“Can you hear me?” and “You’re on mute!” were some of the most commonly spoken phrases of 2020. Whether this rings true in your household or not, many of us have spent the majority of our time on screens this year, for work, social events, genealogy research, or staying in touch with family. This was just the tip of the iceberg. The world has changed in so many ways in 2020 due to COVID-19. Our hearts go out to families affected by the pandemic, and our gratitude and appreciation go out to all the brave individuals who have continuously fought on the front lines to get us through this crisis.
In these challenging times and amid so much uncertainty, we have all learned to be flexible and adapt. This has certainly been true at MyHeritage, but through all this we have persevered and prospered by committing to the values of innovation, togetherness, and giving.
Throughout the year, we released innovative new features. We placed historical photos front and center as we released our new photo features, MyHeritage In Color and the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer. We ended the year by releasing Genetic Groups that provide the highest resolution ethnicity breakdown available on the market, covering 2,114 geographic regions. We’re passionate about helping people connect with their family history, and we will continue to develop cutting-edge technologies to make discovering family history easier, more enjoyable, and emotionally rewarding.
With the pandemic keeping people at home, genealogy research became more popular than ever, as many took comfort in the fulfilling pastime. We found new ways to bring MyHeritage users and the genealogy community together, offering free online sessions each week including Webinars, Facebook Lives, and Instagram Lives. This enabled MyHeritage users from around the world to learn about family history and DNA testing from a wide variety of industry experts and MyHeritage staff. Our users responded with great enthusiasm. Thousands of people from all over the world have participated. We also added a wealth of new content to the MyHeritage Knowledge Base to help users improve their know-how at their own pace. We’re looking forward to bringing you more informative, fun, and intriguing sessions to help you move forward in your genealogy journey.
As a company with scientific knowledge and technological capabilities, we felt a moral responsibility to step up and do what we can to make a difference during these difficult times. This led to one of the most ambitious projects that MyHeritage has ever undertaken — and that was brought to fruition in a matter of weeks —the establishment of a coronavirus testing lab. In an incredible effort, we built a huge lab in Israel that employs 200 people and is one of the largest coronavirus testing labs in the world. Our efforts were rewarded and the lab helped save hundreds of lives in old age homes over the past few months
At numerous points throughout the year, we offered free and unlimited access to billions of historical records and to our popular photo tools, to provide those keeping safe at home with a fun and exciting way to pass the time and enjoy genealogy. Throughout this difficult year, it has been important to seize opportunities to help others and bring people joy. We are committed to providing our users with more resources to further their genealogical research while at home.
Here’s a recap of our highlights from 2020:
In January, we had the first-ever 24-Hour Genealogy Webinar Marathon held by MyHeritage and featured on Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Host Geoff Rasmussen, together with expert speakers, invited MyHeritage users from around the world to attend lectures on the best and latest genealogy news. Users with a Legacy Family Tree Webinars membership can view all the sessions here. The event was a success and we plan to repeat it in 2021.
February was a busy month at MyHeritage as we released MyHeritage in Color, a groundbreaking feature to automatically colorize your black and white photos, in collaboration with DeOldify. Colorization brings your family history to life and enables you to see your ancestors in a whole new light. The results are simply incredible.
A few days after releasing MyHeritage In Color, we published a blog post with some of our favorite examples of colorized photos shared online. The feature quickly became a sensation, with over a million photos colorized in just the first few days. Users from all over the world were stunned, and sometimes tearful, at how adding color could revive memories of their loved ones and change the way they relate to the photos.
We released the new Fan View for family trees on MyHeritage. In addition to the views already available, Fan View provides a useful and attractive visualization of your family tree, displaying a root individual and their direct ancestors for several generations. It’s interactive and allows you to easily navigate your tree, view more information about any individual, and even add more people to the tree. Besides the text mode of the Fan View, there is also the Color mode, which hides the text and fills each card with color. It’s particularly suitable for sharing the completeness of your tree with your family and friends.
In February we also published a huge collection of historical U.S. City Directories, a project that was two years in the making. The collection was produced by MyHeritage from 25,000 public U.S. City Directories published between 1860 and 1960, and includes 1.3 billion entries that have been consolidated into 545 million easily searchable records. This collection continues to be a major attraction on MyHeritage.
Just before the world turned upside down, we participated in person in RootsTech 2020, the world’s largest and most popular family history conference, held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference included highlights such as a big MyHeritage announcement each day, a busy MyHeritage booth, a full schedule of MyHeritage demo sessions, and lectures by MyHeritage speakers.
On the Thursday night of the conference, there was a screening of MyHeritage’s first full-length documentary, The Missing Piece. Viewers followed the incredible story of two sisters from Korea who were separated for decades. Abandoned as infants and adopted by families in different parts of the world, they finally found each other thanks to MyHeritage DNA. When the sisters — the film’s protagonists — walked in at the end, there was not a dry eye in the house, and they received a standing ovation.
MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet addressed the audience and described the new features that MyHeritage had released, such as MyHeritage In Color, Fan View, and U.S. City Directories. He also demonstrated how these tools benefit genealogical research in his inspiring talk.
Following the success of MyHeritage In Color, and to facilitate sharing of a single image that combines the original photo with the new colorized version side by side, we created a “Download comparison” option in March.
Quite early on in the pandemic, all MyHeritage employees began working from home. The shift proved surprisingly seamless. All MyHeritage teams continued to work normally and found ways to make the most of the situation while staying safe and healthy. We have continued to maintain social distancing and work from home ever since.
To bring some added joy to our users during a globally challenging time, we offered free and unlimited use of MyHeritage In Color for an entire month. Colorizing your photos can create a deeper connection to your family history and evoke warm memories.
Building on the wonderful reaction to MyHeritage In Color, we colorized the entire U.S. Yearbook collection on MyHeritage, which includes 290 million names in 36 million yearbook pages, spanning from 1890–1979. We then offered free access to all U.S. Yearbooks on MyHeritage for a full month, so our users could see colorized versions of their ancestors’ yearbook photos next to the originals.
In May we refreshed the data for the Theory of Family Relativity, the feature that helps you make the most of your DNA Matches by combining genealogical information from billions of family tree profiles and historical records to offer theories on how you and your DNA Matches might be related. Users who have taken a MyHeritage DNA test or uploaded DNA results to MyHeritage may receive new theories that provide them with new information on family connections.
For the first time, we published three substantial collections of Greek historical records, including Sparta Marriages 1835–1935, Corfu Vital Records, 1841–1932, and Electoral Rolls 1863–1924. The records in these collections are rich in detail and contain scanned images of the original documents. These collections are searchable in both Greek and English.
We published an exclusive death record collection from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, from 1874–1938. The collection includes 2,450,551 records with beautiful scanned images of the original civil registration records.
Each day of June, we offered a different historical record collection for free. The collections we chose were handpicked for their value for family historians and include collections that are exclusive to MyHeritage. Altogether, we provided free access to 2 billion historical records throughout June.
Later that month, we announced that our Global Name Translation Technology was extended to Record Matches on an automated and regular basis. Users now receive Record Matches with historical records and family tree profiles in other languages, and the names are conveniently spelled out using the user’s preferred language. This update helps users locate records that would otherwise have been very difficult to find.
We added 7 new reports to the MyHeritage Health test, bringing the total number of health reports to 42. The new reports included a polygenic risk score for obesity and high BMI that is based on thousands of genetic variants, a significantly enhanced hereditary BRCA cancers report, and 5 carrier status reports.
We launched the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer: a powerful feature based on AI technology that brings faces in any photo into sharp focus. The Photo Enhancer produces results that are crisp and well-defined, complementing MyHeritage In Color which was released earlier in the year.
Our Founder and CEO, Gilad Japhet, revealed new developments during a talk he delivered online to the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) on June 23. Gilad gave a sneak peek of upcoming features that MyHeritage is developing in genealogy and DNA.
MyHeritage Photo Enhancer quickly became a very popular feature on MyHeritage, and users were eager to share their enhanced and colorized photos on social media. A couple weeks after its release, we posted some fantastic examples that our users shared, and their feedback.
At the end of June, after a month of hard work, MyHeritage opened a local COVID-19 testing lab in Israel out of humanitarian concern. While it was a huge undertaking, it was thanks to the excellent MyHeritage team that we succeeded in achieving this almost impossible feat in record time. After validation and accreditation by Israel’s Ministry of Health, the lab began processing real samples and scaled up to be one of the world’s largest coronavirus testing labs. We did this because we believe that large-scale testing is vital to fight the disease, cut transmission chains, and save lives.
See how the MyHeritage COVID-19 testing lab was built in this time-lapse video:
We offered free access to all birth records on MyHeritage, containing one billion historical records.
In July, we scaled up the COVID-19 testing lab and started testing all caregivers across Israel’s old age homes once a week. Through this unique program, called “Magen Avot” or “Fathers and Mothers Shield”, led by Prof. Nimrod Maimon, COVID-19 mortality in Israel’s old age homes dropped from 50% of all COVID-19 deaths (as in Europe) to 30%, saving hundreds of lives over the course of the following months.
In August, we announced a redesign of our search engine for historical records, making searching easier and more intuitive. Users can now edit the search while viewing the results, and see more results on each page.
We launched the #EnhancedandColorized photo contest and offered a free Complete plan to 3 winners who shared their enhanced and colorized family photos on social media. We enjoyed seeing our users’ family photos come to life thanks to our photo tools. We invite you to see some of our favorites in this summary blog post.
We refreshed the data for the Theory of Family Relativity again in September and gave our DNA users many more theories that provide important insights on family connections.
In October, we added Norway Church Records, 1815–1938. The collection consists of 42.2 million indexed records and high-quality scans of the original documents.
We released a new version of our family tree software, Family Tree Builder, for Mac users with operating systems Catalina and High Sierra. The software is enjoyed by millions of users around the world, and combines innovative technologies with easy-to-use features.
In time for the holidays, we introduced the MyHeritage gift membership for the Complete plan, allowing users to introduce their loved ones to the enjoyable world of genealogy and help them discover their family history.
We released another colorization model for colorizing black and white photos with MyHeritage In Color, which produces better results. This model is now the new default for colorizing black and white photos.
We added six new health reports to MyHeritage Health, including new Polygenic Risk Score (PRS) reports for glaucoma and prostate cancer, an update to the PRS report for heart disease, as well as 4 carrier status reports.
We announced the addition of two new collections of Norway Census records — the 1875 Norway Census and the 1870 Norway Census. Digitized in collaboration with National Archives of Norway, the 2 million records in these collections include high-quality scans of the original documents.
In December, we released a Pedigree View for family trees on Family Tree Builder. Pedigree View is the preferred family tree view for countless MyHeritage users who do family history research on their MyHeritage family sites, and many have requested that we offer the same functionality on our desktop software.
Last but not least, and just in time for Christmas, we released Genetic Groups, a long-awaited enhancement of ethnicity results on MyHeritage DNA. With this addition, the resolution of MyHeritage’s ethnicity breakdown increased significantly to 2,114 geographic regions, providing more depth and resolution than any other DNA test available today, and complementing the current 42 top-level ethnicities. This is a huge milestone for MyHeritage and we’re continuing to fine-tune this feature and release improvements in the coming months.
The percentage-based ethnicity estimates are currently being updated using better technology which will be released in 2021.
We topped off the year with a special end-of-the-year Facebook Live where we were joined by industry leaders and friends of MyHeritage to reflect on 2020 and look ahead to 2021. The panel discussions were enlightening and showed us all how far the genealogy world has advanced over the last year.
In 2020 we added 2.15 billion historical records from all across the globe for a total of 12.7 billion historical records in our historical record database.
Here are some of the noteworthy collections we added this year:
- U.S. City Directories
- Brazil Pernambuco Deaths
- 3 collections from Greece: Sparta Marriages, Corfu Vital Records, and Electoral Rolls and Male Registers
- North Rhine Westphalia Death Index
- Norway Church Records, 1815-1938
- 3 Wales Parish records: Wales Parish Birth and Baptisms, Marriages and Banns, and Deaths and Burials
- 1870 and 1875 Norway Census Records
In 2020, many family connections were uncovered and reunions were made possible (some virtual) thanks to MyHeritage. Here are some of this year’s incredible stories:
MyHeritage uncovered the extraordinary story of German Jewish war hero. An iconic 1933 photo of Jewish shopkeeper Richard Stern standing defiantly outside his shop in Cologne, Germany sparked the interest of the MyHeritage Research team. They noticed the Iron Cross on his lapel as a Nazi soldier stands guard a few feet away. Using MyHeritage family trees and our historical record collections, we traced Stern’s incredible personal story from that day in Cologne and across the Atlantic Ocean, and it was featured on CNN.
MyHeritage user David “Dudi” Lenchner grew up knowing that his grandmother had survived the Holocaust, but she never mentioned any other family members. After discovering that at least one cousin of his grandmother survived the war, he turned to MyHeritage to search further. His journey on MyHeritage led him to locate historical records for long-lost family, and helped him reconnect with family members all over the world.
Ludmila Benová shared an amazing discovery that her grandmother made using MyHeritage. At 86 years old, Květoslava Bechyňová found her siblings using the MyHeritage feature called Search Connect, which allows users to connect with other MyHeritage members who have searched for the same ancestors.
Anne Angot was born in 1972 in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, and was adopted by a French family at one year old. She grew up knowing nothing of her biological family. Anne decided to take a DNA test with MyHeritage in hopes of finding her biological family. Her MyHeritage DNA match led her to her biological father.
We all know some of the true heroes of 2020 have been medical professionals. These days, it’s especially important to remember that not all war heroes wear army fatigues. Some of them wear scrubs. Our research team turned to the MyHeritage newspaper collections to learn about the role nurses and medics had during World War II and how they were celebrated in the media.
Marysia Galbraith — an anthropologist from Alabama — discovered a secret envelope belonging to her grandmother with an old family photo inside. Armed with the photograph, Marysia got to work searching for her extended family on MyHeritage. She discovered a cousin who had the exact same photo in his possession. They are so grateful to have connected and speak to each other regularly.
Kim Ok Le was abandoned in a Catholic church in Daegu, South Korea as a baby and adopted by an Italian family. Kim was always curious about her biological family. Months after taking a MyHeritage DNA test, she received a notification about a DNA Match to a full sister!
When Clare Reay‘s son bought her a MyHeritage DNA test, she hoped to discover a little about her mother’s ethnic background. She never imagined that the test would lead her to solve the mystery of her mother’s origins and find the sisters who had been searching for her for more than 50 years.
Michigan user Melissa Porter gave the surprise of a lifetime to an army veteran in Florida: she was his daughter. After a 23-year-long search, they finally reunited thanks to MyHeritage DNA.
When Seraine Danner was 7 years old, she learned something earth-shattering: she had a biological father and had no idea who he was. After almost 10 years of searching, a DNA Match on MyHeritage finally led her to her birth father, and they met for the first time.
Thomas Edelmann, a MyHeritage user from Germany, contacted our team to request help with locating the descendants of a Jewish family whose store was confiscated by the Germans during WWII. Thomas’ grandfather had bought the business from the Jewish founders when they were forced to sell it, back in 1938. He was determined to track down the descendants to make a long-overdue apology. The moving tale was featured on CNN.
The MyHeritage Team
Despite working remotely, the MyHeritage team has remained connected, using technology so all teams can share ideas, collaborate on different projects, and receive important updates.
In August, we hosted an internal virtual “Ideathon”. We invited all employees from every department to bring forth new and innovative ideas for MyHeritage products and features. We can’t wait to share the winning ideas with you in the coming months.
In the fall, we hosted a remote hackathon, a sprint-like event where employees could collaborate on developing out-of-the-box ideas. The previous hackathon led us to the creation of the MyHeritage In Color feature, and this event proved to be just as successful. Numerous ideas emerged and have been added to our product roadmap.
Since the shift to working from home in March, MyHeritage employees have enjoyed 60 virtual lectures and events including sessions from experts, cooking demonstrations, “TED” style talks, trivia nights, and more.
200 employees were hired to work in the new MyHeritage Lab, in addition to the 72 MyHeritage employees hired over the past year. Our employees’ families also grew — we celebrated 4 MyHeritage weddings and added 47 new babies to our family trees.
2020 was a year that none of us could have envisioned or prepared for. It was difficult for so many, providing new challenges and forcing us to accept a new reality. We’re glad to have made it through and we look forward to a time when we can look past COVID-19. We are all hopeful for a time when we can see our loved ones again in person, and without restrictions.
Over the past year, we developed useful new features that provide tremendous value to the genealogy community. We’ve worked hard to strengthen our community, bringing us all a little closer together, and we will continue to do this in the coming year.
Wishing you and your families a happy and healthy New Year!
Source: My Heritage