Thursday, April 26, 2012 Restricts Access to Website

Last night Judy G. Russell, author of the Legal Genealogist blog, presented "Facts, Photos and Fair Use: Copyright Law for Genealogists" for the APG Webinar Series." If you didn't see it you missed a superb presentation.

One of the items she discussed that really caught my attention wasn't about copyright at all. It was about licensing and terms of service. That's what you enter into when you use sites like, and When you subscribe to these sites the vendor will share access of their product or service if you agree to abide by their licensing and terms of service.

Last night Judy mentioned that recently changed their terms of service at the end of March 2012.  The specific part that she mentioned related to the topic of Limited Use License. The recent changes now restrict use of the website and images to personal use only:

"You may access the Website, use the graphics, information, data, editorial and other Content only for personal family history research."


Where does that leave professional genealogists and bloggers?

Does this mean  that professionals are not allowed to access the website for professional research for either clients, background research for books, preparation of presentations or research for articles?

Does this mean that bloggers can no longer share information they find on unless it relates specifically to their personal family?

I would love to hear from in plain English specifically where they stand on Professional Genealogists (who are not employed by or their subsidiaries) and bloggers.

I would like other bloggers and professionals to take up this issue on their blogs. And I would like a direct, public response from  We deserve explicit clarification on this topic without having to resort to unspoken acceptable sneaking around use of the website.

Perhaps I've misunderstood what Judy was saying last night. And perhaps I've misunderstood what wrote in their terms and services which is quoted above. If that's the case, then I look forward to further correction and clarification.

[Postscript: See comment #3 below for the Terms of Service language before the change was made and how it specifically included professionals.]

*** [Postscript: Please read the official response to this blog post from] ***


  1. Marian, I too was a participant in Judy's webinar and understood what she said exactly as you did. I went to Ancestry's previous terms of service document and it clearly permitted use by professionals for their clients. FamilySearch's terms of service permit use by professionals in conducting research for their clients. I would like to hear more from Ancestry on why they felt this change was necessary and what it is truly intended to do.

  2. I had a museum director explain it to me once. I always ask for written permission first and in this case I asked for permission to use an image on my blog, otherwise I would have had to pay a large fee. He granted me permission, minus the fee because my website was 1) for my family and friends 2)no advertising (non-profit) 3) I wasn't a professional genealogist. I have used this same argument several times since to use images and information. I would think that professionals or "for profit" bloggers would need to start writing for clarification before using images or information, and they shouldn't be surprised if they may need to get written permission. Also, don't be afraid of asking for written permission because sometimes you can develop a nice relationship with an archive or museum or website, and they will open up and share things you never thought of putting on your blog.

  3. You understood it correctly, Marian: Here are exact quotes from Ancestry's terms of service (old and new)

    October 6, 2010
    You are licensed to use the Content only for personal or professional family history research, and may download Content only as search results relevant to that research.

    March 24, 2012
    You may access the Website, use the graphics, information, data, editorial and other Content only for personal family history research.

    1. Does this include screen captures of results pages, etc. or use as examples from my own family personal research that might be used in a "how to" article or lecture (free for non-profit orgs.)?

    2. What about One Name Studies? It's for my personal use but then if I get a query, I pass the information along.

  4. (I had too much to say in the first box) The reason museums ask for written permission is to control their images. They will give you the digital image they want reproduced (not your own scan or digital photo) because they want to control quality and give you the source information as they want it published under the image. This is similar to the answer I got from Ancestry when I recently asked them about using their images on Pinterest. The Ancestry legal department was very helpful in answering my question, but it took over six weeks to get the clarification on this.

  5. Heather - I would like to respond to the professional genealogist//historical researcher/genealogical blogging community as a whole so that individuals are not forced to attempt to get an answer on their own.

    Also, I would like to know if APG, BCG or ICAPGEN have any official response to this change in policy.

  6. Count me in as another who is interested in a statement on this from This is a great opportunity to start a dialog with the blogging and professional communities.

  7. Marian
    I also attended Judy's webinar and I understood it the same way. If all professional genealogists have to contact Ancestry every time for permission they will be overloaded in a short time. Almost every research report has images of the U.S. census or other documents. Hopefully we will hear from Ancestry.

  8. I use examples from Ancestry in my presentations. Actually I am doing them a service by explaining and directing participants to information or ways to search Ancestry's site. Along with research reports this can cause a good deal of problems for professional genealogists.

  9. Just wanted to mention that The Genealogist (UK) has different rates for those doing personal research and for professionals. Could this be a route Ancestry will be taking?

  10. Missed the presentation, so I am glad you wrote about this as I also overlooked Ancestry's change in their terms of service. Now that is buying, will Ancestry also change terms of service?

  11. Marian,

    Are you saying that even though I pay a full price (no discounted price) for my subscription to ancestry and when I am doing research for a client I can no longer use anything I find on their website for the client research because I am being paid?

    If so, this is pretty much the worst news I have had in a long time.

  12. I also attended and while Judy was talking went to FamilySearch to check their policy and it specifically says that professionals can use their information/material for "current client." I also checked HeritageQuest and believe that we can copy for research for clients. (It is a bit convoluted and I read it quickly).My personal feeling is that they want clients to head to their site and contract with them for research. I have no idea if this is true, but that is what I walked away with last night.

  13. This is disturbing. It seems like a direct action to increase their market share of professional research work, coming on the heels of the closing of Ancestry Expert Connect and their opening of their own professional research services.

    I have also encountered losing a Salt Lake City subcontractor because, if they work for Ancestry, they are not allowed to do subcontracting work from anyone else.


  14. I have a call into my contacts at to try and get some clarification. I too noticed the change (as well as others)in the Terms of Use (and I ran a redline comparison actually).

    I will see what Ancestry says and report back.

  15. If this is the case, it will completely change the pricing structure that I give my clients, just to cover the fees that I pay in a year.
    Some of these images can be grabbed over on familysearch or Google Books, but not all of them. This may ruin the boom that lineage societies have been experiencing because they rely very heavily on using images from Ancestry and especially the military records from Fold3.

  16. I am glad I just arrived. The comments as well as the blog post were greatly helpful in expanding my understanding of the webnair last night. I am watching for geneablogger's report and if Ancestry responds.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. As others have mentioned, this looks like a way to drive revenue and capture market share, especially coinciding with the announcement to purchase This is why Standard Oil and other monopolies were busted at the turn of the 19th Century...when you get big and can control markets, you can charge/do whatever you please. Have we learned nothing from history? Totally depressing, but unfortunately, not surprising.

  19. I also attended Judy's webinar last night and gained so much from all the information she gave. I was very puzzled why Ancestry has changed this for professionals. It seems to me if they allow use for only personal family history, that would leave me to believe it is for their monetary gain only.

    They receive a subscription fee already, so why change the terms for professionals only? Is the change for written permission only or is there an additional fee to use their contents?

  20. Thanks for the heads up. This is certainly an interesting development. I will be linking to this blog post from my genealogy blog, if you don't mind. I would like to drive traffic here so people are aware of what's going on. I subscribe to Ancestry and had no clue. I don't recall receiving any message about a change in TOS.

    Lisa W.

  21. I attended judy's webinar last night also and this discussion caught my attention as well. I'll be interested in their response as it relates to bloggers and presenters.

  22. This is an interesting turn of events. Ancestry does have under their umbrella Professional Genealogists as a business. What does this all mean for that department?

  23. Hi, my name is Anne Mitchell and I work for We've looked at our TOS and have updated it. Here's our official response:

    In a recent update, the Terms and Conditions excluded “or professional” as part of the terms of service. This change was in no way intended to exclude professional genealogists from using in a business or professional setting. Our legal team has reviewed the statement and has reinstated the original text to include “or professional” into’s Terms and Conditions. We apologize for any misunderstanding. The statement is now updated and reads as follows:

    “You may access the Website, use the graphics, information, data, editorial and other Content only for personal or professional family history research, and download Content only as search results relevant to that research.”

    The TOS can be seen at:

    Anne Mitchell
    Product Manager,

  24. I was just reading the Terms for GenealogyBank and thought of this post and though I'd share what I just found.

    According to GenealogyBank's Terms of Use, section 4a, "You, as an individual visitor to this site...are granted a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited license to browse, search, retrieve, view, print and/or download, the Content on the Site for your PERSONAL NON-COMMERCIAL academic, educational and research purposes" (emphasis added).

    It would seem to me that this leaves out professionals and bloggers and the questions you raised about Ancestry's TOS would apply here as well. I know the Ancestry issue has been resolved, but I wanted to share my GenealogyBank findings with you and your readers.