Ancestry.com: Money grows on family trees

The site has just been sold for £1bn. Simon Usborne charts its founders’ histories, and how they made a mint out of your Great Auntie Mabel

For the newest members of the dot-com millionaires club, money grows on family trees.

The men, many of whom are Mormons, have cashed in after their genealogy service agreed to a £1bn buyout led by UK investors excited by a global roots-finding trend boosted by, among other celebrities, Gwyneth Paltrow.

To recap – because this isn’t your average city deal – Hollywood has helped inspire London suits to spend a cool billion on a company founded in the back of a car in Utah by Mormons. Who are they, and how did they strike gold?

Paul Allen (not the Microsoft guy) and Dan Taggart were graduates of the Mormon Brigham Young University in Utah, who, in 1990, founded Infobases, church publications on floppy discs, from the back of a car. By 1997, its parent company bought Ancestry magazine, a genealogy newsletter. It soon went online and exploded in popularity in and far beyond the church.

Ancestry.co.uk opened in 2002, offering subscribers access to archives, census records and tree-building software. Interest boomed further from 2004 with the start of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? series, in which J K Rowling and Jeremy Paxman traced their roots.

The company now has more than two million subscribers worldwide paying up to £19 a month in the UK, where it also sponsors genealogy events. The US version of the BBC show, which ran for three series on NBC and included Paltrow,  helped boost subscribers by 40 per cent.

Allen is still involved, while Taggart remains on the board. They stand to make millions after the buyout on Monday by UK private equity firm, Permira, as will chief executive, Tim Sullivan, and finance boss, Howard Hochhauser.

Since the days of libraries and dusty archives, the web has transformed our desire to unearth our past, while the accessibility of DNA technology allows subscribers to go beyond Great Aunty Mildred to the origins of man.

Ancestry.com now has 850 employees, with global revenues of £300m. But the site’s own corporate history makes no mention of its roots in Mormonism, for which family history is a central part of faith. Moreover, its rise is separate from that of FamilySearch, the church’s own site, which claims to be the largest of its kind.

All involved should take heed of past failures before they pick from the money tree. In 2009, Ancestry.com nearly bought Friends Reunited, the former web giant bought in 2005 by ITV for £175m thanks in part to the strength of its Genes Reunited branch. Four years later, ITV sold the site for £25m – not that Allen and co. will be  picking over that huge loss right now.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Guru Careers: PR Account Manager / AM

£20-30K(DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a PR Account M...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Account Executive

Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: One of the UK’s largest and most s...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence