Reality Check—Changes at AncestryDNA

On 13 July, AncestryDNA‘s official blog announced pending changes to how DNA tests are registered and managed in their system as of 18 July. You can read their blog here. As with their earlier trial of this system back in February (which I wrote about here), the new system has caused a lot of consternation, confusion, and misinformation to be spread. (Note: I earn a small commission if you purchase through the links in this post. The cost is the same for you. Click here for more information.)

Previously, one could buy multiple tests for relatives and register them all within a single customer account at Ancestry, meaning that the account holder had full control over the DNA data of other people. That also meant that an unethical operator could deny a tester access to their own DNA or transfer those DNA results elsewhere without the tester’s consent.

Under the new system, each adult tester will set up their own free account at Ancestry, from which they can grant or revoke access to others as they choose. (Tests for minors can still be activated within the account of a parent.) Basically, the changes give each adult who tests full control over their own DNA results. Ethically, it’s a no-brainer.

The new registration system will pose only a minor inconvenience to AncestryDNA users who prefer to have their kits managed by someone else. They can go to their DNA Settings and opt to make another Ancestry member a View, Collaborator, or Manager. This table from the Ancestry blog describes what each of those roles can do.

The new roles are generally equivalent to roles we’ve seen in the past: Guest becomes Viewer, Editor becomes Collaborator, and Administrator becomes Manager. The main difference is that the tester is always the Owner and can revoke access to their own results whenever they like.

In the interests of avoiding unnecessary panic, I’ve compiled some of the most common questions about the changes and their answers here. Please feel free to ask your own questions in the comments, and I will try to find the answers for you. The original Ancestry blog has also been amended to address frequently asked questions. I also encourage you to read the post by Debbie Cruyws Kennett, who notes that the new system may have been informed by the pending General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union and UK.

Edited to add: Here’s another good post about the changes that emphasizes the Genetic Genealogy Standards and the topics we should be addressing with the relatives we ask to test.

If I currently manage DNA tests for relatives in my own account, will those relatives have to create new accounts?
No. DNA tests registered before July 18 will not be affected. You can continue to manage them in your own account, although I encourage you to reassure your relatives that you will give them control over their results whenever they like.

What happens to tests that are registered before July 18?
Tests activated before July 18 can be registered in someone else’s account, as before.

If I register a test in my account now, can I change the name and birth year later if that person decides not to take the test and I give it to someone else?
Yes.

I just bought several tests in advance of a family reunion next month. My relatives expect me to manage the results for them, but I won’t see them until after the changes take effect. What should I do?
The best course of action would be set aside some time to help your relatives register new accounts for themselves, then show them how to grant you a level of access that they’re comfortable with. You can also activate them now, before the changes are implemented on July 18.

What is involved in setting up a new account for a DNA tester?
The new registration process at Ancestry requires a name and unique email address. You cannot use the same email address associated with an existing account.

Will people have to pay for an Ancestry.com subscription to take a DNA test?
No. You can use a free account to register a DNA test, the same as at any of the other DNA testing companies.

My grandmother has agreed to take a test, but she doesn’t have a computer, has never used email, and wants me to manage everything for her. What do I do?
You can help your grandmother set up an email address and new account at Ancestry, then have her give you Manager access to her results. As Manager, you will receive any messages that go to her account, so she will never have to log into the email account again if she doesn’t want to.

I am the genealogist in the family, and I maintain the family tree. If my relative’s test is registered in their own account, can they attach their results to my tree?
There are two ways they can link their DNA test to your tree.  You could either share the tree with their account and they can link their test to their profile in the tree within their own account, or they can grant you a Collaborator or Manager role over their results and you can do it within your account.

If I paid for someone’s test, don’t I have a right to their results?
No.

Can I register kits for people as if they are my minor children, even if they’re not?
That would violate the Terms of Service at Ancestry and expose you to personal liability if you and the tester every had a dispute over access to the results.

I tested my mom in my account and was planning to test myself soon. Can I register a new kit for myself in my own account?
Yes. When you activate a new test, the system asks whether the test is for yourself or for someone else. As long as you didn’t register your mom’s kit as you, you can activate another test for yourself. (This answer courtesy of Blaine Bettinger, who confirmed it with an AncestryDNA representative.)

If a relative grants me a role in their results, will their test show up in the “View Another Test” pulldown on my main DNA page?
Yes. The pulldown list of tests to which you have access will function as before.

Is there a limit on the number of collaborator or manager accounts a person can receive?
No. (This answer courtesy of Blaine Bettinger, who confirmed it with an AncestryDNA representative.)

Can we transfer “owner” from our current list to someone else?
Until July 18, you can grant someone Manager status, and you will be demoted to Collaborator. After July 18, you will only be able to invite that person to be the manager, although Ancestry may be working to implement a full transfer of ownership. (Part of this answer courtesy of Blaine Bettinger, who confirmed it with an AncestryDNA representative.)

Does AncestryDNA have a provision for beneficiaries when the tester dies or becomes incapacitated?
Not at present. You can list grant your login information to a beneficiary in your will.

If I am a Manager for my cousin’s test, who gets messages directed to that test from within AncestryDNA’s messaging system?
When you are made the manager, the messages redirect to your account. (This answer courtesy of Blaine Bettinger, who confirmed it with an AncestryDNA representative.)

I will be updating this post as new questions arise.

7 thoughts on “Reality Check—Changes at AncestryDNA”

  1. Does this mean I cannot access my husbands info since he asked me to handle it or my daughters?? She is an adult but also lets me take care of it as she is too busy . My hubbys uncle who is partially blind,I also manage his, all are family, so now what ??

  2. If a DNA Match to the tester messages them you say the message gets ‘redirected’ to the manager- does this mean only the manager can see the messge or both the manager and owner? Also if the manager sends a reply is this only shown in the manager’s messaging system or both the manager and owner? (I am getting a cousin tested and doing the work for him but he may like to see who contacts him)

    1. We’ll need to see how this plays out on the ground, but from what I understand, only the Manager will see the messages. If an Owner wants a relative to have access but still get messages themself, they should make the relative a Collaborator instead of a Manager.

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