Sunday, December 9, 2007

Did Ancestry Remove Census Transcriptions?

Ancestry Complaints, Chapter 1

It was a month ago Suzie Henderson posted her complaints about and it's only today I'm getting around to responding. Sorry about that, Suzie. I've edited Suzie's comment here for length and clarity.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I agree with everything you said here. Ancestry offers a fine product and gives free server space to RootsWeb, Cyndi's List, many GenWeb sites [World and U.S.], etc. We all really appreciate that.


First, I would not mind paying Ancestry at all IF they would not remove content from their site so that they could charge me extra to get it back again.

Second, I would not mind paying Ancestry at all IF they did not take my credit card number and hold it hostage.

Let's treat each of these concerns separately. Remember, I do not speak in an official capacity for Ancestry. But these are my understandings and recollections.

Did Ancestry remove census transcriptions?
Did Ancestry remove
census transcriptions?

Census Transcriptions

I originally subscribed to because they had so many transcribed census records. When they added the Census Images for an additional charge, the transcriptions were removed from the site. Information already on the site that I was paying for was removed. Why?

Ancestry used to have many AIS U.S. Federal Census Indexes (aka transcriptions). Some people quote error rates as high as 15 to 19 percent for these indexes. As part of Ancestry's U.S. Federal Census initiative, Ancestry re-indexed these censuses, replacing the AIS indexes. While the old indexes went away and you would no longer have been able to access them, you would have been able to access the new indexes.

Simplified Subscription System

By the way, you weren't the only customer put off by the requirement to pay additional money for access to census images. Back in the old days the old subscription system was splintered and confusing. There was the U.S. Records Collection, U.S. Census Collection, U.S. Newspaper Collection, U.S. Obituary Collection, U.K. Records Collection, etc. Users were constantly being asked to penny up for additional record sets. Complaints were numerous and satisfaction low.

For these reasons Ancestry introduced what internally we call "New Pricing and Packaging." This consists of a simplified two tiered pricing system. The U.S. Deluxe Subscription consists of all record sets pertaining to the United States, including both census indexes and images. The second tier is the World Deluxe Subscription which gives access to all records.

Canceling Ancestry Subscription

If I could log in with my subscriber name and cancel my subscription, I might then trust Ancestry with my credit card number again. I can sign up online to spend money at Ancestry. But I can only stop spending money at by making a telephone call and arguing about why I want to stop spending money.

I was assured by Ancestry that I would be reminded annually that my card would soon be charged for an new subscription. I was reminded once in 8 years. The only way I was able to get out from under my subscription was to cancel my credit card and not give Ancestry the new number.

Ancestry has made it clearer during signup that your subscription automatically renews. The notification could be a little more prominent for me, but it is there and it's repeated in the Terms and Conditions.

Ancestry warns
Not quite noticeable enough for me, Ancestry warns users
in plain sight that subscriptions automatically renew

You can cancel the renewal either online or by phone without argument at least two days before the renewal date. You can cancel an initial annual subscription during the first 7 days and receive a full refund.

Ancestry will send an e-mail notice 15 days before your subscription automatically renews (except for monthly subscriptions), but in many cases you will never see it. I'm always surprised how many people forget to tell Ancestry when their e-mail address changes. Also, many e-mail systems will treat the notification as SPAM  and throw it away for you.

(If any of you readers have a notification still around, can you share with us what the sender's e-mail address is? Some e-mail systems allow adding addresses to a list of trusted addresses.)

If you're intent on canceling at a particular time, I advise you not to depend on getting the notification; mark your calendars instead.

Subscribers can cancel online on the My Account page
Subscribers can cancel online on the My Account page

If Ancestry should ever revert back to its old behavior and make it unnecessarily difficult to cancel a subscription, don't suffer the inconvenience of canceling your credit card. Instead, call up the credit card company and ask them to reverse the first charge that shows up after you have notified Ancestry to cancel your subscription. The credit card companies track such "charge backs" and companies with large charge back rates can lose their ability to accept credit card payments.

But under current management, I don't see that happening. CEO Tim Sullivan has told us internally that if a customer is going to leave us, he wants to be able to win them back later with the great new stuff we are working so hard to provide. We don't want to make enemies out of them. This only makes sense.

Try Us Again

Suzie, I don't blame you or anyone else for having a bad taste in your mouth from previous negative experiences at Ancestry. But if you've been away for a couple of years, it's time for you to come back and give us another try.

We've revamped our subscriptions. We've added exceptional new content. (Everyone always thinks of our U.S. and U.K. census collections, which are unequaled, but our immigration records should knock your socks off! And during 2007 we've made astounding progress adding military, state census and vital records.)

Ancestry Member Trees Have Shaky Leaves
Ancestry Member Trees
Have Shaky Leaves

Our free family tree building software with its shaky leaves is a next-generation feature unmatched by any other. I had my tree in good shape, populated with photographs where ever possible, when Ancestry Press came along. With one click I've produced eye-popping books and large pedigree charts. Our DNA offering is young, but very cool. (To everyone at work, if I've forgotten to mention your personal exceptionally cool accomplishments, my apologies.)

In short, Suzie, while you've been away we've been working our fingers to the bone and we have a lot more to show for it than just bony fingers. Come give us another try. This time, we want you to stay because you want to stay.

The Ancestry Insider


  1. And now, Insider, perhaps you could discuss why the thousands upon thousands of missing images and linking errors, reported over the years should be cause for current subscribers to remain, or previous subscribers to return. You seem intent on persuading us that all of the new and improved offerings are well worth our money, but frankly, all that is gold does not glitter when buried in the muck of these systemic problems.

  2. I received the renewal notice 20 days ahead of my automatic renewal. It came from address ""

  3. Dear Dave,

    Thanks for the message. I'll update the article with that information.

    -- The Insider

  4. Dear Doubting Outsider,

    I like your moniker! I'll get back to you on this in a future posting.

    -- The Ancestry Insider

  5. Thanks for replying to my concerns.

    Yes, I know it is my job to cancel my own subscription. I can't blame Ancestry for my failure to do so. I only blame Ancestry for doing their level best to make it difficult.

    That said, I am pleased to see that the ability to cancel your subscription online has been added to the list of available choices. I assure you, it was not always an option.

    I find it interesting that I am responsible for Ancestry being unable to reach me to inform me that they were about to hit my card. They certainly had no trouble reaching me when they couldn't charge my card.

    I really don't mean to be a whiner and I DO appreciate your replying to my earlier posting. I'm also pleased to see that it is now possible for someone to cancel their subscription online.

    I'll be keeping my eye on those bony fingers of yours but it will still be from afar for a while. Once burned, twice shy.

    Suzie Henderson

  6. Insider,

    I would like to add a couple things to what doubting outsider said. However first let me say that even with what are indeed systemic problems, I still find my Ancestry subscription to be a great value. Also I would advise those having problems with missing images to use Heritage Quest online as a backup if you can do so with your library card. HQ is a very poor alternative to Ancestry in so many ways for the census, but it does serve as a good backup.

    Now what I want to add, so that you can address this as well in a future posting, is that a lot of the problem isn't just missing and wrong links, but also the error reporting system. That system requires you to log in again for no good reason, and then go through a tiresome process only to get a canned reply on missing images that there are a lot of things that have to be checked and it will take longer. But the worst thing is that the error reporting system which I'm guessing is java based, doesn't allow you to backup if your report doesn't go through for some reason. Thus you would have to go through it all over again. After that happened the last time I decided never to use the system again unless I felt a desperate need to make a report.

    Besides the missing census images and problems with reporting and followup, there are also problems with some datasets, which seem to be mostly scanned books. You can search on them and get results but when you click on a result - nothing. The page is gray and blank. Same if you try to browse it. I made a thread on one such instance on the message boards but got no response.

    It does seem as if Ancestry does not devote much/any resources to correcting the missing image problems. While I realize that it does take time to track those things down, surely any quality control program would dictate that they be addressed within some set time period.

    Again for me, I still find my subscription a good value despite these annoyances, but I suspect that is because I use my subscription a lot. For those who can only do so less frequently, I am sure it is a much greater annoyance and one that makes them less likely to renew.


  7. The blog site has been in trouble since late last week ...has everyone at Ancestry taken off for the holidays? If you access the blog site, Kendall Hulet's posting is displayed, though poorly formated ....when trying to access any other blog postings, the site fails! i.e. ...

  8. Lets see, ancestry give them another chance they changed thier ways, thats bunko, I just cancelled after being a loyal customer and having put up with these shenangans many many times.

    You know its hard to get new customers and easy to lose customers and impossible to get them back once they get fed up enought to leave.

    Its time ancestry consider the fact they are one by one killing off thier best asset, in time all the records they have have will be meaningless as they won't have customers, and not that the economic problems in the us have reached a crisis the are giving those with use thier disposable income with them the perfect excuse to cut thier expenses by cancelling.

  9. Please go back to the previous method of being able to print out a portion of the census page. It is now too much trouble for us old folk to deal with.

  10. I have spent just 10 minutes reading the results of searching " complaints". I am shocked and I will be very careful never to use anything associated with this scam. They have ripped off a lot of people. Mormons should be ashamed.

    The Ancestry Insider is obviously a shill for the mafia. But more important than anything the LDS Church should be ashamed that their people are running this scam.

    I am a non-mormon in Huntington Beach.

  11. Dear Non-Mormon Living in Huntington Beach, is neither owned nor operated by the LDS Church or its members.

    Of course some members of the LDS Church work for, given Provo, Utah is (I think) where the majority of its employees work.

    Last I knew, was growing their San Francisco office where I find some of its best employees.

    -- The Insider

  12. Was thinking about buying in to research my family tree but after reading about the problems I have changed my mind......thanks for sharing guys! Betty

  13. I still get all the census. The only gripe I have that it is too hard to copy the actual transcription. They notify you ahead of time that it is time to renew. If you do not want the subscription, just call them. They have an 800 # and are good about talking to you by phone or email. They are a blessing to me. bc


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