How I Finally Solved a 10-Year-Old Genealogy Mystery in 10 Minutes

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How I Finally Solved a 10-Year-Old Genealogy Mystery in 10 Minutes


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I’ve been doing family history research for 20 years and, like everyone, I’ve encountered a few brick walls. Although I have been successful in breaking most of those down using solid research techniques, one or two remain. One in particular has haunted me for more than a decade – the parents of one of my 3rd great grandparents. Unable to locate this information I have had to leave this branch of my tree undeveloped.

After years of research I have collected a good deal of information on this family, but several details of my 3rd great grandfather’s life have eluded me. Because he was Romanichal and he and his family traveled widely around the U.S. after immigrating from England, I have faced increased difficulty locating certain documents I needed. My inability to locate this information has left me in the dark about this important part of my family’s history, and I had honestly begun to wonder if the records I needed existed at all.

That’s why, when I took it upon myself to understand the updated Discoveries tool from MyHeritage (which can be accessed by signing up here), I wasn’t overly hopeful about the potential results. I have not used MyHeritage extensively before and expected, at best, to spend a large amount of time learning this new system and, at worst, to uncover only repeats of the records I had already added to my tree.

Please note that we have partnered with MyHeritage and that we may receive compensation if you decide to use their site. This helps us support our site, while providing you with useful and honest information you can use to build your family tree. 

However, it took less than 10 minutes from the time I uploaded my family tree to make a discovery that will allow me to break down this brick wall once and for all. And, within an hour, I had discovered several more fascinating records that I had not seen in the past. Talk about productive research.

The process of getting to this point was actually a lot simpler than I expected. Below, I have outlined how I went about it and how you can take advantage of a MyHeritage free trial to explore this helpful research tool without upfront cost.

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First, we should discuss briefly what the Discoveries tool is. If you are familiar with Ancestry’s “Hints” feature, you could compare it to that – a feature that automatically searches for records related to people in your family tree to save you time and help you overcome research hurdles.

However, it became clear to me very quickly that the MyHeritage Discoveries tool was quite different, both in the way that it searched for records and the way it delivers them. This is a good thing, because it means new records are revealed even if you’ve done years of research.

If You’d Like to Give This Tool a Try, Here’s How to Do It

Step 1 – Gain Access to MyHeritage’s Family Tree and Records

To give the MyHeritage Discoveries a try there are just a few simple steps you need to follow. First, head over to this link and sign up for the 14 day free trial period (the link will open in a new tab or window so you can keep this how-to open.)

This will give you access to everything MyHeritage has to offer, including a downloadable and online family tree, 7.2 billion records and all of their tools. MyHeritage is a paid subscription site, but their monthly fees are very reasonable when compared to some other leading services. So, if you decide to keep using the service after 14 days we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the price.

Once you have completed sign up, you should be automatically taken to your new “family site” as they call it. If you are not sent directly there simply visit the MyHeritage site and login or follow the link they send you in email. Of course, if you already have a MyHeritage complete subscription, there is no need to complete this step.

Make Instant Discoveries in Your Family Tree Today
Imagine adding your family history information to a simple program and getting hundreds of new discoveries instantly.

MyHeritage is offering 2 free weeks of access right now to their extensive collection of 7.2 billion records, as well as their matching technology that instantly connects you with new information. Simply sign up using the link below to start making new discoveries right now.

Step 2 – Upload Your Family Tree

MyHeritage makes it very easy to upload a current tree to your site. If you do not already have a tree developed, or prefer to manually enter the information into their system, then you can build a tree from scratch as well.

To upload your tree you will need a GEDCOM file. This is the standard file format for family tree information transfer. We downloaded ours from Ancestry for this purpose, but you can export a GEDCOM from any family tree program. This is generally found under File > Export.

On Ancestry, this option can be found by selecting Trees from the menu in a family tree, selecting Manage Trees, clicking on Manage Tree under the tree you want to export and looking for the green Export button in the right sidebar. We have an article dedicated to how to do this here if you would like a walk though.

Please note that exporting a GEDCOM does not export records as well. But it does export citations for all of your sources.

Once you have a GEDCOM file on your computer, look for the Family Tree rollover in the MyHeritage menu. Roll over it and select Import GEDCOM.

You will be taken to a screen where you can upload your GEDCOM file. When the upload is complete (this takes less than a couple of minutes in most cases) you will be given a message telling you that your tree is processing. An email will be sent when it is ready. For us, this happened almost immediately. Follow the email link to your family tree or find it by rolling over Family Tree in the menu again and selecting Manage Trees. Select your new tree to see how it looks.

Step 4 – Set Your Privacy Level

This is a good time to set your privacy level for your new tree. Click on your name in the upper right hand corner and select Privacy. Then look through the privacy options presented. Here you can control access to who sees your tree, whether you want to allow MyHeritage to share your tree in their searchable trees collection and other options.

You will need to have the Smart Matches box checked under “Content” to see Discoveries, but you do not need to allow inclusion of your tree in “MyHeritage historical search engines” if you do not feel comfortable with others having access to your information.

Step 4 – Make Some New Discoveries

Once you review your tree to make sure it looks accurate and set your privacy level you can jump right into Discoveries. To do this simply roll over Discoveries in the menu bar.

You will see that you have three options, the first is Matches by People. This will show you a list of discoveries by individuals in your tree. The second option, Matches by Source sorts these discoveries by the source they come from – such as the 1910 US Census.

The third option, Instant Discoveries, is not something we will be covering here since it would require an article by itself – but it is a tool that allows you to add family tree data to your own tree in batches. We caution you to be very careful with features that allow you to copy and paste information from other trees without very carefully examining each added person and detail. You can read more about why we think this is something to be very cautious with here. This advice also applies to adding records to your tree before you are sure that they are an accurate addition.

We found the Matches by People to be most intuitive. Click on this option. You will now be presented with a number of new discoveries, sorted by individual. You can choose to view all matches, or just Record or Smart Matches. Smart Matches will match you with other family trees, Record Matches will match you with records from the MyHeritage (and partner) collections. Here’s what it looks like.

You can also search for a specific person using the provided search function.

Once you have found an ancestor that you would like to review, simply select “Review Matches” and you will be brought to a screen where you can review all matches and choose which ones to delete or review. When you review a match you will be brought to a page where you can review the information with any transcribed information and the original record displayed in full. I really like how the actual record is presented here for review before you are asked to add it, or information from it, to your tree.

You can click on a record to view it full size and can easily download it to your computer, which is always recommended. Use the arrow button on top to download to your computer.

If you decide that this information should be added to your individual, simply Confirm Match and you will be taken to a page where you can “extract” information from this record directly to your tree while adding the record and citation.

I did find that many of the Discoveries came from otherwise free sources on the internet, such as FamilySearch Trees and the US Census. One of my major discoveries after I uploaded my tree was the record shown above for Joseph Mayo, another 3rd great grandfather. This record actually came from the Chronicling American collection which we have covered extensively here.

It is a free collection and, had I ever looked in this database specifically for Joseph I may have discovered it on my own. However, we all know that one of the greatest challenges of family history research is time. Although I have used Chronicling America many times with great success, I do not have the time to search for every single one of my research targets there. MyHeritage’s Discoveries engine did some of the work for me – connecting me with a record I had no idea existed. In this way the Discoveries tool acts a powerful search partner for free and paid resources.

You can also view record discoveries and search for additional records from the profile page of any person in your tree, a very convenient feature. In fact, it was in this way that I discovered the record that broke down by decade old brick wall – a Missouri Certificate of Death that never came up in my research before. It provided exact birth and death dates and, most exciting, parental information for this elusive ancestor. I’ll be building off that information for a while.

Now, you’re ready to give these Discoveries a try for yourself. You can sign up for a 14 day free trial here.

By Melanie Mayo, Family History Daily Editor

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13 Comments
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  • Lorena Bell-Ranta
    March 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    I can not go any further back in my heritage on my fathers side then my grandfather, I had always heard that he had changed his name, but I can find no record of him other than his death. I am starting to wonder if the name change was even a legal one. No birth, record of name change, nothing except he is listed as my fathers father and his death. Nothing seems to help, no I don’t know what his name was before so that does not help either.

  • Sandra Welburn
    March 16, 2017 at 12:25 am

    I would like to know how come living people are recorded on My Heritage. I know this is right because I was linked via my own name to My Heritage and there was my name, my children and grand child. I thought due to the privacy laws all living people should be listed as private, I found it an invasion of my privacy. Also to find out who had put these details on your site I was asked to pay to join.

  • Vickii Bendit
    March 14, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    I have traced my fathers side back to 1067 in England. On my mothers side, the Hooks line ends in London in 1756 – and there is NO mother listed – and his last name is different from the father listed last name. Have you ever run into this?

  • Ken Benner
    February 24, 2017 at 8:01 am

    What makes you think that you are better than the records on ANcestry.com I feel that maybe you both have the same records and that’s about it. Am I right? I have been struggling with a 3rd great grandfather not knowing his name at all, I have his wifes first name only and the records from Maryland to Lewis and Knox county Missouri has nothing on him at all. the family did not even mention his name on any of their obituaries or family Bibles. I have done countless hours and months and years trying to find his name without fail. It’s as if he walked off the face of the earth. SHe was on the 1840 Lewis CO. MO. Census with her four sons as the oldest son as head of household. No husband was with her. so he died between the last childs birth 1826 up to 1840. NOthing is found on him as I don’t have a first name at all.

    • Rachida Djebel
      February 24, 2017 at 9:18 am

      Editor’s Note: This comment has been removed due to hateful content.

      • Kenneth Benner
        February 24, 2017 at 10:21 am

        Maybe I should have said What is it that this site has that Ancestry doesn’t already have. I mean no disrespect.

        • Rick Reinckens
          March 2, 2017 at 10:06 pm

          EVERY one of these MAJOR sites has SOME things NO ONE else has. Yes, there will be a lot of overlap. But they will also have material others DON’T have. Some will be different COLLECTIONS. Much of it will be different TREES.

          For someone who has only been doing a little research or who only started recently AND who is mainly researching countries for which Ancestry has a lot of records, Ancestry is definitely THE way to go. But for someone who has been researching for several years, after awhile everything that shows up in hints or searches you’ve already seen. Using other MAJOR sites (e.g., Family Search) provides access to new materials.

          Another thing is that people who start on a fairly large PAID site usually will stay THERE. Nobody who has uploaded 200 images wants to have to redo all of the uploading, filling in info on each image, attaching the image to individuals, etc. Unfortunately, there isn’t ANY way to take ALL the information from one site and TRANSFER it to another site–GEDCOMs don’t transfer images.

          So it’s worth ONCE IN AWHILE getting a subscription to other LARGE companies just to have access for finding those “only we have it” materials.

        • Sheri S
          March 17, 2017 at 11:10 am

          You do realize the person who so rudely responded to your question is not a representative of My Heritage? The writer of the article is Melanie Mayo, not Rachida Djebel.

          The dead giveaways are the grammatical errors in the response and referring to you as Mr. Know-it-All and ignorant. Very unprofessional.

      • melissa billings
        March 14, 2017 at 6:41 pm

        How do you search if your mother has been adopted ?

        • Donna Lawson
          March 27, 2017 at 12:04 pm

          If you know where she was adopted, you can write to the county courthouse and ask for the adoption papers be opened. Write to the judge and ask. I had my adoption papers opened and got my father’s information. He left before I was born. If her birth certificate is included, you can get a lot of information from the birth certificate.

    • Adrienne Yocham
      March 21, 2017 at 11:10 am

      Do you know if there was even a father in the picture? Maybe she was unmarried, or a mistress. It seems odd that there is no mention of him anywhere, even in family Bibles. Seems like maybe his identity was kept secret on purpose.

  • Rachida Djebel
    February 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Editor’s Note: This comment has been removed due to hateful content.

    • Rick Reinckens
      March 2, 2017 at 10:37 pm

      Your postings give a grossly distorted impression about Ancestry. Of course, ANY large set of records will contain a moderate amount of erroneous or misleading information. But people reading your postings could easily get the VERY mistaken impression that MOST of what is available on Ancestry is junk.

      I’m a lawyer who did consumer debt collection for a number of years and in the early 1990’s wrote about a dozen Continuing Legal Education seminar papers (around 40-200 pages each) on “Locating Debtors and Assets”. One firm had in-house skip tracers and I learned all sorts of methods from them. So I know a LOT about research on “finding people” that VERY few people know.

      And I’m still AMAZED at the INCREDIBLE amount of good information available on Ancestry–city directories that show year-by-year where ancestors lived and what type of work they did, school yearbooks, death certificates that show parents, etc. Ancestry isn’t “illegally sneaking behind governments’ back”. They are CONTRACTING with the GOVERNMENT AGENCIES to digitize, index AND make the records available.

      If state or federal laws prohibit making certain records available, the states or federal agencies DON’T contract with Ancestry. For instance, The federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2721 et seq., prohibits making driver’s license information available to the general public on-line.

      And I do a lot to GIVE BACK to “the community” for all the information OTHERS have contributed over the years–I scanned in about 815 pages of my junior high and high school yearbooks (the originals of which I want to keep) and uploaded them to an Ancestry tree. (I set up a small one under the high school deceased principal’s name, just to have a place to put them.) And I donated my four college yearbooks, which Ancestry had scanned and are now available.

      And since I majored in German in college, I’ve been able to find and translate records that no one else for four generations has known about or been able to read–and then I posted the translations on Ancestry.

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