November 20, 2017

“If My Ancestry Subscription Expires, What Happens to My Tree?”

Worried about access to your online tree if you let your subscription lapse? The tree should still be there. But take these steps to be sure your tree remains accessible and secure–along with the records you’ve attached to it.

What happens to my ancestry tree?


“If My Ancestry Subscription Expires, What Happens to My Tree?”

Many people start researching their genealogy with an Ancestry subscription. They build their family tree on the site, adding details about dozens of relatives. Then they sift through Ancestry’s billions of historical records and add hundreds or even thousands of new names, dates, relationships and other facts to their trees. They even attach records to each ancestor as evidence of what they’ve learned.

Then life calls them away for a while, like it has for Beverly. She wrote to me, concerned about what will happen to all her hard work on that Ancestry tree:

“I have been a member of for a long time and have worked on several trees. I love to work on my genealogy but lately have not had time. Can I drop my membership and still retain my trees? I plan to get my membership back at a later day. Right now I am wasting $20 a month.”

Beverly, I hear your pain! We all go through busy seasons. It’s easy to cringe at the thought of paying for genealogy website subscriptions we aren’t currently using. But the idea of losing all our progress on those sites is worse.

I did a little research along with Sunny Morton, Genealogy Gems Editor and our resident expert on the “genealogy giants” websites. Here’s what we can tell Beverly and everyone else who is wondering the same thing:

According to Ancestry, the answer is yes. You can still access your trees with your login after your subscription lapses, as long as you didn’t delete the tree or the account altogether.

Ancestry continues to host people’s trees because they want our tree data to share with others, and to give people a reason to come back! Your login and password remain the same. But your account reverts to a free guest account, without access to most of Ancestry’s historical records—including the ones you’ve already attached to your trees.

Ancestry Tree Preservation Strategy 

If you plan to let your subscription lapse for a while, but you want to continue to work with your online trees, consider taking these steps:

1. Download a copy of every record that you’ve attached to your ancestors’ individual files on Do this by opening the image of the record, click on the Save/Saved button at the upper right, and click Save to your computer. I suggest doing this even if you don’t foresee letting your subscription go in the near future.

2. Save each record in an organized, findable way on your computer. I recommend using a consistent system to organize these, which I explain in the free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, in episodes 32-33. (Genealogy Gems Premium website members have access to a 2-part video tutorial on organizing their hard drives.) If you don’t have a consistent way to organize these document images, you’ll soon become overwhelmed with files that all sort of look the same and you won’t be sure what year they are or which ancestors they pertain to without opening each one!

(What about cloud storage options, such as Google Drive or Dropbox? That’s ok, too, although I recommend using these platforms more as temporary or backup storage or to share with relatives, rather than as your primary storage. Instead, I recommend investing in cloud-based backup for your home computer. I use Backblaze personally and for my business.)

3. Download copies of your treesClick here for instructions; it’s really easy. Yes, Ancestry does continue to maintain your trees, but what guarantees do you have? Data loss does happen even on big websites, and sites change their practices and policies sometimes. If that happens, you could lose all the information you’ve carefully added to your tree.

4. Start using computer software for your “master family tree” instead of keeping it online. A “master family tree” is your most complete, up-to-date version of your tree (or trees, if you build separate ones for separate family lines). Keeping your master tree on your own computer keeps all your tree data at your fingertips without any subscription required. Having one master file matters even more once you start sharing your tree on other websites or with relatives.

RootsMagicI use RootsMagic, and that is why I happily agreed to them sponsoring my Genealogy Gems Podcast. It works for Mac and the PC. I like its affordability: there’s a free version you can try for as long as you like, and the full software will cost you the same as about 90 days of access to And RootsMagic has solid relationships with the major genealogy sites: it now syncs with your trees on and, and you can research records on and RootsMagic has tons of advanced features to help you create family history charts, books, and reports, and a great user support community online.

Ancestry and the other Genealogy Giants

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetKeep up with news and changes on the “genealogy giants” websites with our ongoing coverage of,,, and And get our quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites. This inexpensive, easy-t0-read guide compares the “big 4” side by side to help you determine which records website may be the best ones for your current genealogy research needs.

Disclosure: this post recommends carefully-chosen products and services for which we receive compensation. Click here to read my full disclosure statement, and thank you for supporting the free content we provide at Genealogy Gems.

About Lisa Cooke

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.


  1. Great advice about organizing as you download – I made the mistake at one point of just downloading as fast as I could to an Ancestry Downloads folder…then realized, I’d have to view each one to figure out where to place it. Now I save each one individually and as I TreeShare with RM, I have everything there too…

  2. Bob White says:

    The easiest way is not included in the options shown. The current versions (Mac and PC) of Family Tree Maker sync with your tree on During synch, copies of all of those media items are downloaded. So just make sure you do a final synch before you let the subscription lapse. Added gravy is that if you are properly backing up your hard drive that you will also have a copy of the tree in your backup storage. Yes, the software costs some dollars but this makes it well worth the price.

  3. I tried to sign up for your newsletter today but it said there was a problem with the signup

  4. For those who’ve had Ancestry DNA tests and want to continue to research matches, without paying a lot, Ancestry has a “DNA Insights” subscription that costs only $49/year. It gives you everything except the ability to access Ancestry records, i.e. to do records-based research. But you can see any member’s public tree, get tree match hints, compare surnames, etc. So if you’ve already taken your tree back pretty far, you could use this membership level to add the details of cousin matches to your Ancestry or local tree. I.e. to add collateral branches. You would not have the records to document any new people you added as a result of a DNA match, but if your match had those records in their tree, you could be pretty confident. And you could go back and add the records if you re-subscribed to US, World, or All Access membership in the future.

    Meanwhile many public libraries in the US have Ancestry subscriptions, and most allow you to log-in from home using your library card. Having your own subscription if obviously the most convenient way to conduct research, but if you budget your time and focus your efforts, you can save a lot over the cost of a continuing $20/month or more subscription.

  5. Lynn Adams says:

    Now that I can get a discount for Ancestry I’d like to re-subscribe and Ive tried calling and e-mailing to find out about the senior rate, and I’ve gotten no where. Not a happy camper. So now I’m with MyHeritage, but not getting very many matches, at least not quality ones, as not as many people use MH as use Ancestry.

  6. Kathy Dudley says:

    I had a 2nd cousin who I met thru ancestry and eventually we met up in person to do research on site together. We both have trees on ancestry. However she passed away. Her tree is still there. She had given me guest editor status but not sure if I can copy and do those things you mentioned to it. I am afraid of disturbing her work!

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