Build a table of contents for your blog

Badge-BlogBytesAs we all know, a blog site presents its content in reverse sequential order. This is great for news or journal type blogs, but not the best for organizing a family history blog. Most blog platforms offer a page feature – the ability to create a page outside the blog’s sequential structure – which can be used to create your own table of contents.

Blogger page as table of contents

Blogger page showing page navigation at top of theme.

Blogger provides up to 10 pages (including the About page) which can be used however you see fit. In this example, I’ve created a page for my Chattooga County Barkers and added their family tree at the top of the page. I’m beginning to build links to specific stories already published in the blog. One of the beauties of building your own table of contents is that you don’t have to limit your links to your site. For example, I’ve got a family tree for these Barkers at WeRelate containing the genealogical details. Even though I don’t control that information (any WeRelate user can add to those pages), they are still the definitive resource for my family record so I’ll link each family group to their respective WeRelate page. Selected stories are posts I’ve written on my blog about specific family members, events or traditions. As I write more stories to “flesh out” a family’s history, I can easily reorganize these links into a different order to better present that family’s story.

WordPress users have the advantage of a complete paging system giving you the ability to build any number of family pages for each family you are researching and include some narrative while also using it as a table of contents for your blog articles and outside links. Pages have their own navigational system which can be displayed as top menus or sidebar menus, depending on your theme. And, best of all, WordPress offers nested pages which give you the ability to present your history in the traditional tree format.
WordPress pages editor

In this example, you can see that the Barker, Barrett and Gervais pages are children of the Family History page. The Gervais page serves as a parent of the South Carolina and Texas pages. My plan is to combine narrative with links on each of these pages. The view you see here is within the admin area of the platform. I can insert additional pages at any location within this structure when I have content to publish. For example, once I develop enough research to include a Mississippi “chapter” to my Gervais story (It was a long stop on the way to Texas.), I can insert it into it’s logical place between South Carolina and Texas.

Page AttributesCreating this hierarchy is simple. In the Page Attributes box in the right sidebar, select the page that will be this page’s parent and choose the order it will appear under that parent. In this example, I’m working on the Texas page which will be the second child of the Gervais page. When I’m ready to add the Mississippi page, it will become the second child and Texas will be edited to become the third. It’s that easy! The only drawback is that a page must be published before it can be selected as a parent. If it’s not ready for prime time, you can reset it to draft once you’ve made the connection to your child pages.

Even Tumblr offers pages although you’ll need to edit your theme to get to them. I’ve found that using a page to present a tag cloud – along with some text explaining what a tag cloud is – works almost as well as a traditional table of contents. This example is from my Genealogy 101 blog. You’ll find a tag cloud generator with instructions at heatherrivers.com.

Gen101tagcloud

Check to see what page options your blog platform supports and take advantage of them to spotlight your family stories while making them easier for your family to find.

Jetpack: Widget Visibility

The Widget Visibility tool in the Jetpack plugin can be very useful. It makes it possible to place a widget so it’s only visible in certain situations. For example, I’m building a digital library [see Society Journal for details] for my genealogy society. It consists of a WordPress page to introduce the library and each library item is a WordPress post assigned to the Library category and using tags to define the subject matter. I’m also using a defined set of tags to build a menu of sections – like histories, memoirs, genealogies and military. Additional tags are added to each item to further define its content.

digital library page

The main page of our digital library.

Here you can see the library’s menu widget posted as part of the page content and in the sidebar you see the tag cloud widget. I also want the menu and tag cloud to appear in the sidebar of every library item post. Jetpack’s Visibility makes that happen.

tag cloud widget

The tag cloud widget with the Visibility panel displayed.

Here you see the tag cloud widget. I have clicked the Visibility button that appears right next to the Save button on all widgets when Jetpack’s Widget Visibility feature is activated. The gray panel just above those buttons is the Visibility panel. First I set visibility to show this widget when a post assigned to the Library category is displayed then I clicked the Add item at the far right which displayed another set of options. I used it to display a Page and then chose the library’s home page. Save the widget and I’m done.  Note that I can choose from category, author, tag, date or page as items to determine visibility. Once that selection is mad, the second option will present choices based on that option. For example, when I chose Category, the “is” drop-down displayed each post category I had defined in this blog.

In the example I’ve given here, I’m using menus, categories and tags to organize a diverse collection of records and publications, but these tools can also be put to good use to organize your growing collection of family stories into an online genealogy. Thanks to Jetpack and the Widget Visibility feature, pulling it all together is quite easy.

Moving to Markdown

When it comes to writing, I find I’m spending more time in the Byword text editing app than in Pages (my word-processing app), the WordPress dashboard, the Tumblr dashboard or Scrivener. Why? Because Byword supports Markdown – as does WordPress, Tumblr and Scrivener – so I can focus on writing, not formatting.

No, I’m not saying that I’ve given up on formatting. Anyone who remembers the old WordStar word-processing application – way back in those dark DOS days – will understand. Thanks to Byword and Markdown, I only need to remember one set of formatting commands and when I’m ready to “publish” the text, Byword will convert it to HTML or rich text for me. Even better, all the formatting commands are keystroke commands so I don’t have to stop typing, grab the mouse, select text and click a button. My typing rhythm isn’t interrupted.

The Byword app is available as both a Mac app ($9.99) and a universal iOS app ($4.99). There’s an additional $4.99 in-app purchase (one purchase for Mac and one for iOS devices) to upgrade to Premium which gives you the ability to publish directly from Byword to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger and Scriptogram blogs and Evernote notebooks. Since both WordPress and Tumblr now support Markdown, the premium upgrade isn’t needed, but you will need to copy/paste your text into the blog editor. For me, publishing direct from Byword is worth the ten bucks.

Byword on my iPad makes a great mobile platform for my Scrivener writing projects. Scrivener also supports Markdown so I’ve set up my projects to sync to a Dropbox folder and Byword takes it from there. Markdown and my Amazon Basics keyboard ($25.99) make serious writing so much easier on the iPad. Even if all I’m doing is editing, Markdown means I’m not constantly frustrated trying to make fat-fingered text selections on that small screen.

A view of the Byword editing screen on my Mac showing the first part of this article.

A view of the Byword editing screen on my Mac showing the first part of this article.

Moving to Byword does require a bit of a learning curve, but most of the commands are so easy to remember that it’s more a matter of getting out of the habit of reaching for the mouse. To italicize, type an asterisk immediately before and after the word/phrase you want italicized. To bold, type two asterisks on each side instead of one. If you’re still in the habit of two spaces after a period ending a sentence, you’ll need to unlearn that. In Markdown those two spaces designate the end of a paragraph.

Byword can handle tables, footnotes, cross-references (links to other parts of the current document) and even metadata. One of the things I really like is “referenced” images. This means that I can put a reference code for an image at the point in the draft where I want it to appear, then list the image details at the end of the document. When writing a draft article, this means I can place the reference and continue writing – then worry about the images I need later. A quick search of my draft will show what images I need.

There’s also an option for referenced footnotes too.

One last point. Markdown is plain text – the only “archival quality” digital text we currently have. Take another look at the editing screenshot above and you’ll see just how readable a marked up Markdown document is. If you’re writing for posterity, Markdown is your best option.

You can see for yourself how Byword’s text formatting works by taking a look at their Markdown syntax guide. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Jetpack: Related Posts

The Jetpack plugin was created by Automattic (the folks who operate WordPress.com) to give self-hosted WordPress users a number of the functions once only available to WordPress.com users. Once you’ve installed the plugin and connected it to WordPress.com, you can then activate the features you want and you’re ready to go.

The Related Posts feature will automatically display links to three related posts already posted to your site at the bottom of each post. Here’s an example post to show you how it looks.
related posts example
This particular article discusses the Scrivener app with “Scrivener” included as both a tag and part of the post title. Using this and other metrics, WordPress will pull out three existing posts with topics that are related to this one and display them below the original article. Visitors can click on any one of the related previews to view that article. Using this feature will show your visitors that there are other related topics to view on your site and help them find them.

Setup is easy. The first step is to go to the Jetpack > Settings screen and activate Related Posts.

activate related posts

When you mouse over an item in the list of Jetpack features, you’ll see the Activate and Configure options appear to the right. Click Activate then click Configure to display its configuration screen.

related post options

There are only two options – do you want to include the Related title and do you want the simple (seen here) or striking (seen in the first example) display. Your theme will have an impact on how these options actually appear.

That’s it. You’re done. Jetpack will take care of the rest.

WordPress.com users will find the Related Posts option on the Settings > Reading screen. The only difference here is you also have check boxes to turn related posts on or off.

related posts on wordpress.com

Related posts is one of the many useful tools you’ll find in Jetpack. There’s lots more Jetpack goodness yet to come . . .