Ancestry made big waves recently with an announcement of a change in their terms of service.

As of September 2021 anything and everything you add or upload to belongs to them and they can use it in any way they see fit.

Big deal, right?

Well, to many people it is a big deal. For some reason – and it cracks me up they have taken to Facebook of all places to complain about this – they think Ancestry is going to “steal” “their” family history and plaster Grandma’s face on a billboard somewhere.

There is a genuine freak-out going on about this stuff.

Before I give you my take on this, I will refer you back to a post we shared more than 3 years ago admonishing you to never trust a website.

I have no inside information about why Ancestry chose to make this change and I won’t claim to have a complete understanding what this exactly means.

I will venture a guess, however, in that the monetization of your shared information is at the heart of the matter.

Some suggest that Ancestry will try to market a “one-world” family tree, linking user data with one of the world’s largest databases of DNA information and then charge people access to it.

Whatever their scheme this whole event underscores one very crucial tenet of family history research: don’t put all your eggs into a website.

Build your tree, archive your family record and tell the family story in your personal vault – not in an online repository that can profit from it in some way.

This change is not about privacy. That’s not the problem. The problem is the merchandising of your information – making money from it.

In the world of family history, I do not believe in privacy.

In fact, the real social in social media comes from sharing family information.

Of course, there are rules and limits of what you share. But if connections are ever to be made of family, no matter how distant, the ancestral information so many of us share needs to be available and visible.

Since this website went online in 2013, I have made many family connections I never would have otherwise made.

That’s because this website is open and people find bits and pieces here that fit within their own family story.

If I had kept it “private” those connections would not be made. The work of family history requires connection.

Maybe Ancestry is going to try to sell that (actually, they have). I’m not really sure why they are doing what they are doing. For some reason, that’s “need to know” information and they have been not surprisingly tight-lipped about who needs to know.

But we do know this: Ancestry is a for-profit enterprise and they need to make money to stay in business. User generated content is a real money-maker. Frankly, there is not a website out there these days without some sort of protection of their rights to user generated content.

I have managed my own websites for three decades now. I understand the power of user-generated content. I know I could make a lot of money if I took the users of my sites and sold access to them to third parties. Most websites do that (but not me, I’m not that smart/greedy).

Those pictures you share are Facebook are no longer yours. Those videos on Tik Tok and Snap Chat and Twitter become theirs the second you upload them.

So why wouldn’t Ancestry follow suit?

Information is the currency of the Internet. If you share it, you lose it and they sell it in any way they can.

They can do anything they want with it, including sharing it with third parties. You will never know when or how or why they do this, in most cases.

What would an insurance company pay to get your DNA from Ancestry?

How might that affect what you pay for health or life insurance?

How might it affect OTHERS who are related to you?

If your DNA shows a hereditary propensity for certain diseases will your connections through that DNA be targeted with ads or charged more for services?

For years now Facebook has tracked your activity on websites and apps that have nothing to do with them.

If you book a hotel room, rent a car, pay your taxes, watch movies, do your banking, or follow someone on YouTube, Facebook knows all about it. Why? Because there is money in it. They use that to not only target ads towards you while on their platform and they sell that information in various forms to marketers who can use it.

Couple that with the many devices now that “listen” to your conversations – your Amazon device, Google Home, anything from Apple, your cellphone – and how much information about you do they have?

Have you ever noticed how you can be talking about something obscure only to see an ad with that thing in it pop up within hours on Facebook?

We are the merchandise to these websites and online entities. Most, like Google, do not charge us for the information they gather about us. But many do.

Ancestry is just taking the same path as Apple and Amazon in making money off our identities and personal information.

Imagine what more they can know and can do when they add your family history and ancestral information to that mix?

I’m not writing this to freak you out. So many arguing this news on Facebook are threatening to cancel their Ancestry accounts and never use them again.

Stop. Calm down. Take it for what it is — it’s just more of the same, folks. If it makes you uncomfortable, take your stuff down and don’t share it any longer.

But at the end of the day realize what any website is for your purposes: they are tools. They are something that help you achieve your goals.

Like them or not, we need Ancestry. We need Family Search. We need Find My Past and My Heritage and countless other sites out there.

We do NOT need to dump information into them. We might pay to access vital information we need for our research but we don’t have to take that research and give it back to them.
We most certainly do not need to them build our trees, find our history or share our stories.

These sites are there to help us – as well as to get our money and to make money of us.

I don’t really want the world having my family history.

I want my family having my family history.

There are great ways to do that without buying into some website or allowing them to profit off my work and my good name.

Get your own self-hosted software (Rootsmagic, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, etc).

Print and keep your own records. If possible, work with others to research it, to archive it and to share is with your family.

You don’t need a website to do that.

Jeff Westover
Jeff Westover

Husband, father, Latter-day Saint, 11th generation American, and web geek currently residing in Smithfield, Utah. Please visit my website at

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