The need for higher yielding and better-adapted crop plants for feeding the world's rapidly growing population has raised the question of how to systematically utilize large genebank collections with their wide range of largely untouched genetic diversity. Phenotypic data that has been recorded for decades during various rounds of seed multiplication provides a rich source of information. Their usefulness has remained limited though, due to various biases induced by conservation management over time or changing environmental conditions. Here, we present a powerful procedure that permits an unbiased trait-based selection of plant samples based on such phenotypic data. Applying this technique to the wheat collection of one of the largest genebanks worldwide, we identified groups of plant samples displaying contrasting phenotypes for selected traits. As a proof of concept for our discovery pipeline, we resequenced the entire major but conserved flowering time locus Ppd-D1 in just a few such selected wheat samples - and nearly doubled the number of hitherto known alleles.