Ancestry’s New T&C – It’s Been a Roller Coaster Ride For A Few Days

On August 4th, I woke up to a blog like many of you did from Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist. She had taken the time to read the new Terms and Conditions posted as a banner at the top of the Ancestry website. 

What Judy told us was that Ancestry had changed some wording that we all needed to be aware of, and that was;  (below is an exact excerpt from what was written, but you can find the full post HERE.)

Before the new terms, the applicable section read:

… by submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a sublicensable, worldwide, 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. We will also have the right to continue to use your User Provided Content, even if you stop using the Services, but only as necessary for us to provide and improve the Services.3

As of now, it reads (emphasis added):

… 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.4

She went on to say;

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 anyway it wants, forever.


Like many of you when I first read the terminology, I was concerned about the language that said I no longer owned my photos… but later that day, I thought … wait a minute, I’ve always had a public tree and wanted to share, and I’ve always known that anything I put on the internet is out there.  It would be like trying to close the barn door after the cow has escaped. I felt the same way when I put my DNA on GEDMatch I knew going in that once it was there, it could be accessed by people other than my matches. But I did it anyway.

I told a friend about the situation at Ancestry, and I said I bet the new company was thinking they should tighten up the language on their T&C, and they never imagined the storm they were about to create. Create a storm they did.

I saw people posting they were going to take down all their photos, trees and leave Ancestry. I’m sure that Ancestry’s phone lines were “lit up” with people telling them what they thought of the situation.

Thankfully today, August 6th, Ancestry has revised their terminology and clarified a bit more about what they meant. (Want to read the latest T&C? You can HERE, although dated August 3rd, there is a change.

That your photos and stories are yours, and you can delete them at any time. But know that if you delete a photo or story from the Ancestry site, that does not mean that it’s deleted from anyone else’s tree that it had been added to. Remember…. You put it on the internet. It’s out there.

It’s always been my practice to only upload to Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindmyPast, and any other sites, for that matter, the things that I want to share. If I don’t want it shared, but I want to preserve it away from my computer, I put it on my FOREVER account in my genealogy folders. (If you want to check out my YouTube video explaining what I’ve been doing at FOREVER, you’ll find it HERE.)

So what does this mean to us? Well, it means that we all need to read the Terms and Conditions. I know it’s not fun, but you need to know what you agree to. This also teaches us that when a community complains that companies listen…. Most of the time.

The most important thing is if you don’t want to share it with the world, then think before you post on the internet.

4 Comments

  • Thank you for this great blog on the matter! When I read Judy’s blog, it freaked me out, but then when I went over the site’s wording with a fine toothed comb, I calmed down. You are EXACTLY right in what you have said in your blog that it REALLY means. It’s not as big of a deal that everyone was making it out to be; it is for the info you’ve already uploaded to share PUBLICLY, and they’re just carefully covering themselves with the new wording. 🙂

  • EJ Jackson says:

    I agree 100% with you on this. I can kind of understand why people might be concerned that they’d ‘lose copyright’ to their own material, or find their images used by Ancestry in advertising or popping up on other sites owned by the company. But in reality, there is SO much material on the site, that Ancestry would barely be able to scratch the surface, I’m sure. And we do NOT lose the copyright on our images/content – they remain ours, it’s just that Ancestry has the right to use them too. And that’s pretty much why we put our stuff on there – to share, to be visible to other potential relations… so for me, it makes no difference – I will continue to upload content. The sad thing about this rewording of the T&Cs is that it has been ascribed with a ‘worst case scenario’ by some users, who have removed images and other content that present and future family historians would have found useful. At the end of the day, of course, it is a personal choice – but as you say, if we have put our content on Ancestry to be seen, copied and shared by other family tree historians/distant cousins, why would Ancestry’s potential use of those images change anything? Might it not even be adventageous, say a distant cousin sees an advert in which your great-aunt Maud’s photo appears and realises – “Hey, we’ve got a photo of that lady in grandma’s albums, but we never knew who she was! Let’s sign up to Ancestry and see what we can find out!” It’s a possibility, you have to admit.

    The other concern cited by troubled users was that Ancestry has now given itself license to use your uploaded content for, potentially, monetary gain… when we have to pay to use the site. Well, my take on that is that ‘monetary gain’ means, most likely, better service/features on the site, more subscribers which means more chances of connecting with that long-lost cousin. And it’s not as if most users are wanting to make money from their uploaded content.. even if they are, they can still do so, as the copyright remains with the original owner.

    So I do think there has been an element of over-reaction to the change in the T&C’s, personally. I don’t think that people are wrong to remove their content, but I do think that they may have perhaps have forgotten why they wanted to share their content in the first place, or allowed themselves to be panicked by theories about what Ancestry ‘really’ want with the content by people who don’t actually know what Ancestry’s intentions are. I will admit to a knee-jerk reaction, on reading the orginal blog that started the uproar, of ‘how dare they, that’s just greedy!’… but then I got to thinking about it, and realised what would result – a mass removal of content to everyone’s detriment.

    I do hope that many people who have removed their content will have second thoughts, because at the end of the day, the desire to help other people discover their (and our) family is what it’s all about. And whilst removing images won’t prevent that, it will mean that many people may never get to see what their distant family looked like – and that is sad.

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