August 14, 2020
For the last week or so the genealogy blogs have been full of the news that a 75% share of Ancestry was recently purchased by Blackstone, an investment group. Bloggers such as Judy Russell, Randy Seaver, Roberta Estes and many more have all written blogs describing the details and what they think the purchase means for genealogists. But, for most us, the only question we really care about is how the purchase will affect us personally. In my case, an average genealogist here in Larimer County who dabbles frequently but isn’t really a serious professional genealogist.
After having read many the articles (they’re easy to find by googling), my conclusion is that for most of us it’s not really going to change anything much – at least not in the short term. I’ve been a subscriber to Ancestry for over twenty years now, and in that time, they’ve been purchased several times. Each time some members of the genealogical community have decried the changes and predicted the end of Ancestry as we know it, but, so far, it hasn’t happened. It probably won’t happen this time either. Of course, genealogists should be aware when changes like this occur, but, really, there isn’t much we can actually do about it. This is just a reminder that Ancestry, like every other genealogy company, is a business. The bottom line for them is making money, and they’ll do whatever they need to do that. Hopefully, that means making their subscribers happy, but there are really no guarantees. With the advent of widespread DNA testing, that basic fact can be a little unsettling, particularly in Ancestry’s case since they have apparently tested the DNA of over 18 million of us. But, again, all of the DNA testing companies are businesses, and none of us have any control over how they are bought or sold and that includes how they choose to handle our DNA. I’ve heard genealogists express trust in one company or another because “they’re owned by genealogists, and they’ve promised to honor their commitment to handling our DNA in a responsible manner.” Unfortunately, the reality is that once those genealogist owners are out of the picture (and they will eventually be gone, even if it’s only through natural attrition based on age, illness or other reasons), the new owners may or may not follow through on prior commitments. We all need to keep that in mind when we’re making our genealogical decisions.
As I stated, I’ve had a subscription to Ancestry for many years, and it has been my go-to source for online research for all of those years. Even today, with all of the other resources available to us, I still find myself accessing Ancestry nearly every day. In my opinion, for general genealogical research, they are still the number one resource, with competition for that spot only perhaps challenged by Family Search. Add in their huge catalog of DNA tests (as an American, I’m more apt to find matches on Ancestry than any of the other testing sites), and you’ll understand why my subscription dollars will continue to go to Ancestry. I would be severely handicapped, especially now when so much of our research has to be done from home, without my subscription.
At least in my case, I’ll be doing nothing about the fact that Ancestry has been sold. My annual subscription renewal is due later this month, and I’ll be renewing as usual. I will, of course, keep an eye on what is happening with Ancestry. Should things change for the worse with rising prices, lowered access to records or other future calamities, I can always re-evaluate my decision to keep subscribing. I’m realistic enough to know that I really can’t do anything else about the situation anyway: Ancestry will do what they’re going to do. They’re a for-profit company, after all. My only real option is to withdraw my subscription dollars and remove my DNA results from their database, and I don’t really see any benefit in that. For now at least, I’ll just be continuing on with Ancestry as usual. Right now I’m off to do a little research on Ancestry!
Researcher/Director at Large