Ancestry has been around for quite a while – since 1983, in fact – but it has changed in format and ownership several times along the way. Today, Ancestry is owned by Blackstone, a leading equity investment company based in New York. Read on to learn more about Blackstone and how Ancestry got to be where it is today.
Is Ancestry Owned by the Mormon Church?
No, Ancestry is not owned or operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the LDS or Mormon church) and never has been. But it is easy to understand why people think so. Like the LDS Church, Ancestry maintains its headquarters in Utah, and many people involved in Ancestry over the years were church members.
The Mormon church operates its own genealogical website, FamilySearch, as well as an extensive collection of genealogical resources and libraries. We’ll come back to FamilySearch in a bit.
Ancestry began in 1983 as Ancestry, Inc., a company dedicated to publishing books and magazines about genealogy. It was founded by John Sittner, Rex Sittner, and Robert Shaw. John Sittner lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, and used his home as the company’s first headquarters.
In 1992, Sittner arranged through his internet provider to freely offer the collected data of their books online, such as marriage records and social security death records. In 1994, the newsletter he had been publishing was expanded and relaunched as Ancestry Magazine. His company registered the Ancestry.com domain name in 1995 and officially launched the Ancestry.com website the following year.
John Sittner earned his undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Texas before moving to Utah to pursue graduate coursework at the University of Utah. He has no connection to the LDS church other than their shared interest in genealogy.
Expansions and Mergers
As Ancestry, Inc., slowly grew, another company was founded that would eventually take it over. Paul B. Allen and Dan Taggart, both Mormons and graduates of the LDS-operated Brigham Young University, established Infobases in 1990. The company’s goal was to digitize the genealogical collections of the LDS church and make them more widely available to the Mormon community.
On January 1, 1997, Ancestry, Inc., was purchased by Western Standard Publishing, which also owned Infobases. Just six months later, Allen and Taggart bought Western Standard’s interest in Ancestry, retaining the Ancestry name and gaining ownership of the Ancestry.com website. They also launched the FamilyHistory.com and MyFamily.com websites, which offered subscription-based genealogical services. Those two websites have since been merged into Ancestry.com.
While Allen and Taggart were both Mormons, Ancestry was always owned privately, not by the LDS church.
Like many successful companies, Ancestry’s ownership has changed several times over the years. In 2007, a private equity company called Spectrum Equity bought a 30% ownership in Ancestry. Two years later, Ancestry opened up to public trading with a $100 million IPO. Public trading lasted only three years, however. A private equity firm based in London called Permira purchased full ownership and all outstanding shares of the company for $1.6 billion in 2012, sixteen times what the company was worth just three years earlier.
Two additional private equity funds, Silver Lake and GIC, purchased large minority shares of Ancestry in 2016.
Most recently, in December 2020, Blackstone purchased a majority share of Ancestry for $4.7 billion, with GIC remaining a minority shareholder.
What is Blackstone?
Founded in 1985 and based in New York, Blackstone is an investment firm, which means it exists to own and invest in other companies. Blackstone is very successful at selecting and supporting the companies in which it invests. However, while it owns some or all of those companies, it leaves the day-to-day operations to the people who know each company and industry the best. Despite the hefty purchase price, Ancestry accounts for less than one percent of Blackstone’s holdings.
Who Runs Ancestry?
Ancestry is run by its own set of officers and board of directors. The current CEO, Deborah Liu, took over on March 1, 2021. Liu moved to Ancestry after leading Facebook’s Marketplace product group, and is a veteran of eBay and PayPal as well.
Ancestry maintains its headquarters in Lehi, Utah, and the majority of its employees can be found there. However, Ancestry operates in more than 30 countries worldwide, and Ancestry.com can be accessed just about everywhere in the world. It boasts more than 30 billion online records, and more than 20 million people have used Ancestry’s DNA network to trace their genetic heritage.
In addition to the main Ancestry.com site, Ancestry also operates the Find a Grave, RootsWeb, Fold3, We Remember, and Newspapers.com websites. In 2021, it also added the Forces War Records website to its family.
Ancestry and FamilySearch
Like we said before, the LDS church does not own or operate Ancestry. Instead, it operates FamilySearch, which is based in Provo, Utah, and includes both an extensive genealogical website and hundreds of local Family History Centers. While there are many similarities between the Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org websites (after all, they serve the same purpose), they are not owned or run by the same people.
They do, however, work together on certain projects. For example, Ancestry.com has digitized many of the records owned by the LDS church in exchange for the right to use those records on its own website. Similarly, the church pays for an Ancestry.com membership for every Mormon who wants one, and anyone can use Ancestry Library Edition at any of the LDS’s Family History Centers.
Will Blackstone Sell My Information?
Some people are concerned that an investment firm like Blackstone might try to make a little extra profit from selling Ancestry customer information. This is especially true when it comes to extremely sensitive information, such as DNA results. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Privately Owned Since Day One
From its earliest beginnings in 1983 as Ancestry, Inc., to being the leading genealogical website in the world today, Ancestry has always been privately owned. Today, it is primarily owned by Blackstone, a well-respected and experienced investment firm based in New York.
Many of the people who were instrumental in the company’s history have been members of the LDS church or graduates of Brigham Young University, but this is only natural. Ancestry shares the same genealogical focus and supports the same type of family history research as the church.
Ancestry and FamilySearch continue to cooperate in a variety of ways that benefit both, but Ancestry has never been owned or operated by the Mormons.