Is Ancestry.com a Scam? 6 Common Misperceptions

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[Editor's Note: the following is a guest post from Jeff Baker of Family Tree Shortcuts which specializes in using the Ancestry.com website.]

First, let’s begin with some facts. Did you know that Ancestry.com is the largest genealogy site online? Not only that, but it is one of the most popular website of any sort (ranked #310 in the United States by Alexa). They host over 5 billion records, mostly from the U.S. but also from the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, France, Sweden, Italy, etc. They are so successful that their stock prices have tripled in less than two years since going public (which is amazing, since they were even higher than that before a recent dip).

The truth is, Ancestry.com has many satisfied customers — hundreds of thousands even. So why does there seem to be so many unsatisfied customers as well? Possibly because those who claim Ancestry.com is a scam don’t really understand certain functions or features of the Ancestry.com site. Anyone who does understand will be able to see Ancestry.com for what it is: a legitimate and excellent genealogy resource.

Issue #1: Ignoring Cancellation

  • Problem: You cancel your Ancestry.com subscription but you still get charged.
  • Possible Cause: You believe you’ve cancelled your subscription, but you haven’t fully completed the cancellation process.
  • Resolution: Finish out the cancellation process. You know that you’ve done this if you obtain a seven digit cancellation number. This proves that you cancelled. If you don’t have the number, you haven’t really cancelled.To cancel, call customer service, send an email requesting cancellation (only works for customers who live outside of the United States), complete only the cancellation process. Make sure you obtain the seven digit number.

Issue #2: Charging Too Much

  • Problem: You get charged for the entire year.
  • Possible Cause: You actually signed up for the entire year and not on a month-by-month basis.
  • Resolution: Only sign up for an annual subscription if you want to pay for the whole year upfront. Ancestry.com displays the different subscription options on a month-by-month breakdown to demonstrate that the annual subscription saves you money over time. But the entire lump sum is charged when you sign up, so be aware of that.

Issue #3: Charging Without Re-subscribing

  • Problem: You get charged even when you don’t re-subscribe.
  • Possible cause: Ancestry.com automatically renews subscriptions. This is stated clearly in the terms and conditions. All users who don’t cancel automatically re-subscribe per the user agreement.
  • Resolution: Cancel your subscription if you don’t want it to renew. It’s not a big deal. The great thing is that you can cancel months in advance (with an annual subscription, for example), and since you’ve already paid for the year you continue to have access up until the original date of renewal. But instead of renewing, the account simple deactivates at that time. (Don’t forget the seven digit cancellation number is required to be confident that you cancelled… otherwise, it will renew.)

Issue #4: Incorrect Records

  • Problem: You find incorrect records on Ancestry.com.
  • Possible cause: Some historical records are incorrect to begin with, so it is true that Ancestry.com displays incorrect records. But so will every other resource that has that record.
  • Resolution: Understand that you may come across incorrect records. This is simply a part of genealogy research.Example: when using Ancestry.com, I discovered that one of my ancestors claimed his daughter’s baby as his own on the census. Why? Well, since his daughter wasn’t married, I’m assuming it’s because he wanted to protect her reputation.Note: Sometimes there is a transcription error (a “typo” of sorts). This can happen because transcribing is a difficult, tedious, and sometimes a nearly-impossible task. The error could be Ancestry.com’s fault (if they transcribed the record); look at the original record to see what is actually displayed.

Issue #5: Private Information Made Public

  • Problem: You believe that all of your information is made public on Ancestry.com.
  • Possible cause: Ancestry.com makes some information in family trees available to allow their users to compare genealogy research and notes.
  • Resolution: You can choose whether your tree is public or private and change this designation at any time. Even when a tree is public, however, Ancestry.com will not show individuals in your tree who are still living.Note: You may come across an actual record that has information about you or someone you know. These are public records that Ancestry.com is simply making available for research (from resources such as old phone books). These types of records are a matter of public record, usually available through local governments.

Issue #6: Unhelpful

  • Problem: You expect all of the genealogy work to be done for you . . . and it isn’t.
  • Possible cause: Everyone’s genealogy is different, so it’s impossible to say if someone will have an easy time researching their family history or a difficult time.
  • Resolution: A complex algorithm performs searches automatically and delivers “hints,” but there is no guarantee that these will be correct. Similarly, if you use another person’s public member tree for research, how do you know that they aren’t wrong? In both of these cases, you need to verify all information yourself. In other words, consider hints as starting points, not ending points.The truth is, some people can trace their family history back very far and very quickly, while others can’t. Recognize that it might be more difficult for you than for others.

There is no better genealogy resource available than Ancestry.com, so don’t let the misinformation about and fear of an “Ancestry.com Scam” drive you away from your opportunity of discovering your ancestors.

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Author Jeff Baker’s exposure to Ancestry.com opened the world of genealogy to him, a world which he has found deep and rich with personal meaning. Because of this, he started and manages Family Tree Shortcuts, a site dedicated to helping individuals understand Ancestry.com through unofficial video tutorials and useful explanations — whether it’s avoiding common issues or getting the most out of the available databases. Combating misconceptions about whether Ancestry.com is a scam or not is one of the many topics Baker covers at his site.

 

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