For genealogists used to websites full of cold, hard facts—about as friendly as a tombstone—MyHeritage
may be a bit of a shock. It’s downright genial, as interested in connecting you with family and fellow researchers as in uncovering ancestral dates and places. MyHeritage fits cozily with the latest wave of websites that encompass yet expand beyond the genealogy world—places such as Facebook
The Israel-based site was founded, says its About page, by people “with a passion for genealogy and a strong grasp of internet technology.” You can “meet” each one, from founder and CEO Gilad Japhet on down, on a page with photos of each honcho today and as a kid
. According to the writeup, “Our vision has been to make it easier for people around the world to use the power of the internet to discover their heritage and strengthen their bonds with family and friends.”
To that end, MyHeritage offers online family tree building in more than a dozen languages, family websites, a genealogy metasearch and more. Basic services are free; enhanced services are by subscription.
The MyHeritage home page is designed to let you jump right in and start your tree (or click the Sign Up link at the top right corner of the home page). Even if you don’t set up a tree, though, you’ll still need a free registration to use some MyHeritage features. The site has several sections, each with its own subsections, and not all are strictly genealogical. Here’s the big picture:
• Celebrities and Fun: MyHeritage grabbed headlines in early 2006 with its facial recognition technology, which this section employs to find celebrities who look most like you. Other activities include figuring out which parent a child most resembles.
• Community: Search for members and public family websites on MyHeritage, find other members’ photos and see the latest contributions.
• Genealogy: This section offers basic genealogy advice, links to the MyHeritage genealogy blog, a search of family trees on MyHeritage, a genealogy metasearch, genealogy forums and the Family Tree Builder genealogy software download.
• Downloads: Here’s another way to get to Family Tree Builder. The basic version is free; the premium version costs $75. See our review in the January 2010 Family Tree Magazine.
If you find yourself lost on the site, click on the Home link in the top left corner or the Genealogy link to return to the main genealogy page.
MyHeritage comes across as a kinder, gentler genealogy site right from the bright home page, with a rudimentary pedigree chart showing “My father,” “My mother” and “Me.” Fill in the blanks, hit Go and these labels are replaced with your family names.
You can continue from there, adding up to a total of 250 family members and 250MB of storage for free. If your tree is bigger, however, you may want to upgrade to a Premium membership at $75 a year, which boosts the limit to 2,500 ancestors and 500MB for family photos and such. Or get unlimited trees and storage with the $119.40 Premium Plus option. Both paid plans enjoy priority tech support, enhanced Smart Matching—MyHeritage’s system for scouring its 9 million family sites for possible matches to your ancestors—and ad-free pages.
If you entered your data on the home page, completing your signup merely requires picking a password. Once you’ve logged in, continue adding information to your tree by clicking the plus sign on each person’s card to add relatives, Edit to input dates and other facts, or a silhouette to upload the person’s photo. But if you already have a family tree in your genealogy software, it’s a snap to upload a GEDCOM file: Just browse to your file and click Upload.
You can view your tree in MyHeritage’s default “modern” style, which displays ancestors by family (click the leaf icon to view additional families), or in a “classic” ancestor tree. The latter is really pretty snazzy: a scroll bar on the right lets you slide from a 2-D to a 3-D view, or anywhere in between.
Clicking on an individual in either tree view navigates to that person, or you can pick from a complete list of individuals to the left of the screen.There’s also a search box. Select the Person tab instead and the list switches to show all the details about your selected ancestor.
In the modern view, a clever “breadcrumbs” feature—a line of names in arrowed boxes—lets you jump to anybody you’ve previously viewed. Use arrows to move around your tree and a sliding bar to zoom in. You also can click anywhere in the background of your tree and drag to move around. Want to see more generations? Drag the “relations slider” to change the number of levels displayed. Other tools in the upper-right corner maximize your view, print your tree, change settings and pop up a tips window.
Links under the Family Tree tab at the top take you to a sortable and searchable list of people in your tree, to a list organized by family, and to options for generating reports and charts. Click to import additional GEDCOMs and manage your trees. The Manage link lets you export a GEDCOM and add more trees.
It’s important to set preferences to aid collaboration via MyHeritage. The key settings are a bit hidden and default to the most-private choices, so you may be missing chances to connect with kin. Under the Settings tab, click Privacy to make your site Public, Private or Mixed (“open to guests but some areas restricted to members only”). If you choose Private, outsiders won’t be able to view your tree. The Members subtab on this same page lets you pick whether family members or others who become members of your site can make changes. Click Settings, then General, then Administration to keep others from requesting membership to your site.
The Site tab (under Settings/General) lets you choose whether your site is listed in the Site Center. Checking yes will let others find your site and contact you, but won’t disclose your e-mail address or grant access to your site. Under Family Trees/Manage trees, you can click Edit for each of your trees to choose whether to make it public in the Genealogy Center (details on living people are blocked) and enable Smart Matching. Both are checked yes by default. Here you also can choose whether anyone can download your tree (the default is no), or just members of your site.
You’ll notice a Smart Matches tab at the top of your tree. Boxes for some ancestors may display a green circle in the lower left corner, indicating MyHeritage has found Smart Matches for them. Here’s where the site goes beyond merely displaying trees. Building on technology Pearl Street Software developed for GenCircles.com, which MyHeritage purchased, Smart Matching compares individuals in your tree with the 400 million-plus people in other MyHeritage trees.
Japhet explains that Smart Matching works “in a fuzzy and intelligent way, taking spelling variations and differences in dates and place names into consideration. The Smart Matches are based on elaborate matching between names, not on straight comparison of identical facts. This leads the way to discovering new relatives.”
When Smart Matching finds two people whose names, dates and facts appear to match, both researchers are alerted and can choose to collaborate. In the first quarter of 2010, MyHeritage will roll out an improvement to Smart Matching that’ll let tree owners confirm or reject matches and permanently link matching trees.
The simplest way to explore Smart Matches is to set up your tree and wait. Within about 48 hours (customers on paid plans get priority), MyHeritage will calculate your matches. Thereafter, whenever another user adds a potential match to one of your ancestors, you’ll get an e-mail alert. Links in the e-mail take you to a page where you can evaluate the match.
Once the site has calculated your matches, you can view them from your tree. Click the green icon attached to an ancestor to see the person’s matches.
A ranking indicates the closeness of the match; hover over it for details. The Compare link opens a window showing the matching person in both trees. You can navigate these trees much like your main tree to see whether they indeed name the same person. If so, click the Contact Submitter link to send a message via MyHeritage.
Depending on the other user’s preferences, a match may display a “View tree” link, letting you see a match in the full context of his family tree.
The Smart Matches tab under Family Tree may be the least-useful way to access matches. This brings up a list of other family trees with the most matches to your own—potentially, thousands of them. There’s no way to preview these matches before clicking through them, and after you wait for the matches to be “fetched,” your options depend on the other site manager’s preferences: You may be able to view the site, request membership or just contact the other researcher.
Configure the Smart Matching sensitivity level using a link that appears when viewing matches. A pop-up window lets you turn on or off matching by similar first and last name, and choose a sensitivity level for surname matching. A stricter level returns fewer matches, but with more accuracy.
Focusing on others who might be able to help with your brick walls will likely help you get the most out of Smart matching: Explore matches for the ancestors at the dead ends of your tree—does somebody else know something you don’t? If a chunk of your ancestry has been widely explored (for example, a branch goes back to the Mayflower) slogging through trees with 100 or so matches may lead you back, through data you already have.
Another way to find matches to your ancestors in MyHeritage trees is in the Genealogy Center (under the Genealogy tab). Here you can search by any combination of first name (exact or Soundex), last name, sex, or birth or death year ranges. You can view results by individual or by site (a good way to find researchers with ancestors in common), and sort them by last name, birth or death date, gender or site. Click the View link to see details about each person in your results. You can try the Visit Site link, but you’ll hit a failed-login page if the submitter kept his site private.
Finally, don’t forget to search the MyHeritage message boards, also under the Genealogy tab.
You don’t need a tree on MyHeritage to use its slickest search, located under Genealogy and then the Research tab. You can scour 1,526 genealogy databases (some of which require a paid subscription to view full results). This “metasearch,” however, works only for PCs using Internet Explorer; MyHeritage plans to expand to Macs and other major browsers this year.
Start your search by simply entering a last name. If you get too many hits, add a first name. You’ll get three options for searching spelling variations: exact, Soundex and MyHeritage’s proprietary Megadex technology. You must be a registered MyHeritage user—free or paid—to use Megadex, which covers even databases that don’t support Soundex or other spelling-variation searches. Megadex is supposed to avoid the false positives you get with Soundex, and to find the variations Soundex might miss.
When you run a Megadex search (see Search Secrets
), you’ll first be presented with a list of common spelling variations for the surname you’re searching. Check up to five—or if you don’t see one you know is common, you can add it to the list.
The Advanced Search lets you further narrow your scope by gender, approximate birth and/or death year and country. Be aware that advanced options exclude any database that doesn’t support them. If you specify a death date, for example, databases that don’t let you search by that criterion—immigration databases, for instance—will be skipped entirely.
You also can select certain types of data (such as cemetery records) or specific databases to search; hold down the Control key while clicking to check multiple boxes. The ability to use Megadex on specific databases can be especially handy: For example, you could search the Ellis Island database for five surname variations at once.
Some searches take awhile as MyHeritage cranks through millions of records. You may not have time to explore all your results right away. Just click Save Current Search on the results page, and you can revisit your hits later under the My Searches tab.
Bells and whistles
Those are just the most genealogy-specific features of MyHeritage. But from photos to family reunions, you’ll also find all the tools you need to stay in touch with relatives. First, invite them to join the site by clicking Invite More Family. You’ll get a list of people in your tree sorted by relationship to you; enter a relative’s e-mail address and hit Invite. The Find Your Family option sucks e-mail addresses out of your address book in webmail providers such as Yahoo! or Gmail, or from your PC’s e-mail program.
Use the Events tab to schedule gatherings. Under Activities, post articles, share recipes, poll relatives and run message boards. The Photos and Videos tab lets you create multimedia albums. Tag People will even help identify your subjects: Identify each person once, and MyHeritage finds matches in the rest of your photos.
MyHeritage Vital Statistics
Web address: <www.myheritage.com
Owner: MyHeritage, Bnei Atarot 60991, Israel, +972 (3) 9794347
• Basic: Free
• Premium: $75 annually
• Premium Plus: $119.40 annually
34.3 million (Basic and Premium)
• 9 million family sites containing 400 million names; 59.2 million photos
• genealogy metasearch with Megadex name-variant searching
• free Family Tree Builder software
MyHeritage founded 2004
Family Tree Builder 1.0 software released2005
MyHeritage goes live; its celebrity look-alike search, based on photo-recognition technology, starts getting media attention worldwide 2006
MyHeritage receives investment from Accel Partners, the investors behind Facebook, and acquires Pearl Street Software, makers of GenCircles.com and Family Tree Legends2008
MyHeritage raises $15 million in venture capital, acquires London-based family network Kindo.com2009
MyHeritage reaches 400 million family tree profiles
From the March 2010 Family Tree Magazine