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:
16 thoughts on “Who Owns Ancestry? (You May Be Surprised)”
Thank you for this very complete and insightful information Margaret. I am currently having “issues” with Ancestry. Specifically billing. It seems like the problem began about the time Blackstone bought it. I will be ringing customer support as soon as they open in a few minutes. BTW, my mother’s mother’s surname was O’Brien. Her parents, Patrick O’Brien and Mary Highland were born in Ireland about 1860, and settled not far from where I live in Minnesota, USA. Any suggestions for finding information on their ancestors in Ireland? Thanks.
Sorry to hear that, I’ve had a recurring subscription for years without a problem.
The early 1860s is about the threshold for good birth or baptismal records, you may be able to track them down. But you’d need a county, particularly with O’Brien which is a quite common name. In theory, all the O’Briens descend from the great king Brian Boru, but that’s not much genealogical usde. In practice, the O’Brien strongholds would be Clare or Munster. But they got around the rest of the country too!
This government-sponsored website is a great resource for Irish genealogy, gives a lot of links to free resources.
Just for added information. There is no Mormon church. It is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormon is no longer used to refer to members as Mormons. We are from The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints. Thank you!
Thank you for clarifying this!!!
I am John Sittner’s granddaughter; I can attest that he is not and was not at the time of founding part of The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints.
Thank you for confirming that, I appreciate it. I have updated the article accordingly.
What guarantee is there that info you give Ancestry doesn’t end up in Family Search databases where it will be fodder for someone to baptize your relatives Mormon?
If you make your family tree public on Ancestry, then any individual can copy the info and add it to Family Search. But you can’t control what anyone does with info about your ancestors, your first cousin could add the info to Family Search. I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.
Any ordinance carried out by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints on behalf of any person is only valid if that person accepts that ordinance in the next life -official Church policy. No ordinances are carried out by proxy for anyone who is or could be still alive.
I spent 12 years microfilming for the Genealogical Society of Utah (Church owned and the largest genealogical society in the world by far). My 6 person team produced over 30,000,000 images in London archives and there were over 200 other camera operators throughout the world doing the same at no cost to the archives or anyone else except the cost of the electricity to operate the camera equipment.
The Church supported the Parliamentary Bill which required all UK parish registers to be kept securely in document friendly conditions of humidity and temperature. A member of the House of Lords championed the bill (I have been unable to contact him to obtain his permission to use his name). Until the Bill was passed into law, we had been losing TWO VOLUMES of these registers EVERY THREE DAYS for many, many years. The Church-owned Granite Mountain Vaults in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range near Salt Lake City houses over 2.4 million microfilms as well as countless other records of genealogical interest. The vaults are under an overburden of over 700 feet of solid granite and could withstand a nuclear blast at the mouth of the canyon. The vaults are humidity controlled but the temperature is naturally ideal for microfilm storage winter or summer and doesn’t need altering. No-one except essential staff (not even the head of the Church) are allowed access because of humidity considerations.
Thank you for the detailed and interesting comments.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through its subsidiary the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU), films genealogical information in archives throughout the world free of charge.
The basic agreement is that camera operators are sent by the Church to archives and other genealogical sources and copies of the resulting microfilms are available free of charge to the public for viewing at Church Genealogical libraries throughout the world (you may be required to pay cost price of postage). Should the cooperating archive require another copy because it is damaged or lost or stolen etc, a replacement copy will be provided.
The original microfilms are housed permanently in the Granite Mountain Vaults in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range of Mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. The originals are used only once – to produce first generation copies.
The collection is constantly monitored for any physical deterioration or loss of clarity. Microfilms normally should show no significant deterioration in 50 years. Camera operators always include a shot of a board (similar in purpose to an optician’s eye chart) at the beginning of each microfilm, to record how well the camera is focussing. This shot is evaluated and recorded immediately it arrives at the vaults and is evaluated and if necessary cleaned periodically thereafter.
Bob Hines, GSU Camera operator for 12 years, now retired.
Very interesting article. I would add that another reason people often believe that ancestry. com is owned by the LDS church is because members are able to have free accounts with them.