Our Stories: From illness to discovery

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In September 2015, Jacob Eric Stathers, 63, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began treatment. While undergoing chemotherapy, he found himself with extra time on his hands, and he decided to dedicate this time to exploring his family history.

He began searching for the best tools and technology for his research and soon learned about MyHeritage. What he didn’t realize then were the new and exciting discoveries that genealogy would bring, and that it would open up a broader world during this difficult time in his life.

A British Columbia native, now Eric lives with his wife in Bellevue, Washington. They each have two children and two stepchildren. He holds a BSc (Agriculture — Soil Science), an MBA (University of British Columbia, Canada), and also studied at the Advanced Management College (Stanford University, California). A senior executive with 35 years of experience in business software, consulting, and management, he is today the managing partner of Stathers & Associates LLC. He is also co-editor and publisher of In the Ditch: Stories of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway 1929-65, authored by his grandfather, Eric Prince Stathers.

Eric became interested in family history as a young boy when his UK-born paternal grandfather, who lived with Eric’s family while recovering from a heart attack, began compiling his family tree and writing his memoirs.

I took a break from university to visit my maternal grandparents’ home and relatives in The Netherlands and later to visit my paternal grandparents’ relatives near Hull, England.

Eric joined MyHeritage on November 10, 2015. He found the Western European database and family tree connections to be deep and rich, and the Discovery and Smart Matching™ process very useful. He has enjoyed linking with other people and family trees via email, along with DNA tests through 23andMe.

As his research progressed, a whole new world opened up and increased his thirst for learning more about his family history every day.

I have discovered that my family emigrated from England and Western Europe from a 100 km radius of four cities/villages in England, The Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. The big surprise for me was discovering, through DNA testing, I am 85% Western European and only 9% British despite having a British surname.

Eric has shared his family tree with family around the world and persuaded other family members to do DNA testing. The book creation and printing tools on MyHeritage have also proven useful.

Eric's paternal great-grandfather, William Stork Stathers, from Kingston upon Hull, England, wearing his sea captain's uniform.

He has even started a project for his wife Shanon’s Knight-Voiles’ family tree going back to the 1300s. Recently, he discovered one of his wife’s ancestors was “ostrich keeper” for the king!

Of particular joy has been helping my niece with her school genealogy research project.

Eric currently has 2,329 individuals in his family tree, primarily from Canada, USA, England, The Netherlands, Germany, France, and Poland. He has been able to trace his family back to the 1300s for several family lines, thanks to the detailed databases at MyHeritage.

William Stork Stathers' "Master of a Foreign-Going Ship" certificate.

He has received hundreds of Smart Matches and continues to follow up on new ones every day as part of his ongoing research to validate primary sources of information and to disprove false leads. As a result of Smart Matches, he has connected to several other family trees from around the world.

During his illness, support came from an unexpected source.

As a result of my research, I am connected by email with a distant cousin in The Netherlands who has proven to be a great source of information and a new email friend. She has been a great source of support as I have gone through cancer treatment. She was involved in cancer healthcare. Being Dutch, she has provided a wealth of information related to The Netherlands branch of our family.

Gijsbertha Donselaar — Eric's maternal great-grandmother from Loosdrecht, The Netherlands, wearing traditional clothing.

During his chemotherapy, Eric found the MyHeritage mobile app to be particularly useful for reviewing Smart Matches™ and Discoveries.

I’ve spent many hours undergoing chemo infusions and waiting for appointments. Using the MyHeritage mobile app, I have been able to build my tree and validate primary sources of information.

He has already used the new Audio Recordings feature in the mobile app to record interviews with family members.

I’ve used the MyHeritage mobile recording capability to record stories about various ancestors from my father, 85, using my smartphone and to also link the stories to family members in the Stathers-Manten family tree.

I put my iPhone on the table unobtrusively and record 20-minute segments, post them to the tree matched to the right person. I have also learned to convert the MP4 files created by MyHeritage to text files so that I can include the content in future memoirs to share with family and friends.

By far, Eric’s most amazing genealogical achievement has been publishing the first volume of his grandfather’s memoirs on Amazon.

The information and confidence inspired by my genealogy research helped spur me on to meet this goal.

For those that are new to family history research, Eric advises everyone “to go for it!”

  • Do a little bit every day so it isn’t overwhelming.
  • Validate primary sources of information.
  • Be suspicious of errors in other family trees that you access.
  • Date your trees.
  • Don’t be afraid to create multiple trees, or to delete family lines when you make a mistake to avoid going down the wrong path.
  • Get your DNA tested and link it to your family tree.
  • Don’t be afraid to share information.
  • Use all of the resources available – the mobile app, recordings, etc.
  • But most of all – have fun! It shouldn’t be a chore and it needs to fit into your life.

Eric is nowhere near finished in his quest to uncover his roots. His genealogical journey is only just beginning.

I would like to thank MyHeritage for the great technology and content that it provides. The story continues every day as a work-in-progress as new discoveries and matches broaden my understanding of our family history.

Did you enjoy Eric’s story? Share your comments below. Do you have a story to tell? Send it to us at stories@myheritage.com.

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  • Brian Herman


    April 5, 2016

    Thanks Eric for your story. I agree that doing a little each day when you feel ” in the mood ” & have the time is beneficial. I appreciate your tips too. Not everyone is as diligent as you are
    but the exercise should be a fun thing & not a chore. I pray that your treatment goes well & that you have the strength to finish your project. Greetings from South Africa. Regards. Brian

  • Mary P, Sebastian


    April 6, 2016

    Excellent program: worth every penny; a much more helpful program than others on the web… T They even foumg a family portrait that weve had for years, in which our Father is about 7 yers oldl but we didn’t know who the other peopke were. no other web site has done that. This member ship is worth the money.

  • Greta Murphy


    April 20, 2016

    What an exciting and fruitful adventure you’re on! Your story has inspired me to do a little bit every few days instead of indulging in my usual bimonthly marathon. I wish the best of health.

  • Judy D


    April 21, 2016

    Great story Eric. I live those desires to search out and learn more every day. I believe the quest to learn it all will not be completed in my lifetime. So vast is all the knowledge and desire to learn more! I am prepping my daughters to take up after me. I pray for your complete and full recovery! Your obvious love of and desire to continue working on this project will surely fuel your body to a total wellness!

  • M Stroh


    April 21, 2016

    Wow what a great story! How exciting- makes me want to do this too T
    Thanks so much for this, Eric!

    🙂 Best wishes Marg and Mike
    London

  • Judith Desha (ne Winchester)


    April 22, 2016

    Great reading your story Eric and hoping that all goes well with your health. When I started my journey just a few months ago I had no idea how absorbing it was to become and how exciting when another link to the jigsaw is found. I’ve still got a very long way to go with my family and I’m amazed at how far other researchers have been able to go, with a lot of linking, and also into aspects of mine which have been of benefit to me. Your caution is well put and I’m just hoping that I am not responsible for leading anyone else onto a false path. I am sure I will be altering a few things on mine in the near future and have already self corrected on my learning curve.
    From what you say there is still a lot to learn -press on anyway!
    Good luck as you carry on your great project.

  • Doreen Taylor


    April 22, 2016

    How wonderful to read Eric`s story. Pleased to know that he has found family members. Eric I wish you well and thank you for sharing this with us. Good Luck. Best Wishes Doreen

  • Jacqueline grimwade


    April 22, 2016

    An interesting and rewording adventure researching family history !

  • Irene stettner(Bailey)


    April 23, 2016

    Very inspiring,I just started my research,I have ancestors also in England & in the states etc. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Elaine Wood


    April 23, 2016

    I am pleased with your research on your family lines, a great story and inspiration, wishing you good health, know this work will be the best Legacy you can leave your family.

  • Samantha Norman


    April 23, 2016

    Hi Eric

    Im thrilled with your research results. I have join My Heritage and started the 14 day free trial. I have received many family matches.

    I wish you all the best with your health and happines.
    Happy days exploring new and exciting adventures to come.

    Cheers
    Sam Norman
    sammy.korners@hotmail.com

    Ps im doing the paternal DNA test towards the end of the year.

  • Mary Somerville


    April 26, 2016

    Hi Eric — Interesting story and what a great legacy you’ll leave! I too have found tons of information that I wish my late parents had known. My mother would have been so proud to hear of her heritage beyond her somewhat dismal upbringing. And my father would have loved seeing the sailing ship that his grandfather came over to the United States on from Scotland. Each person and story found makes my day! I’m so grateful to MyHeritage!

    One of these days I’ll do the DNA testing. I gave the kits to my daughter and son-in-law (who is Indian) for Christmas a couple years ago, and what fun they had. The results were spot on with what we know from research.

    I hope all is going well for you.
    Take care,
    Mary

  • Irene Stettner


    April 27, 2016

    Hi Eric: Hope your health is improving.God Bless you for letting us into your life sharing your journey.

  • Cynthia McDonald


    May 2, 2016

    My late mother and I had wanted to do her tree for a long time. Time was the issue, she still worked full time and I was an ICU nurse and mother of 3 children. To say nothing of scant resources.
    In 1995, I was out with a back injury and she was no longer working. I bought a family tree cd and we started to work. She never knew what happened to her father, so that’s where we started. Who knew we would end up as DAR & UDC ? We did lose on soldier. He name just dropped off the records on the microfiche. My mom wrote to the state and county genealogical societies. They found him listed as a POW in a Union encampment!!!
    In the last year, the bug to continue has been big. I’m typing in what we have on paper to the digital format and searching for new leads.
    I wish I could do a little each day, but once I start, I’m hooked and it may be hours before I stop.
    Delighted to read your story!! Keep it up!!!