her index of online genealogy sources for many years and has over 70,000 genealogically important websites in her index. On Cyndi's List, the genealogical researcher is linked to the individual websites but must then search each of the websites individually.
On the other hand, the OldMapsOnline.org website may be a valuable resource for genealogists, but the website is also useful for a broad range of other interests. But the website leads the researcher to specific documents and records, i.e. maps. Both ends of the spectrum of portals assist researchers by organizing information across many different websites. OldMapsOnline.org would be listed as a valuable website on Cyndi's List, but OldMapsOnline.org would make no mention of genealogy per se. Here is a screenshot showing the link from Cyndi's List to OldMapsOnline.org.
Some genealogical portals are more extensively organized and provide additional services. One such very active portal is The Family History Guide. This website is structured and sequenced educational and teaching resource that contains valuable information, forms, and other items in addition to organizing, indexing and linking to external content in specific websites. Here is a screenshot of a page from The Family History Guide:
There are, in fact, portals to portals. One of these websites is The Digital Public Library of America. This fast growing website links both to specific items in its list of participating institutions but also incorporates other portals. For example, here is a screenshot of The Digital Public Library of America's participating institutions or partners.
Several of the "partners" on the list are also portals to other institutions. For example, the Mountain West Digital Library is a major portal in its own right.
The advantage of The Digital Public Library of America is that it provides a search engine to the content of the participating portal and other institutions known as "partners."
A Google search for "genealogy portals" will produce a very short list of pertinent websites, but in reality, there are perhaps thousands of genealogically valuable portals. Since the word "portal" has alternative meanings and is commonly used in a variety of ways, searching on Google for "portals" results in over a billion entries. That is one reason why I occasionally come back to this issue of portals and continue to highlight and mention some of the ones that have proved to be of the most value to genealogists. When you find such a portal, it is imporatant to remember it and use it when it becomes relevant.