and the evolving nature of historical information companies

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This study of the genealogy and biotech company Ancestry analyses the ways in which the organisation has evolved over the past few years. Ancestry is difficult to categorise as a corporate entity. The company trades in servicing both ‘traditional’ types of history (genealogical records) and, more recently, biotech-based investigation through the use of DNA sequencing. Ancestry is highly influential in the way that millions of people around the world access the past. Given this, the company’s shifts in focus are of great interest. Through considering various new elements of the way that Ancestry functions, and illustrating that this complexity is foundational to its purpose, the article suggests the company is redefining what a public historian or public historical institution might be, adding a scientific dimension to historical data and also acting to present a particular model of the past through its advertising campaigns. The article suggests that public history’s models for considering such protean organisations are in need of attention, and the complexity of such a company demonstrates new challenges and opportunities for scholars in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-28
JournalThe Public Historian
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • DNA; genealogy; family history; corporation; popular history


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