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In an interview yesterday, MyHeritage founder and CEO Gilad Japhet called the 1940
census announcement “the first serious signal from MyHeritage that it is strongly
entering the historical records market.”
“MyHeritage has always been about family trees and photos.”
For at least a year, plans have been underway to change that.
MyHeritage.com has invested half a million dollars into new hardware and a data center
to build its new SuperSearch system, which will be released with the site’s 1940 census
collection in April. It also will be available on FamilyLink and WorldVitalRecords.com,
which MyHeritage acquired in November 2011.
The company also made a personnel acquisition I’m not free to go into detail about,
but you’ll hear more soon.
MyHeritage has used SmartMatching, which Japhet says is a good way to search trees
for matches, but less effective when it comes to searching on a last name “in any
direction the user wants to go.”
The new search system will do a better job of matching trees to records by employing
data in approximately 1 billion profiles in MyHeritage.com family trees from around
The SuperSearch will first compare your tree to other trees, find matches and “imply”
information from those trees—but not add it to your tree, Japhet emphasized. But the
search will include that implied information to find historical records that match
For example, if your ancestor’s profile lacks a death date, SuperSearch could find
the same ancestor in someone else’s tree—using other details such as children’s names
to make the match—and use the death date from the other person’s tree to locate the
ancestor’s will in MyHeritage collections.
“This has a low false positive rate. It’s a match Ancestry never could have done.
Their technology doesn’t use the knowledge of all its trees,” Japhet said. He described
the Ancestry.com “shaky leaf” technology as “a bit
naïve” because it requires more similar information, such as name spellings or birth
and death dates—information the tree owner might not know—to find matches.
“Whenever new data are added, we compare them to all the MyHeritage trees, so you
can sit back and do nothing,” Gaphet says. “If you have a person’s family tree, you
can do a lot of research on behalf of the person.”
Due to the resource investment, using the new SuperSearch engine will require a subscription,
says Gaphet. But current MyHeritage Premium and PremiumPlus subscribers, who’ve purchased
subscriptions to build enhanced trees on the site, won’t need to purchase an additional
subscription to use the search engine for finding trees, photos and free collections
(including the 1940 census and the SSDI). Pay-as-you credits also will be available
for those who want to view only a few records or just dip a toe into genealogy research.
The 1940 census index also will be free to search via SuperSearch.
Trees will remain an important part of MyHeritage.
“We think family trees are the most important thing. They’re the core of family history.
We would love for users to grow their trees on MyHeritage, so we have invested many
resources in building tools and services that work with the trees.” Those include
the MyHeritage mobile app, printable family trees, family calendars and more.
“Other sites focus on research,” Japhet says, but added that users might give it up
when it becomes too time-consuming. “Users discontinue [a subscription] when they
can’t use it,” he says, “but they’ll maintain a tree for life.”
Trees also have been helpful in making MyHeritage a site that supports multiple languages—38,
to be exact. Because trees can be bilingual, developers have been able to build a
store of information about name equivalents in a range of languages.
“You can type in a Russian name and get an English match,” Japhet says. “Or you could
type in Alex and the site ‘knows’ Sascha is the translated Russian nickname, and it
pulls up a newspaper article in Russian,” he says.
The site translates between alphabets, too, such as the Latin alphabet English uses
and the Cyrillic alphabet Russian uses.
To encourage the site’s internationalism, MyHeritage focuses on hiring bilingual individuals.
They maintain blogs and provide customer service in several languages.
The 1940 census is just the beginning of new content for MyHeritage. Japhet didn’t
name any specific collections coming to the site, but he emphasized the global nature
of records to be added and said the site would employ crowdsourcing to acquire content.
Those who assist with crowdsourcing efforts will gain SuperSearch privileges.