Blackstone Group Acquires Majority Interest in Ancestry.com

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Today, Bloomberg announced that Blackstone Group has acquired a majority ownership stake in Ancestry.com for 4.7 billion dollars. Yes, billion, with a b. You can read the article, here. Blackstone, out of New York, will own 75% of Ancestry and GIC Pte, formerly known as Government of Singapore Investment Corporation will own 25%.

Ancestry sold in 2012 for 1.6 billion to Permira. In 2016 the company was valued at 2.6 billion when it was acquired by Silver Lake and GIC. Their value now has significantly grown, which is interesting since the 18 million DNA kits have already been sold and that market is slowing. That means that the revenue generators are subscriptions and their health research partnerships which provides Ancestry a second opportunity to obtain revenue from DNA kits.

According to Bloomberg:

Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative asset manager with $564 billion in assets, is also focused on growing its life sciences group. It has spent more than $1 billion this year investing in drugs that target high cholesterol, kidney disease in children and devices for diabetes patients.

Blackstone made a press release in July about their Life Sciences Fund.

Blackstone also acquired 21Vianet, a Chinese internet data center/service in June, 2020.

I Suspected

I had been suspecting that there would be an ownership change at Ancestry for some time, beginning with the layoff of 100 employees earlier this year, 6% of their workforce, before the pandemic set in. Additionally, it was reported in April 2019 that Ancestry was trying to prepare for an IPO.

Cost reduction, often at the expense of either quality or customers, is a hallmark of a company that is looking for a buyer. So is a slowing or stoppage of infrastructure investment which customers have seen recently in very slow system response and many glitches, not to mention the scheduled 6-8 cM purge. These corporate decisions are similar to how people evaluate what needs to be done to a house they want to put on the market. You’re only going to do things to increase the curb-appeal and keep it functioning until it can be sold. The next owners can figure out that they need more insulation in the attic.

Cost reduction makes the current and future bottom lines look enticing, while the past growth which utilized more assets (people) is initially attractive, putting your best corporate foot forward. Potential buyers view the past performance as the initial draw and the future as rosy because the costs, compared to the past level of performance, have been reduced meaning more profit, of course. Profit is the only reason for a company to exist, unless they are a nonprofit. Every company needs to be profitable.

Add the pandemic to this mix, and you’re seeing more people falling back on genealogy, because they have more time. Of course, there will be some customers that don’t renew, and new DNA testing itself is down, but that was already occurring pre-pandemic, likely due to market saturation and other factors.

Another tactic that companies who know they are about to do something that is either controversial or will create some level of backlash is to reach out to influencers in the community, hoping to secure at least some level of loyalty in order to do grass-roots damage control.

Some of the facts are interesting in the Bloomberg article. We already knew that Ancestry had sold 18 million DNA kits, but I didn’t know they had 3 million subscribers. Interestingly, that means that no more than 17% of the people who took DNA tests have subscriptions. It’s actually a lower percentage than that, because we know that not all subscribers have taken DNA tests. I know that Ancestry was hoping to convert many of their “ethnicity testers” into subscribers. As genealogists, we hoped so too.

What’s Next?

What will happen at Ancestry as a result of the sale? That’s yet to be seen.

Sometimes the executive team remains in place when acquisitions occur, and other times, partially so or not at all.

The previous CEO, Tim Sullivan, who stepped down in 2017 but retained his position as Chairman of the Board was a genealogist, which I viewed as quite positive. He was “one of us,” and even though I didn’t agree with all of his decisions, I always felt he understood because he shared our addiction, er, I mean passion. When the leadership isn’t a consumer of their own product, their focus can’t be from a personal perspective.

Given Blackstone’s focus on Life Sciences, I suspect they will be leveraging Ancestry’s DNA testers who have opted in to medical research, with requests to “share” that information becoming more visible. You don’t have to have taken their Health test to opt in for DNA research.

Ancestry first announced their health initiative in 2015.

I’ve recently noticed an increased focus on health testing, both in terms of testing by encouraging DNA upgrades to health which is a direct revenue generator, and also in terms of “softball” questions designed to encourage opt-in participation to research, whether or not you’ve taken the actual health test itself.

Genealogists are, by nature, used to sharing. We like to meet our cousins who may have information that we don’t, so sharing sounds good to us.

Ancestry sharing question

Therefore, when we see things like “Share more about yourself,” we may be more tempted than other segments of the population. This reminds me of social media questions that get passed around from time to time, which are far riskier than they seem and you should never answer publicly BTW.

If you click on the little “i” for information, you’ll see that this information will be aggregated and you are requested to opt in for research which is called the Human Diversity Project which you can read more about, here.

New DNA kit purchasers are given the opportunity to opt-in when registering their kit and periodically, later.

Occasionally, when I sign in, I’m greeted with that opportunity, asking me if I’d like to share or that Ancestry has noticed that I’m not sharing in the research project.

If you’re considering sharing more than genealogy information with Ancestry, meaning allowing them to sell your DNA information to unnamed and unknown research companies, as always, be sure to read all of the fine print, including all links to other documents, before consenting. Understand who owns and manages the company with whom you’re about to trust not only your medical and health information, but are trusting to make decisions about who to share your information with, for what purposes, and where. And understand that any company can be sold in the future.

I was not comfortable participating in Ancestry’s Human Diversity Project before and I’m not comfortable now sharing my DNA through Ancestry, especially since it seems that their new owners aren’t terribly focused on genealogy, but on medical research and with strong ownership links to a foreign government(s).

You can read about Ancestry’s ownership history, here and view their Board of Directors, here.

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54 thoughts on “Blackstone Group Acquires Majority Interest in Ancestry.com

  1. Thank you Roberta for this info and good advice. I also had my thoughts about some of the recent changes at Ancestry. From what I read I am presuming it is Ancestry and all of its holdings. Do you know if that is true?
    It will mean we now need to really keep our eyes open on them.

  2. I was already considering getting out of ancestry. I’ve backed up my matches and all my throughlines to PDFs.

    I want to pull my DNA. Sad because I won’t have any more dna information.

    Will just deleting my kit, keep my DNA from the new owner?

  3. This doesn’t sound good for us and thank you so much for sharing this valuable info. Would you be able to send us screen shots of how we can Opt-Out of the sharing of health info? THANK YOU.

    • You have to opt in. Check under your profile drop down under your name in the upper right hand corner of the screen. If you didn’t opt in, you’re opted out. If you previously opted in, you can opt out in the same place.

      • Is the “name” your Ancestry username in the upper right corner or is it by DNA account?

        I’m not seeing a place to opt-in or opt-out. I do not think I opted-in for research, but I want to make sure that I did not.

        I am definitely rethinking my large investment in using Ancestry.com and will definitely investigate subscriptions at MyHeritage.com

        I do my main testing at FamilyTreeDNA.com, I’ve always felt much more comfortable there. They are genealogy focused and I can’t see them pulling a stunt like this.

        I would recommend testing there if you haven’t tested there yet. You can transfer, but I’ve seen better and closer matches from those who test directly at FTDNA compared to the same test against my tests at Ancestry against the same person.

        Roberta, I know you have blogged about this in the past, I assume this is still true–and for those of us interested in the smaller segments that will reach our ancestors and break through those brick walls–it is critical to test directly rather than just transferring the raw data.

        I’d recommend retesting any of your older generation still living at FTDNA, they will preserve the remaining sample for at least 25 years. They also offer mitochondrial testing for the matrilineal line and YDNA testing for the male surname line.

        If you don’t have the older generation to test, by all means transfer their YDNA and buy the tools to get the most out of your matches–but test your remaining kits since you’ll need every bit of your DNA.

        FTDNA is running a sale through Aug 31, so now is definitely a good time to do it.

        • Yes, the name in the upper right hand corner. I only manage my own kit there so I’m not sure how to do a second one.

          • That must be the problem, I manage multiple kits, but I haven’t tested at AncestryDNA. I’m pretty sure I never opted in, but will hunt around to see if I can find an option to make sure.

            Thank you so much for alerting us to the latest Ancestry.com efforts to preventing us from finding our ancestors and demonstrating how significant it is.

            You are so right, Ancestry.com did not need to make it so hard, but then they don’t seem to be focused on genealogy.

            I’ve been madly adding the small cM matches to groups with no hope of completion, given the number of kits I have.

            But the info on the JavaScript tool will make it possible to get it done and to keep running the JavaScript to pick up the last few small matches as they come in, until the purge of our matches happens.

            I’ll also be spreading the word to all my cousins.

            Thank you so much!

          • I also do not find any setting for opting in nor out in the Privacy section of the DNA Settings page for the one kit that I manage. Multiple support articles on Ancestry.com explain that there is a Research Consent setting.

            I phoned Member Services, and conversed with an agent who could only search for the same support articles.

            The agent stated that because this setting was not available to me, then the consent had not been given. That explanation does not reassure me.

            I’m not the sort to opt in to “research,” but I don’t recall my choice from years ago. I don’t recall ever encountering a request to opt in during use of my Ancestry account.

            So, Roberta, are you provided with this Privacy setting to allow you to opt in?

            Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

  4. Thanks for the big Ancestry news. Your blog says “We already knew that Ancestry had sold 18 million DNA kits, but I didn’t know they had 3 million subscribers.” This seems quite reasonable to me, since I have personally purchased 9 DNA test kits but only 1 subscription, which I use to manage all of the 9 DNA tests and associated trees. I suspect a number of serious genealogists have done something similar.

  5. Well………and the beats goes on and what a shock!

    So we have China and Japan buying up the US to the extend the US will allow; and now we have The sovereigh city-state of Singapore (which is neither Chinese or Japanese) but an island in SE Asia buying a 25% stake in Ancestry.

    So, wonder if the US Government has vetted and approved this? In the case of China, it is the Chinese government buying up the US. I do not know about Japan; it could be private investors, but are they not all and the same?

    Are we guessing Blackstone’s acquisition of 21Vianet, the Chinese internet data service is a vertical acquisition to be used with Ancestry?

    Look forward to what other posters will opin and elucidate.

    Roberta, thank you for bringing this to our attention and giving us a forum to learn………about everything!

  6. I was not comfortable participating in Ancestry’s Human Diversity Project before and I’m not comfortable now sharing my DNA through Ancestry, especially since it seems that their new owners aren’t terribly focused on genealogy, but on medical research and with strong ownership links to a foreign government(s). TOTALLY AGREE!

    What is the best option to continue to find matches, without giving away lots of information. I certainly won’t be putting anymore info out there.

    • I just verified that I wasn’t sharing my DNA in that project. I am continuing to use the other records. But I also use MyHertiage which has different records than Ancestry.

      • I do not have fuzzy feelings for My Heritage. I have a small cousin bait tree that I put up under the ‘free’ tree bit. I even paid for a month of service to check out the matches. Most of them have bad or incorrect information on my family, which is quite well researched. For what they charge, I did not feel that I got my “money’s worth” and have declined to join. Ancestry is a good value, I did not find anything that I did not already know, but many of the Ancestry trees are well researched and I’ve made some good contacts. But, then I have done my own homework and know my lines. So, now I have mixed feelings about Ancestry — just a way to make money?

        Time to move on.

        • You might really like the Theories of Family Relativity at MyHeritage. They only generate them periodically.

          • But, I would then have to join. Guess I will wait and see if there is anything worthwhile with Heritage. I did a test with Heritage, then discovered that FTDNA does them. I’ve been happy with the results being presented by FTDNA and it does not offend my Scottish ancestry by having to pay, again and again.

          • Gail Carruthers White, I transferred a few kits that I manage to MyHeritage (during the time before a transfer charge), and have never subscribed to their plans. Theories of Family Relativity are shown for the transferred accounts. It’s under Filters > Has Theory of Relativity, then for each match filtered, click on “View theory.”

        • I really like My Heritage. I’ve been getting more “hits” and European information from them than Ancestry.

  7. Wonder if Blackstone is buying a “pig in a poke?”

    Are some people going to “buy up the stock?; or are they going to “sell it short.”

    We should tune in next year at this time.

  8. I too saw this notice this morning, and didn’t care for the prospect as I had a “sense” that Ancestry was showing signs of heading into “health surveys” etc. In fact, two days ago I was killing time waiting for the OK to pick up my groceries, so checked my Ancestry matches when I got a msg from them to fill out a survey. Well one led to another then another and I finally just said WHOA and stopped! It’s one thing when you sign up with 23&Me knowing their emphasis is on Health & Medical research, (which I’m absolutely OK with) but another when you have a genealogy focused company trying to jump into a totally different pond that they are not really qualified for, and taking you with them! Now, I’ll have to go back and read that fine print you are speaking of —- if I can find it!
    Thanks for the “reality check”………

    • I linked to it, and it’s also under your profile in the drop down beneath your name in the upper right corner.

  9. As I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere, it’s worth pointing out that for non-US users of Ancestry, it’s already owned by a foreign government.

  10. In 2017, Ancestry was valued at $3 Billion. If I am reading the article correctly, and my math is close to correct, the value of Ancestry is now ~$5.9 Billion?

    And, so I ask again, is Ancestry a “pig in a poke?” Or is this a “fire sale” and Ancestry is “making out like a bandit?”

    In the last 3 years, Ancestry has provided me with no “value added” for my subscription or my testing. So, how can Ancestry almost double in value in 3 years. Fancy footwork?

    JMHO, and an inquiring mind asking questions in the category of “You have got to be kidding!”………..

  11. Roberta, I am glad I read your blog. I had no idea this was going on. I’m not comfortable with foreign acquisition of raw DNA of Americans. I never did fill out the health surveys or opt-in and I’m glad I didn’t. The US Government is trying to get Microsoft to buy Tik-Tok from China but selling our DNA to foreign corporations is OK? I don’t get it.

  12. Thanks Roberta for keeping us abreast of what’s going on. I had a feeling something was going on with Ancestry and you just confirmed all my suspicions. i understand needing to remain financially profitable but they’ve added no significant value for the primary customer base, genealogist.

  13. Thanks for reporting this, I thought something was up. I do a lot of surveys for e-Rewards to get hotel points and airline miles for when it is safe to travel again, and I got a survey about DNA/genealogy companies that clearly looked like it was interested in Ancestry.com as the main focus.

    Maybe the new company can be convinced to do a chromosome browser.

  14. I’ve had a sense something was coming for at least 6 months. Testing has been almost non-existent, they stopped acquiring new records, they didn’t renew many subscriptions so you couldn’t actually view many of the records, links were broken, the system has been extremely slow, they haven’t been as responsive to customer concerns, especially regarding DNA questions, etc.

    I’m not sure how many people are actually turning to doing genealogy since the pandemic. Do we have any data on that? I haven’t seen a surge on testing, although it does seem like there may be more activity at FTDNA.

    I don’t have a good feeling about this. Could this be the beginning of the end of Ancestry as we have known it? Perhaps this will provide an opening for someone else to fill the void.

    In addition to our DNA, they also have our credit card numbers.

    • Credit cards are easy to replace. I don’t think it’s the end of Ancestry. That would be killing what they just bought. It will take some time to figure out where the new management is going.

  15. Thanks for sharing this somewhat scary information. I particularly say that because of this statement: “Blackstone also acquired 21Vianet, a Chinese internet data center/service in June, 2020.”

    I haven’t uploaded and shared all my family tree information with Ancestry, and now I’m beginning to wonder their plight. If you don’t share your DNA with Ancestry, is there another US-owned genealogy via DNA company?

    • Family Tree DNA for testing is US based and they do the processing for MyHeritage which is a genealogy company.

  16. As I mentioned yesterday, I deleted my DNA results from Ancestry. However, I called them today to confirm that my DNA sample was also going to be destroyed. It was not going to be destroyed.

    I had to send a separate email to customersolutions@ancestry.com with the subject – SAMPLE DESTRUCTION. In my request to destroy the sample I to state my name and Ancestry account details including email address for my account. I am supposed to get an email back from them.

  17. LG, if Ancestry says they have destroyed your Dna, how can they “prove” that to you?
    Anybody can say anything, at any time, about anybody or anything, but that does not always make it true. Do we believe their word?

    • That involves a lab. The lab would lose accreditation and they’re certainly not going to be willing to risk that.

    • You have a good point. In fact, I’ve written a note to a legal genealogist blogger asking just that thing.

      But the first step is just getting Ancestry to agree to delete my DNA. They were certainly not forthcoming by informing me that asking to delete all Ancestry DNA results and rescinding all permissions did not remove the kit. In fact their pages are misleading, telling me that if I was to reinstate Ancestry DNA and matches, I have to purchase a new kit. This implies that they have deleted the kit.

      To say that our lawmakers don’t give a fig about protecting their citizens DNA privacy, is quite an understatement.

  18. I manage the DNA for several siblings and made sure from the outset that they opted out of the ill-defined research projects. The explanations given just did not suffice, and I suspected the research would generate more “health toys” for the marketplace. I just want a genealogy site operated by/for genealogists….please.

  19. Looks like it is another two investment companies looking for a good return. The Singapore pension find should not be a threat to what is done with DNA – they had a similar minority stake at one time in the organisation I work for And were a silent partner, just looking for a good return for the citizens of Singapore. I would be more concerned about what Blackstone will want

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