08 September 2016

Wayback Machine ... Time Travel for Genealogists!

Wayback Machine ... Time Travel for Genealogists!

If you are not using to revisit old websites, you are missing out!

I love the Wayback Machine!  I actually love it so much that I donate monthly to it.  It has saved “my bacon” more times than I care to think about.

I am “usually” pretty good about saving PDF versions of websites I have visited, especially if they contain some good data on a place or family.  Of course, that hasn’t always been the case and unfortunately, I still sometimes forget to do it even now.

Of course, it’s the websites that are no longer available that you need the most. That’s where the Wayback Machine comes into play. It is an archive of over 505 billion web pages! Yes – billion.  Snapshots are taken through time of websites.  This is very helpful not only if a website no longer exists and if it has morphed through time. Armed with a URL, you can see what dates were saved and check out what the website looked like on those dates.

In the past week, I’ve had two needs for the Wayback Machine.  In one case a website has been so redesigned that I couldn’t find a neat feature that the old version used to have.  In the other case, I was seeking a current link to a document that I referenced in a blog post a few years ago.

Before we delve into that, let’s look at my personal business website, www.mosaicrpm.com.  It was created in 2004 and has been redesigned probably 5 times (and not by choice and that’s another story)!  The Wayback Machine has saved 73 versions of my website (in every year except 2012) and so it literally has a history of my website.  For each year, you are provided a calendar with the specific dates when a “save” was made.  Just really cool!

Now, back to my examples … NC Echo used to have an Institutional Directory that was a great resource.  One could determine, across NC, what institutions existed in a given county.  Recognizing that institutions often hold archival material, this was a window into the more obscure archives of a county.  Using an old handout for a talk, I learned what the old URL used to be (it’s the one thing you need to start … the URL!), put it in, checked back a few years (to get to the older and still operating versions of the website) and finally found exactly what I wanted.  This time, I did make a PDF of my discovery.

My other example was regarding a document.  I had posted something a few years ago with a link to an online document (Scots-Irish research).  Searching on the document title just wasn’t finding it anywhere.  I dug out the old URL … went back to 2015 (since I knew that sometime in 2016 the page was obviously moved (getting a 404 error)) and voila, here is the document I sought, https://web.archive.org/web/20150402234439/http://www.ncdcr.gov/Portals/7/Collateral/database/nie09.scots.irish.pdf  

As you can imagine, I was so thankful to be able to recover these wonderful resources.

What expired or re-organized website did you revisit?

What older web content were you able to “now” access that you thought was lost forever?  Share how the Wayback Machine has helped you.

Editor’s Note: Related Upfront with NGS posts on The Internet Archive can be found here and those on the Wayback Machine can be found here.

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