After more than two months of disappearance, Paul M. Bessel’s enormous website at www.bessel.org is once again up and running. Brother Paul’s site contains more than 200 individual pages of research that took him over two decades to compile, including Masonic statistics, lists, maps, and other resources that have been indispensable to other researchers for many, many years. His information regarding Prince Hall recognition alone is one of the most commonly referenced resources of its kind anywhere.
The current goal has been to just get Paul’s old site back up and restore the thousands of hours of hard and tedious work he had done before. Numerous pages and graphics files were lost suddenly when his hosting company switched servers last year, so those had to be rescued from Wayback Machine archives. Additionally, Paul himself had not updated the site in several years. I’m sure it was a big job requiring constant tending and it undoubtedly became a chore after a while. My reason for wanting to restore the site was to ensure that the 20 or so years of research he had done before not be lost forever. Additionally, hundreds of other websites all over the world, as well as references in numerous books on Freemasonry, and even Wikipedia articles, had links or footnotes that pointed to data contained on his website. I felt it would be disastrous for all of those references to Paul’s information to just vanish into thin air and a 404 error message page.
Thankfully, Paul agreed and was very accommodating in permitting us access to his account and authorization to take over its administration. In return, we left Paul the option to update his site should he have the desire to do so in future. Somewhere down the road, we may tackle attempting to update selected pages – but bear in mind that his site is enormous, and it took him two decades to get it to where it currently stands. To truly go in and update the constantly changing things like grand lodge email or physical mailing addresses and websites, annual statistics, and much, much more, in addition to his numerous other pages that need tweaking, would be a major undertaking. It was his personal devotion that made the site so indispensable over time, and it would take an equally dedicated person or group of researchers to fix it all and keep it up to date again. And finally, I will just also add that Paul constructed the site with software that has been long outdated and unsupported, so it would also require technology changes to fix it properly without breaking anything. (My own websites suffer from the same problem, and I dread wading into it for my comparatively small website, much less one the enormous size of Paul’s.)
Some of this got discussed on the Philalethes Society email list last month when others began to notice the site was gone as well. In the wake of Paul and I explaining what was going on, I began to get private messages with suggestions for changes, or updated information from around the world, especially from folks in jurisdictions whose contact information or web addresses had changed. Please note that the immediate objective has been to preserve Paul’s existing work, and that has been accomplished. I appreciate the updated information brethren passed along, but I’m afraid it will be a while before anyone gets around to taking a stab at the kind of serious updating the site needs if it is to truly become up to date again. Thanks so much for everyone’s kind offer of assistance, nevertheless.