Ancestry.com has hit new lows in the past month, with a slew of price increases and new fees. The biggest change: the removal of formerly free features that came with AncestryDNA test kits, which will be replaced with a new paid offering called AncestryDNA Plus. I’m going to outline the new Ancestry fees and price changes, and offer some advice about next steps for those who have tested their DNA at Ancestry.
The first tranche of new fees that popped up in December were for “Pro Tools” - extra features such as being able to filter trees by location and special genealogy charts. The cost: $10 per month, ranging up to $15 per month or even more. They were not popular:
Then, AncestryDNA prices were raised between 34% and 72% in mid-January, depending on the package:
While it’s not unusual for genealogy services to raise prices after the holidays, these increases dwarfed the competition. The MyHeritage DNA kit, for instance, rose from $36 in December to $39 in January, an increase of only 8%.
AncestryDNA takes away free features
Finally, according to genealogist Michele Lewis, AncestryDNA customers on the formerly free plan are being told that genetic genealogy tools such as shared matches and paternal/maternal lines will be paywalled.
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Here’s the small print message Michele saw on one of the AncestryDNA accounts she manages:
“You already paid Ancestry for a DNA test, Michele said. “That DNA test should come with all of the tools.” Many simply cannot afford Ancestry’s expensive subscriptions, which cost $300/year for the basic “U.S. Discovery” plan, rising to $720 for “All Access.”
Further, as Michele noted, when people paid their money to test their DNA at Ancestry, the understanding was they would have access to all of these features. As far as she can tell, the only major feature that will still be available to members of Ancestry’s free plan are basic matches (not the same as shared matches).
There has not been an official announcement from Ancestry, although the AncestryDNA kit advertised on Amazon now has an asterisked message, "*Some DNA features may require an Ancestry subscription":
In a screenshot from an Ancestry user group in December, a representative said the new paid plan will be called "AncestryDNA Plus":
The new plan was noted by other bloggers in September 2023, but the elimination of formerly free features under the scheme is a more recent development.
Options for free AncestryDNA plan users
So what are the options for AncestryDNA kit owners who don’t want to pay? Lewis had the following suggestions on her TikTok channel:
- If you have a friend or relative with a paid account, share your tree with that person. You won’t be able to log in as that person, but at least you can ask questions about shared matches and DNA connections.
- Download the raw DNA data from Ancestry and upload it to another service for free, such as MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA. (Blogger Roberta Estes explains how here).
- Remove your DNA data from Ancestry. Note this is permanent; it can never be restored unless you test again with Ancestry.
I believe Ancestry could also face a class-action lawsuit, which typically allow qualified victims to receive a small settlement.
Ancestry also runs the risk of regulators coming down hard if enough consumers complain. The FTC regards bait-and-switch as fraud (you can file an FTC report here). Further, many state attorneys general will go after particularly egregious schemes. Millions of AncestryDNA kits were sold, and a large portion of these customers assumed features marketed at the time of sale would be included, not subject to a separate subscription at a later date. I urge anyone impacted by Ancestry's decision to contact their state AG office to report Ancestry.
Why is Ancestry adding more fees?
Blackstone Inc., the private equity firm which owns Ancestry and related genealogy sites such as Find A Grave and Fold3, has always regarded genealogy as a cash cow to be exploited.
Two years ago, it was the sneaky subscription price increase announced on New Years weekend (up to 25%).
Then there was the Find A Grave memorial mess, which traumatized countless families after Ancestry insisted on “gamifying” memorials to the recently deceased.
That was followed by the deletion of user-created data in the World Archives Project that was no longer deemed profitable.
Now we are seeing a new set of fees to extract more money from family historians and professional genealogists alike. I guarantee we haven’t seen the last of Ancestry’s greedy money grabs.
Blackstone, incidentally, is not a warm and cuddly family business that has an interest in genealogy. It's a cold, ruthless Wall Street firm that demands profit above all else, and buys companies like Ancestry with the expectation that even more money can be extracted. It has no qualms about its acquisitions exploiting customers or employees (even underage workers) as long as outsized returns are the result.
The CEO of Blackstone Inc. received more than $1 BILLION in pay and dividends in 2022.