MyHeritage DNA Announces Updates at Live Conference

By Andrew Koch

Several MyHeritage DNA updates were announced at the MyHeritage Live 2018 Conference in Norway.

MyHeritage Live 2018 took place this past weekend in Oslo, Norway. But no worries if you couldn’t trek to Scandinavia to join in person! MyHeritage live-streamed all the sessions, and we’ll brief you on the major MyHeritage DNA updates announced there.

The conference opened with a keynote speech from CEO Gilad Japhet. After sharing his grandfather’s story of immigration and struggle, Japhet talked about new projects and features that MyHeritage has in the works. Later in the day, VP of Product Maya Lerner shared more MyHeritage DNA updates in a session titled “What’s Next: The MyHeritage Genealogy and DNA Roadmap.” The sections below discuss some of the major announcements made in these two sessions.

DNA testing from envelopes and stamps

Perhaps MyHeritage’s most striking announcement is that it’s developing a service that can extract DNA from physical objects, such as licked envelopes or stamps. According to Japhet, this will allow users to test undiluted DNA samples from deceased family members and add them to MyHeritage DNA profiles, opening new avenues of research. Japhet even discussed the possibility of adding the DNA of deceased celebrities (such as Theodor Herzl, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein) to the MyHeritage database.

Japhet acknowledged the ethics of such testing is still being understood. As Judy Russell from The Legal Genealogist points out, this “artifact testing” would heighten questions about DNA privacy and ownership. And we’ve unpacked the ethics of testing deceased relatives in general.

Shared Ancestral Places

Japhet also announced a new MyHeritage DNA feature that has recently gone live: Shared Ancestral Places. Using this tool, users can view what ancestral locations (i.e., birth and death locations) they and a DNA match have in common. The provided interactive map can help users identify important towns, providing more context on how DNA matches might be related and highlighting significant places to research. The tool uses geocoding (rather than user-submitted text) to identify places, helping standardize place-names and making them easier to compare between users.

DNA match theories

Later in the day, Lerner discussed the “Theory of Family Relativity,” a new DNA matches feature that will provide suggestions for how a user and his DNA match might be related. Using the “Big Tree” (a technology that treats all of MyHeritage’s data set as a single, connected graph) and the site’s existing Smart Matches, MyHeritage will generate a theory of what most recent common ancestor you and a match share. Users can then review the theory to assess its accuracy.

Speaking of DNA matches: Lerner announced the site would update the DNA match list and individual match pages to make them more streamlined and easier to use. She also confirmed that MyHeritage would soon expand its chromosome browser’s functionality to allow for at least some chromosome painting.

Watch for yourself

All the conference’s sessions were live-streamed in real time. You can view the conference’s schedule on MyHeritage’s website, or watch the filmed sessions on the company’s Facebook page. DNA-Explained’s Roberta Estes, one of the conference’s presenters, also wrote up a summary of some MyHeritage DNA updates.

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