Category Archives: This Site

Ten Year Site Anniversary

Ten years ago today, I posted my first article on this site, then a blog on Google’s Blogger platform. The post itself was thinking aloud about whether to switch genealogy programs from Reunion 9 to Family Tree Maker, which had just been introduced on the Mac for the first time (in case you’re wondering what I decided back then, I’m using Reunion 13 now).

How the first post on this site looked back then (more or less)

Roughly three years later, in 2013, I made the move over to WordPress, where the site took on its current appearance:

The transition from Blogger to WordPress in October 2013

Continuing this slightly technical thread, the site was moved off a shared hosting site in 2018 onto an Amazon Lightsail server, and upgraded to a larger server in 2020. I only point these out since people don’t always think about what goes on behind the scenes to keep sites like this running.

Looking back, I’ve written about 250 articles. There are also about a dozen article drafts I started but were never completed. The reason I call this is a site anniversary, and don’t use the term ‘Blogiversary’ which I used after the first year (1st Blogiversary: The Year in Review) is that this site has grown well beyond just being a blog. The B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, which was added in 2016, currently has over 25,000 pages of resources for Jewish genealogy.

Some of my favorite articles include:

Preserving Photographic Prints, Slides and Negatives2011
What DPI should I scan my photos, and in what format do I save them?2015
Photos handed down through different family branches2020
Finding Information on US Immigrants2011
Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy2018
Variations in Jewish Given Names2011
Animals and Name Pairs in Jewish Given Names2011
Jewish Gravestone Symbols2011
Deciphering Jewish Gravestones2020
Learning from Okopawa St.2018
Communities tied to Rzeszów (Reisha), Poland via marriage2018
Tracking down a couple that disappeared during the Holocaust2017
Food as Genealogy – Iraqi Kubbe2012
When my grandfather traveled to Nazi Germany to save his family2017

These articles stand out to me for very different reasons. The first few deal with photographs, and the importance of collecting them and properly preserving them. I grew up with a dark room in my attic, and a love of photography, so it’s no wonder I believe photographs are so important. Finding Information on US Immigrants is my go-to article to share when people are first getting started and want to figure out where their families came from before reaching the US. While I wrote that almost ten years ago, I try to update it from time to time to make sure the links all work and everything still makes sense. Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy is my overview of the resources on this site and others across the world that people getting started in Jewish genealogy should know about. My gravestone symbols article has been popular since I published it back in 2011 (even Billiongraves cites it in their article on Jewish gravestones), and I’ve supplemented that with my article on understanding the inscriptions as well, Deciphering Jewish Gravestones, which at over 30 pages has a lot of useful information. My post on communities tied to Rzeszow is a look at how you can extract patterns in old records beyond just looking for specific records. I looked at marriage records, and figured out which towns spouses of those in Rzeszow came from, and showed the community stamps, as well as those of local Rabbis. This kind of research can help you figure out where to look for records when you’ve exhausted the obvious places. Food as Genealogy is just a fun article with a great recipe that my mother-in-law showed my wife how to cook. This kind of passing on of oral tradition is also important, and sometimes overlooked as part of genealogy – it’s not all BMD records. The last article on my grandfather, is great because it shows how the significance of a simple piece of information might be overlooked, if you don’t understand the context. A visa stamp (with a swastika) on November 11, 1938 might not seem especially significant, until you realize he was entering Nazi Germany the day after Kristallnacht, a pogrom where hundreds of synagogues were burned to the ground, thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed, and tens of thousands of Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The day after. So always try to understand the context of what you’re looking at and if you are scanning documents, scan all the pages (what if I had only scanned the photo page of the passport?).

Beyond this site, in the past ten years I’ve spoken at various genealogy conferences (remember those?), written articles for journals, and helped found the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) where I started by building their web site, and later served four years as President (which ended this past June). I’m proud that during that time IGRA became the largest of the over 80 member societies of the IAJGS. I’m next speaking at Rootstech Connect, the massive (I’ve heard there will be over 100,000 participants) virtual genealogy conference taking place next year.

While this year has been difficult, with four kids at home trying to zoom into their various schools, I did have time to post several great lists of Jewish names published in books dating back 150 years, which were prepared while I worked on a major article (over 30 pages) on Deciphering Jewish Gravestones. I also posted the 2019 lists of Jewish boys and girls names from Israel, a very popular series of articles on this site. To see all the articles on names, see the Names page which collects the various lists and articles I’ve posted over the years related to names.

I also finally updated my US Immigration Census Form, adding the 1940 US Census to it.

While this site has long had a presence on Facebook (facebook.com/jewishgenealogy) and Twitter (twitter.com/bloodandfrogs), this past August I added Instagram (instagram.com/bloodandfrogs):

While that photo collage was posted to Instagram in August, I didn’t actually write an article about those photos until just recently (Photos handed down through different family branches). If you click on the link in my Instagram profile, you will actually see all the Instagram images, each of which now links to an article on this site. This gets around the restriction on Instagram preventing links for individual images. While there are services that automate that type of linking, I’ve managed to develop something on my own site that does the same thing. Follow me on Instagram, and let me know what you think of the link system. I’ve added a bunch of images connected to past articles, and moving forward I hope each new article will get a post to Instagram.

I imagine I’m not alone among writers wondering why certain articles become more popular than others. I have an idea of how many people visit my site, and which articles they read, but it’s always nice to hear from readers about what they like, and what they’ve learned from on the site. If you have a favorite article or feature on this site, please let me know in the comments.

Hebrew Resources

A look at Hebrew resources on this site

As many of you know, I live in Israel, and while I do not speak Hebrew fluently, I have tried to offer Hebrew resources for genealogy. This is both for Israeli genealogists, and for Jewish genealogists everywhere who almost always need some Hebrew skills, whether to transcribe a gravestone or read old documents. For Hebrew-language genealogy I’ve created Hebrew Genealogy Forms, as well as researched and put together the list (and chart) Hebrew family and genealogy terms.

In the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, there are many Hebrew-language resources spread across the thousands of locations. Some resources are things like Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos articles (only available online in Hebrew), or the web sites of Israeli landsmanshaftn.

As a Mac user, I also have worked through using Hebrew on my Mac when it wasn’t the language I use everyday. For Mac users, I’ve put together Using Nikud (Vowels) in Hebrew on a Mac and Trick to use Hebrew and Yiddish in Adobe InDesign. For all computer users, there is also my article Finding Hebrew Fonts.

Lastly, I have been regularly publishing the top 101 Israeli Jewish boys and girls names when they are released. Most recently these were 101 Most Popular Jewish Boys Names in Israel in 2017 and 2018 and 101 Most Popular Jewish Girls Names in Israel in 2017 and 2018. I’ve also published the 101 Most Common Surnames in Israel (in 2016).

To make it easier to find all of these posts, I have added a page that is simply located at bloodandfrogs.com/hebrew.

I’ve also consolidated several of the site features and categories into a single menu, called Features. So along with the new page on Hebrew Resources, there is also Forms, Search, Names, Naturalization, and Belgium. For a short description of each of these just go to the Features page itself, which gives brief descriptions of each page.

B&F Honored by the IAJGS

I want to thank the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and the over 80 member societies that make up that organization for honoring this site last night at their annual conference in Cleveland. I am very grateful that this site and the many years of work I’ve put into have been able to benefit so many people, and I am thankful to have that work recognized.

I am sorry I was not able to attend the conference this year, not only because I wasn’t able to accept the award personally (thank you Garri Regev for accepting on my behalf), but because it is always nice to be able to see other genealogists from around the world and to learn from the many lecturers who speak at the conference.

IAJGS President Ken Bravo presenting the Outstanding Project award to B&F

For those who learned about this site from hearing about the award, and are new visitors, see the Welcome page and also the Follow this Blog page for ways you can get updates about what is added to the site (such as via Facebook or Twitter). Also make sure to check out the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, with over 25,000 resources for Jewish Genealogy.

More newspapers, Landsmanshaft cemetery sections, and convenience

This is a short update to describe some recent additions to the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy.

First, following up my earlier addition of hundreds of newspaper archives, I’ve started to add more newspapers from other sites. Dan Oren, as promised, the Lubliner Togblat has been added, so brush up on your Yiddish.

Second, I’ve added links from the Cemetery Project of the Museum of Family History. The Musuem is a web site put together by Steven Lasky that has lots of great information. The Cemetery Project includes lists of surnames from different Landsmanshaft cemetery sections from the NY/NJ area, including information on the entrance gates to sections that have them (that usually have information on the people who ran the Landsmanshaft), as well as many Holocaust memorials put up by those societies.

In order to conserve space, I have put all the Musuem links into a single entry in the Diaspora section of the Polish town pages. If there are pages for the town for all three categories (Surnames, Society Gates, and Holocaust Memorial), then it would look something like this:

Musuem of Family History

You can see the links for all three pages for the town.

I’ve written about Landsmanshaftn cemetery sections before, such as in Learning about Landsmanshaftn and More on Landsmanshaftn, and for those who are not sure where their family came from before the US, figuring out if they were buried in a Landsmanshaft cemetery section can be an important clue.

Keep in mind they may have ended up in a section because their spouse was from that town, or because an ancestor further back was from that town, but in any case, it’s still very useful and the surname lists and lists of sections associated with each town on this site are very useful.

Lastly, you may have noticed the ‘New’ icons in the above screenshots. This is a new feature of the site that will show you if a link was added or updated in the last three months. I actually added this awhile back but there was a bug that didn’t always display it. It is now working, however, so if you go to any page on the site and see that icon, you know the resource was added to this site recently. This is convenient if you want to revisit the town page every few months, and see quickly if something new has been added.

B&F has a new server

The short version of what I’m about to write is that this web site is running on a new web server, which should mean the site will be running faster than ever before. If you see any problems on the site, please contact me so I can fix them. For those interested, I am including more details below.

I am grateful for all the users of this site, and hope everyone who has visited has benefited in some way when they’ve come to the site. This web site has been around since 2010, when it was originally launched as a Blogger site. Back in 2013 I moved the site to self-hosted WordPress, which allowed me to expand the site’s content and functionality, but also meant I had to maintain the site and had to deal with the fact that many other sites were running on the same server. My web host was actually great, and I continue to run other sites on the same host without any problems, but they had no good solution for moving this site to a bigger server when it needed it.

B&F Compendium of Jewish GenealogyWhen I created the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, I stretched the capacity of the server to its limits. The average WordPress site only has a few Pages (as opposed to Posts, of which there can be many), maybe a few dozen, but the Compendium uses over 25,000 Pages and is continuing to grow. Whether WordPress was the right platform to develop the Compendium on is a different question, but as I had it running in WordPress I had to find a way to increase the capacity of the server without breaking the bank (since this site is a labor of love, and I make no money from it).

For those who use WordPress, think about the fact that on the WordPress editor page, all Pages are loaded into a drop-down menu for selecting a parent page. Imagine now that you have 25,000 pages and that the menu is obviously part of the page that loads.

Amazon LighsailOver the past several months I’ve been working to move my site to a service operated by Amazon called Lightsail. Lightsail is essentially a simplified version of Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing service. You pay a set amount a month and get a VPS server that you control. For $5 a month you get a Linux server with 512MB of RAM and 20GB of storage, and the best part is that you can easily upgrade the server if you need more power. The $5/month is more than I paid before, but it’s still quite reasonable for the added power I get, and if I need to I can move to a more powerful server for simple increments in cost.

Migrating a web site to a new server is never easy, and not to be taken lightly. There are always unexpected problems, and my site had some fairly unique problems. One of the problems I ran into was that the database that holds all the information for the site was so large that it was difficult to even export to a format I could move to the new server. At first the exported database was over 300MB. I looked into the database and saw a lot of the records had to do with plug-ins I used. I had to disable those plug-ins, and remove their data from the database manually, which brought the size down to a still difficult 100MB. When I was finally able to export the database, I found it impossible to import to the new server. The web interface to the database, which was the easiest way to import the data, would run out of memory before completing the import. I tried uploading the file to the server directly and importing the data via the command line, but still had trouble.

Eventually I found a great little piece of code that helped me import the data by breaking it down into smaller chunks and importing it piece by piece (BigDump, which I recommend highly for those who need to import large databases). However, even with this new tool I ended up with an error message I didn’t understand. After asking for help online, I found out that the error was due to the original web site running on an older version of the database software (MySQL) and that the newer version didn’t allow a date field to be empty (set to 0 essentially). When you had a data field in the database that you didn’t have a value for, it was supposed to be set to Jan 1 1970 instead. Go figure, but I had 53 times in the database where I had a zeroed out date, and doing a find and replace in the database fixed the problem and the database finally imported.

Other problems were more mundane. As I tried different parts of the site, I noticed certain things didn’t work properly.

The contact form didn’t work, which it turns out was because the new server didn’t handle mail the same way as the old server. After re-configuring the mail, the contact form began to work.

The maps on the Compendium city pages were not being displayed because for some reason Google thought this was a different site. After setting up new credentials for the the Google Maps API, the maps began to work again as well.

The more insidious problems had to do with file and folder permissions. Having moved much of the files over from my old server, the file permissions on many things were wrong. Now I find file permissions in UNIX to be a form of the dark arts, but slowly I’ve been fixing the problems. I noticed, for example, that I couldn’t upload new images, which is because the server couldn’t create a new folder to upload images to for this month. Sure enough, it was a permissions problem. Upgrading plug-ins has also been difficult due to permission issues. This is probably an issue that will continue to cause issues for some time until I’ve worked out all the bugs.

For the last few days the site has been running completely on the new server. I imagine there will still be problems going forward, and I ask that if you run into anything you think is weird on the site, please please contact me and tell me what you saw. As with the above examples, the problems can be hard to predict, so if you see something odd, such as an error message, or even a missing image, don’t assume I already know about the problem. Please contact me and let me know, so I can fix it for everyone.