Testimonials

Experiences and Case Studies

Client Testimonials

Marjorie Goldy

Discovering the Ancestral Home of her Jewish Ancestors

Marjorie Lunder is what you’d call an Ancestry super-user. Her membership to the site goes back 10 years. She took the AncestryDNA test and has since connected with several long-lost relatives. And now, she’s singing the praises of Ancestry’s professional research division and even considering an ancestral tour with the company next year.

Marjorie took an interest in her Jewish family’s history as a child. Like any good genealogist, she started interviewing her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. She was only 12 years old, but her instincts were good. Her interest really took off about 10 years ago, when she discovered Ancestry. She’s been a member ever since, but her success in family history research wasn’t matching her enthusiasm.

Brick wall after brick wall got in her way. No matter how hard Marjorie searched, she couldn’t uncover where, when, or how her great-grandparents had arrived in the United States. “I found it very frustrating—going in circles and finding nothing,” she said. Even after hiring a genealogist in New York, Marjorie still didn’t have the answers she had been seeking.

Read More “I thought, I better call Ancestry and see if they know anybody,” Marjorie said. “Because I knew being Jewish, I need someone who knows a lot about history, who maybe speaks Yiddish or Hebrew. So, I called and they said, ‘Of course we can help.’ They connected me with Janette Silverman.”

Janette leads a team of researchers who specialize in Eastern European and Jewish research at AncestryProGenealogists. She is considered a pillar of the Jewish genealogical community, with more than 35 years of experience, and she is influential in several Jewish research institutions and conferences.

One of the first things Janette asked Marjorie to provide was photographs of her relatives’ gravestones. Marjorie sent her an image of a gravestone in Lawrence, Massachusetts, that belonged to her great-great-grandmother. Marjorie knew nearly nothing about this woman, but within days, Marjorie says answers about the origins of Chaya Golde “Ida” Gobbor began trickling in.

“It’s such a great feeling to find out finally, after searching for so long,” Marjorie said. “It’s kind of a relief, really.”

Since then, her three-year journey with Janette has been full of discovery. Her father’s family had long believed that their ancestors came from Russia, but in fact, they were from Lithuania. And ancestors on both sides of Marjorie’s family tree came to the United States much earlier than anyone had realized. Her father’s ancestors arrived in the late 19th century, while her mother’s ancestors came from Romania in the early 20th century.

Beyond adding names and dates to the Lunder family tree, Janette has helped Marjorie understand the living conditions her ancestors experienced in Europe and the circumstances that influenced their decision to come to America. She’s grateful to know her ancestors found a better life for themselves.

“That was a great feeling,” she said. “To know that they had made the voyage here, and they set up new roots, and did well, and were able to provide for their family.”

The real reward for Marjorie has been sharing these discoveries with her family. Although not everyone is on board, her mother, brothers, nieces, and nephews have found the results exciting. “They all say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. How did you find that out?’”

Marjorie believes that Janette’s deep knowledge of history and her understanding of nuances in language allowed her to find answers that Marjorie and other researchers simply couldn’t find.

“So, what Ancestry has done, is connecting on so many different levels,” Marjorie said. “The DNA, the hints are amazing … and you know, having the Jewish genealogy connection on Ancestry is fabulous. I’ve had a great experience and keep finding more.”

Virginia Foster

Combining AncestryDNA and Genealogy Research to Help me Find my Father

After growing up as the only child of her adoptive parents, Virginia Foster didn’t expect to be anyone’s sister. That all changed in November 2017, when she discovered she had two half-brothers. It was the end of a long journey to find her biological roots.

Virginia was 71 years old when genealogists at AncestryProGenealogists linked her DNA to that of her biological father and half-brothers. Her dad had died almost three decades earlier, but it’s her new siblings who have Virginia excited. “And now, the three of us have a lovely relationship. It couldn’t be better. And, there’s a lot of love there already,” she says.

Her search came full circle when Virginia contacted the “Unknown Parentage” team at AncestryProGenealogists in the summer of 2017. “You’re never too old, and you guys (ProGen) are the experts,” she says. Virginia already knew the meaning of “patience” and “persistence.” In fact, she had maintained a “never give up” attitude for decades.

Read More From the time she was a little girl growing up in New York with her adoptive parents, Virginia was curious. “I just wanted to know who I was, who were these people who had me, and then just turned me over to the state,” she says.

Her biological parents gave Virginia up to the New York Welfare Board when she was a newborn, and at three months old, Virginia went home with the couple who would adopt her. Virginia says they were loving parents who never hid the past from her. However, that truth scared Virginia a bit, especially after the family moved to Florida. “I can remember always thinking, ‘Gosh, I’m adopted, if something happened to my adoptive parents, who would want me? Where would I go?’”

In her 30s, while doing her own detective work, Virginia tracked down her half-sister on her biological mother’s side. Even though her mother had already passed away, Virginia says it was an amazing experience connecting with a sister, aunts, uncles, a niece, and a grand-nephew. “I was welcomed into the family, told that I looked just like my mother, and from there I began a relationship with all of those people that I have to this day, and we think a great deal of each other.” But, she feared those who knew her biological father had taken the secret of his identity to their graves.

Then, in 2017, Virginia received the results of an AncestryDNA test, which identified the name of a man who was a close relative. “I kept wondering, ‘Why is he coming up?’ I had never heard of this person,” she says. With no time to waste, she decided to hire AncestryProGenealogists to try and find some answers.

“My experience with ProGen was wonderful, and it went very fast. I was surprised because I personally had nothing to go on for my paternal side of the family.” But within a few months, Virginia had a name for her biological father, his birth and death dates, and perhaps most importantly, the names and contact information for two siblings who might want to know they had a sister. Both men were excited to connect with Virginia, and now all three are optimistic about the future. “We are all just looking forward to many, many years of getting to know each other better, enjoying stories of our lives, and sharing a lot of love and joy,” Virginia says.

Did it all happen too late for Virginia? The answer is “no,” and she’s got some advice for others who might be looking for long-lost biological family members: “It’s never too late, it’s not. But use someone who is an expert.” In fact, she suggests the professionals at ProGenealogists, who “deal with impossible tasks every day and still find answers. I believe in what you (ProGen) do and the fact that you can do it.”

Tim Harden

Preserving Family Memories through a Legacy Book

Tim Harden has always had a passing interest in genealogy, but his desire to search the past for the answers his family was missing came to a head during a casual conversation with his aging mother in 2015.

“My 93-year-old mother told me she didn't know her grandparents on either side of the family,” Harden said. “And she was 93!”

After recovering from his surprise about her lack of family knowledge, Harden made a plan. From that moment on, it was a race against time to reveal her ancestors and the details of their lives while his mother could still savor the stories. However, Harden knew he needed professional help to pull it off. He had poked around enough in online collections to realize that the sheer number of records, certificates, articles, and photos that are accessible in digital form could be overwhelming.

Read More “Every time I sat down…about a half-hour in, I wanted to throw the computer through the wall, because it was so frustrating just to get information in, and then it was even more frustrating to try to get information out [to the point] that you could say, ‘Yeah, that makes sense, and that links to something that's true,’" Harden said.

That’s when he called AncestryProGenealogists. Because his mother’s family immigrated to America from Italy, Harden’s case was assigned to George Ott, a research manager whose team specializes in Italian research, among other areas. They revealed 300 years of his mother’s family history in just three months.

“The team did a phenomenal job of uncovering her ancestry back to the 1700s on both sides,” Harden said. “This was August when she told me that, and by November, we were able to hand a family tree to her of her ancestry on both sides of the family.”

Harden’s mother was delighted, but he realized as she held the family tree in her hands that the information was still only words and dates on a page. He wanted to bring it to life, so he asked AncestryProGenealogists’ Storytelling Team to take it from there. Starting with the earliest known ancestors, they used the information the research team had found to write and design a chronological family story, describing the joys and tragedies of the lives of his immigrant ancestors. The team wove in historical events to provide context about what those ancestors’ daily lives were like, and highlighted the family’s own precious photos and mementos along the way. The story was collected in a hardbound book that became a priceless gift for Harden’s mother’s last birthday on Earth.

“So she had it for [her last] six months, and she read it every single day,” Harden said. “So, incredible joy that she got that . My sisters–same thing, you know? And my cousins, same thing. It just filled in a lot of the blanks…there were a lot of family mysteries that were unraveled and truth laid out as we went through this process.”

Although his father died in 2005, Harden also wanted to uncover the details about his paternal ancestors. Research on that side of the family has been even more fruitful, and Harden has another legacy book underway to share with his siblings and paternal family members. His father’s ancestors include some of the first settlers in Virginia and Maryland, who fought in the American Revolution and later braved the Oregon Trail to become some of the initial settlers in the ranchlands of northern California. Throughout their lives, they also faced trying times. Obstacles that could have paralyzed his father’s progress became his impetus to find a path to success. Harden’s father left a legacy behind in his four loving and successful children, and his teaching and coaching contributions to California Polytechnic University are innumerable. To capture the man he was, Harden asked his AncestryProGenealogists book author to interview him and his sisters , and the personal memories and tributes they shared became highlights of the book’s text.

Seeing the power of family story in this way, Harden decided to honor his wife’s family by capturing their memories in their own voices, too. More comfortable in the genealogy realm, they had already developed a massive family tree. The missing piece was the rich oral history that animated that legacy and filled in the gaps of their lives and personalities. The final products, after four interviews with his in-laws and their siblings, were audio files of the interviews and two softcover booklets containing the full transcript of their responses and some treasured family photos . The family presented 119 copies of these bound transcripts to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren this past Christmas.

Harden was again able to see that capturing the curiosity of the younger generation depended on bringing the family tree alive through story. His own adult children were only mildly interested in the family tree on a page, but their interest spiked when they saw the book.

“When the story came to life, that's when they got really interested,” Harden said. “They shared it with some of their kids, but they're still young. But they now have something to point to, which is really cool. If I just had put the family tree together, it would have been great, but it would not have been special. By putting the story together of the family tree, it became special. And that difference is worth the dollars that you pay to make it special.”

Harden says he has no regrets about spending the time and money to create legacy books and oral histories for his family, except that he did not start sooner so he could share it with his father before he died. But he now tells anyone who will listen about the lasting impact this journey has had on his family.

“There's an old saying that if you have really good service, you'll tell 10 people, and if you have really bad service, you'll tell 100 people,” Harden said. “The old adage was just the reverse for me. I told 100 people about how this came about and why it came about. And it connects with just about everyone I talked to who had similar experiences, or my being able to tell them my journey got them started to do their own histories.”

The book on Harden’s paternal ancestors will be published in the summer of 2018.

Deborah Simmons

Connecting with Family through Adoption Research

For most of her life Deborah Simmons says she was trying “to fill a hole inside of me created by a sense of not belonging.” In her adoptive family, Deborah felt alone. “I learned how to take care of myself and I always knew that I could stand on my own,” she says. But, that didn’t stop a yearning for something more. “I really wanted a sister and I really wanted to connect with a sister, and ‘boom,’ I got a sister.”

In December 2017, not long after her 66th birthday, Deborah officially connected with a half-sister. Developing leads using DNA tests and family history research, the “Unknown Parentage” team at AncestryProGenealogists traced Deborah’s biological roots right back to the small town of Kokomo, Indiana where she grew up. There, Deborah says her ProGen research team “homed in right away on great-grandparents, a grandmother, a mother, and a half-sister who was born the year before me.”

Once her half-sister, Kathy, saw the maternal DNA match with Deborah, she was ready to talk. Their connection, through e-mails and phone calls, was immediate. “It’s like we’ve known each other for years. It’s absolutely amazing,” Deborah says. The pair also quickly discovered they’d spent their childhood just miles from one another in Kokomo. Read More Deborah and Kathy’s biological mother is alive but suffers from dementia. “So, I will never actually be able to talk to her (biological mother), and I’m certainly not going to make her uncomfortable by insisting on meeting,” says Deborah. She is at peace with the relationships she is already building with biological family and the knowledge that “my birth mother did what was best for me.”

In fact, from the start of her formal search in 2016, Deborah says her ProGen team “grounded me in my expectations. It’s like you can’t assume it’s all going to be a good result.” She added, “I had to prepare myself for a possible rejection.” However, Deborah decided it was finally time to get answers for herself and her 31-year-old daughter. It was also a rare opportunity to grow their little family. “We are/were a tiny, tiny family. It’s just my husband, my daughter, and me.”

This wasn’t the first time Deborah had “toyed with” and “tried to” contact members of her birth family. Along the way, she confirmed she was born at 9:10 am on September 21, 1951, in Chicago, Illinois, and turned over to the Welfare Department in Kokomo six days later. Her adoption papers were sealed.

Deborah knew her information didn’t give researchers much to build on, but armed with DNA and expertise, she was confident the ProGen team would find someone in her biological family tree. And they did! As Deborah describes it, “The whole thing just kind of fell together so then he (her genealogist) just had to keep on developing every lead.” Soon, her half-sister Kathy had been contacted, and after what seemed like an eternity, reached out to welcome Deborah into the family she had always hoped to find.

For the two women, separated for more than six decades, “it was an almost instantaneous connection,” according to Deborah. “I’ve talked to her (Kathy) on the phone and she and I laugh the same way.” Their daughters have bonded too, and later this year, Kathy, her daughter, and granddaughter will travel from the Midwest to the Southern California coast Deborah has called home for years now.

The newly reunited family will spend a week together visiting all the familiar California sights and getting to know one another. However, if you ask Deborah what this trip will mean, here is the answer you will get: “I have to tell you that Kathy and I just want to hug and kiss each other. That’s pretty much it.”

Martha Liebowitz

Finding my Place in American History

Martha Liebowitz’s mother was a wonderful storyteller. She especially enjoyed sharing tales about the family’s link to United States history. Martha said that, in one of those stories her mother claimed the family was “descended from John Adams. Not the John Quincy Adams, but possibly one of the other Adams children.” After all, Martha’s great-grandfather’s last name was Adams, so it seemed possible her ancestors could be found in a branch of the second president’s family tree.

Then, in 2017, after becoming a member of Ancestry.com, and completing a DNA test, Martha decided it was time to find her true place in American history. She asked the lineage society team at AncestryProGenealogists to dig deep into her past and determine if she could really claim to be a Daughter of the American Revolution (DAR).

What genealogists uncovered both shocked and pleased Martha. There was no great- great-grandpa Adams. The truth was that his mother, Henriette Story, had divorced his father, John F. Piper, and changed her 3-year-old son’s name to make sure he’d fit in with his new family.

Read More However, these revelations about her real ancestors did not disappoint Martha. As it turns out, “I was descended from Henry Story, who was in the Revolutionary War, and here was his distinguished service record.” She also learned about everything he did to help our country earn its freedom. In fact, Martha called this, the first of many important findings by the ProGen team, “One of the most amazing e-mails I have ever received in my entire life.”

Next came documents reflecting her great-great-great-grandfather Piper’s three deployments with Massachusetts regiments of the Union Army during the Civil War. Piper’s service included duties leading up to the Battle of Appomattox on 9 April 1865, one of the last campaigns before the surrender of the Confederate Army and the declaration of a Union victory.

“Now I know what my family contributed to the beginnings of this country and it’s just amazing, and then to be able to tell my son all these things, is so important” Martha said. In fact, she’s already planning trips with her 10-year-old son to some of the places where her ancestors took part in making American history.

Martha is in awe of the ProGen research process, saying, “To find out the ‘real’ stories behind these ancestors and where they fought and to think about what inspired them to put their lives on the line in the first place, has been remarkable.”

Another extraordinary discovery was that Martha’s 10th great grandfather, William Story, played a role in the Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, William signed a petition in support of his Ipswich, Massachusetts neighbors, the Proctors, who were both accused of witchcraft. John Proctor was hung 19 August 1692, and his wife’s life was spared only because she was pregnant.

With each extension of her family tree and discovery of a document supporting an ancestor’s role in an historical event, Martha said, “I felt like we (her ancestors) were the Forrest Gump’s of American history, because we kept turning up in these very important moments in time.”

Martha believes this was the right time to ask the ProGen team to do their historical detective work on her ancestry. “It’s been such an incredible experience, to find out the truth, to know who we really are, and to be oh, so proud of what our family did,” she said. Her only regret is that her mother passed away before Martha could share a very important family history story with her, the one in which the reality is far more amazing than the legend.