By: Carolyn L. Barkley
I freely admit that I don’t leap to use new technology as soon as it is available. I’m a lurker, waiting until most of the “bugs,” either real or perceived, are identified and resolved. For example, I do own an iPad (practically an extension of my right hand), but I purchased it only after the iPad2 had been available for some time. Today I am writing about MyHeritage.com – no doubt many of you have been using it for a while now–but it is new to me.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have only looked at MyHeritage.com for a few weeks. I should also tell you that I am a Master Genealogist user, as well as a subscriber to Mocavo and Ancestry, among other online resources. Also, in order to make my research more accessible when I’m away from home, I have the GedView and Ancestry apps on my iPad, and have recently downloaded (but not yet tried) the Heredis app as I find that the other two apps don’t really meet my needs.
My Heritage.com, with headquarters in Israel and in Provo, Utah, at its most basic level, provides free access to what it terms a “family networking site.”1 You can sign up for the Basic plan (note that the family tree size is limited to 250 individuals) at no cost, and it comes with 250 MB of storage, basic SmartMatching™ technology, and basic Family Tree Builder capability. A Premium subscription allows for a tree of 2,500 individuals in addition to 500 MB of storage, and adds enhanced SmartMatching™ capability, as well as priority support and a timeline feature, for a cost of $6.25 per month ($75.00 per year). A third plan, PremiumPlus, includes an unlimited family tree size and unlimited storage and adds a Timebook feature to the features already included in the Premium plan. This PremiumPlus plan costs $9.95 per month ($119.40 per year). Rebates are available if you subscribe for two or five years.
Once you have decided on the size tree you will need, sign up is quick and easy with only minimal information required. You may then download an original GEDCOM file or build a tree from scratch. I chose to import a GEDCOM from one of my Master Genealogist databases. The conversion was, again, very quick. As a caveat, my family tree, which is far from complete in this particular GEDCOM, contains 2,990 people, thereby negating any use of the free basic service.
The family tree pedigree chart resulting from the upload can be viewed either in “modern view” or “classic view.” While I personally find the blue (for males) and pink (for women) boxes in the modern view to be rather cliché, the modern view does show spouses from all of an individual’s marriages while the classic view (which uses green and melon color instead of blue and pink) provides numbered tabs with which to toggle among marriages. Another distinction between the two views is that in the modern view, the left hand side of the screen offers only the details about the individual selected from the tree, while the classic view provides an opportunity to toggle from the individual detail screen to a list of all of the individuals in the file. Both views offer the ability to search for a specific person, although the search/find box differs between views. As there are definite differences between the two views, you will want to experiment to see which you prefer to use.
I was also surprised that all of the married women’s names were shown in the following format: “Lois Lopes (born Smith).” My name, however, showed my maiden name. I finally discovered that the format differed because I am divorced from my first husband and my second is deceased and the program reverted to my maiden name for simplicity. After grumbling about this format and after many minutes sorting out how to change it, I discovered that I could go to “Account,” then “Site settings,” then “Genealogy” and change the display of the names of married women. That process was not straightforward and there appeared to be no other topics under the Genealogy tab.
The detail screen for each person offers the ability to add a photo and to edit or add to the facts provided in the original GEDCOM upload. Please note that the edit/add facts function in the modern view includes only birth, death, burial, marriage, and divorce options, with entry boxes for date, place, and description. Other options include the ability to add a relative, “view this person’s branch” (the purpose of which I couldn’t figure out), remove a connection, or delete the individual. I could find no specific location in the box (other than the description area) in which to include a source.
I particularly like the “People” tab which, when clicked, provides an annotated list of all the individuals in the database. The list includes the individual’s name and picture, if available; place and date of birth; date and place of death; gender; and names of spouses, parents and siblings. In addition it provides easy navigation to an individual’s profile page and place in the family tree, among other options. The profile page is the key entry point at which to add information. I discovered this fact after about an hour of bumbling around on the site. It is here that you add source citations and other non-vital-record facts, including links to web content, videos, etc.
MyHeritage.com employs SmartMatch™ technology to match a family tree to “hundreds of millions of profiles in other trees.” The MyHeritage.com website states that as a user, you will be able to view all Smart Matches, be notified about new matches, compare your family tree with matching trees, and copy information and photos into your family tree.2 I have been disappointed in this feature as I purchased my subscription on 21 September and when I chose the Smart Match™ option, it still states (almost three weeks later): “Smart Matches are currently being processed. Come back to this page soon to check for updates.” In addition, it provides a tip, marked with a light bulb that suggests that I “add more people to [my] family tree to get Smart Matches.”
There are other interesting features that intrigued me. Under the “Reports” tab is a link called “Statistics.” Once selected, this section provides a series of graphs illustrating information about the file (percentage of males vs. females; living vs. deceased; relationship (i.e., married, single, etc.); common last names; and first names by gender) and maps showing geographical distribution of individuals (places of birth, death and residence). In addition there are statistics about age distribution, oldest living people (which may be a function of missing death dates!); youngest people; average life expectancy by gender; percentage of individuals born in each month; born in each sign of the zodiac (trivia for sure, but the highest in my 2,990 people is Pisces). Other statistical topics include marriages, children, and divorces–kind of a fun function for an inquiring mind. Other reports include a relationship report, an ancestor report, a descendant report, and a place report.
A “Chart” tab allows for the selection of a type of chart (bowtie, close family, ancestors, descendants, hourglass, fan, and “all-in-one”). A final type, “family book” offers a “detailed and professional compilation of the family tree. It includes narrative on each person’s life, photographs, family tree diagrams, and useful indexes.”3 You can chose from eighteen different styles of chart printing, and chose what facts and what number of generations to be included. Then, after choosing “Create Chart,” you can view the chart as a pdf, or you may order it as a poster. Please note that while the charts themselves are reasonably priced (the largest size in the type and style I first experimented with was 26 x 24 and cost $18.90), the handling fee was quoted as $16.85. I chose a style with more generations and the largest size available was 50 x 42 with a cost of $58.50. In this instance, the shipping was much more reasonable at $10.25.
Almost at the end of the choices on the family tree page is one entitled “Sources.” This function serves as a master source list which is then linked to individual records. When selected, you will see a list of all the sources which you have included in your database. Hovering over the title of the source you will be able to see how many citations are connected to that source and either view, edit or delete a specific citation. By selecting “view,” you are taken to the profile of the specific individual.
The final major function to check out is the “Research” tab. Here you will find SuperSearch™ which will allow you to search “billions” of records on MyHeritage.com. Please note that whether you use the basic search or the advanced, you will want to learn how to focus your search categories so that you do not get thousands – maybe even millions – of irrelevant hits. For example, even though I entered my grandfather’s full name, year of birth and city and state of birth, I received 14,169,345 responses with various years and places (states and countries). Narrowing the search to just birth, marriage and death records reduced the responses to 4,296,096. Reducing the search further to marriage records reduced the number to 291,555. As this number was still too large, I tried to narrow the search by father’s first name, only to learn that there were no Edwards, and that there were no available marriage records for Massachusetts after 1800. A more powerful search engine perhaps could have quickly indicated there were no matches without the extra work required on my part to narrow the search repeatedly. I tried the same search looking for matches in MyHeritage.com family trees and received 5,619,269 results. This time, narrowing the search by father’s name (Edward) reduced the search to 13,575. After trying to narrow the search further by mother’s name (Grace) I threw in the towel, not only because I could not find a Grace in the list of mother’s names, but also because determining whether Grace was included as a mother’s name was made more difficult as the names are listed by frequency, rather than in alphabetical order.
There are other functions that I have not covered here. One that I will mention in passing is the service terms governing use of the site. Among many other prohibitions, it is important to note the following: “Except with our express prior written consent, you must not copy or store electronically all or part of our Website or its contents, or make available, distribute, sell or offer to sell all or any part of the Website or its contents, or systematically download content and data from or through the Website to make or populate another database for any purpose…Members must obtain permission from living family members before uploading information about them to a family site, or if they still do so without their permission, it is the responsibility of the family site’s owner…The right of the relative to request not to be listed in a family site is stronger than the right of the owner of the site to list that relative in a family site…”4
MyHeritage.com is a site that will work well for the genealogist who wants a very visual approach to a family tree and who is active in social networking within his or her family. In my opinion, a more advanced researcher will not find it to be a substitute for any of the more traditional genealogical software packages, nor will experienced researchers find its search engine robust enough to satisfy their research needs. Nevertheless, I will continue testing my GEDCOM file to learn more about the product and observe its growth within the market.
1 “My Heritage Reviews,” No1Reviews.com (http://genealogy-websites.no1reviews.com/myheritage.html : accessed 9 October 2012).
2 “Smart Matches Technology,” MyHeritage.com (http://www.myheritage.com/FP/smart-matching.php : accessed 9 October 2012).
3”Charts and Books,” MyHeritage.com (http://www.myheritage.com/FP/family-tree-builder-charts.php?s=194643871 : accessed 9 October 2012)
4 “Terms and Conditions,” MyHeritage.com
(http://www.myheritage.com/FP/Company/popup.php?p=terms_conditions : accessed 9 October 2012)