Finding a long-lost relative... down the street

MyHeritage helped Modiin neighbors Ben Beres and Jonathan Mosery find a familial connection.

Linoy Maidvanikov Simon and her sister, Kamilla Maydannikova, reunite due to MyHeritage.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Linoy Maidvanikov Simon and her sister, Kamilla Maydannikova, reunite due to MyHeritage.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Next time you pass by your neighbor while taking out the trash, you might want to take a closer look.

He could just be a long-lost relative. After all, that’s what happened to Jonathan Mosery and Ben Beres, who live just a few homes apart in Modi’in. The pair recently uncovered – via the family tree site MyHeritage – that they’re actually related.

Aaron Godfrey, the company’s vice president of marketing, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he lives right near both Mosery and Beres, and found out just a few weeks ago that they’re cousins.

“One of my neighbors called me a few weeks ago and told me that he found a connection through MyHeritage to a neighbor right around the corner,” Godfrey said. “They have the same great-great-grandmother... one lives on one side of me, and the other one lives behind me. They both live in Modi’in, they’re both from American families and they knew each other.”

MyHeritage, the Israel-based genealogy site, has recently helped reunite several family members who had no idea they were living just meters away from blood relatives.

The company, which was founded in Israel in 2003, is one of the most popular online family tree services, and claims 100 million registered users around the world. Its algorithms match people’s family trees up with others created on the site, potentially linking them to relatives they never knew.

“We have 44 million family trees, and we have a lot of discoveries all the time,” Godfrey said. And while most of their matches tend to be more international, he posits that in Israel, “where there’s a lot of family connections and there are less than six degrees of separation between most people,” these nearby links could be more common.

A few years ago, Godfrey said, Linoy Maidvanikov Simon began working at MyHeritage in Israel. Like all new employees, she gained access to the site’s services and began to create a family tree. Maidvanikov Simon had been looking for years for her father, who she had lost contact with as a little girl. MyHeritage’s algorithms linked Maidvanikov Simon up with relatives who had transliterated her father’s name somewhat differently.

Within days of beginning to use the site, she located a sister she had never met.

“When she got in contact with the family, she realized that she’d lived in New York for a while, very close to where the family had lived,” Godfrey said. Maidvanikov Simon’s sister, Kamilla Maydannikova, flew to Israel for an emotional reunion.

While MyHeritage also offers DNA testing and matching, many of these stories are simply done through family tree matching, Godfrey said. But DNA matching through MyHeritage helped two siblings living in New Zealand reunite who were living just an hour’s drive apart. It can also help families thousands of miles away from each other reunite – like siblings from Australia and the Netherlands who never knew the other existed. Over the next few months, MyHeritage will be looking to find family links between people who might not be geographically close, but they’re tied to one specific thing: the Eurovision. MyHeritage has teamed up with the contest, hosted in Israel this year, to explore genealogical connections between past and present participants in the show.

The company said that both this year’s winner, Netta Barzilai, and Israel’s 1978 winner, Izhar Cohen – as well as several other former competitors – have agreed to submit their DNA for exploration. The site will also be mining through the family trees of many other Eurovision icons over the years.

“It’s always a journey,” said Godfrey. “One of the things we’re going to be looking at are how some of the Eurovision legends are connected to each other, and that will be primarily through family history, which includes how two people are related, and who their common ancestors are. We’ll be using our genealogy tools to explore that.”

So far, MyHeritage has uncovered several links, including that the 1998 Eurovision winner for Switzerland, Celine Dion, is the 12th cousin of the 2017 champion from Portugal, Salvador Sobral.