Tag Archives: genealogy

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.

Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

I get asked by a lot of people how to get started in researching their family. This entire site is dedicated to helping people do just that, but after eight years of writing articles and creating resources like my forms, and the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, it’s still hard for someone completely new to genealogy to know what to do first. My goal here is to guide someone completely new on what to do first, what is useful on my site, as well as what other sites are useful. So if you’re new to genealogy, this will help you get started.

What do you already know?

It seems obvious, but the first thing you need to do is figure out what you know, which will help you figure out what you don’t know. You start this process by asking whoever in your family may know information. Depending on your age, this might be your parents, or grandparents, or whoever are the oldest relatives in the line you are researching. When reaching out to these relatives, you want to not only ask for information, but if they or another relative might have documents that show this information. Always ask if they know of a relative that has already researched the family history. Many families have a cousin that has already done research, and already collected documents and photographs. They may remember a cousin or an uncle that has collected information on the family, and even if that person is not alive now, you may still be able to find information from that relatives’ descendants.

When getting started I always suggest starting with paper forms. There are many great computer programs and web sites for organizing your genealogy, and I do recommend using them but especially when meeting with older relatives, working with a piece of paper is usually easier, and it has the advantage of making it very clear which fields in the form you have not filled in yet (and thus need to ask about/research). On my site you can download several different forms, in English and in Hebrew.

I suggest starting with the Ancestor Form with yourself as the source person at the bottom, and adding in the details on your parents and grandparents. Are you able to fill in all the fields on the form? Do you know where all of your grandparents were born? What their exact birth dates were? Do you have documentation for any of the information, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, ketubahs, passports, etc.?

Once you’ve filled out the form, add Sibling Forms for each of your parents and grandparents, or Family Forms for their parents (which will provide similar information but include the parents, and will show their siblings as children of the parents). As you work your way out further, you’ll see that you probably know less information. That’s okay – this is just the first step in building out your family tree.

When you’ve built out several of these sheets, and you see what information you’re missing, you will have a good idea at least for what information to starting looking for. Continue reading Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

Google PhotoScan – a genealogists best friend?


Google has introduced a new app for both Android and iPhone for scanning printed photos. You can even photograph pictures in glass frames and it will remove the glare.

They’ve put out an amusing video to explain how it works:

I’ve had reservations in the past about phone-based scanning apps for genealogy purposes, especially those that try to scan more than one photo at once (such as a page of photos in an album). My primary concern was that by scanning multiple photos in a single picture, you are drastically reducing the resolution of the photos. Google PhotoScan, however, seems to go in the opposite direction, letting you take multiple photos with your phone to construct a single hi-res glare-free version of the photo you are scanning. This seems more in the right direction.

One problem genealogists run into is finding and copying family photos. Sometimes they’re sitting in one’s attic in a box, but many times they’re sitting in someone else’s attic, or some distant cousin’s photo album. This is the kind of problem that has been addressed by products like the Flip-Pal mobile scanner in the past, although this app is probably easier to use and in many cases will probably return a better result. There are still some cases where a flatbed scanner will probably return a better result, but the advanced algorithms used by this app will be able to get better results most of the time (especially for pictures behind glass).

I haven’t had a chance to test out the app yet, but I welcome comments by others who have, and I will add my own observations once I’ve had a chance to kick the tires.

Managing the FTM transition

FTM TRANSITIONIt’s certainly an interesting story about Ancestry dropping their desktop genealogy software Family Tree Maker (FTM). Ancestry themselves claimed the software was “The #1 Selling Family Tree Program”. It would seem unusual that the #1 selling program would be discontinued. It’s possible FTM was some kind of loss-leader to get people to sign up to Ancestry.com, although it seems odd that they would need to lose money on the program. Other genealogy programs seem to make money. It would seem logical then that the transition is strategic, in order to get more people to use their online family tree product, which as part of their overall service, generates much more revenue for them. As a strategic decision, however, I think they made a mistake in not transitioning the features many genealogists rely on in desktop software to their online offering first, features like charts and reports, as well as better backups of data than the GEDCOM available from Ancestry’s online service.

Their initial blog post announcing the ‘retirement’ of FTM has so far generated over 8500 comments. A second follow-up post has generated another 950 comments so far. Cleary, people have concerns about how Ancestry is handling the transition.

Other companies, of course, are not sitting still. Pretty much every other major desktop genealogy software company has made announcements trying to get disaffected FTM users to switch over to their software. Here are the announcements I found:

Ancestral Quest (Win & Mac*): Ancestral Quest competitive upgrade for Family Tree Maker
Family Historian (Win): Family Historian Welcomes Family Tree Maker Users
Heredis (Win & Mac): Important information about genealogy
Legacy (Win): How to import Family Tree Maker into Legacy PLUS your questions answered
MacFamilyTree (Mac): Family Tree Maker discontinued – Switch to MacFamilyTree and Switch from Family Tree Maker to MacFamilyTree and import your family tree
MyHeritage Family Tree Builder (Win & Mac*): FTM Users: Join MyHeritage and get Family Tree Builder with an Unlimited Size Family Site for Free
Reunion (Mac): Moving your tree from Family Tree Maker to Reunion
RootsMagic (Win & Mac*): Family Tree Maker Upgrade

* These Mac versions run in Emulation using CrossOver or similar technology. This means they are essentially the Windows versions running on the Mac, with no special adaptation made to the user interface to fit Macintosh interface guidelines.

My impression was that RootsMagic was the first to come out and announce a transition plan, even launching the site ftmupgrade.com with instructional videos within a day of the announcements. Most companies have offered financial incentives to switch now as well. Ancestral Quest is offering $10 off their normal price, Family Historian is offering 20% off, Heredis is offering 50% off, MacFamilyTree is offering 50% off, MyHeritage is offering an unlimited size family tree (normally their free tree is limited to 250 people), and RootsMagic is offering their full version for $20 (instead of $44.90). Most of these deals are limited in time, so if you’re interested in taking advantage, definitely check out the programs soon.

It seems everyone suggests exporting a GEDCOM from FTM and then importing that GEDCOM. Only FTM 2012 and later support exporting media with the GEDCOM file.

One problem that seems to be common among those transitioning is how FTM handles source citations. FTM allows media to be linked to source citations, which are in turn linked to a master source. Many genealogy programs use a single master source, but not individual source citations for media. This is confusing some imports, and is not being ignored by the other software companies. I’ve noticed Reunion mentioning that they are working on a fix for this in their forum. I’m sure others are also working on this problem.

Do you use FTM? What are your plans for transitioning? Are you planning to switch to Ancestry’s online site, or moving to a different desktop program? Have you already switched? What has been your experience so far?

New records indexed from Vienna, even more on microfilm


For those with family from Vienna, the web site Genteam.at is an indispensable genealogy resource. It’s a volunteer-run site that has indexed over 8 million records from Vienna, including many Jewish records including birth, marriage and death records, obituaries, cemetery records, directories of professionals, membership lists of lodges (including B’nai Brith), conversion records, and more. Access to their database is free, you just need to register for a free account on their site before you can search.

Recently, the site added 482,000 new records, including a 180,000 records from the Jewish community of Vienna – marriage and death records from 1913-1928, and birth records up to 1913. I believe this record addition is what brought them over 8 million records, so congratulations to the whole team of volunteers at Genteam.at, past and present, who have accomplished an amazing task.

The records indexed all conform to the Austrian privacy laws, which is why the records end when they do. Presumably next year they will add birth records through 1914, etc. In two years my grandfather’s birth record from 1915 will presumably be published on the site. For more on my grandfather, see Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet? and Remembering my grandfather.

Keep in mind that while sites like this (located in Austria) cannot publish indexes to these records due to privacy laws, some later records were microfilmed prior to the current privacy laws, and already exist in the Family History Library. It’s unclear to me whether those records can (or will) be indexed online by FamilySearch.org, or whether they too will not provide them online, even if someone can view the records on microfilm in any Family History Center.

Right now, FamilySearch.org has a record set called Austria, Vienna, Jewish Registers of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1784-1911, which has the images online (over 200,000), but is not indexed. That means you can look at the images and try to find the record you want, but there is no way to search it.

If you search their catalog, however, there exists many more Jewish records from Vienna, including:

  • Register of Jewish births, marriages, deaths, and indexes for Wien (Vienna), Niederösterreich, Austria. Includes Leopoldstadt, Ottakring, Hernals, Währing, Fünfhaus and Sechshaus. 1826-1943
  • Circumcisions and Births 1870-1914
  • Jewish converts in Vienna 1782-1868
  • Index to the register books of the Jewish community, 1810-1938
  • Births, marriages and deaths of Austrian Jewish military personnel in Wien, Niederösterreich, Austria. 1914-1918.
  • Reports the exit from the Jewish faith: 18000 defections from Judaism in Vienna, 1868-1914
  • Names of Jewish infants who were forcibly baptized Christians and left with foundling hospitals in Vienna, Austria. The mothers of the infants were primarily servants and manual laborers from Hungary, Slovakia, Bohemia and Moravia. Each entry includes genealogical data. 1868-1914.
  • Genealogies and biographies of the Jewish upper class of Vienna, Austria, 1800-1938.

Eventually, these records will also presumably make it to FamilySearch.org, and eventually they will be indexed as well. Many of these records are clearly the same records making their way onto Genteam.at – it’s even possibly that Genteam.at is working form the FHL microfilms to create their indexes.

The odd thing is that the online record set covers the dates 1784-1911, while the microfilm record set covers 1826-1943. The question is if the microfilm set only goes back to 1826, then how does the online set go back to 1784? Even stranger, if you click through to the wiki page describing the record set, it says the records cover only the years 1850-1896. Perhaps the online records go back further because they include other record sets like the conversion data, which covers the years 1782-1868 – but if that’s the case then why doesn’t the online set go back those extra two years to 1782? It’s very confusing.

In any case, just to be clear, there are many Vienna records available, even if they apparently run counter to the Austrian privacy laws (which seem to ban the release of birth records for 100 years). As proof that these records are accessible via microfilm, I’ll just end with this birth record for my grandfather who recently passed away at the age of 98, which I acquired from the FHL microfilms with the help of a local researcher a few years ago: