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Latest News on DNA Ethnicity and Family Heritage

German Surnames: Where They Come From and What They Mean

2020. június 29., hétfő 16:29:51

If you’ve been researching your German ancestors — especially in light of MyHeritage’s release of the new and exclusive North Rhine-Westphalia Death Index 1874–1938 — you’ve probably been spending a lot of time with their surnames. Perhaps you’ve been wondering what those surnames mean and where they come from.

German family names can be a fascinating gateway to the past — not only your family’s past, but also the history of Germany and the German language. In this post, we will explore the origins of German family names, how they developed, and how to research the surnames in your own family.

Where German surnames began

In the distant past, individuals were only given a first name. Most people lived in small villages with small populations, so if you called for someone named Heinrich, chances were the right Heinrich would turn around. However, as populations increased, the multitude of people who shared the same first name became confusing.

Around the 12th century, people began to differentiate between individuals who shared the same name using the Latin word dictus (“called”), or later, with the German genant (“called”), giheizen/heisset (“is called”), den man sprichet (“of whom you speak”), den man nennt (“the one who you call”), and so on.

It looked like this: Cunradus dictus Faber, Heinricus dictus Kreier, bruder Egebreht dem man sprichet der Wolhuser (“brother Egebreht who is called the Wolhuser”), Hans Rot genannt Rotlieb, Heinrich bi dem Bach. These additions eventually evolved into the surnames we know today: Heinrich dictus Schneider became Heinrich Schneider.

These surnames were not always family names, in the sense that they were not necessarily passed down in the family. A son and a father might have different surnames. It was only in the 19th century that surnames became hereditary. By the time periods covered by MyHeritage’s birth and marriage indexes from Hesse, for example, surnames were used for the entire family.

Today only, get free access to Germany, Hesse Marriage Index, 1849-1931 and Germany, Hesse Birth Index, 1874-1911!

Where did the German surnames come from?

German surnames generally fit into one of the following categories:

1. German Surnames derived from first names

These were originally names with two parts, such as:

  • Berthold
  • Burkhard
  • Degenhardt
  • Leonhart
  • Siegmund
  • Volkmar
  • Wolfram

Some of them were later shortened to names such as:

  • Siggi
  • Volker
  • Wolf
  • Günter
  • Bernd
  • Gerd
  • Kurt

What’s interesting about these names is that they contain old German words that are no longer in use. For example, ask (“spear”), beraht (“bright, radiant”), degan (“warrior”), fruma (“benefit, advantage, blessing”), hagen (“fenced place”), wig (“fight, struggle”), or witu (“wood”).

Names with Christian origins were quite popular:

  • Johannes
  • Nikolaus
  • Petrus
  • Matthias
  • Jacobus

Names like these might have been shortened to Alex, Christoph, Nickel, or Franz.

2. German surnames derived from family origin

Some names signified tribal affiliation, such as:

  • Baier
  • Franke
  • Friese
  • Holländer
  • Preuß (Preuss)
  • Sachse

Others were based on place names: Hans from Nürnberg might be called Hans Nürnberger. Other examples include names such as:

  • Bamberger
  • Bielfeld
  • Erfurt
  • Fischbeck
  • Oldenburg

Still others described the location where the person lived. For example:

  • Althaus (“old house”)
  • Birnbaum (“pear tree”)
  • Brückner (someone who lives near a bridge)
  • Buschmann (someone who lives near bushes)
  • Holzer (someone who lives near a forest)
  • Lindemann (“linden tree man”)
  • Weidemann (“willow man” or “pasture man”)
  • Kirchhof (“land around a church”)
  • Angermann (“meadow man”)

3. German surnames derived from professions

This category includes many, many German names. Among them are:

  • Bauer (“farmer”)
  • Pflüger (“plowman”)
  • Schäfer (“shepherd”)
  • Jäger (“hunter”)
  • Becker (“baker”)
  • Koch (“cook”)
  • Müller (“miller”)
  • Schmied/Schmidt (“smith”)
  • Stellmacher (“carriage maker”)
  • Wagner (“wagon driver”)
  • Gerber (“leather preparer”)
  • Schuhmacher (“shoemaker”)
  • Weber (“weaver”)
  • Schneider (“tailor”)
  • Zimmermann (“carpenter”)
  • Kaufmann (“merchant”)
  • Krüger (“innkeeper” or “merchant of glass and pottery”)
  • Richter (legal official, from the word for “to make right”)
  • Meier (“mayor”)
  • Hofmann (“steward” or “estate manager”)
  • Lehmann (“tennant” or “vassal”)

4. German Family names derived from characteristics

These names originated from descriptions of the person’s appearance, character, habits, and so on. For example:

  • Kraus (“curly hair”)
  • Groß/Gross (“large”)
  • Klein (“small”)
  • Lang (“long”)
  • Schimmelpfennig (“miser”)
  • Jung (“young”)
  • Ritter (“knight”)
  • Bär (“bear”)
  • Fink (“fink”)
  • Fuchs (“fox”)
  • Hase (“rabbit”)
  • Storch (“stork”)
  • Vogel (“bird”)
  • Knobloch (“garlic”)

There are an estimated 850,000 different surnames in Germany — a very high number!

How to research a German surname

When first approaching a German surname, it’s important to remember that each name originally had a meaning. For the most part, the name was chosen by people who knew the person and who used the name to describe him. For example, they might have called him Schneider because he was a tailor.

The most common way to explore a German surname is to create a distribution map using “Telefon-CDs” — CDs that contain phone book information, including the last names of people in specific households. Most people use the CD collections from around 1990–2000, because from that point forward, people began using cell phones, and the listings don’t contain any information about their place of residence. Telefon-CDs from that time contain around 35 million names, accounting for almost 50% of the population of Germany — enough to get a reliable picture of name distribution. Pre-election polls are another source: they account for around 1,500 people, and the information often matches the mood of the population very precisely.

There are plenty of other resources for researching German family names and plotting their distribution, many of which can be found among MyHeritage’s German historical records.

By plotting the distribution of a surname in Germany, you can determine whether the name originated in Germany or came into use due to immigration (mostly as a result of World War II).

It’s not always easy for a German speaker to understand the meaning of a family name. This is because names are often based on words that come from Middle High German or Middle Low German, which are no longer spoken in Germany. Languages evolve over time, and words often become archaic and are no longer used. But these words might be retained in names — such as place names and names of rivers. To understand the meaning of a name derived from obsolete words, you need to have a background in the history of the German language — especially Low German, which for a time was the dominant language of the entire Baltic Sea region in northern Germany.

Difficult names can only be interpreted by a linguist who is familiar with the historical layers of the language. This is not always easy for German names, particularly those among the Sorbian and Danish minorities.

German names from other languages

Another difficulty encountered in the interpretation of German names is the consequences of population shifts as a result of World War II. Approximately 16 million refugees and displaced persons moved to Germany after 1945, and many of their names are derived from other languages and dialects.

Because of this, many names in Germany are derived from all the languages of eastern and southeastern Europe, such as Polish, Yiddish, Czech, French, Baltic languages (Old Prussian, Lithuanian, and Latvian), Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian, Hungarian, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and so on. To understand the meaning of a name derived from these languages, you need to have a background in the Slavic, Baltic, Finno-Ugric, Romanic, Turkic, and other languages — not only the modern vernaculars, but the historical development of these languages and their dialects. As you can imagine, this is anything but easy.

There are a few institutions in Germany dedicated to researching the backgrounds of German names. This research takes time and patience. Sound information is not always readily available.

However, name research is one area of linguistics that attracts a great deal of interest. People are interested to learn not only the origins of family names, but also first names, place names, and names of natural landmarks. The latter are particularly difficult to interpret because they are old — sometimes very old. Determining the meaning of these names involves special challenges.

Still, even if you can’t determine the precise meaning of your German family names, it’s never been easier to research your German roots thanks to the availability of online records — some of which, like the North Rhine-Westphalia collection, are exclusive to MyHeritage. Knowing more about your family’s origins may help you understand more about their names, and vice versa. Keep all this in mind when you delve into German historical records, and you just might learn something new about your ancestors.

This is a loose translation of a piece written by Prof. Dr. Jürgen Udolph, which can be read in the original German here. Prof. Dr. Udolph is a name researcher, father of 4, and a tenured professor at Leipzig University, and he is the most sought-after expert today when it comes to the interpretation of names. He has researched more than 10,000 names in the past ten years.

The post German Surnames: Where They Come From and What They Mean appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet Reveals Exciting New Developments During Keynote Talk 

2020. június 25., csütörtök 20:57:41

Founder and CEO of MyHeritage, Gilad Japhet, revealed some exciting new developments — some of which had never been made public before — during a talk he delivered online to the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) on June 23. While there are references in the first few minutes to Jewish historical records, the rest of the talk is not related to Jewish genealogy and describes MyHeritage’s latest features. Gilad also gives a sneak peek to exciting upcoming features that MyHeritage is currently developing in genealogy and DNA.

You can watch Gilad’s full talk in the video below:

Here are the highlights:

Historical record collections

So far this year, MyHeritage has added many new collections to our historical records, containing a staggering total of 1.2 billion records. Among those collections are some that were indexed by MyHeritage and are exclusive to the company, either in terms of content or in terms of searchability. Gilad highlighted the U.S. City Directories and the new Greek collections as examples.

Gilad added that there are many other exciting new collections the company is working on which he could not yet reveal.

Genealogy features

Next, Gilad introduced a soon-to-be-released redesign of MyHeritage’s historical record search engine. The new interface has the same versatile functionality as the previous one, but is more compact and user-friendly, and eliminates the need for separate “simple” and “advanced” search forms.

The form is slim enough that it will follow you while you’re looking at records, making it easy for you to fine-tune your search as you go. The form adapts its suggestions for new fields to fill in according to the context of the records you’re looking at.

Gilad also mentioned the recent automation of Cross-Language Record Matching, which makes it much easier to find records about your ancestors in other languages, and the introduction of the new Fan view for family trees — a new way to view your family tree that is particularly aesthetic and compact and can be shared as an image with family and friends.

He went on to describe an upcoming facelift to the traditional Family view: an updated design that will make more efficient use of the space, making it easier to see more information at once and reducing the need to scroll or drag the chart. There will be an additional option for square person cards that place the profile photo above the name of the person, making the view even more efficient in terms of use of space. The left-hand panel that offers an overview of a person’s profile will also get a facelift.

Another feature in the works is a handy relationship diagram that you’ll be able to access whenever you see a relationship description. The diagram makes it easy to visualize how two individuals are related, and you’ll be able to save it as a PDF image to share or to print. MyHeritage intends to add this feature to DNA Matches in the future as well.

Next, Gilad described the remarkable contributions MyHeritage has made recently to the world of genealogical photographs with the release of MyHeritage In Color™ in February, and the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer in June. Gilad pointed out that these features make MyHeritage the best platform for working with old family photos, and described the moving responses the company has received to the release of these features from users who got to see their ancestors in a whole new way.

DNA features

Finally, Gilad spoke about the much-anticipated update to MyHeritage’s Ethnicity Estimate: Genetic Groups. This update will provide a much higher-resolution breakdown of DNA ethnicity — possibly, Gilad says, the highest-resolution on the market, with 2,000–3,000 geographic regions at first and perhaps 5,000 in a future update.

Genetic groups will break the existing 42 ethnicities down into subgroups, including ethnic groups such as the Basques, the Sámi, and the Bretons, and even identifying groups that came from a particular city, such as Moroccan Jews from Casablanca. When the feature is released, every person who has taken a MyHeritage DNA test will be able to access this information for free.

Later, MyHeritage plans to add more valuable information that connects ethnicity to genealogy: common surnames from that region, common locations where that group is found, migration routes, and so on.

“The future of genealogy is bright”

Gilad concluded his talk by emphasizing MyHeritage’s continued commitment to genealogy. The company is at the cutting edge of advancements in genealogy and DNA, and Gilad promised that there are many more wonderful things in store. So stay tuned!

The post MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet Reveals Exciting New Developments During Keynote Talk  appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

And the Winners of the #DadInFocus Father’s Day Contest Are…

2020. június 25., csütörtök 9:48:34

In honor of Father’s Day, MyHeritage asked you to share photos of your family patriarch enhanced with our brand-new Photo Enhancer tool as part of our #DadInFocus Father’s Day photo contest. We saw so many wonderful entries — images of the beloved men in your families made crystal clear. Many of the contestants wrote about how moving and transformative it was to see these images in such sharp focus for the first time.

Before we announce our runners-up and winners, we want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your photos and your stories with us.

Honorable mentions

Here are some of the entries that we thought deserved an honorable mention:

Peter Vos writes that this photo of his father was taken in May 1943, and he is very excited to see it in color thanks to MyHeritage’s photo colorization and enhancement tools. We’re especially struck by the details in this photo — the red brick, the shadows, the greenery behind the house.

David Allen Lambert met his grandfather in color for the first time for Father’s Day this year. He says he never knew his grandfather and that his family sends their thanks. We love how the colorized, enhanced version brings out the soft, thoughtful expression in his grandfather’s eyes.

This entry came to us from Michael Johne via Facebook and Instagram. The photo features his great-great-grandparents, Friedrich August Hensel (1870–1939) and Minna Pauline Hultsch (1875–1950) from eastern Germany. The photo enhancement really brings out their features, emphasizing their somewhat amused expressions.

This lovely photo features Susan McCullough’s Polish grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s. Such cute kids, and we love the detail on the mother’s dress!

Since it isn’t Father’s Day in Sweden, Swedish users were invited to share enhanced photos of their families. This user shared these stunning photos taken in the 1920s in the U.S.:

That last one looks like a great party! Note that the U.S. flag in the photo only has 48 stars on it. The last two were added in 1959 and 1960!

We also got this beautiful entry from Ricco Kopatz of Germany:

Ricco says the photo depicts his great-great-grandparents at their 50th wedding anniversary, which took place on September 18, 1952, in Grossenwiehe. “I am very happy that the colorizing and photo enhancement brought life into the image and the life of my great-great-grandparents,” Ricco wrote to us. “When I look at the picture, I think it was taken just last year or so. This was also confirmed by my grandfather (86) and his sisters (78 and 99), who last saw their grandparents from the picture over 60 years ago.”


The 3 winning entries include:

  1. Margaret Johnson from Canada, who shared this incredible photo of the grandfather she never met — and it came with an even more incredible story:

Our minds were blown, too! We contacted Margaret to ask for more information, and she told us that she had started searching for information on her grandfather around 9 years ago. She had no information to go on other than his name, and though she found a Vernon Smyth in death records on another site, there was no way to know if he was the right one. “So for 9 years, I didn’t know, until I took a DNA test,” she wrote. “That test showed a cousin I was related to. I didn’t know who our common ancestor was, but her grandfather had a funny name: Peter P Peters.”

Margaret searched for her grandfather on MyHeritage and found the same death record she’d found before — but this one was more complete and had his parents’ names: Clarence Peters and Rose Wiest. So she searched for Clarence Peters, and found a census record that showed that Clarence was the son of a Peter P Peters. That showed that the Vernon in the death record was indeed her grandfather!

“I entered the new information into my online family tree,” she went on. “I discovered Vernon listed on other people’s trees, and those details included his burial place — which happened to be about 20 minutes from my home. I was able to visit his grave for the first time in my life.” She also was able to contact a first cousin of her dad’s, who sent her photos of Vernon — including the one she Tweeted in the contest.

The original photo Margaret’s cousin sent her

“He was 19, and it was his mother’s second wedding in 1947,” she wrote about the photo. “Sadly, he died of throat cancer in 1983, age 55, before we had the chance to find each other. But thanks to my research, I found out so much about him, including living relatives!”

“I’m so grateful to MyHeritage for this photo service,” she added. “It really brings my grandfather to life. Now I can see that I have his nose and my brother has his mouth. You can’t put a price on that.”

The enhanced colorized close-up of Margaret’s grandfather’s face

Absolutely amazing. We are so delighted that we were able to help Margaret achieve this discovery and not only learn more information about her grandfather and contact his living relatives, but also see his face in such sharp focus. Congratulations, Margaret! We hope your free subscription will help you make more incredible discoveries like this.

  1. Yvonne Lascelles from Great Britain, who sent us this incredible transformation from a barely-discernible image into a sharp depiction of her grandfather:

“Only one grainy bit of a photo exists for granddad James Fairfield,” she wrote to us. “Loved by all the family and forgotten by technology… until now. Thank you.”

When we contacted Yvonne, she told us a little more about her grandfather: “My granddad loved the grandchildren and was a real wee Irish storyteller… he had the kids convinced a donkey lived down the end of the garden but was very shy… he said it only came out when it was quiet. My sister said she waited 7 years and never saw it!”

Thank you, Yvonne, for sharing your entry and this adorable anecdote about your grandfather. Congratulations!

  1. Irene Strodel from Germany, who shared this special photo of her relatives taken around 1914:

“How long did they have to sit still for the scene to be captured?” Irene wonders. “And how often do we today take snapshots we may never look at, just because we can…?”

Indeed, the scarcity of photos like this from over 100 years ago is part of what makes them so precious. Thank you, Irene, for sharing this family treasure with us, and congratulations!

Yvonne, Margaret, and Irene will all receive a free one-year Complete subscription to MyHeritage, which will provide them with full access to all MyHeritage advanced tools and features, our 12.4 billion historical records, and of course, unlimited photo enhancement and colorization! We hope this will help them make new and exciting discoveries about their family history.

Just because the contest is over, doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the Photo Enhancer and see your own ancestors brought into sharp focus before your eyes! Try out the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer today.

The post And the Winners of the #DadInFocus Father’s Day Contest Are… appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

MyHeritage Online Events for June–July

2020. június 24., szerda 11:58:48

In the past several months, we’ve been offering ongoing online events our users can enjoy while staying home, and they’ve been a resounding success! We’re pleased to present to you the schedule of fascinating and informative online sessions taking place during the remainder of June and the month of July.

If you’ve missed previous sessions, not to worry! You can find all recorded FB Live sessions in the Videos section of the MyHeritage Facebook page, and many of the webinars are available for free viewing on the MyHeritage Knowledge Base.

Facebook Live Sessions

You can participate in these sessions right from our Facebook page — no advanced registration required! Simply visit the Facebook page when the session is scheduled to start and look out for the live video broadcast at the top of the feed. You’ll be able to ask questions in the comments, and the speakers will respond to them live.

June 24, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: DNA Q&A

Speakers: Roberta Estes
Description: As the founder of DNAeXplain, Roberta Estes has extensive expertise in genetics for genealogy. Join her as she answers questions live about DNA results and genealogy. 

June 28, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: Overview of the Greek Historical Record Collections

Speakers: Gregory Kontos and Carol Kostakos Petranek
Description: Join our Product Manager and founder of Greek Ancestry, Gregory Kontos, and Hellenic ancestry researcher Carol Kostakos Petranek, on a tour of the brand-new collection of Greek historical records recently added to MyHeritage’s archives.

June 29, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: Deciphering Old Handwriting: 10 Things You Need to Know

Speaker: James Tanner
Description: Veteran genealogist James Tanner will give you some expert advice on deciphering handwriting in old documents. If you’ve been scratching your head over the scribbles in an important document you found, this session is for you!

July 1, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: Canada’s Top Resources on MyHeritage

Speaker: John Reid
Description: Ottawa-based family historian John Reid will introduce you to the top resources for Canadian heritage available on MyHeritage.

July 6, 8 A.M. EDT

Topic: Genealogy Q&A

Speaker: Daniel Horowitz
Description: Got any questions about genealogy? Our Genealogy Expert Daniel Horowitz will be at your service, answering your questions live.

July 8, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: New Ways to See Your Photo Clues on MyHeritage

Speaker: Maureen Taylor
Description: Learn a whole new way of looking at historical photos using MyHeritage tools from genealogist Maureen Taylor — named by the The Wall Street Journal as the “nation’s foremost historical photo detective.”

July 13, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: Diving Into Eastern European Historical Records on MyHeritage

Speaker: Michelle Chubenko
Description: Michelle Chubenko of Legacy Tree Genealogists will show you how to make the most of MyHeritage’s Eastern European historical record collections.

July 15, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: The Missing Piece: The Story of Two Sisters, Reunited Thanks to MyHeritage DNA

Speaker: Christine Pennell and Kim Haelen
Description: Hear the moving story behind MyHeritage’s first-ever documentary film, The Missing Piece, from the stars themselves: Christine Pennell and Kim Haelen. Abandoned as infants and adopted by families across the world, these sisters’ lives changed forever thanks to a fateful DNA match on MyHeritage.

July 22, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: Preserving Old Family Letters

Speaker: Melissa Barker
Description: Melissa Barker, a.k.a. The Archive Lady will show you how to preserve old family letters so they can be read and enjoyed by generations to come.

July 27, 2 P.M. EDT

Topic: DNA Q&A

Speaker: Diahan Southard
Description: Got any questions about MyHeritage DNA? Join Diahan Southard from Your DNA Guide, a leading voice for consumer DNA testing, in an open Q&A session where she will answer your questions live.

This month we will continue the free webinar series hosted by our Genealogy Expert, Daniel Horowitz — but this time we’ll be welcoming some guest speakers as well!

Ask the Expert sessions have been taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 P.M. EDT, but starting from July they will take place on Thursdays only. Below you’ll find the topics for upcoming sessions. Simply click the link and fill in the form to register.

Thursday, June 25, 1 P.M. EDT

Topic: Family Tree Builder: Advanced Features

Description: Family Tree Builder is a robust software that can help you take your genealogy research to the next level. Learn about the advanced features of this powerful tool and how they can help you build an extremely detailed, accurate family tree.

Click here to register for Family Tree Builder: Advanced Features.

Tuesday, June 30, 1 P.M. EDT

Topic: New Greek Records on MyHeritage

Guest Speakers: Carol Kostakos Petranek and Gregory Kontos

Description: Gregory Kontos and Carol Kostakos Petranek will introduce you to an exciting new collection of Greek historical records now available on MyHeritage.

Click here to register for New Greek Records on MyHeritage.

Thursday, July 2, 1 P.M. EDT

Topic: Using a GEDCOM to Import, Export, and Manage Your Tree

Description: A GEDCOM is a standard format that allows you to transfer family tree information from one place to another. Learn how to work with GEDCOMs to import, export, and manage family trees across multiple platforms.

Click here to register for Using a GEDCOM to Import, Export, and Manage Your Tree.

Thursday, July 9, 1 P.M. EDT

Topic: Source Citations on the MyHeritage Website

Description: Adding source citations is key to maintaining an accurate, fully detailed family tree. Learn how to work with source citations on your online MyHeritage tree.

Click here to register for Source Citations on the MyHeritage Website.

Thursday, July 16, 1 P.M. EDT

Topic: Jewish Resources on MyHeritage

Guest Speaker: Ellen Kowitt

Description: Ellen Kowitt, veteran Jewish records researcher, will show you the best MyHeritage resources to focus on when searching for Jewish ancestors.

Click here to register for Jewish Resources on MyHeritage.

Thursday, July 23, 1 P.M. EDT

Topic: Military Records on MyHeritage

Guest Speaker: David Lambert

Description: David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogy Society, will show you how to leverage MyHeritage’s collection of military records to make discoveries about your family history.

Click here to register for Military Records on MyHeritage.

Thursday, July 30, 1 P.M. EDT

Topic: MyHeritage Collection Catalog

Guest Speaker: Lisa Louise Cooke

Description: Lisa Louise Cooke of the Genealogy Gems Podcast will show you how to use the catalog of the MyHeritage historical record collections to find new information on your ancestors.

Click here to register for MyHeritage Collection Catalog.

As always, we look forward to having you join us!

The post MyHeritage Online Events for June–July appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

MyHeritage Photo Enhancer Goes Viral: One Million Photos Already Enhanced!

2020. június 22., hétfő 8:14:01

At MyHeritage, our passion is to help people connect with their family histories. Earlier this year, we introduced MyHeritage In Color™, a groundbreaking new technology to bring your old family photos to life through colorization. On June 12, we took it a step further by introducing the game-changing MyHeritage Photo Enhancer: a tool that enhances photos by bringing blurry faces into sharp focus. When combined, MyHeritage In Color™ and the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer can reveal your ancestors as you’ve never seen them before.

Once again, the response has been incredible. In just a week and a half, one million photos have been enhanced using the new Photo Enhancer tool. Users describe being deeply moved by seeing such crystal-clear images of family members they only knew in their later years — or perhaps had never met. Some were brought near tears to see their ancestors in such realism. A professional photographer expressed wonder at how well the tool works. A genealogy expert blogger discovered that the tool can also improve the quality of scanned documents and make them easier to read!  

Below are some of the reactions we’ve received to the Photo Enhancer:

On the MyHeritage Blog

“This is amazing!” writes Carol Woods in the comments of the MyHeritage Blog.

“Today I downloaded one of my paternal grandparents that I had missed, then colourised it,” another user, Kate, comments. “When I enhanced it and then enlarged it I was close to tears — I had finally met Gran and Grandad as a young couple. The enhancing did a really good job on a not-very-good ~100 year old photo; their eyes looked at me in the eye; I could see Gran’s light blue eye colour and just how much my father was like his mother… Grandad died when I was 2 years old so I don’t remember him, but I can see now just how very much like him Dad’s 2 brothers were, and what a gentle man he was… The app has enabled me to ‘know’ my grandparents in a way that I could not have otherwise. Thank you, MyHeritage.”

On Facebook 

On Twitter 

Genealogy Bloggers

“So I am sitting here early in the morning, the sun just rising over Lake Michigan, and I finally got some time to look at the new MyHeritage Photo Enhancer. And I am trying not to cry,” writes Thomas MacEntee of High-Definition Genealogy. “The photo… is one of my prized possessions. 

I am just BLOWN AWAY at how I can now really see what my mother looked like at age 8. 

The detail is amazing especially when the new enhancement tool is paired with the new MyHeritage In Color™ feature!”

Thomas also decided to try the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer for another genealogy use:

“Recently I decided to use the new MyHeritage Photo Enhancer to see if it would make a scanned genealogy record easier to read … and it did! The photo… isn’t exactly a pretty scan… 

I’ve encountered some really bad scan jobs lately and I’m always looking for ways to improve their quality for research purposes.  I thought, ‘What if I ran it through the new MyHeritage Photo Enhancer?’ And here are the results.

The details are amazing and it is much easier to read.”

After his suggestion, a MyHeritage user wrote Thomas about how useful she is finding the Photo Enhancer:

“This is another “wow” feature from MyHeritage,” writes James Tanner in Genealogy’s Star. “All I can say is that it works on many photos and the results are amazing… It is hard to believe the difference. I have some of the advanced photo editing software that is presently available but I never thought that I could ‘fix’ an out-of-focus image.”

Lisa Louise Cooke from Genealogy Gems writes “Well, they’ve done it again! On the heels of the wonderful photo colorization tool, MyHeritage has launched Photo Enhancer. In just a few seconds sharpens blurry images. I’ve been using it (image below) and I think it’s even more exciting than colorizing photos!”


The Photo Enhancer, together with MyHeritage In Color™, makes MyHeritage the best platform for uploading, enhancing, and sharing historical photos. It allows you to see your ancestors in an entirely new light: clearer, sharper, and more real than ever before.

Give it a try and tell us what you think!

The post MyHeritage Photo Enhancer Goes Viral: One Million Photos Already Enhanced! appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Farm Surnames: What They Are and How to Research Them

2020. június 19., péntek 14:52:56

Farm names are a unique type of surname that can prove a special challenge for genealogists. These types of names were used to identify a particular family with land ownership or residence, and the tricky thing about them is that they were not always transferred in the traditional way. Exactly how they were used and what they represented varied from region to region.

In this post, we’ll explore the use of farm names from the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia, and learn how to go about researching this type of surname.

Farm Names in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands — specifically, the Drenthe, Overijssel and Gelderland provinces — individuals and families took the name of the farm they lived on, and if they moved, they changed their surname to the new farm name. 

Researching farm names in the Netherlands can be challenging. Many people chose silly names as their fixed surnames after the decree in 1811 from Napoleon required a fixed surname. Basically, to know if it was a farm name, you have to trace the family back to before 1811. If the name was in use before that time (again, added as a third name, or sometimes used in the place of the patronymic) then it was most likely a farm name.

Since the Netherlands also used patronymics before the 1811 law mandating fixed surnames, it is essential to prove each generational link. This sometimes requires court records, tax registers, and other local resources to find evidence connecting your family to the farm they lived on. 

Ready to explore the lives of your Dutch ancestors? Get started with MyHeritage’s collection of vital records from the Netherlands.

And today as part of our June Free Records Campaign, you can get free access to the Netherlands, Civil Births, 1811-1915. Tomorrow the Netherlands, Civil Marriages, 1811-1940 will be accessible for free. 

German Farm Names

In Germany — particularly the regions of Westfalen, Hannover, Lippe-Detmold, Rheinland, Oldenburg, and Schlesie —  the use of a farm name denoted the status of being a land owner, so anyone who owned enough land to be called a “large farm” or an “estate farm” could be found using a farm name. A farm of this size and status might be owned by someone who was a butcher, a blacksmith, a weaver, or of a similar profession that would allow the farm to be generally self-sufficient. The market and church would typically be found in the nearest village.

In addition to the farm name, a surname was often associated with the farm. During the transition into ownership, they would use the surname associated with the farm and/or the farm name, add the term gennant or something similar, and then their original surname at the end. 

In Germany, only the owner of this farm would use a farm name and pass it on to their children. Consequently, land ownership was more important than your identity at birth. When a man inherited a farm he often began using the farm name as a replacement for his birth name, or a combination of the two names with the farm name appearing first followed by “alias,” “vel,” “modo,” “gennant,” or “dit” and the original surname.

Farm names were so important that if a woman inherited a farm, her husband took her surname and the farm name rather than following the tradition of a woman taking her husband’s surname. For this reason, it is essential to find the ancestor’s marriage record where the farm name first appears to know the ancestor’s original surname and whose family the farm was inherited from to trace these lines back correctly.

German farm names can include, but are not limited to, many names beginning or ending in -kamp or -hof. But there’s a catch! Not all Hof names (e.g. Hoffman) were associated with farms–some were occupational surnames. Examples of some German farm names that became surnames are:

  • Kampmeinert
  • Ryskamp
  • Heitkamp
  • Hogenkamp
  • Niekamp
  • Pulskamp
  • Haberkamp
  • Moehlenkamp
  • Neuhof
  • Brinkerhof
  • Berkhoff
  • Eickhoff
  • Grasshoff
  • Hasselhoff
  • Kirchhoff

These are some of the most easily identifiable farm names, but there are many others. Farm names may sometimes appear to be normal names, but upon researching the family it may come to light that the name is associated with a farm.

Are there farm names in your German family history? Find out by searching the MyHeritage vital record collection for Germany

Scandinavian Farm Names

In Norway, Sweden, and Finland farm names were also important, but they didn’t necessarily mean that the person who took the name owned the farm — they might have only lived there. If a person or family moved from one farm to another, they ceased using the first farm name and took on the new farm name. Norwegians still kept their patronymic (surname derived from a father’s name) and merely added the farm name as a second unique family identifier. If a family moved from a farm to the city, as many did during the Industrial Revolution of the mid- to late-1800s, they typically continued using their most recently acquired farm name.

It was also common, though not universal, for Norwegian emigrants to use that farm name as their fixed surname when transitioning to a society that doesn’t use patronymics. For example, a man named Lars Olsen Hagelund (Lars, son of Ole, from the farm Hagelund) might immigrate to America and begin calling himself Lars Hagelund. Or, he might drop the farm name and take his patronymic as his new fixed surname — going by Lars Olsen. Just to keep things interesting, it was still possible for this immigrant to appear in United States records as either Lars Olsen or Lars Hagelund.

In Sweden and Norway, anything appended name used in addition to the given name and patronymic was a farm name. When a Scandianavian person began using a fixed surname, it was typically that person’s patronymic, or the last farm name the family was associated with. Most Scandinavian surnames — unless they are patronymic — are farm names. Here are some common farm names listed in one parish in Norway:

  • Algarheim
  • Allergot
  • Aur
  • Austad
  • Åstad
  • Barnkjenn
  • Berg
  • Bjønningstad
  • Bjørke
  • Bjørtomt
  • Bratval
  • Bråten
  • Brudalen
  • Dal
  • Døli
  • Døliengen
  • Ellingsrud
  • Elstad
  • Elstaddalen
  • Elstadmoen
  • Fjellberg
  • Fløgstad
  • Fløtten
  • Furulund
  • Furuset
  • Garder
  • Gislevoll
  • Gjestad
  • Grinden
  • Grøndalen
  • Hallingstad
  • Hannestad
  • Haug i Hovin
  • Hauerseter
  • Havnemoen
  • Helgebostad
  • Hög
  • Hovin
  • Hveim
  • Inngjerdingen
  • Jaeren
  • Julset
  • Jødal
  • Kjos,
  • Klokkeset
  • Kolby
  • Kopperud
  • Korslund
  • Korsmo
  • Kråfoss
  • Kringlemyren
  • Kværndalen
  • Langeland
  • Lauten i Hovin
  • Låke
  • Li
  • Lien
  • Ljøgot
  • Majorsæter
  • Melby
  • Melby i Mogreina
  • Mjælaberg
  • Moen
  • Mølledalen
  • Møllerstad
  • Nordby i Hovin
  • Nordby i Kisa
  • Nordli
  • Nordmyren
  • Nygård
  • Onsrud
  • Risebru
  • Rotnebu
  • Rud i Hovin
  • Rulnes
  • Røgler
  • Sand
  • Sesvoll
  • Skryta
  • Stendalen
  • Stensby
  • Stokstad
  • Støvner
  • Sundby nedre
  • Sundby øvre
  • Syverstad
  • Sætre
  • Tangen
  • Taugland
  • Tranbotn
  • Trandum
  • Trøgstad
  • Vangen
  • Vekato
  • Vestengen
  • Vilberg

Do you recognize any of the surnames on this list? You can research your Norwegian and Swedish ancestors in MyHeritage’s Norwegian and Swedish vital records.

Interpreting and researching farm surnames can be challenging, but armed with an understanding of their nuances and thanks to the availability of digitized records, you’ll be able to scale what could otherwise easily become a brick wall in your genealogy research. So don’t delay—make hay while the sun shines, and get to work on discovering your family history!

The experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists have the knowledge and experience you need to help navigate the various nuances you may encounter as you explore your heritage. Our network of researchers extends all over the world, meaning we can access records necessary to extend your genealogy as far as possible. Contact us today for a free quote!

The post Farm Surnames: What They Are and How to Research Them appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Bring Dad into Focus this Father’s Day!

2020. június 17., szerda 21:49:24

Whether you call him Dad, Pops, Pappa, Baba, Vader, or Grandad, this Father’s Day we’ve got two opportunities to honor the special paternal figures in your life.

Father’s Day DNA Sale

If you’re still looking for a great gift for Dad that he’ll treasure forever, look no further than the MyHeritage DNA kit. He’ll discover his ethnic origins from 42 regions around the world and find new relatives. MyHeritage DNA kits are now on sale for a not-to-be-missed price! 

Surprise Dad with MyHeritage DNA

Win a MyHeritage Complete Subscription for Dad!

Enter our Father’s Day photo contest for a chance to win a MyHeritage Complete subscription for Dad! This Father’s Day, three lucky readers will have the chance to win a MyHeritage Complete subscription, which is a gift that’s sure to make your Dad’s heart sing. It includes an unlimited family tree size, unlimited access to the new MyHeritage Photo Enhancer and to MyHeritage In Color™, Smart Matches™, Instant Discoveries™, full access to 12.4 billion historical records, and much more.

For a chance to win this special prize, follow these simple instructions.

  1. Find a cherished photo with the patriarch of your family. 
  2. Visit the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer page. Upload your photo for free and let our Photo Enhancer work its magic. You can also colorize the photo by clicking “Colorize this photo” directly above the enhanced photo.
  3. Download the full photo or select the close-up, enhanced face of your father or grandfather. 
  4. Share the amazing enhanced photos on your favorite social platforms with the hashtag #DadInFocus and tag MyHeritage. You can also send your photo and the story behind it to

Check out the before and after of this precious photo:

The contest ends this Saturday and prizes will be awarded on Father’s Day, June 22, 2020 so start enhancing your photos today!

Good Luck!

The post Bring Dad into Focus this Father’s Day! appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Unmasking Pandemic Masks, Then and Now 

2020. június 17., szerda 14:50:22

As people around the world begin to emerge from sheltering in place, they find themselves in a strange new reality: one where half of our faces are hidden. Though they are here to protect us, the presence of masks can pose some new challenges — and the way we choose to cope with those challenges is just one expression of how we adapt to our new post-lockdown world.

But the difficulties surrounding the use of masks goes back much farther than 2020. The MyHeritage Research team took a look at our newspaper collections to examine the surprisingly similar attitudes towards masks during previous epidemics in history.

In this post, we’ll explore the social and psychological factors that influence our attitude towards masks, both in the present day and during previous pandemics.

Living in a masked new world

How do we communicate with half our faces covered? Can we still express emotions? We are certainly not alone in this confusion.

Back in 1918, at the height of the Spanish flu, the Daily Californian described a man seated in a cafe during the luncheon hour, trying his best to converse with a waitress whose face was hidden except for a pair of brown eyes. The problem with which he was confronted was whether the mask hid a frown or a smile.

The Daily Californian, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
The Daily Californian, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

Though very much a struggle to get used to these new communication barriers, some have tried to find the perks in this new reality! In the very same article found in California Newspapers, 1847–2009, some see the mask as a way to hide their lack of grooming.

The Daily Californian, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
The Daily Californian, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

“Just like charity covers a multitude of sins,” it begins with a wink, “so the influenza masks that have been worn by some of the masculine population of Bakersfield for the past few days, cover the fact that they are badly in need of a shave. One man confessed that he didn’t dare appear without an influenza mask, and it is reported that there has been an increase in the sale of safety razors.”

Masks take on a new form of self-expression

With parts of our physical selves hidden, wearing certain types of masks can be a form of expression in their own right. Are you sporting a disposable surgical mask? An N95? A DIY mask? Does your mask match your outfit? Masks are now the first thing we notice in each other and have become part of our human landscape.

In the same article from The Daily Californian, we see that this was not lost on some women in 1918. 

The Daily Californian, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
The Daily Californian, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

“A smartly-dressed shopper was seen on Chester avenue today equipped with a gauze mask, only it was not made of gauze, and the germ arrester was tastefully decorated with bows drawn taut and attached back of her pink ears with ribbons.”

Finding a means of self-expression in masks and customizing masks with personal at-home touches may be a way we can adjust to our new “look.”

Back in 1918, another newspaper in California Newspapers, 1847–2009, ran this useful item on October 24, 1918:

Berkeley Daily Gazette, October 24, 1918, in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
Berkeley Daily Gazette, October 24, 1918, in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

The article gives instructions for creating a homemade mask out of an 18-inch square piece of gauze. “Fold it 3 ways one way and 2 ways across, making 6 thicknesses of the material,” it instructs. “Attach string or tape to each of the four corners. The mask must cover the nose just below the eyes and go down over the chin, so that no breath can be taken through nose or mouth except through the mask.”

Whether professionally manufactured or sewn at home, customized masks offer people the chance to cover their faces with great style and personality in lieu of the standard surgical mask. This has turned the mask from an irksome burden into a newly sought-after fashion item.

It seems that in 1918 masks were also perceived as items of value, because this burglar in Berkeley apparently thought a flu mask was worth stealing:

Berkeley Daily Gazette, November 14, 1918, in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
Berkeley Daily Gazette, November 14, 1918, in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

“‘Flu’ mask, cash, taken by burglar,” reads the headline from the Berkeley Daily Gazette on November 14, 1918. “Twenty-five dollars in cash and a ‘flu’ mask was the haul of a burglar who entered the apartment of Mrs. Sarah Skillman, 2117 Center street, last night, while she was away.”

Making masks mandatory

With the first wave of COVID-19 winding down, many places are reopening on the condition that masks and social distancing laws are enforced to prevent a second wave. Many countries have started instituting fines to enforce these rules. 

During the Spanish flu pandemic, there was still very little known about the science of germs and illness, but even then local authorities knew that masks helped prevent the spread of flu symptoms and strongly enforced their use.

In California, residents faced fines and jail time for being in public without a mask. “Scores of mask slackers jailed,” screams a headline from The Evening News on October 29, 1918.

The Evening News, San Jose, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
The Evening News, San Jose, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

In 2020, countries have also leveled fines against people who aren’t wearing masks in public places but as of yet no jail time.

Why did they institute such harsh measures to get people to wear their masks? It appears that protecting one’s health is just not enough of an incentive. In one of the articles on the front page above, Senator Frank H. Benson recalled that even getting soldiers to wear protective masks against deadly poison gas was shockingly hard to do.

The Evening News, San Jose, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
The Evening News, San Jose, October 29, 1918 in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

“It is the hardest thing in the world to get people to do anything which will save their lives,” he told The Evening News. “First orders were given that everybody should wear gas protectors but they were not obeyed. Soldiers would take chances and go out without masks just as the people here are doing. It finally came to a point that a fine of $10 had to be put upon every soldier appearing without his mask. The fine turned the trick. Soldiers thought more of their pocketbooks than their lives… Why people will not take precautions to insure their own safety in times of such peril I will not attempt to explain. But it is a fact nevertheless.”

Why, indeed? We don’t have answers either, but it’s clear that there are several factors at play. Some of these may be related to what we mentioned earlier: difficulty communicating and interpreting one another’s expressions, dealing with a physical barrier, adjusting our self-image, and so on. Another factor that contributes to a reluctance to wear a mask may be peer pressure.

Mask peer pressure 

During a flu pandemic in 1969, the University of Florida ran an experiment to see if masks were effective at stopping the spread of the virus, and the students who volunteered faced more than a few social challenges.

Sarasota Journal, January 9, 1969 in Florida Newspapers, 1901–2009
Sarasota Journal, January 9, 1969 in Florida Newspapers, 1901–2009 (click to zoom)

The above article found in Florida Newspapers, 1901–2009, describes the experiences of a few of these students. One said she was teased by her fellow students, and some of them pretended to cough on her. Another reported feeling very self-conscious: “I know everybody is looking at me when I walk down the street.”

Anyone who has walked down a street wearing a mask in an area where wearing masks are not common practice will feel for these students.

Another clip from California Newspapers, 1847–2009, highlights the issue of a “funny” appearance:

The Evening News, October 12, 1918, in California Newspapers, 1847–2009
The Evening News, October 12, 1918, in California Newspapers, 1847–2009

“It’s better to look funny than to look ‘perfectly natural,” it says. It seems we aren’t the only ones concerned about what others think of us.

Making sense of these “masked” times

In many ways, the mask you choose to wear has become a visible symbol of how we cope and interpret our new COVID reality. Whatever way we view it, knowing that we are not alone in this situation — but rather walking on the well-trodden paths of our ancestors — can provide us with some comfort as we try to make sense of these difficult times.

Ultimately, if we come together as a human family and wear the masks despite the challenges, one day we’ll look back at the newspapers of today and be proud of what we did to protect each other.

In the meantime, you can search our newspaper collections to discover the stories of your own ancestors.

The post Unmasking Pandemic Masks, Then and Now  appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Woman Finds Her Birth Father After 20+ Years of Searching

2020. június 16., kedd 9:22:01

Thanks to MyHeritage DNA, a woman from Michigan gave the surprise of a lifetime to an army veteran in Florida: she was his daughter, and she had been searching for him for 23 years.

Watch their moving reunion here:

Melissa Porter, 47, was raised by a single mother in Dallas, Texas. When she was 13, her mother revealed to her that her father’s name was Kenneth Bender, but didn’t give her any information beyond that. As a teenager, Melissa moved back to Michigan, where she was born, to live with her grandparents. Melissa’s grandmother told her that her father had served in the Navy.

In 1996, Melissa began actively searching for her father. She scoured the Navy archives and other military records and online services, but with no success.

Finally, last April, she decided to take a MyHeritage DNA test… and received a match to a first cousin living in Georgia. She checked the cousin’s family tree, and there he was — Kenneth Bender, her father. She discovered that he had later married and had a son, so she reached out to her half-brother — Kenneth Jr. — via social media. After 23 years of searching, Melissa finally found her father.

It turned out that Kenneth met Melissa’s maternal grandfather in a bar shortly after Kenneth was released from duty during the Vietnam War. The pair hit it off, and Kenneth ended up working for Melissa’s grandfather and renting a room in his house. It was there that he met Melissa’s mother. But the couple broke up after she became pregnant and told Kenneth that he wasn’t the father.

Kenneth, Melissa’s father, serving in the army

Kenneth joined the Air Force and served until his retirement, which he now enjoys in Florida. During his service, he married and had a son. He never imagined that Melissa’s mother hadn’t told him the truth, and was shocked and delighted to learn that he had a daughter.

On August 1, 2019, Melissa boarded her first-ever flight to travel down to Jacksonville Airport in Florida, and there she met her father and half-brother for the first time.

“All these years, I felt that something was missing in my life,” says Kenneth. “MyHeritage DNA resolved that issue.”

“I’ve been kept alive for a reason,” he goes on. “To find out that I have a daughter.”

The post Woman Finds Her Birth Father After 20+ Years of Searching appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Don’t Miss This Week’s Free Record Collections!

2020. június 15., hétfő 20:22:57

Each day of June, a different and significant historical record collection is being made available for free! The collections we have chosen for this offer were handpicked for their value to family historians and include collections that are exclusive to MyHeritage. Altogether, we’ll be providing free access to 2 billion historical records throughout June!

Here are the collections that we’re opening for free this week:

CollectionCountryNumber of RecordsCompetitor ExclusiveDay Collection is Free
Canada Newspapers, 1752-2007Canada6,961,070YESJune 15
1921 Canada CensusCanada8,683,491June 16
France, Nord Civil Marriages, 1792-1937France5,423,678YESJune 17
France Death Index, 1970-2019France24,725,675June 18
Netherlands, Civil Births, 1811-1915Netherlands31,860,820June 19
Netherlands, Civil Marriages, 1811-1940Netherlands28,131,957June 20
England & Wales, Death Index, 1837-2005

England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1837-2005
United Kingdom

United Kingdom

June 21

June 21
CollectionCountryNumber of RecordsCompetitor ExclusiveDay Collection is Free
1939 Register of England & WalesUnited Kingdom33,094,734June 22
Hungary Catholic Church Records, 1636-1895Hungary52,294,424June 23
Spain, Marriages, 1565-1950

Spain, Baptisms, 1502-1940


June 24

June 24
Australia Electoral Rolls, 1893-1949Australia16,306,739June 25
Mandatory Palestine Naturalization Applications, 1937-1947Israel206,731YESJune 26
Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965

Brazil, Pernambuco Deaths, 1930-2017


YESJune 27

June 27
Greece, Electoral Rolls 1863-1924

Greece, Corfu Vital Records, 1841-1932

Greece, Sparta Marriages 1835-1935






June 28

June 28

June 28
Germany, Hesse Marriage Index, 1849-1931

Germany, Hesse Birth Index, 1874-1911


June 29

June 29
Germany North Rhine Westphalia Death IndexGermany2,355,301YESJune 30

The post Don’t Miss This Week’s Free Record Collections! appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.