Wednesday, August 4, 2021 and Your Ancestry Member Tree

 Like almost all genealogists, I have my family tree on  My tree profiles contain Photos (mainly for recent ancestors), Documents (some I paid for) and Notes (mainly general notes and fact notes for ancestors).  I have over 65,000 profiles in my Ancestry Member Tree which I synchronize every week with my master family tree kept in RootsMagic.  The purpose of the Photos, Documents  and Notes is to encourage sharing with other researchers  and I will continue to do so.

1) just changed their Terms and Conditions as of 3 August for user-created content (i.e., names, relationships, dates, places, facts, media, notes, etc.) - you can read them at

2)  As is her wont and self-assigned task, The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, was on the ball and has analyzed the changes in points out that as of 2 September, can use ANY information you provide for any purpose they choose.  Her summary paragraph is:

"In plain English, the rights to use that family photo you posted, that story you wrote and uploaded, that snippet of family history you’ve shared basically now belong to Ancestry. You can continue to use it elsewhere if you wish, since you’re still technically the owner, but you can’t do anything to stop Ancestry from using it any way it wants, forever."

3)  Roberta Estes, on her DNAeXplained - Genetic Genealogy blog, has more comments and recommendations for researchers concerned about this in Roberta's takeaway is:

"If you want to remove anything currently uploaded, do it BEFORE September 2nd and DO NOT UPLOAD ANYTHING ELSE if you are not willing to allow Ancestry permanent unfettered ability to utilize your documents and images."

She also provides explicit directions on how to do this.

4)  My take on this is:

*  This is a BIG DOG in the genea-kennel move on the part of  They have a lot invested in all of the public and private Ancestry Member Trees.  

*  It would be impossible for me to delete photos, documents and notes for my ancestral profiles and frankly would waste my time.  There are no priceless works of art or deathless prose in my tree, only Photos that I have in my family collections, Documents from my family collections, and Notes that I've written, transcribed or summarized based on my own research and what I've found in out-of-copyright works.  I am too old and there's too much water over the falls for me to butcher my Ancestry family tree.  I'm not going to waste my time on deleting anything.

*  Notes on tree profiles in my tree are hidden from viewing by other researchers (unless they are editors on my tree).  So be it, but they are still on the profiles and can access it and use it if they wish to.  They are also in my RootsMagic database, and many are in my Genea-Musings blog posts.

*  Rather than delete photos and stories one-by-one, a determined Ancestry Member Tree user could delete their entire Ancestry Member Tree before 2 September.  Before they do that, they could create a GEDCOM file of their tree in their genealogy software - without photos and notes - and upload it as a NEW Ancestry tree.  The genealogy content (names, dates, relationships, places, events, facts, sources, etc.) would still be there but the content that users might want to protect will not be there.  The Hints would still be generated by Ancestry randomly, but the record attachments would have to be generated again.

*  Why would do this?  What are they planning to use all of our data for?  Is there a BIG Ancestry World Family Tree (remember that?) in their future?  A BIG Ancestry World Family Tree would be a "NEW" public database that they could "sell" to subscribers.  The major challenge would be making a BIG tree editable with sources, and somehow moderating content for each profile.  We know that they use everybody's Ancestry Member Trees to find DNA "Common Ancestors," to suggest "Potential Ancestors" on trees and ThruLines, and they used some sort of BIG tree to support the "We're Related" mobile app in the past.  I wrote about this in in February 2019 with help from a reader.

*  I think that this is a major unforced error on's part.  This will antagonize some Ancestry subscribers and cost them subscriptions.  A significant number of photos, stories and notes will be deleted by users in the next month.  But it's their company and they can do what they want within legal and contract limits, including changing their Terms and Conditions.

5)  What do you think?  What will you do?  


Disclosure: I have a complimentary all-access subscription from, for which I am thankful. has provided material considerations for travel expenses to meetings, and has hosted events and meals that I have attended in Salt Lake City, in past years.

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Diane Gould Hall said...

I’m unhappy about this because of one thing. People will take down photos that may have been connected to my family. Perhaps I hadn’t seen them yet. Other than that I’m not changing anything. Not taking anything off the site and not cancelling my subscription.

D. Taylor said...

I agree, I will continue to share my photos and other documents with Ancestry and I'm fine with them using them as they wish. I share photos regularly so the images can be discovered by other family members and I expect them to use the photos as they wish. I also belive images of documents I have found can make the research of others easier. If I don't want to share an image, document, or story with the world, I don't post it on the Internet at all.

Les said...

Removing what has been posted would be akin to closing the barn door after the horse has left.
They were shared for others to enjoy and not sit in "the box". Once we uploaded them we had lost control of what use they were put to anyway. That being said, I am disappointed in Ancestry's audacity.

Marian B. Wood said...

"Major unforced error" is absolutely correct. I respect your decision but I don't have as many photos on Ancestry as you do, so I'm deleting selected items. Here's my take:

Mildred Smail said...

I’m deleting what I’ve added. If they want to make money off things I’ve paid for, the least they could do is discount my membership & I would happily continue to share there. Otherwise I will continue to freely share with anyone who contacts me, just not with the corporate giant.

Barbara said...

I've always known that anything I share on-line will be copied and used by others. I am sticking with Ancestry and not removing anything. I am just disappointed that some people are over-reacting and will remove their tree or photos.

This is yet another misstep by Ancestry. The changes they've made previously (destroying Y-DNA test kits, removing small DNA matches, etc.) were far worse. They do a lot of things right but when they mess up, they mess up big!

EJJackson said...

I'm with Diane Gould Hall and D Taylor on this.I put my images up for people to find, share, put on their tree, etc. To me, the idea of removing a photo of great aunt Maud simply because Ancestry 'might' at some future date decide to use it in an advert or even in a blog, feels just plain wrong. There must be so much user uploaded content that Ancestry couldn't possibly ever use but a fraction of it, and how is having your great aunt Maud's photo used - or even a family story about her- a bad thing, especially if an unknown cousin happens to see it and recognise the name/family likeness.... We don't put our photos on there in expectation of making money out of doing so, so why should the idea that Ancestry 'might' get a few more subscribers on the back of using some of my content, bother me? It's not like I'd be losing income... I'll continue to upload because I want family to find our shared ancestors. And that's not going to change for me. I'm just sad at the loss to those who might have been happy to see content which has now been removed. I wish, for that reason, that Ancestry had not done this

kintail said...

I object to ancestry claiming a permanent license to monetize my personal photos. And I very, very much suspect this new step comes from the new owners, which is what many of us worried about after the sale. Profits are everything. And sneaking this change into the fine print without customer notification was a pretty sneaky way to do this.

Cousin Russ said...


I am working on a Blog Post on how I am resolving the apparent issue at hand.

I'll share a link with you when I make that post.

DearMYRTLE and I are working on a Recording as well.

Thank you,


Debbie Blanton McCoy said...

I agree with you. I have way too many years invested in building my tree to mess it up now. I'm not taking my tree down, nor am I deleting anything. I really think people are overreacting. This has happened at least once before. Everyone got all upset at Ancestry over a change and none of the bad predictions actually happened. I would like to hear an explanation from Ancestry as to why they thought the change was necessary,though.

Unknown said...

I agree that I will not make any changes or remove anything from any of my family trees. I wonder if ancestry made this change due to an unhappy customer, perhaps even a lawsuit? I always assumed that anything that was uploaded to any of my family trees was available to any other researcher. I love being able to find pictures and/or documents of the relatives in others' trees.

Unknown said...

I have spent a great deal of time and money finding records, uploading, creating stories, making connections. It is my work and effort, not Ancestry's. I wanted connections and to share my story with other relatives. I may leave the old, but I will NOT be adding current information to my tree.