Once you’ve created a tree at Ancestry, you can download or export that tree to upload it elsewhere, or for safekeeping at home.
Be aware that while the tree itself is downloaded, any documents you have attached through Ancestry are NOT downloaded along with the tree. To do that, you’ll need to sync your tree through RootsMagic or Family Tree Maker software on your home computer. That’s not the focus of this article.
This article provides step-by-step instructions on how to make a downloaded copy of your actual tree called a GEDCOM file. All vendors understand the GEDCOM file exchange format for family trees.
Uploading your tree elsewhere allows you to save time and enhances your experience at other vendors, such as Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch – all three of whom utilize your DNA test in addition to your tree in order to provide you with advanced tools and enhanced results.
These three vendors all use and provide segment information, in addition to trees, and matching is free if you transfer a DNA file. Transferring a DNA file and downloading a tree are two separate things.
To use DNA plus trees, there are two steps and I’ll cover both. First, let’s look at the benefits and the differences between those three vendors so you know what to expect.
Here’s a quick and very basic summary of the features and functions of each of the three companies that accept both GEDCOM and DNA file uploads and provide tree+DNA combination features.
|Upload DNA File||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Advanced Features||$19 one-time unlock||$29 one-time unlock||$10 monthly subscription for Tier 1|
|Upload GEDCOM file*||Yes||Yes**||Yes|
|Features Using GEDCOM File||Phased Family Matching||Theories of Family Relativity, Smart Matches, searches||Comparison with matches’ trees|
|Genealogy Records Subscription Available||No||Yes||No|
|DNA Testing in House||Yes||Yes||No, upload only|
|Unique Features||Assigning matches maternally and paternally, Y and mtDNA tests, archives your DNA||Theories of Family Relativity, genealogical records, photo enhancement||Ability to view your matches’ matches, advanced DNA tools|
*There may be GEDCOM file size restrictions at some vendors.
**MyHeritage restricts free trees to 250 individuals, but you can add a records subscription to be able to work with a larger tree. You can read more, here. You can try a free subscription, here. I believe you can upload any size GEDCOM file without a subscription, but advanced functions such as record matches are restricted.
Unlike at the other vendors who focus exclusively on DNA, MyHeritage provides the resources to build and add branches to your tree, hence the restriction on how much is provided for free.
Both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA also do their own DNA testing, so you don’t need to test at Ancestry. I wrote about testing and transfer strategies, here.
Regardless of where you test, you can download your tree from Ancestry and upload it to other sites.
I initially started out with only my direct ancestors in my tree, but you’ll want to include their children, minimally, in order to assist the vendors with tree comparisons, assuring that a person in two different trees is actually the same person, not just someone with the same or a similar name.
Downloading Your Ancestry Tree
After signing on to Ancestry, you’ll see the following at the upper left:
Click on “Trees.”
You’ll see a list of all the trees you’ve created or that have been shared with you.
Click on the tree you want to download.
Next, you’ll see your tree displayed. Click on the down arrow to display options and click on “Tree Settings.”
You’ll see your tree settings, above. We’re focused ONLY on the area in the red box.
Downloading does NOT delete your tree. That is a different option.
Let’s look at a closeup of this section.
Do NOT Delete Your Tree
Delete means “throw away” permanently – you cannot retrieve the tree. Export means to make a copy, leaving the original intact on Ancestry.
Let’s look closer.
People see the warning at the bottom, in the Delete tree section and they don’t realize that’s NOT referring to Export Tree.
See those little red arrows, above? They’re all pointing to minuscule tiny grey dividing lines between the Hint Preferences Section, the Manage Your Tree export function and the Delete your tree function.
The warning pertains to deleting your tree, not “Export tree.”
DO NOT DELETE YOUR TREE!!!
If you accidentally click on “Delete your tree,” you do get a confirmation step, shown below.
If you want to export or copy your tree for use elsewhere, do NOT press delete.
Download/Export Your Tree
To download your tree, click on the green Export tree button.
Export means to download a COPY of your tree, leaving the original on Ancestry.
Next, you’ll receive an “in process” message while your GEDCOM file is being created.
After you click on “Export tree,” you’ll receive this message.
When finished, you’ll be able to click on “download tips” if you wish, then click on the green “Download your GEDCOM file.”
Save this file on your computer.
Uploading Your GEDCOM Elsewhere
Next, it’s time to upload your GEDCOM file to our three vendors. Please note that if you have previously uploaded a GEDCOM file to these vendors, you can replace that GEDCOM file, but that’s not always in your best interest.
We’ll look at GEDCOM replacement strategies and ramifications in each vendor’s section.
You’ll need to have an account set up with each vendor first.
Uploading to Family Tree DNA
At FamilyTreeDNA, the way to set up an account is to either order a DNA test, here, or transfer your autosomal DNA file from either 23andMe, Ancestry, or MyHeritage.
Transferring your DNA to FamilyTreeDNA
Transfer instructions for DNA from or to Family Tree DNA are found in the article, Family Tree DNA Step by Step Guide: How to Upload-Download DNA Files.
After you set up an account at Family Tree DNA, you can then upload your GEDCOM file.
Uploading Your GEDCOM File to FamilyTreeDNA
You can upload any GEDCOM file to FamilyTreeDNA.
Sign on to your account, then click on “myTREE” on the upper toolbar.
Click on “Tree Mgmt” at upper right.
Next, you’ll see the “GEDCOM UPLOAD” beneath.
You can only upload one tree to Family Tree DNA. When you upload a new GEDCOM file, your current tree is deleted at the beginning of the process.
FamilyTreeDNA GEDCOM Replacement Strategy
You can replace a GEDCOM file with a newer, better one at FamilyTreeDNA, however, doing so means that any people you match who you’ve linked to their profiles in your original tree will need to be relinked.
Phased Family Matching where your matches are bucketed to maternal, paternal or both sides are created based on matches to people you’ve attached to their proper places in your tree.
If you have few or no matches attached to their profiles in your tree, then relinking won’t be a problem. If, like me, you’re taking full advantage of the ability to connect matches on your tree in order for your matches to be assigned maternally or paternally, then replacing your GEDCOM file would constitute a significant investment of time relinking.
The best plan for FamilyTreeDNA is to upload a robust tree initially with lines extended to current so that you can attach testers easily to their proper place in the tree.
If you didn’t do this initially, you’ll need to add the line to the tester from your common ancestor as you identify matches with common ancestors.
Uploading to MyHeritage
At MyHeritage, you can begin by ordering a DNA test, here, or transferring a DNA file from another vendor, here. You can also sign up to try a free genealogy subscription, here. From any of these three links, you’ll be prompted to set up an account.
Transferring Your DNA to MyHeritage
Instructions for transferring your DNA to MyHeritage can be found in the article, MyHeritage Step by Step Guide: How to Upload-Download DNA Files.
Uploading your GEDCOM File to MyHeritage
You can upload a GEDCOM file from any source to MyHeritage. After signing in to your account, you’ll see “Family tree” in the top task bar.
Click on Family tree and you’ll see “Import GEDCOM.”
At MyHeritage you can have multiple GEDCOMs uploaded, but you’ll only be able to link your DNA test to your primary tree from which Theories of Family Relativity for you are generated.
MyHeritage GEDCOM Replacement Strategy
I have a full subscription to MyHeritage which allows an unlimited number in people of an unlimited number of trees. Smart Matches and other hints are generated for every person in every tree unless I disable that feature.
If I were to replace my primary GEDCOM file that is linked to my own DNA test, I would lose all of my Theories of Family Relativity which are only generated every few months. The next time Theories are run, I would receive new ones, but not before then.
Replacing an existing GEDCOM file at MyHeritage also means that you’ll lose links to any attached documents or photos that you’ve associated with that tree, additions of changed you’ve made, as well as Smart Matches to other people’s trees. You can, however, sync with MyHeritage’s own free desktop tree builder software.
Initially, a few years ago, I uploaded an ancestors-only tree to MyHeritage reaching back a few generations. Now I wish I had uploaded my entire GEDCOM file. I didn’t because I have unproven people and relationships in my computer file and I didn’t want to mislead anyone. However, Theories of Family Relativity uses descendants of your ancestors to connect across lines to other people. Having descendants of my ancestors in that tree wasn’t important at MyHeritage then, before that feature was introduced, but it is now.
Today, I’ve minimally added children and grandchildren of my ancestors, by hand. I use MyHeritage records and searches extensively, and I’d lose thousands of links if I replaced my primary GEDCOM file. Besides, when I review each person I add in the tree, it provides the opportunity of reviewing their information for accuracy and searching for new documents. I’ve discovered amazing things by using this one-at-a-time method for adding my ancestors’ children and descendants – including new information that led to a new ancestor just last week.
Uploading to GEDMatch
You’ll begin by setting up a free account at GEDmatch.
GEDmatch isn’t a DNA testing site or a genealogy records site. It’s a DNA tools site that provides tools not found elsewhere. Sometimes matches found at Ancestry will download to GEDmatch but not elsewhere. Ancestry does not provide genealogically valuable segment information.
GEDmatch not only provides segment information and triangulation, as do FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, but they also provide the ability for you to view the matches of your matches. This open-source approach is one of GEDmatch’s founding principles.
Uploading Your DNA to GEDmatch
After you sign in to GEDmatch, you’ll need to upload your DNA file from one of the vendors to GEDmatch. I strongly recommend using DNA files from the standard vendors, such as Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage or even LivingDNA. Other vendors use different chips or test different DNA locations and matching is sometimes less reliable.
After signing on to Gedmatch, you’ll see “Upload your DNA files.” Click on the link there for further prompts.
After uploading your DNA file, you’ll want to upload your GEDCOM file so that your matches can see if you have a common ancestor in your trees.
Upload Your GEDCOM file to GEDmatch
Scrolling down the sidebar below the “Upload Your DNA” section, past the various applications, you’ll see the Family Trees section.
You’ll see the GEDCOM upload section, as well as various comparison tools. Click on “Upload GEDCOM (Fast)” to begin.
GEDmatch GEDCOM Replacement Strategy
You can replace your GEDCOM file at GEDmatch at will. Since all information at GEDmatch is generated real-time, meaning when the request is submitted, nothing is “saved” nor pre-generated, so you won’t lose anything by replacing a GEDCOM file, at least not as of this writing.
However, you’ll need to delete your current GEDCOM file first. You can do that by scrolling to the bottom of your User Profile area where your kit number is listed. (Mine is obscured, below.) You’ll see your GEDCOM file information.
Click to manage resources, including deleting a GEDCOM file.
Currently, at GEDmatch, my direct line ancestral tree is sufficient.
Regardless of where you maintain your primary family tree, download or export it as a GEDCOM file and upload it elsewhere. You’re only cheating yourself (and your matches) if you don’t take advantage of all available tools.
I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.
Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- FamilyTreeDNA – Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testing
- MyHeritage DNA – ancestry autosomal DNA only, not health
- MyHeritage DNA plus Health
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload – transfer your results from other vendors free
- AncestryDNA – autosomal DNA only
- 23andMe Ancestry – autosomal DNA only, no Health
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
Genealogy Products and Services
- MyHeritage FREE Tree Builder – genealogy software for your computer
- MyHeritage Subscription with Free Trial
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars – genealogy and DNA classes, subscription-based, some free
- Legacy Family Tree Software – genealogy software for your computer
- Charting Companion – Charts and Reports to use with your genealogy software or FamilySearch
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – professional genealogy research
Thank you for explaining this. I have had to explain it to others and this is a much better write up. I will be forwarding this to people in the future!
That’s exactly why I wrote this.
I always keep my tree on my computer along with an off site back up. I upload to online sites only what I want to share with that site.
I have been frustrated with Ancestry for many years because they offer no way to update trees with a new gedcom and retain the media. I do all my genealogy on my home computer with Legacy Family Tree and occasionally upload a current gedcom to Ancestry. I have to delete my current tree in Ancestry and then upload a new one (with the same name). Then I have to go through all the links and make sure they are updated too. This is why I don’t put media on my Ancestry tree. It’s a shame because I have some great pictures, obituaries and vital records that others could use. Maybe you have a workaround or some stroke with Ancestry to get them to allow updating via gedcom. Thanks for your wonderful articles!
I use Roots Magic for maintaining my offline work. It has a sync feature which works with Ancestry, that you can turn on and off. When it’s one, it accesses your Ancestry tree and compares it to your offline tree and then show an index side by side for differences, allowing you to update (or not) either one. I really like this feature.
I got an error message saying my computer didn’t have an app. File extension was ged; guess my Windows10 didn’t understand. Worked fine up to that point.
You need to either upload that file or import it into genealogy software that displays trees.
Great article, I wish more people had trees on these sites, it really does help. May I suggest one more site which might or might not be helpful depending on whether someone is researching European ancestry and that would be https://en.geneanet.org/ . Not only can you upload a tree but they also take DNA uploads and have cousin matching; it’s a great resource for European trees.
Thank you Roberta, you answered so many of my questions in this article. Were you reading my mind?
I’m ready to take the big step to input a tree on My Heritage . Have paid the membership for two years, guess it’s time to use it 😁
They have some great articles in their education center about how to use their tools. https://education.myheritage.com/
Thank You 💞
I know this isn’t the focus of your article (which I love btw) but can you tell me if you can also sync through Legacy to keep the documents with the tree from Ancestry? Or does it need to be Rootsmagic or Family Tree Maker? Also, do you have an article about doing this that you can direct me to?
Unfortunately, Ancestry does not allow Legacy. I would need to google for an article.
Thanks for the great article, Roberta! I already have a GEDcom at GEDmatch but for some reason, it’s not linking it to my DNA. Think I’ll just upload a newer one. I want to make sure to keep living people (including myself) private in the GEDcom. I can’t remember if I have to do that before it uploads to GEDmatch or if they privatize living on their end.
They privatize it on their end.
Roberta, I was just in the process of uploading a new GEDcom to GEDmatch and saw this notice. “If you wish, you may privatize living individuals prior to uploading your file.” So, if I’m uploading directly from Ancestry, what do I need to do?
I believe they privatize.
I’m checking with GedMatch to confirm.
I just looked again and it says you can privatize it. So I’m not positive. I will ask.
Is there a size limit on the tree that you can upload to gedmatch ? max number of people in the tree ?
I don’t know.
I do know their servers are overloaded right now.
Every thing I needed to do to replace my gedcom on FTDNA seems to be working perfectly. In fact, it has been uploading over 10 hours at this point. I have gigabit broadband and my modem and router are upgraded to the latest ISO standard. It only took a few seconds to create the gedcom from the FTM tree. Is this upload time unusual?
They are having issues. I would suggest calling support.
Thanks Roberta! BTW, Just ran across your study on Charles Campbell! Wow! A lot of work in there!
He’s so frustrating for me.