Archive for 2011

Holiday Competition

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

MyHeritage is having great Holiday Competition – Join in the fun by following the details found HERE on the MyHeritage Blog.

MyHeritage Holiday CompetitionHappy Holidays

MyHeritage releases Family Tree Builder Version 6.0

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Family Tree Builder Version 6.0

Today, - the parent company of - released version 6.0 of its popular free family software, Family Tree Builder. There have been more than 28 million downloads of FTB.

WorldVitalRecords is excited to be included in this release as our data is now searchable from within the software. Users can search for matches in our database of more than 4 billion records.

CEO Gilad Japhet said about FTB6:  “Packed with exciting new features, Family Tree Builder adds color and depth to family history research for professionals and beginners alike. We’re proud to have developed the industry’s most comprehensive and feature-rich software, and, true to our mission of bringing family history to the masses, we’ll continue to keep it free for all to use.”

What’s New in Version 6.0?  (Highlights – read full details here)

• Automatic Historical Record Matches: Family Tree Builder 6.0 automatically searches for relevant historical records in World Vital Records – a huge database added to the MyHeritage family last month as part of its acquisition of For more details click here.  With billions of birth, marriage, death and census records, plus newspapers, yearbooks and additional historical content – exciting discoveries are awaiting almost everyone.


Capture history in the making and preserve it for future generations with new app.

Friday, December 16th, 2011

What a great day it is!

It’s never been easier to capture history in the making and preserve it for future generations.

I downloaded the just-released MyHeritage Mobile App (for iPad, iPhone and Android devices) to my smartphone. Within minutes, I was browsing my family tree data, as well as uploading and sharing photos.

I understood how awesome family history will be from now on.

When my family and relatives say – “Mark, you’re the genealogist. Where was Grandma born?” –  I’ll whip out my smartphone as if it were a six-shooter. I’ll tap the MyHeritage app, scroll over to Grandma and fill the family in on the rich details of a great woman’s life and legacy. (more…)

Finding, recording Christmas traditions and stories

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Finding, recording Christmas traditions and stories

I heard a story recently about a Christmas tree decorated with real candles.  In years’ past that’s how they did it – real trees and real candles – possibly a combustible combination.  It was a great story and one that will be handed down through the family for years to come.

In our home, the tree goes up on or near Thanksgiving and comes down soon after Christmas. We think it looks boring after the gifts are gone.  My wife insists that we begin placing gifts under the tree as soon as possible instead of waiting until Christmas Eve.  Growing up, we waited to place the presents because we kids just had to peek.

Our tree ornaments in my childhood home were re-used each year.  Little clay figures made at school, paper chains, popcorn strands – it was very much a kid’s tree.  As we got older, the decorations became more decorative than historic.  Now, at home, we have no historical ornaments – just those that look nice.  It’s a big decorative tree which puts us all in the holiday mood. (more…)

Using technology to uncover the past

Thursday, December 8th, 2011
My old home - no longer standing

My old home - no longer standing

I just revisited my childhood home – even though it no longer exists.

As I walked Canyon Oaks Drive (Irving, Texas), I approached the cul-de-sac where I biked in summer, wished for snow in winter and raced for the finish line in my teens. (Don’t tell my parents, but we could hit 60 mph and more before we reached the corner. I wondered if the skid marks were still there.) (more…)

The perfect heartfelt gift – 20 minutes a day

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
The Olsen

The Olsens

The perfect heartfelt gift – 20 minutes a day

My baby sister has been driving her siblings nuts this year as she prepares a special gift for our parents.

For the past few months, she’s been “encouraging” us to write down our childhood memories so she can add them to a photo book she’s creating. It’s a great idea – but also hard work. To me, it’s a time-consuming emotional process to go through your memories, put them down nicely on paper and share them with the world, or at least with the family.  But what better present could there be? You on paper for your children, parents and relatives.

I’d like nothing more than to have my siblings, parents, our only surviving grandparent and more of my extended family write their stories and share them. As I delve deeper into our family history I realize what great knowledge we hold in our minds. It all dies when a relative passes and has not recorded his or her memories, or caring relatives had not succeeded in prying out those memories. (more…)

WorldVitalRecords is now part of MyHeritage!

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

WorldVitalRecords is now part of MyHeritage!

Recently in November, the news was announced that World Vital Records had been acquired by MyHeritage We, at WorldVitalRecords, are very happy to be part of the MyHeritage family.  We’ve been busy communicating this exciting news across the genealogy community in the past 10 days. We shared our excitement and our plans for the future with our friends and partners, who were happy to learn about it.

Read the Techcrunch article about the acquisition here.

Picture – Celebrating a historical moment in family history  Gilad left and Yuval

What is MyHeritage? is the most popular family network on the web. On the website, millions of families around the world enjoy having a private and secure place to explore their family history, share photos and special family moments and keep in touch. With 38 languages supported, nearly one billion family tree profiles and 21 million family trees, and hundreds of millions of family history photos, MyHeritage is uniting families worldwide. To see a short video about the site, click here. Learn more about MyHeritage via their blog.

Anyone around the world can create a free family site on MyHeritage and enjoy the exclusive Smart Matching™ technology which compares the family trees on the website with each other, and reports matches. This technology is able to find long-lost relatives and make intriguing discoveries, allowing users to learn from each other. Among other features, members can design free beautiful family free charts and order professional poster prints to be delivered to family members as holiday gifts. MyHeritage also features a popular free genealogy software program, Family Tree Builder. Download it here.

WorldVitalRecords realized that becoming part of such a larger company like MyHeritage will enable us to join forces and resources, to become a bigger, better and more global organization.

What will happen next?

As stated by Gilad Japhet, CEO of MyHeritage: “Combining close to one billion family tree profiles on MyHeritage with WorldVitalRecord’s massive library of historical data delivers a perfect one-stop-shop for families looking to discover and share their family history.”

We expect – with our new global company – that we won’t only expand our reach but will also greatly increase our content library by adding to the already-rich data collections.
We’ll be working hard to bring you great content and we hope you will find treasures in our content library – which will help you enhance your family trees and share your family stories.

We’re also excited about the social nature of MyHeritage. This is a great fit for us! We bring content and MyHeritage brings excellent family trees with social features.

It is truly exciting that I can now invite my relatives from around the world to join with me in securely sharing our family photos, stories, history, recipes and even play games together, as we work to more closely to unite our family and, at the same time, upload and build on our family tree.

How will this affect current members of WorldVitalRecords?

Your accounts will stay the same and you can continue searching our databases as you’ve always done. Your membership does not change at all. New content will be added, so you will get much more for your current subscription, at no extra cost. In the next few days, we will be sending current WorldVitalRecords members a special offer to join MyHeritage. As we move forward and integrate trees with content, we’ll keep you informed about new benefits and capabilities.
We value our members, and we are delighted that your membership just became part of something much larger. As always, we are here to answer your questions at

The WorldVitalRecords team at MyHeritage

WVR Team
Picture – USA team
from the left – Back row – Justin, Ricky, Spencer
Middle – John, Paul H., Richard, Mark

Front – Christine, Paul B., Lindsey, Tara

Press Release

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

MyHeritage Acquires to Enter US Market

Significant move into US and addition of historical content mark major evolution for world’s most popular online family network.

PROVO, Utah & LONDON & TEL AVIV, Israel- MyHeritage, the most popular family network on the web, announced today the acquisition of This is MyHeritage’s seventh and largest acquisition since 2007. The purchase marks a significant move into the US market commercially and operationally, and will boost MyHeritage’s offering to families with the addition of a vast database of several billion historical records. With offices and staff in Europe, Australia and Israel, MyHeritage will now be adding its first US-based office in Utah, often cited as the family history capital of the world.

“We are delighted to join forces with the talented team in Provo to deliver meaningful value to families across the world,” says MyHeritage CEO and Founder Gilad Japhet. “Combining close to one billion family tree profiles on MyHeritage with WorldVitalRecord’s massive library of historical data delivers a perfect one-stop-shop for families looking to discover and share their family history”.

Founded in 2006, is a subscription service which provides access to a huge database of historical content, covering several billion individuals within census, birth, marriage and death records, as well as the web’s largest archive of historical newspapers. This content will deliver new insights and value to the 60 million people who have signed up on MyHeritage in 38 different languages, creating more than 900 million profiles in 21 million family trees.

When brought together under the MyHeritage umbrella, the company’s innovative Smart Matching technology will automatically match any of the new historical data to the relevant users’ ancestors and relatives within the family trees.

“Our team of family history veterans couldn’t be more excited about joining forces with MyHeritage”, said WorldVitalRecord’s CEO Paul Brockbank. “This acquisition creates new horizons in exploring family history. People will receive the opportunity to search the most comprehensive historical content sources and make exiting new discoveries; share this information with their close family and save it into their family tree. Combined under the leadership of MyHeritage, the service will continue to flourish and add more value to millions of families”.

MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet adds: “The establishment of a US base for MyHeritage in Utah, the international center for genealogical research, is an important milestone in our growth and brings about an exciting opportunity for the company and the families we serve. MyHeritage provides the perfect service to collect the family’s treasured archive to share and keep for future generations in a setting that is friendly and secure – and now we’re excited to top this off with vast amounts of content that will add more color and life to family trees. Through our powerful search engine and automatic Smart Matching technology we’ll find your mother’s yearbook, your great-grandfather’s will and your ancestor’s immigration record, leaving you with the time to marvel at, enjoy and share your family heritage. We’ll do that on a massive, global scale, as we live in a world that is smaller and more tightly connected than ever before”.

This is the latest in a series of strategic purchases by MyHeritage since 2007 which have included Pearl Street Software, makers of and the Family Tree Legends software; free family tree backup service; European family social network market leader OSN (Verwandt) GmbH; Dutch family network ZOOOF; British family network and Polish family network

The majority of the employees will join MyHeritage, based out of the company’s new US office in Provo, Utah: bringing the benefit of their collective expertise within the family history and North American genealogy market. The CEO of WorldVitalRecord’s Paul Brockbank, previously CEO of Logoworks and GM of Hewlett Packard Web Print Solutions, will play a key role in supporting the transition over the coming months and will later join the MyHeritage advisory board.

WorldVitalRecords founder Paul Allen, previously a co-founder of, and the popular “We’re Related” Facebook application, will not be part of the merger with MyHeritage.

In the short-term, MyHeritage will continue to operate, with the intention of achieving full integration within MyHeritage in 2012. With immediate effect and for an introductory period, loyal subscribers and users of MyHeritage will be entitled to discounts of up to 50% on subscriptions, and vice versa.

About MyHeritage

MyHeritage is the most popular family network on the web. Millions of families around the world enjoy having a private and free place for their families to keep in touch and to showcase their roots. MyHeritage’s Smart Matching™ technology empowers users with an exciting and innovative way to find relatives and explore their family history. With all family information stored in a secure site, MyHeritage is the ideal place to share family photos, and celebrate and preserve special family moments. The company is backed by Accel Partners and Index Ventures, the investors of Facebook and Skype. For more information visit

Searching for Sergeant Pinney

Friday, November 11th, 2011

I’m more interested in the stories of family history than in the genealogical data, but the data are often a good starting point for exploring the stories.

I recently began writing a biography of an old soldier I know. His adventures spanned four decades, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. In February 1969, he was on patrol with an infantry unit in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam. He had a good friend in the unit, an exceptional sergeant who was widely admired as a soldier and as a person. The unit was ambushed, and his friend was fatally wounded as he attempted to save a comrade who was shot while returning from an outpost.

I had heard this retired soldier tell the story several times before, but I needed documentation. I was in the same position as someone wanting to research his own ancestors, but struggling to get enough of a foothold to begin.

My soldier friend had forgotten how to spell the hero’s last name, so we guessed. I searched in numerous databases for Sgt. John Penney, but didn’t find him. I tried every variation I could imagine. Penny? Penney? Pennie? Pene? Penne? I tried looking for every soldier named “John” on the Vietnam Memorial, but that’s such a tedious approach that it’s easy to miss something, which I did.

I needed a clue. Sometimes that’s all we need in our genealogy research: one more clue.

In one of our Sunday afternoon interviews, I thought I heard my soldier friend pronounce the name differently. This time the first syllable sounded more like “pin” than “pen.” I interrupted and asked, “Is it possible that his name starts with p-i-n, not p-e-n?” He thought it was possible.

Later, I logged into (where I work) and ran some more searches. Changing the vowel made all the difference. His last name was Pinney. I found him in the Vietnam Memorial Index, which gave me not only the location of his name on the Vietnam Memorial, but also his birth and death dates in 1942 and 1969; his middle name, Scott; his hometown, China Lake, Calif.; and other interesting information. Some of what the record said I already knew.

  • “Casualty type: hostile, died”
  • “Casualty reason: gun, small arms fire”
  • “Casualty country: South Vietnam”
  • “Casualty province: Tay Ninh”

Moments later, I found him in a U.S. database of Vietnam casualties, which added a few details:

  • “Religion: Protestant”
  • “Marital status: married”
  • “Body recovered: body recovered”

I added his death year to my WorldVitalRecords and tried again. This time I found a slightly blurry photo of a smiling soldier who could have been on a recruiting poster. I learned that he served with Company C, 12th Calvary, First Cavalry Division, and that he is buried in Desert Memorial Park in Ridgecrest, Calif. Finding the photo alone made me want to cheer or weep, or both. Eventually, his unit information will allow me to look up unit records and learn more.

For curiosity’s sake, I looked in the Social Security Death Index, a common starting point for finding Americans who died anytime after 1940. He wasn’t there, but not everyone is. I found nothing relevant in our large newspaper collection, so I decided it was time to google.

A Google image search led me to the same photo I had just found. This time it was at a Web page with dozens of photographs from his unit, titled “Photographs of Vietnam 2/12 Cavalry Company C.” Another photo shows Sgt. John Pinney crossing a narrow bridge on a bicycle.

I also found a Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool in California and some short remembrances from people who knew him before and during his Army service. These confirmed what my soldier friend had often said: People don’t come much better than John Pinney.

Then I logged into Facebook. It wasn’t 48 hours before I had found and contacted Pinney’s son and grandson. The family confirmed what I suspected from the remembrances I had found: The story of John Pinney’s heroism was mostly unknown to his family and friends. I’ve since shared the story with the family; it’s the sort of story a family — especially a son — should hear. But before I did that, I did something else.

I found these records a few days before Pinney’s birthday in early May. I decided that telling my soldier friend of the discovery could wait those few days. Meanwhile, I put the photos and memories I had found into a two-page document and printed it in color. On my way to work on the morning of Pinney’s birthday, I stopped by a local grocery store for a piece of birthday cake. With it and the document, I was ready to knock on my soldier friend’s door.

I think I woke him; he was a bit groggy when he answered the door. I said, “Good morning! Do you know what today is?”

He stared and shook his head.

“I found John Pinney this week,” I said, “and today’s his birthday. Happy John Pinney’s birthday!” I handed him the cake and the document, and told him I had to hurry to the office.

My friend is a tough, macho Special Forces guy, so I’ll respectfully omit what I saw in his face before I hopped down from his front porch and zoomed off to work.

There are great stories behind the names, dates and places in our genealogy, stories that can make a difference in the lives of the living. But perhaps a better moral for my tale is that patience and persistence sometimes really can lead to that one elusive record, which leads to the next record, which leads to the next. Suddenly, there’s a cascade of information, where an hour or two before (and after weeks or months of searching) there was none.

There’s still more to do. Veterans tell me that if John Pinney’s story can be properly documented, he might be awarded a well-deserved, posthumous Bronze Star for valor, or maybe even a Silver Star.

It seems like a worthy cause. No doubt, I’ll be learning a lot more about military records on the way.

David Rodeback manages content production and online marketing for in Provo, Utah, and blogs in his spare time.

The Dark Side of Family History, and Its Uses

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Recently, I was testing our newspaper collection at, looking for search results in the mid-twentieth century. I have an aunt who was killed in 1956 at age 17; I thought she might make a good test case. When I was a child making my first family group sheets, I asked my parents why she died so young. Their answer, as I remember it, was that she was killed in an auto accident on her way home from work at a local drugstore. Such tragedies usually make the newspaper, so I thought I might turn up at least one article about the accident, and possibly also an obituary.

There’s a dark side to family history research. All those ancestors lived, as we do, in a world filled with good and evil, with triumph and tragedy and random chance. I’m not thinking just of the rumors that my mother’s great-great-great uncle what’s-his-name was hung as a horse thief, sad as that must have been for the whole family (if it really happened). What my test search found in our newspaper collection was a few shades darker than that.

There were articles about my aunt’s death in newspapers from Utah to Idaho to California — but they weren’t about an auto accident. For example, on June 27, 1956, a front-page story in the Idaho State Journal (of Pocatello, Idaho) reported that detectives from Salt Lake City and Provo had joined the investigation of “the sex murder” of my 17-year-old aunt. The story explained, “The pretty teenage girl was sexually molested and murdered while on her way home from working at a drugstore June 13. Her body was found in a canal near Vernal [Utah] June 16.”

There was more.

Papers as far away as the Long Beach [California] Press-Telegram picked another UP story a few weeks later. “A 23-year-old service station attendant left a note Wednesday confessing to the murder of a pretty teenage girl and then killed himself on a lonely hillside.” That’s bad enough, but it got worse as I read further. “Her battered, partially nude body was found four days later floating in an irrigation ditch. She had been sexually molested.”

(You’ve noticed by now that I’ve omitted the names of both killer and victim, though the news stories gave them. The names don’t matter to my story, and I don’t want to intrude on her family’s — or his family’s — privacy any more than I have to, in telling the story at all.)

In December of that year the Ogden [Utah] Standard-Examiner ran an article which added a sad detail or two. It was their list of Utah’s top ten news stories of the year. The first was “the miraculous recovery of a girl who lay trapped under a wrecked car for nine days.” The second was “the flaming blast which turned a restaurant in the Utah community of Monticello into a help of rubble, killing 15.” (In case you’re curious, the culprit was a gas valve inadvertently left open in the basement. Don’t do that.) Number ten was the disappearance of my 17-year-old aunt, “the finding of her body in a stream,” and “the subsequent suicide” of her murderer, a local father of two, who killed himself as the police closed in.

I told my siblings of this discovery. They said they had known for years, and they were surprised I hadn’t. They had learned of it from another document of genealogical interest, her death certificate. So I looked that up online, too. The first thing I noticed was an instruction printed in bold type in the certificate’s margin: “Physicians Should State Cause of Death in Plain Terms.” Duly warned, I read through the document.

Birthplace: Vernal, Utah
Usual Occupation: Student
Place of Injury: Street in Vernal City
Injury Occurred: Not While at Work
Was Autopsy Performed? Yes
Immediate Cause (in longhand, which seems more poignant): Death By Strangulation

The response in Part 20b, “DESCRIBE HOW INJURY OCCURRED,” is also in longhand: “This girl was sexually assaulted. Choked about the neck. Struck on the chin. Was found 4 days after disappearance submerged in a canal. Attacker’s suicide note left later states he killed her quickly about 10:30 p.m.” Signed, Ray E. Spendlove, MD.

I don’t tell this dark story to celebrate the darkness, and I would understand if some people avoid family history because they expect or fear they’ll find such things. For my part, I justify this glimpse into the abyss — among others — with these three thoughts:

First, the darkness is real, and it shaped my ancestors and their time, which in turn shape me and my time — in which darkness is also real.

Second, if I want to know my own heritage, I want to know the real, unvarnished history, not some carefully sanitized version that won’t distress a child and that, oh, by the way, isn’t quite true.

The third thought is more complex.

Her parents, my grandparents, were the kindest, gentlest people on the planet. I can only imagine how dark those days — and many days thereafter — must have been for them. Somehow, they overcame it, because when I knew them, not too many years after this tragedy, they were quite cheerful, and they hadn’t moved away to escape the memories. Knowing what they overcame, I admire them now even more than before.

This aunt was a decade younger than my parents, and I was born less than a decade after that gruesome summer. In my childhood, I thought my parents were much too worried about such things as villains lurking in the bushes, waiting to prey upon school children who abandoned the sidewalks and walked through the local park on their way home from school. I absorbed and obeyed that fear for a while, but soon I was disobediently walking home through the park every afternoon, if the weather was good — and if my older sister wasn’t looking. I never saw a villain lurking.

Now a parent myself, I still think my parents were a bit too worried. But now I know why. Their worries came from a source far more personal than the six o’clock news. So I understand my parents more than before, too.

. . . All of which is awfully close to the point of doing family history research in the first place.