Separated at birth? Lucy discovered a photo of her great-grandmother Michelle, born 87 years apart. Separated at birth? Lucy discovered a photo of her great-grandmother Michelle, born 87 years apart. Separated at birth? Lucy discovered a photo of her great-grandmother Michelle. The two were born 87 years apart. (Photo: Courtesy MyHeritage)

Imagine discovering an ancestor you never knew about – now open your eyes

New tool instantly delivers trove of archival information about your family's history.

Aaron Godfrey is nothing if not prompt. Moments before our scheduled call with the director of marketing for MyHeritage, a genealogy website, the phone rings. "Excuse my German sense of time," he says sheepishly. "As the clock turned, I was ready to call."

It's easy to understand why ancestry and time have been on Godfrey's mind a lot lately. His company recently launched Instant Discoveries, a tool that allows users to find ancestral information in mere moments. Imagine spending 30 seconds inputing information, and moments later seeing a photo of a great-aunt you never knew about, or a birth certificate for your uncle's grandfather-in-law.

With 80 million users around the world, MyHeritage has family trees enveloping more than 1.5 billion people. That's no small feat and it takes more than 200 employees spread out across two offices in Israel, one in Los Angeles and one in Utah to keep it all straight.

Author A.J. Jacobs, who orchestrated the world's largest family reunion this summer with the help of MyHeritage, is a big fan of the Instant Discoveries project. "It's a very cool advance in genealogy," Jacobs told From the Grapevine. "As you know, we live in an era when everyone has the attention span of a gnat on amphetamines. So this is a great way to capture their interest immediately."

So how does it work?

You simply type in your name, your parents' names, and the names of your four grandparents and – voila! – your Instant Discovery will appear on the screen. You could discover that your family has Italian heritage, or that your grandfather's second cousin twice removed parts his hair on the left side.

"If you give us these seven individuals, we hope to be able to give you a discovery in a matter of seconds. Internally, we call it the magic seven," says Godfrey.

"We don't have everybody, forever, throughout all of time covered yet, but we have a big chunk of people that are. So the chances of getting a match are pretty high." A "chunk" may be an understatement. MyHeritage has already created 27 million family trees and has six billion historical records on file.

The company has been going on something of roadshow, letting users take the new service for a test spin in cities across the world. Watch below as people in London react when they discover photos of bygone relatives and other historical family nuggets.

Last week MyHeritage filmed another Instant Discoveries video in Israel where the company is headquartered, and Godfrey says they are weighing options as to where they'll film next.

But in the meantime, you don't need to wait for MyHeritage to pop up in your hometown to experience this for yourself. Simply head over to and, within moments, you can have your very own Instant Discovery. "We want everyone around the world to know that they can make a discovery," says Godfrey. "We have users in every country around the world. We want to show everybody how easy it is to find your family history in just a few clicks." The service is already available in 42 languages.

As for Godfrey's German sense of punctuality, we offhandedly mention we might have some relatives from Germany. "We can help you find that out." he says with a laugh. "You've come to the right place."


Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows