Ancestry claim rights to anything posted

I don’t use Ancestry - but this was sent from one of the Family History Societies that I belong to. They have an Ancestry Library subscription and didn’t know about this.

The recent Ancestry “Update to Privacy Policy” comes with an unheralded change to the Terms and Conditions.

They now claim rights to anything you post there after 3 August. They also claim anything you already have there from before then, that has not been removed within 30 days.

This includes “content such as family trees, photos, videos, recordings, stories about relatives, your comments in trees”.

This does NOT include any DNA results if you have tested there.

More about these changes via these blog posts:

[Legal Genealogist] (scroll up to the top - for some reason it goes to one post)


Yet. Wait until next year’s update to the privacy policy.

If you think about the business model, users are not the customers - they are the product. This is the case with most ‘free’ Internet services - we just need to get used to the idea.


Ancestry already have high subscription rates that rise per year. Users get tied into the site because they have invested so much effort into building family trees with notes and photos and now pay ever rising subscriptions to keep access. Now they will be paying dearly for Ancestry to own their hard work.


Sounds like a well-planned and -executed shake-down - I mean, monopoly.


It’s a challenging change.

Our FH was compiled in a PC based product independent of Ancestry. Many ancestry users have not added personal content or limited content to publicly searchable information.

The core data is the relationships the publicly available data establishes. Obviously much easier for someone who is connected directly to create than an outsider to a family line.

Ancestry has always provided a means to search the content of others, with the exception of private trees. I wonder how the change might affect those who have set their trees to ‘private’, and whether Ancestry has rights to also use that content?

Removal one might assume is deleting content or whole trees. Why subscribe to the service, if control of content is not retained?

The latest ‘hints’ from Ancestry are providing links to key historical records related to one of our family lines. I had to chuckle, given the same content was already known, and formed the basis of one assumed relationship. Despite it being uncertain Ancestry presented it as fact although there are obvious contradictions in the detail of the content.

Ancestry relies on ‘indexes’ of many records without holding the rights to the source documents. It relies on users who have paid for access to the full original documents to provide the additional content. EG BDM certificates. Whether Ancestry can own any such content is open to legal challenge. We’ve avoided uploading personal content.


I’m planning to take all my stuff down. Not happy with the recent changes, and I don’t think I am going to find out more about my birth families than I already have.


I found this page that gives some of the history of

It would seem reasonable to assume that the majority owner Blackstone is behind the change in policy ?

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Here are two further thoughts:

  1. Ancestry can see an opportunity to restrict others, EG competitors, from using any of the member content provided by users, without reaching a commercial deal with Ancestry. At the same time it would appear Ancestry is unilaterally claiming rights to any material users upload. It’s very one sided, especially where there may be unique family photos attached to a member’s history by the owner of the photo or document. This may have been provided to help others or to share.
    Note: There is also value contributed by users in their time and research which may include access to documents Ancestry does not have legal rights/access to.

  2. On the last point, some of the critical or key documents relied on by users of Ancestry include personal family diaries and birth/death/marriage certificates. Some other types of documents are copy right protected. The Ancestry member may have purchased a one off right to use or access the content. Does this create future issues for members and or Ancestry around copyright?
    Note: I’m aware of at least one family historian and author who has taken steps to restrict access or protect originals they hold. It’s not always a sharing environment.

It might need some legal expertise to resolve whether content provided by users previously can be considered to be in the public domain, and whether Ancestry’s claim to rights or ownership has any real meaning. Or is it just a defensive strategy to protect Ancestry from competing claims over ownership of supposedly exclusive content provided by one or more members/users?

Personally the misuse of Ancestry’s data bases by unmentionable third parties is my greater concern.

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I don’t think there is a big change here. They always claimed that. They have tidied up the language so that

We will also have the right to continue to use your User Provided Content, even if you stop using the Services


perpetual and non-revocable

Maybe a lawyer would be able to find some wiggle room in the original wording but I think the intention hasn’t changed.

Whether any given user of Ancestry is happy with the general concept that you are handing it over to them for their use is up to the user. ⇐ This should be the focus and the timely reminder.

You should assume that there is no such thing as “removal” once you submit content to a random web site and then “remove” it. It may become invisible to all users (but not to the site operator) or it may become invisible to you (but remain visible to everyone else) or, yes, it maybe maybe is deleted.

I think you may be incorrect as it applies to the current wording. It is not granting an “exclusive” right. You remain free to own and use the content yourself. You remain free to license the same content to another party. (However you are presumably not free to grant an exclusive right to another party.)

Good question. I think so (it is an issue - but not a future one, it was and is already an issue).

In granting a right to use, you ought to be warranting that you have the authority to do that. Perhaps elsewhere in the pages and pages of legalese that is also covered.

Perhaps elsewhere it talks about uploading encumbered content (content that someone else would already claim copyright over).

More interestingly, perhaps elsewhere it talks about whether you indemnify them in the situation that you grant a right over content where you don’t have the authority. That might be a bridge too far however, particularly if this change is already controversial.

Ancestry is not claiming ownership. Ancestry is claim a right to use - claimed on the basis of the fact that you granted that right to them.

Yes. That is particularly disappointing given that users pay to participate. I am used to one-sided Terms of Use when the service is free. You cannot reasonably expect otherwise. But when you are a paying customer, you might want a better deal.

That and hackers seeking straight out identity theft.


It’s not really a solution to the privacy problem but a good free service is FamilySearch ( Although it’s run by the Mormons for their own benefit (in connection with their religious beliefs) they make it available to all. One major difference it that there is only one family tree - everyone!

I’ve been using it for a couple of years and found it helpful that much of the work has been done by others and you can just add what you know, or the fruits of independent research.

I would expect that anything submitted it considered in the public domain but I don’t mind if others see the photos of my great-Granny and have uploaded anything I think might be helpful to my descendants (or lost cousins).

Definitely worth a look if you’d prefer not to pay a subscription.

2 Likes is free. The aim is one giant family tree. It has a good forum where you can ask for help. They have weekly challenges and projects and let you participate to whatever level you want. Unlike others, it is not a database of census, births, etc, or of many family trees, it is individuals interrelated and researched by many.
Apart from people downloading their trees, there are Projects for towns, events, themes, so that people who may not appear in family trees can be captured eg all the passengers on the “Surprize” 1794, or Convicts, early settlers in Port Douglas, Aborigines, Actors etc. About 28 million people.

From a User:
There are so many positive features of WikiTree: it is free, there is only one profile per person, you collaborate with other researchers, can ask questions, and can share your research without anyone having to use a credit card and a password to access it.


My surname is Croft and I can trace my heritage back to the Doomsday Book via both Debrett’s Peerage and Burkes Peerage. One of my cousins tried Ancestry and was told that the Croft line started in America in the early 1800’s. That they also had Islander heritage and had no connection to the British Isles. I then directed my cousin to the two references above and they were able to follow their other heritage following on from the entries and unions. I find Ancestry a bit dodgy as there are not enough records to support anything they offer except in my case where they failed to even suggest Debrett’s or Burkes listings.

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I found several family trees to be flights of fantasy. Unfortunately novices blindly follow the Ancestry Leaf which suggests links. In one case my Australian gg-father & wife were born in England, died in the USA and married in Sydney (Ancestry found similar names in the time frame) but there was no supporting proof. Someone took it as Gospel and minted a family pedigree.

My husband’s surname is famous in England and USA and people contrive to be related even if they are not. I like to know where they got the information and how reliable it is. WikiTree requires sources.

The Mormons started the collection of records, for their own religious purposes, offering to transcribe things for free. Other commercial groups have done the same, but have rights to the sale of the information, so some records can only be accessed through that company. If I need to, I use the Library version rather than pay a subscription. I purchased a family tree program so I don’t have to rely on a commercial company to host it on-line.

I did the same and bought Family Tree Maker so we can keep our family trees private.

I have often been amused at the public family trees on Ancestry where one person gets something completely wrong and a multitude of others post the same rubbish in their trees.

I have managed to trace my wife’s family tree back to Normandy before the Battle of Hastings as she is a direct descendant of Robert de Bruce.

Others in Australia had traced the family back to Nova Scotia and groups in the US had traced the family back to Scotland but none had connected all the dots.

I can only agree.

And thank you for the thoughtful responses to my viewpoints. This recent discussion leads us to look back at what we thought we understood about Ancestry. Our membership dates back almost to their beginning (of the UK version) via the UK in pounds. I doubt we have a copy of the original T&Cs attached.

It is somewhat frustrating that once one commits to a paid service the provider, and if it happens new owner is free to unilaterally change the T&Cs or service. This may provide improved user outcomes. In the instance it does not, the ability for a user to retrieve the efforts of their work may not be assured. How much forewarning is reasonable is a further consideration.

Our primary family history research is kept outside of Ancestry in one of the PC based stand alone products, as well as hard copy. Research predates Ancestry with others in the family having begun the work more than 40 years past.

We’ve similar observations to @Fred123, @zackarii on the unreliability of some contributors and trees available from Ancestry. I can also point to significant errors in data attributed to the LDS data base and Wikitree, where original source records have not been used or assumptions of relationships not verified.

That’s a very different topic. Although for this topic, whimsically - is Ancestry claiming rights to all the errors and mistakes accessible through it’s product. Ancestry does provide clear guidance on DNA results and suggested links. They are probabilities, not certainties.


It depends on what you mean by ‘Ancestry’.

The main part of Ancestry that provides record searches and the ability to build a tree doesn’t tell you anything at all. It is up to you to work out the identity of your ancestors and their relationships. If you believe other trees that may be available and accept whatever relationships they give it is up to you. As others have said plenty of these are fanciful as people do not check the details properly and make unwarranted assumptions and so build a tree that is not real. You can see examples of children who are ten years younger than their mother and many other absurdities. If you carefully double check and verify identities and relationships your tree will be as accurate as you make it. You may be limited in the connections that you can make as not all records are available, some are lost and some never existed and some Ancestry doesn’t have access to.

A secondary part of Ancestry is the regional assessment of your ancestors based on DNA. That does provide data directly to you but it is limited by the accuracy that certain DNA patterns indicate blood lines. I would be interested in which of these you are talking about.

As for surprising results from DNA tests, they may be showing the limits of accuracy of the methods but they may also be showing you real results that are not part of your known family history. You cannot look at pale skin and eyes and say that person has no ancestors who had black hair and dark skin, or vice versa.

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Yep. These are general concerns about many services, particularly online services. (Where possible, I prefer to avoid an online service and provide it myself. However with something like Ancestry if you want disparate trees to join up, my approach is not really viable.)

I do have an Ancestry account, not a paid account though. I joined because a keen rellie wanted me to review some information. I very rarely log in.

General comments about identity theft with Ancestry:

  • for people who are long dead, I don’t mind putting in full name and date of birth
  • for anyone else I would avoid full name and I would only give year of birth.

I briefly joined Ancestry then got out. To this day they send me Hints but I would have to Rejoin to see them. My reason for leaving was what I saw them doing. Us the taxpayers/Citizens of this world had built a huge Free Database not accessible fully until digitised, again by Governments. Ancestry has come in bought up the rights to that information(obviously not paying a true price) and now monopolises as much as possible previously free access limited to expensive memberships. There are exceptions such as LSD and other Church records but even some of those I can’t access. And even some Governments seem to have backdoor agreements with Ancestry where you can access the Information if you travel to their Libraries or you can join Ancestry and Amazingly can get it on the Net.

How do you know this?

Can you give some examples of sources that used to be free and readily available that are not now except for Ancestry?

I really cannot see what the problem is with Ancestry claiming rights to data put onto their databases.
As far as I can see the rights are to enable users to find information in the Ancestry database built up by other users, and be freely used for their own tree building endeavors.

I personally have not used Ancestry for this purpose. I have used it as a search facility into public records kept by many Government and non-Government organizations that provide an API into their databsaes. Some are free, most charge Ancestry for this facility. Hence subscription is required to pay for this.