Ancient DNA analyses of historical, archaeological and paleontological remains can contribute important information for the conservation of populations and species that cannot be obtained any other way. In addition to ancient DNA analyses involving a single or few individuals, population level studies are now possible. Biases inherent in estimating population parameters and history from modern genetic diversity are exaggerated when populations are small or have been heavily impacted by recent events, as is common for many endangered species. Going directly back in time to study past populations removes many of the assumptions that undermine conclusions based only on recent populations. Accurate characterization of historic population size, levels of gene flow and relationships with other populations are fundamental to developing appropriate conservation and management plans. The incorporation of ancient DNA into conservation genetics holds a lot of potential, if it is employed responsibly.