Preserving Genealogy for Future Generations




Researching genealogy is a popular pastime for many. Given the subject matter, you would think that a priority for those researching the history of their families would be to preserve and pass on that information for future generations. Unfortunately, it is often not that simple. 

This article will address two kinds of family history research: Those undertaken on genealogy websites like ancestry.com, and those undertaken by means of DNA testing. In both cases, a careful reading of the terms and conditions would be prudent, and, if preserving family history information is important to you, be sure to talk with your estate planning attorney about how you can pass down the information you’ve worked so hard to compile.

Genealogy Research Websites

The terms and conditions of ancestry.com state that rights are neither assignable nor transferable, and that there shall be no third party beneficiaries to an account. This means that access to your account could be blocked upon your death, along with all of the information it contains.

While ancestry.com is arguably the biggest player in online genealogy research, the terms and conditions of smaller sites, such as familysearch.com, are silent on the issue. One way to preserve this information for your family while staying within the bounds of the terms and conditions is to ensure that you download and keep copies of the relevant documents in a place other than your ancestry.com account.

Similarly, to the extent you can replicate your family tree in a format that doesn’t require a login and password, you may be able to ensure that the information is preserved even if access to your ancestry.com account is blocked.

DNA Services

The biggest players in DNA testing services for genealogy purposes are AncestryDNA (through ancestry.com), 23 and Me, and Family Tree DNA. The first two services are silent on the issue of passing down DNA information, but Family Tree DNA allows you to name a beneficiary who may continue to access your DNA information upon your death.

There are, however, no provisions for passing the information to family members if the account owner fails to name a beneficiary. In that case, Family Tree DNA will retain ownership of the record and DNA. In all cases, as with the suggested course of action for genealogy research websites, you should ensure that your DNA information is available in print or electronic form somewhere other than the DNA Service website so that the information remains available once access to the account ends.

It may seem counterintuitive that a service designed around uncovering and compiling ancestry and DNA information would not allow access to a deceased owner’s account after his or her death. Sadly for hobby genealogists, this is the current state of affairs – with the laudable exception of Family Tree DNA.

If you want to ensure that the information you have spent so much time gathering remains available for future generations, be sure to talk to your estate planning attorney about means to accomplish that goal. For more information, contact Mammel Law at 248-644-6326.

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