A Russian-American’s insider view of the MyHeritage DNA test

The newest game player for DNA testing for genealogy is MyHeritage. Up until Nov. 30, 2018, MyHeritage is allowing free uploads for anyone who has tested with Ancestry, 23andme, Family Tree DNA and Living DNA. Then, anyone who uploads their DNA file on Dec. 1 and later will pay a fee for the tools and ethnicity estimate.

Uploading to MyHeritage is well-worth the wait for the results. Here’s the details on the information and tools that come with the results.

What type of information is provided on matches?

Each match is identified with his or her name, a photo (not everyone), country of residence, age by decade, level of confidence for the match (low, medium and high); name of person managing the DNA kit if it isn’t the person who took the DNA test,  amount of shared DNA,  number of shared DNA segments and largest DNA segment. Also, a link to the available family tree is provided with the number people in their tree. The number of Smart Matches and common surnames appearing in their family tree also are noted.

Then the following information is provided when clicking on a match: a list of ancestral surnames, shared matches with relationship estimates, the shared ethnicities, in addition to a chromosome browser.

How does MyHeritage predict relationships?

MyHeritage lists matches as mother or daughter; father or son;  half-sister, aunt or niece; half-brother, uncle or nephew; great-grandmother or great-granddaughter, great-aunt or great-niece; great-grandfather or great-grandson, great-uncle or great-nephew; 1st cousin – 1st cousin once removed; 1st cousin once removed – 2nd cousin; 3rd – 4th cousin; 1st cousin twice removed – 4th cousin; 3rd – 5th cousin;  and 3rd cousin – distant cousin.

How often do you get matches?

Currently, I have 1,801 matches. I receive matches several times a week. An orange dot appears next to a DNA symbol in the webpage’s top bar when new matches have arrived. MyHeritage sends out an e-mail message about once or twice a month about new matches.

How many of your matches have Russian or Ukrainian ancestry or live in Russia or Ukraine?

I have 33 matches from Russia and 6 matches from Ukraine, in addition to many matches with Russian and Ukrainian surnames from around the world. About 600 matches have Eastern European ancestry.

How close are your matches?

I have 5 2nd and 3rd cousins who I know from Russia and Ukraine. Our estimated relationships are accurate. The other matches are mostly 3rd – 5th cousin and 3rd cousin – distant cousin.

Do you have surnames in-common with your matches? 

I don’t have any shared surnames with my matches but my other relatives whose DNA files I manage have some in-common surnames with their matches.

How friendly are matches in giving information?

Some matches will respond to my e-mail messages about exchanging information.

What tools does MyHeritage offer in searching, sorting, filtering and noting matches?

Matches can be filtered by family tree available, shared surnames, Smart Matches, close family, extended family, distant family, country of residence and ethnicity groups. Matches can be sorted by shared DNA, number of shared segments, largest DNA segment, full name and most recently arrived. MyHeritage also allows matches to be searched by name and ancestral surname. Notes can be added to each match for later reference.

What does the map for ethnicity breakdown for MyHeritage look like?

What other information does MyHeritage provide?

MyHeritage also gives an overview for the DNA results. The overview provides the ethnicity breakdown by percentages, total of matches, number breakdown of matches as close family, extended family and distant family, number breakdown of matches from 39 countries/islands, and number breakdown of matches who fall into the 30 ethnicity groups.

Related posts:

A Russian-American’s inside view of the new AncestryDNA test

A Russian-American’s insider view of the Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder Test

A Russian-American’s insider view of the 23andme Autosomal Test

Guide for making the best choices in DNA testing

FAQ- DNA testing for Russians and Ukrainians

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Old address books help fill in amazing details for journey out of poverty

The history of my grandfather’s family was briefly described in a letter and didn’t appear very interesting at first glance. Once I started some intense poking into some old address books online, the pieces of an incredible story of my grandfather who grew up dirt poor and later lived with high society started coming together.

The research into my grandfather’s life started with finding the addresses of the famous Russian doctor whom he lived with for 11 years in Saint Petersburg as a carpenter.

Thanks to online Russian address books, I found the doctor’s two main addresses from 1900-1911. Keeping up my Russian language skills from my childhood has really had its advantages for genealogy.

Then with the help of Google Translate, I was able to find the two homes of Dr. Nikolai Alexandrovich Velyaminov where my grandfather’s family lived on Russian websites from Google searches. One page even showed me several photos of one home from the inside.

 The first home where they lived.

It’s just amazing to think my grandfather walked the halls and down the stairs shown in those photos. This is just another example why searching online in the language of your ancestors opens more doors in genealogy, instead of  getting frustrated with English-based research for genealogy.

The second address was harder to research but I finally found pictures of the address. It only happens to be Anichkov Palace. Yes, Grandpa Pavel lived in a palace and didn’t mention a word of this in his letter to my father. He only referred to living with Dr. Velyaminov at his property.

I thought I had to be mistaken.  A man who grew dirt poor in a village of homes made of mud and hay somehow moved into a palace? More research into the address on a Russian encyclopedia website states Dr. Velyaminov  lived in a “government apartment on the emb. Fontanka, 33 (house of the Main Palace Administration at the Anichkov Palace)”.

How could my grandfather leave out that he lived within a palace? He wrote the letter from the USSR to my father in the USA in the late 1960s when it really wasn’t a good idea to have contact with foreigners. I assume my grandfather was too afraid to write in detail about his life in Saint Petersburg due to fear of having his letter be rejected by the postal service, which read some private letters.

While I will never know how my grandfather and his parents got the courage to leave the family village in Kostroma Oblast for a better life in Saint Petersburg, I know they also worked 6 years as carpenters for a Count Shuvalov before working for Dr. Velyaminov.

 Dr. Velyaminov

The timing for my grandfather’s arrival in 1894 to Saint Petersburg couldn’t have been more interesting. That was the year Czar Alexander III died.

The doctor who cared for the czar before his death was Dr. Velyaminov, who travelled with the new and last czar, Nicholas II, and his family from the Livadia Palace in the Crimea to Saint Petersburg.

Merging of these lives came together only with the help of two addresses. Doors of those homes opened the doors to understanding the life of my grandfather’s family.

Related posts:

Untraditional source reveals the death of a great-grandfather
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo
A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years

Rediscovery of a long-lost photo of a grandfather uncovers a mistake

I assumed I had seen everything in my late father’s box of photos, negatives and slides that has sat for years in my laundry room. So many duplicates are in the box so it didn’t seem worth my time to sift through the disorganized mess.

My curiosity peaked once again whether there could be an undiscovered treasure in the box. Several years ago, I found a negative for a professional photo of my grandmother as a teenager with her father. My family doesn’t recall ever seeing the photo.

I thought I couldn’t possibly have missed another gem when I found the last photo. With so many negatives in the box, it gets annoying to find the right angle to view them while sitting on the floor.

So I took out my scanner to double-check that nothing was missed. From the glance while sitting on my living room floor, I thought this would be a waste of my time. At least, I would learn how to set the scanner to make the negatives into 21st century jpegs.

But I was curious about why my father mixed in two photos of my mother’s grandfather among rows of photos of his own family for these negatives. My father photographed his favorite family photos for negatives.

Then this photo appeared:

My mother nor I have ever seen this photo. I searched through the few pages of photos of my grandfather in my album. This photo is nowhere to be seen.

Every photo of my grandfather is a gem. My father is the only child of his father. My grandfather was the only child of my great-grandparents to live past childhood. A random cousin can’t appear in the future with photos of him.

Then the next photo in the negative strip didn’t make sense. I have identified it as a photo of my mother’s paternal grandfather from 1917 for years.

Once, I asked myself why would he have a professional photo taken of him in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the same time he was living in Kiev, Ukraine, I knew I made a big mistake with the photo identification.

My grandfather only was 4 years younger than my mother’s grandfather, thanks to an unplanned fatherhood at 50 years old. Both men had lived in Saint Petersburg but my paternal grandfather is the only logical choice for the 1917 photo.

It took the discovery of one photo to learn that I really do have a photo of my grandfather as a young man. When 21st century technology mixes with the 20th century, the results can be amazing.

Related posts:
An incredible surprise of rediscovered old photos brings alive the family tree

Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo

The aftermath of a house fire brings surprising joy

Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves

Large Russian-American cemetery database offers another resource for researching immigrants

Many Russian-speaking immigrants escaping the Soviet Union found a special cemetery in northeastern United States. That one cemetery is claiming to be the largest Russian Orthodox cemetery outside of Russia.

Novo-Diveevo Russian Orthodox Cemetery is tucked away a few miles from New York City and attracted many Russian-speaking immigrants as their final resting place. More than 7,100 immigrants and their descendants are documented with grave photos on this Find A Grave database.

The best part of this database is the ease involved to search for possible ancestors and relatives. Every memorial can be viewed in a list with this link.

If that’s too time-consuming, the first or last name can be searched with just a few letters. That is highly recommended due to the challenges of determining in how names were spelled on gravestones- the original name or modified names.

Here’s a guide on tricky name spellings-

  1. Names ending with ov also can be spelled with ow or off
  2. Names with the zh sound also can be spelled with a j
  3. Names using the kh combination also can be spelled with the k dropped
  4. Names ending with y also can be spelled with iy or ij
  5. Names with the sh sound also can be spelled with sch
  6. Names starting with a g sound can be switched to a h for Ukrainians

My favorite feature of this cemetery is that many of the gravestones have photos, birthplaces or military service information.

If the memorial page doesn’t have that information posted in English, the information can be easily retyped with a Russian keyboard here. Then copy and paste the text on Google Translate for the English translation.

Anyone with Russian nobility ancestry is highly encouraged to search this cemetery’s database. The cemetery is filled with dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses and princes and princesses, who escaped the Soviet Union to save their lives from political persecution.

If nothing useful appears in this cemetery’s database, another cemetery database to check is Holy Trinity of Jordanville, N.Y. More than 2,000 Russian-speaking immigrants and their descendants are documented for that cemetery.

Related posts:
Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?
The User-Friendly Guide to Find A Grave for Russian and Ukrainian Genealogy
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives
Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

 

Surprising journey starts after visiting grandparents’ cemetery

Three years ago, I finally returned to my grandparents’ cemetery for the first time since my grandmother died in 2012. It’s a 7-hour drive to visit my grandparents’ cemetery so the trip takes some planning.

The visit was one of the few times I wasn’t coming for a funeral. Just coming to visit my grandparents’ grave didn’t seem like enough this time.

The New York City area has many Find A Grave volunteers but it’s a rare chance that many of these volunteers could read the Russian gravestones and crosses at Novo Diveevo Russian Orthodox Cemetery.

My Russian is probably  at the higher elementary level but this cemetery could give me the practice I needed to improve my language skills. I started with photographing about 600 gravestones and wooden crosses.

Thanks to this free online Russian keyboard, it was easy to retype the words I didn’t recall. Then copying and pasting the text into Google Translate revealed the unfamiliar Russian words.

I was hooked to coming back the next summer in 2016 to photograph more when a Russian-American Find A Grave volunteer thanked me for my efforts. He posted many memorial pages for Novo Diveevo before I started my journey and has been a great help to explain anything I couldn’t understand.

I pushed myself to photograph more gravestones and crosses for my visit in summer 2016. I was done with the clicking on my digital camera after 1,300 photos but I had no idea about how much work was ahead of me for the next visit.

After two visits, I was hoping to be done in summer 2017. When I returned again, I went into panic about how much wasn’t done and worried about the upcoming rainy weather.

Thankfully, I came armed with two memory cards and two camera batteries. When I got too hot and sweaty, I went into my car for some bottled water and air conditioning while I recharged my camera. Of course, my second battery discharged when I was an hour away from being done.

So off I went to the nearby Subway to take a lunch break, when I hid that I was charging my camera under the table. I killed time by poking around on my smart phone. I was determined to finish the cemetery on the third visit.

In the end, I pressed the shoot button about 2,700 times. At times, I was hiding under an umbrella. My abundant eagerness allowed me to ignore the time that passed after sunset.

So it wasn’t a surprise when I found some photos were too grainy to post or even read. My stubborn soul knew a fourth “quick” visit was needed for this summer.

I thought I had to only retake pictures of a small section and the newer gravestones and crosses since my last visit. Another surprise came my way when I checked on my smartphone whether my grandparents’ section was done. I hardly touched that section.

Once I was getting closer to finishing the section, two cemetery workers passed me by on their vehicle, with one saying in Russian “Why is she taking pictures?” I turned around and acted as if I was talking on my phone. I moved to the back of the cemetery for the newer graves and returned to that section when they were gone.

It felt so good to finish the cemetery after the 4th visit. I sweated, bled from prickly bushes, climbed under low tree branches and pushed aside many bushes and tree branches to take photos.

Three years ago, this cemetery had less than 200 memorial pages. Now the cemetery has more than 7,100 people in the database. Many of these people had the courage to escape the USSR for a better life and all the sweat and effort to include them on Find A Grave was well worth it.

Related posts:
A broken promise gives inspiration to document an immigrant cemetery
Don’t blink in a cemetery

Untraditional source reveals the death of a great-grandfather

I don’t give up easily to find records in archives. The known facts are checked several times before I send a researcher to search through records.

That wasn’t enough when a researcher looked in two areas of an archive for my great-grandfather’s death record. The joke was on us because someone else managed to find the record more than 15 years ago.

A man was so intrigued by the city where my great-grandfather lived in southern Russia that he wrote a book about people who lived on or near the main street.

Thanks to this book by Oleg Pavlovich Gavryushkin, I know my great-grandfather died of heart failure and had his funeral service in 1912 at the Assumption Cathedral in Taganrog, where archives had a record of my grandmother being christened 10 years earlier.

That book was published 15 years ago but the author died 10 years ago, a day after my first son was born. I was a bit too late to thank the author for his book and ask where he got his information.

Sadly, the church doesn’t stand anymore, thanks to the communist government that pillaged the valuables and later knocked down the church for a public restroom that no longer exists.

 Source: Wikipedia

Thankfully the history of this church is well-known, with the work of historian Pavel Petrovich Filevsky. It helps fill in the emptiness of not finding the death record in archives.

The history gives me more appreciation of the family church, where famous Russian author Anton Chekhov also was christened. The future Czar Nikolai II , Czar Alexander II and Czar Alexander III also visited this church.

This was a church of note and my family walked the same place as three czars and the family of Anton Chekhov, whose parents married in the church.

A further look into the book by Gavryushkin gave me an even fuller picture of the city that my father’s four grandparents picked as their final residence.

The same street as my great-grandparents lived was the locations for the last palace of Czar Alexander I and house of Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s brother that was visited by the composer.

Now that I know this, I wish I had a chance to ask my father about how much he knew about the history and culture that surrounded him in Taganrog. Just like my grandmother, my own father died close to my 10th birthday.

A search for my great-grandfather’s death record didn’t result in finding the document but showed me the better and more important story that surrounded his life.

Related posts:
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo
A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years
Journey to find one record breaks down a brickwall on 3rd great-grandfather’s family
One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life

Amazing family reunion was hiding among e-mail messages

Over the years, I have been lucky on genealogy forums to find connections with people who have the same surnames from my family villages. Quite the surprise came two months ago in my e-mail but I didn’t realize it until recently.

A woman contacted me about her great-great-grandfather’s family from the village of my great-grandfather. She told me about the children of her great-great-grandfather, who had 19 children but only 8 children lived past infancy.

Her great-great-grandfather and my 5th great-grandmother had the same surname from the same village in central Russia. The great-grandfather’s name seemed so familiar as I have heard it before.

I searched my e-mail for messages with that name and an interesting connection appeared. Another woman who is researching the same great-great-grandfather contacted me two years ago.

I stopped writing to the other woman because our information didn’t connect our family trees. The woman promised to contact me if she found any new information.

It was quite a surprise to learn that these two women didn’t know each other. Apparently, family reunions come in the form of randomly sent e-mail messages.

But a connection was there two generations ago, as I learned from the woman who originally contacted me two years ago. I shared with her the information from the woman who e-mailed me two months ago.

Their grandmothers were close friends in my great-grandfather’s village but the following generations didn’t have an interest in keeping the connection alive.

That was until these two women e-mailed me. I e-mailed  both women whether they wanted to contact each other. Both are thrilled to reignite the connection their grandmothers had years ago.

These women are most likely my distant cousins. My great-grandmother whose great-great-grandmother had the same maiden name as their great-great-grandfather.

It is going to take some research to connect our family trees because a challenge lies ahead. The family was Old Believers and not as many documents exist in archives as the people who were Russian Orthodox.

Thanks to these women finding me on the largest Russian-language genealogy forum, there could be a second reconnection in this family. These two women may be gaining me as a distant cousin.

It took a stranger to reconnect them. Now, let’s hope documents still exist to confirm me as their cousin.

Related posts:
Search for grandma’s childhood home reveals family secrets
Message left in a family painting solves a family mystery
A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo