Trouble in Ancestry Paradise

Blank genealogical pedigree chart

Uh-oh. just updated their Terms and Conditions in a way that has people up in arms.


I’m not saying I like it, but I do tend to stay calm in situations like this and wait and see what happens next.

Meanwhile, though, I want you to know about it too, because the clock is ticking and you may feel differently about it than I do.

If you want to take action, it needs to be within 30 days of when the new policy was announced, which was August 3, 2021.

Do you have an account? You might want to read this now. Click To Tweet

Ancestry’s new policy:

Here’s the part people are upset about (bolded italics are mine, not theirs):

2.2.3  Ownership of Your Content: (2nd paragraph)

Also, by submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. This includes the right for Ancestry to copy, display, and index your User Provided Content. Ancestry will own the indexes it creates.

(“Content” includes uploaded photos, stories, audio, and video.)

(This also applies to Find a Grave, if you’ve ever uploaded photos there.)

(“Sublicensable”? That’s the one that gets me.)

Here’s what other prominent genealogists think about it:

Link to Judy G. Russell’s August 4 blog post:

Judy is basically bringing the issue to our attention since it wasn’t clear from the email sent to all subscribers that there had been a change we might object to. She also makes it clear that you do still own your content. It’s just that Ancestry is also claiming a “perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license” to it.

Link to Amy Johnson Crow’s August 4 Facebook Live:

Amy is understandably unhappy about a for-profit company, one that she pays to use their services, claiming a non-revocable, perpetual license to anything she uploaded solely for the purpose of sharing with other researchers. As you can see in the video, she is in the process of deleting photos that she’s shared there.


How procrastination sometimes pays:

I have stuff I’ve never uploaded to Ancestry in part because I never got around to it. In many cases I was able to attach documents to my trees from Ancestry databases, and from other users, that are digital copies of paper records I have in my files, from my old-school, pre-internet research days. So, the need to digitize some of them has decreased over time. And, while there are some unique and personal photos and stories that I have uploaded to share with other researchers, they are manageable in number should I decide to remove them.


How to delete your media from (should you choose to do so):

Go to your ancestor’s Profile > Gallery > Show (click the down-arrow) > select the “All” media type > the media uploaded by you will show a little trash can in the lower right-hand corner. Click it to delete.

You can also view ALL the media on ALL of your ancestor profiles by going to your tree, clicking the name of the tree in the upper left-hand corner, choosing Media Gallery from the drop-down list, and choosing All Media. You have to click on each item to see who originally uploaded it (not as simple as clicking an already-visible trash can), but you probably know if you uploaded photos, or stories, or audio, or video and will recognize yours amongst the others.


A few alternative ways to share photos and stories:

  • Go to your Ancestor’s Profile > Facts > scroll down to Add Web Link > link to a blog post or image (I’ve seen that there before, and have linked to pertinent webpages before, but it never occurred to me to share MY family history blog posts or MY family photos that way.)
  • Remove your photos, watermark them, and re-upload them.
  • Replace face images with a word image that says, “I have a photo of this person,” so genealogy cousins can contact you if they want a copy.
  • Please don’t do either of those last two things, though, if you aren’t going to check your Ancestry email and respond to requests!


Unresolved issues:

  • How will Ancestry react to people being upset, removing content from their site, and possibly cancelling their accounts altogether? (SEE UPDATES BELOW.)
  • How does removing an image from Ancestry (and other people removing their images) affect programs such as Family Tree Maker and Roots Magic, which both sync with Ancestry?
  • What happens to instances of your original image that others have attached (or downloaded/screenshotted and re-uploaded) to their trees? (Keep in mind that sometimes distant relatives really do have their own personal copy of an old family photo.) People who do download/screenshot and re-upload are usually-unknowingly violating copyright. And copyright is an issue not to be confused with terms and conditions, which is what Ancestry’s new policy is about.
  • Does “content” include the data that you type in to the program about your ancestors? Does it include info about living people? What about private trees?


What this means for me, personally:

  • Things change. Maybe Ancestry will modify the language in a way that will be more palatable to their users. (THEY ALREADY HAVE, A LITTLE. SEE UPDATES BELOW.)
  • Maybe I don’t like the policy, but will decide I get so much benefit from Ancestry that I am willing to overlook it. (While also, perhaps, finding another way to share my content with other researchers.)
  • I might not care if they do use my photos for their advertising. I think it’s unlikely, given the millions of photos they would have at their disposal, but if they did I could use their ads to advertise my own genealogy services. But I’m not crazy about them possibly sublicensing my photos or stories (to whom?) — so that they, not me, would earn a profit.
  • I should probably review what I’ve said about Ancestry in my forthcoming book — What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy — and revise it (if necessary) before I hit “Publish”.
  • It will be interesting to see what all the other genealogy experts and user groups I follow will have to say about this.



This is a good time to remind you that your family tree needs to be backed up just like all your other files.

Are your files backed up?

If the only place where you have your family tree(s) is on Ancestry, you should, at minimum — even when there is no controversy brewing — download a copy of your GEDCOM file(s), which is the universal format for any genealogy program. Here’s how:

Please also consider using a program such as Family Tree Maker (FTM) or Roots Magic (RM) so you can have a usable copy of your tree that lives on your computer. I consider my FTM tree the original, and Ancestry a copy. (Just keep in mind that if you upload personal media to your computer program and sync it with Ancestry, then Ancestry will have it too.)

And read the fine print. Always. OK, I don’t either, not always. But don’t be surprised, then, when something like this happens. A company doesn’t always explain their motives, but they usually have an interest in NOT alienating all their users. So wait and see what happens, but don’t lose sight of due dates.

I truly hope this doesn’t dampen the spirit of sharing that I value so much amongst genealogists! Well, most genealogists. There have always been those who are less inclined to share their hard-earned research with others. And this certainly isn’t going to help!

Watch this space. I’ll update you here (below) if I learn something new.


Do you have an account? Are you planning to remove media that you’ve uploaded? Are you planning to cancel your subscription?

Please share in the comments below, and let me know if you have additional insight, or learn of new developments!


8/6/2021 UPDATE

Ha! See, they’ve already changed it a bit. Consensus (amongst chatters on genealogy forums) seems to be that Ancestry was more protecting itself from claims from users who are miffed that other users sometimes (innocently or not) download their images and re-upload them as their own. (Keep in mind that distant relatives really do sometimes have copies of the same photos that you do.) As opposed to Ancestry planning to profit nefariously from our uploaded content. Here’s Judy Russell’s new blog post:…/ancestry-retreats/


8/15/2021 UPDATE

Thought I’d better take another look at this since, if I’m going to delete content I’ve uploaded to Ancestry, I need to do it by September 2. Have things settled down? Have we reached consensus?

I found some articles that reiterate what I’ve already included in this post. And saw that Ancestry clarified (somewhat) its new policy in this blog post: Making Our Terms and Conditions Clearer: Modifications to our August 2021 Update.

I perused the Ancestry Users Facebook Group and people were all over the map in terms of their reaction to the new policy. Some were deleting photos and cancelling subscriptions, others were planning to do nothing at all, and many were like, “Huh? What’s going on?” Several users pointed out that Ancestry’s Terms are pretty standard, actually. My favorite comment along those lines was, “You’re really gonna be upset with Facebook’s terms and conditions if you don’t like Ancestry’s.”

But the BEST THING I found was THIS blog post, by The DNA Geek, which echoes all my thoughts AND provides excerpts from several other genealogy sites’ Terms for comparison. There’s also a great Q&A section, including Qs and As about DNA being “personal information”, as opposed to “user provided content”. I agree that “Ancestry made an unforced error here in presenting the new Terms. They didn’t explain clearly what they really meant, so anyone predisposed to distrust them could read the worst into it.” Thanks, DNA Geek!

The Molehill and the Mountain


Copyright 2021 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Lisa Gessert on August 9, 2021 at 7:09 am

    Very informative Hazel I will need to share this information with a few clients of mine that do this! Thank you

  2. Linda Samuels on August 9, 2021 at 8:04 am

    Wow! This is quite the situation! I am not a user of the platform, but I can see how the community is concerned. I’m not too fond of the new policy language either, and I’m not even involved.

    It sounds like they’ve listened to the complaints and might adjust the language slightly.

    Your post makes me realize how vulnerable all of us are, especially with our online presence. So many platforms we use to visit grab our info and can easily copy and use the content we put out there. Not engaging online is a choice and one I’m not willing to make at this point. But who knows? Things can change.

    I wish you all the best as you navigate the Ancestry changes.

  3. Seana Turner on August 9, 2021 at 10:03 am

    Feels like a bit of a “power grab” by Ancestry here. I’m glad you are bringing it up and pointing it out, because I imagine most people don’t really read the terms and emails, and so wouldn’t even notice.

    I think it seems a bit extreme and unnecessary. Will be interesting to see what response users provide, and whether it changes anything, right?

  4. Sabrina Quairoli on August 9, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Interesting. I don’t recall receiving this email from Ancestry. I went in and deleted the images I uploaded recently – there were only a few. I didn’t upload all the images. I use Family Tree Maker, and it has all the details for my side and my husband’s side of the family. On, I made sure to be very vague and simple with the details not to share anyone else’s information. I did make my tree private. And sent invites to people for viewing. Some people could see it; other’s could not. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 11, 2021 at 4:27 pm

      My Ancestry emails are dated 8/5 and 8/6. They are both titled: “We’ve updated our Privacy Policy” (and they do not look interesting in any way). As far as other users seeing personal details, Ancestry does not show anything pertaining to living people. (You can see that info, if you have included it, because you’re the account owner.) And I have had mixed results with guest accounts, some of which has to do with the guests and their computer skills, and some of which has to do with what level of access and editing I gave them — intentionally or not — in the settings. (Some of it may have to do with Ancestry glitches, as well, but I’ve never been sure due to the other two things also being factors.0

  5. Julie Bestry on August 10, 2021 at 11:34 pm

    This isn’t my field, but I’m so glad to be able to share this with clients and friends who are involved in genealogy. And I love your idea of removing, watermarking, and reuploading photos. They’re a lot less likely to sublicense your photos to other websites and whatnot if it says ORG4LIFE or even HAZELHAZELHAZEL across the photo, un-croppable and highly visible!

    You explained all of this so clearly, it’s like you’re a genealogy journalist!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 11, 2021 at 4:29 pm

      “HAZELHAZELHAZEL” — LOL! Yeah, that would probably slow down anyone wanting to use a photo of mine. And I like “genealogy journalist”!

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