Many people who are curious about who owns Ancestry have the misconception that the genealogy giant is owned by Mormons (the Church of Latter-day Saints).
That isn’t the case. But it’s understandable why people think so – we’ll explain why later in this article.
But first we’ll look at who owns Ancestry currently, who founded the company, and how the ownership has changed hands through the years.
Who Owns Ancestry Now?
The Blackstone Group is the majority owner of Ancestry. Blackstone purchased a majority stake for $4.7 billion in August 2020.
Blackstone is an equity investment company founded in 1985 in New York that manages assets valued at over $530 billion.
The company’s investments include real estate, pension funds, and media companies.
The minority shareholders include several other equity investment companies.
So, now you may be wondering who owns Blackstone that bought Ancestry. The investment firm was founded by two former Lehman Brothers executives, Stephen Schwarzman and Peter Peterson.
Who Founded Ancestry?
Ancestry was founded in 1983 in Utah by John Sittner, Robert Shaw, and Rex Sittner. The company published genealogy books.
John Sittner registered the Ancestry.com domain in 1995.
The website and company name was purchased in 1997 by Infobases, a company owned by Paul B. Allen and Dan Taggart.
By the way, the Paul Allen in Ancestry’s history isn’t the same person as the co-founder of Microsoft.
You may see accounts that Ancestry was started by Paul Allen and a fellow graduate of the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University. That’s not strictly correct.
The original company was headquartered in the home of John Sittner in Salt Lake City.
In 1992, John Sittner negotiated with his internet provider to make the data collected in their books available online.
The data included American social security death records, marriage records, and a few other collections. These online databases were free.
In 1995, Sittner’s company registered the domain name “Ancestry.com”.
John Sittner’s granddaughter confirmed to us that he was not a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints (you can see this in the comments below). So, it’s also untrue to say that Ancestry.com was founded by Mormons.
How Did Paul Allen Acquire Ancestry?
In 1988, the President of Brigham Young University delivered a religious address which he titled “A School in Zion”.
Elder Jeffrey Holland implored his students to “sort, sift, prioritize, integrate and give some sense of wholeness, some spirit of connectiveness to great eternal truths.”
Paul Allen, a BYU student and practicing Mormon, was inspired by this speech. When he finished his studies, the young man set out to digitize the written works of the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
In 1990, Allen founded a company called Infobases with another BYU graduate called Dan Taggart.
Their company started with digitizing LDS publications. They also digitized census and family history records curated by the LDS Church.
Infobases grew rapidly through selling genealogical data on CDs. By 1994 the company was listed in Inc Magazine as one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the U.S.
In 1996, the company acquired much of the digital assets of Sittner’s company.
This acquisition included the company name of “Ancestry, inc” and the domain and brand name of Ancestry.com.
Allen increasingly focused on growing their online family history databases and services. In the late nineties, his company had a mix of brand names and websites.
They would finally double down on “Ancestry.com” as the chosen brand name. Most customers simply refer to them as “Ancestry”, but that isn’t actually the brand name.
Who Owned Ancestry Before Blackstone?
As you might expect with a massive profit-based company, the ownership has split and changed hands over time. I’ll give a quick rundown…
In 2007, a private equity company named Spectrum Equity took 30% ownership.
Ancestry went public in 2009 in a $100 million IPO.
In 2012, Ancestry went private with a $1.6 billion equity buyout led by Premira, a London-based private equity firm.
That was the year Ancestry opened its European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland. I used to work around the corner from the glass-fronted building.
In 2016, significant equity was taken by two private equity funds, Silver Lake and GIC.
In 2020, the ownership structure changed once again.
This time, Blackstone is the massive private equity firm. And unlike previous structures of joint equity, Blackstone has bought a majority stake in Ancestry.
Is Ancestry.com Owned By China?
I’ve noticed some people discussion who owns Ancestry on social media seem to think that the company is owned by China or a company associated with the Chinese government.
This has never been the case. The misconception may be due to some confusion over an investment company that used to have significant shareholdings.
In the past, a company called GIC purchased substantial shares in Ancestry.com
“GIC” may be a fairly anonymous moniker, but it used to be called the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. And yes, GIC is still owned by the Singapore government.
People may be confusing Singapore with China, although they of course are two completely different countries.
And even so, GIC is no longer a major shareholder in the group who owns Ancestry.
Ancestry’s Associations with FamilySearch
I think one of the reasons that people think Ancestry is owned by the LDS church is that they mix it up with FamilySearch.org.
Who owns Family Search? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Like Ancestry, Family Search is a global online genealogy service based in Provo, Utah.
The two rivals have a history of partnership and collaboration.
The LDS operates a global network of Family History Centres for genealogy research. Members get free access to Ancestry.com services from those centers.
In 2013, Ancestry and FamilySearch started a significant collaboration in access to archives across both sites.
When you’re logged into Ancestry and searching for records, the results may include documents that are indexed by FamilySearch.
Is Ancestry.com Owned By The Mormon Church?
Why do people mistakenly think that Ancestry is owned by Mormons?
Is it just because Ancestry and FamilySearch are two online genealogy giants headquartered in Utah? No, I think there’s more to it than that.
The original buyers of “Ancestry, inc” (Paul Allen and Dan Taggart) were both members of the Church of Latter-day Saints.
Also, because the company is based in Utah, many of the staff were drawn from the Mormon community.
Brigham Young University looms large in this regard. Unlike Ancestry, it is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I’ve already mentioned that Allen and his business partner were BYU alumni. A sizeable number of local Ancestry staff are alumni.
The journalist Stuart Leavenworth did a fascinating interview with Paul Allen in 2013, long after he’d left the company.
Leavenworth asked Allen about the misapprehension that Ancestry is a Mormon company.
The journalist notes that Allen insisted the company never received investment or direction from the LDS church.
Ownership Of Other DNA Companies
If you’re interested in how the rivals of Ancestry stack up in the ownership stakes, check out these articles: