Genealogy Tree Replacement – Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Eventually, every serious genealogist faces the question of tree replacement at vendors – whether they should do it at all, and if so, how to proceed safely.

I’ve started to write this article a couple of times now, but I hesitate to publish articles when I haven’t tried all the different scenarios.

In this case, I haven’t, but I’m sharing what I DO know and why I’ve made the choice I have so that you can do your own research on the rest. Keep in mind that software changes from time to time, so information that you find online about this topic may be stale and it’s always best to confirm with the vendor in question before making a major change.

I use RootsMagic on my computer for my master tree, but I also have trees at Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA so that I can derive the maximum benefit from those DNA/research platforms. This, of course, leads to the challenge of keeping multiple trees up to date – and the inevitable question of replacing trees.

Why Might You Want to Replace a Tree?

Let’s say you uploaded a tree from your genealogy software on your computer years ago to the various sites and now you’ve made a lot of changes.

Or, let’s say you didn’t want to upload your entire tree originally, so you created an abbreviated tree at the various sites.

Initially, that’s what I did, creating a direct line ancestors-only tree to upload. I had incorporated lots of non-documented information into my tree on my computer over the past many decades and I certainly didn’t want to share information online without verifying. I don’t want to be “THAT” person who spreads bad information, even unintentionally.

Now, let’s say you’ve continued your research and you want to share more than the original tree you uploaded or created at a vendor. You don’t want to update individual trees in 3 or 4 places though.

Or, let’s say that while you originally included an ancestors-only tree, now you want to add children and extend to current so that ThruLines at Ancestry, Theories of Family Relativity at MyHeritage and Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA can work more effectively. I uploaded my original “ancestors only” trees before those products were introduced.

What are the effects of deleting an existing tree and uploading a new tree at the various vendors? Should you or shouldn’t you?

Deleting Trees – BAD IDEA

First, if you ARE going to replace your tree, DON’T delete your existing tree first.

Deleting a tree breaks all of the links you’ve established – both to records, connected DNA kits, and some DNA tools. Any notes or groupings will be gone as well. Let’s look at each vendor individually.

Please keep in mind that there may be additional issues that I’m not aware of because I have not personally deleted my primary tree at any vendor.

Ancestry – If you delete an existing tree, your ThruLines will be gone and will likely regenerate differently with a new tree. Of course, that may be part of why you want to upload a new tree. Any documents you’ve saved to people in your existing tree will be gone and the links to those documents as well.

You can, of course, download the documents to your computer one by one. Downloading your tree does NOT download associated documents from Ancestry. Conversely, uploading trees doesn’t either, no matter where you upload it.

You can sync some desktop genealogy software applications with Ancestry. Both RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker synchronize your tree on your desktop with your Ancestry tree. Some software is better suited in synchronizing “both directions” than others. Syncing issues in user groups are quite prevalent.

Warning: I do not sync. If you’re going to try syncing between the two sources, I would recommend experimenting on a tree that is NOT your primary tree either at Ancestry or on your desktop, and reading extensively before attempting. Check user groups for the software in question to see what issues are being encountered. Also, be sure you have a current backup and check that synchronizing worked correctly before proceeding further.

If you delete your tree at Ancestry and upload a new tree, you will need to reconnect your DNA test or tests that you manage under the DNA tab, then the settings gear at right.

You’ll then need to redo any work such as TreeTags, notes, comments or saving records that you’ve already performed.

In essence, you’re uploading a blank slate.

MyHeritage – If you delete an existing tree, your Theories of Family Relativity. any Smart Matches, notes or records will be deleted along with any photos that you’ve linked. Furthermore, your DNA kits associated with people in your tree will lose their names when they become disconnected.

MyHeritage provides free software called Family Tree Builder for your desktop that does synchronize your tree with MyHeritage, including records.

MyHeritage has also collaborated with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) to import a portion of their tree from FamilySearch into MyHeritage, and keep the trees synchronized.

Caveat: I have not used the Family Tree Builder software or the LDS sync feature.

If you delete your tree and upload a new tree, you’ll need to reconnect your DNA and that of any kits you manage to your tree. In order NOT to lose the names on your kits, do that in reverse order, meaning upload the new tree, reassign the DNA kit to the proper person on the new tree before deleting the old tree.  Beware of same name people when making this assignment.

You can reassign kits under the DNA tab, “Manage DNA kits,” then the three dots at right of the kit you want to reassign.

MyHeritage runs the Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) algorithm periodically, every few months. You won’t get new TOFR until they run the software again. If you delete your tree, be prepared to wait on TOFR and redo everything you’ve currently done to anyone in your tree.

Just like with Ancestry, you’re uploading a blank slate.

Family Tree DNA – If you delete your tree, links to any DNA tests that you have connected to the appropriate people in your tree will be broken. Assigning family members to their proper place in your tree is required for Family Matching to function.

Family Matching utilizes the DNA of relatives you’ve linked in your tree by comparing in common segment matches between you, them, and other people to identify shared matches as maternal or paternal.

If you delete your tree and upload a new tree, you will need to reconnect your family members under the myTree tab at the top of your page. You can connect matches for the Family Finder autosomal test, Y DNA, and mitochondrial – whichever tests you’ve taken. If you only have a few matches that you’ve linked, relinking is no problem. If you have a lot, it’s more time-consuming.

Beware: Uploading very large trees is problematic due to file size and/or bandwidth. Call support before attempting.

My recommendation would be to include direct line ancestors, their spouses, descendants of those ancestors with spouses, but not unrelated (to you) spouses trees. In other words, your sister-in-law’s family isn’t relevant to your genetic genealogy.

23andMe – 23andMe does not support trees in the traditional sense, so uploading is not possible. You can, however, link to a current public tree that you’ve created elsewhere which can be viewed by your matches. To enter a tree link, look under the settings option (gear), then under “Edit enhanced profile.”

click to enlarge

When providing a link, be sure the tree you link to is public, not private.


At both Ancestry and MyHeritage, which are the two vendors who offer genealogical records and the ability to save records to people in your tree, you can upload multiple trees to the same account, presuming you have a current subscription.

If you don’t have the option to sync through your desktop software, or aren’t comfortable doing so, you can upload a more robust tree, but keep in mind that any records you save to the new tree will be lost if you delete that one in the future too.

If you’re going to upload a new tree, upload the new tree BEFORE deleting the old tree.

Connect any records person by person before deleting the old tree. That way, you don’t have to search for those records all over again.

I would let the old tree sit idle for some time so that you know you’ve retrieved everything. There’s no rush to delete the old tree.

Of course, a third methodology is to maintain multiple trees. That’s actually what I do. Here’s why.

My Methodology

I use the third alternative that certainly isn’t ideal, but I maintain four separate trees. I hear you cringing, but it really isn’t as awful as it sounds – and it’s infinitely better than redoing everything because I’m an active researcher and have thousands of connected records.

  • One tree lives on my computer where I update information and add new people, including speculative – although they are clearly noted as such. I also include massive notes – in some cases much longer than notes fields at vendors typically allow. I download documents to a folder on my computer with that person’s name from all subscription sites. I also write my 52 Ancestor’s articles using documentation from all sites that I compile in one place on my system. I also back up my system religiously, meaning every night, automatically.
  • One tree lives at Ancestry where I add links to my 52 Ancestor stories, save documents found at Ancestry and extend lines as I work on them. I don’t add extensive side branches. I have included all of my direct ancestors for at least 10 generations, or as far back as I can document, along with their children and grandchildren to enable Thrulines and green leaf hints.
  • One tree lives at MyHeritage where I upload and link many photos because I can easily enhance and colorize them and see my ancestors more clearly. I link ancestors in my tree to my published ancestor stories, save documents and use the same approach with the MyHeritage tree that I do with Ancestry, including extending families for my ancestors to enable the formation of Theories of Family Relatively. I methodically work all of my DNA matches and AutoClusters, recording my findings in comments.
  • One tree lives at Family Tree DNA where I include all of my direct line ancestors to about 10 generations. I extend each ancestral branch to include each DNA match as I identify our common ancestor and how my match fits into my tree. At Family Tree DNA, linking each match to the proper place in their tree enables additional people to be assigned as maternal or paternal which is their methodology of triangulation.

Summary – To Replace or Not to Replace?

Yes, I’m painfully aware that maintaining 4 trees is a pain in the patoot, but each vendor, except for 23andMe of course, provides important features that are sacrificed with the deletion and replacement of trees. The more you take advantage of the vendor’s features, the more difficult it is to redo your work.

The only tree I would consider replacing would be the one at Family Tree DNA because there are no genealogy records attached. Genealogy research records are not a business they’re in.

The only useful portion at FamilyTreeDNA is the ancestral line and the branches that descend to other testers and I simply add those branches manually as needed.

Having said that, I would never replace any tree, anyplace, with my “master tree” that lives on my computer system.

If you are considering replacing your tree, particularly at either Ancestry or MyHeritage, I strongly suggest that you contact support at the vendor in question to discuss the ramifications BEFORE you take that step.

Once done, there is no “undo” button, so be sure that you really want to make that decision and proceed in well-thought-out, measured, “no regret” steps.



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22 thoughts on “Genealogy Tree Replacement – Should I or Shouldn’t I?

  1. Brilliant article as usual, Roberta. I have trees on all of the sites except FindMyPast, which would be just too much trouble. I have used the nuclear option several times. I never attach records to any but my Ancestry tree for this reason. I just download any records I find. I also have a lot of cousin lines and in-laws in my trees, which I believe has helped me a lot in finding out where my genetic matches fit in my family. My only problem with this approach is that my father’s family is from the west coast of Ireland, and highly endogamous. I have a cousin in Ireland who is much more aware of the cousins who live there, and I realize that it probably makes her nuts when I replace my trees because she needs to confirm everything again. I just can’t imagine having to add relatives, which in my large Irish families, can come in at lightning speed, to all of the different trees in turn. My trees are very large, and getting larger all of the time. I don’t think there’s a good answer to this dilemma, but your article has given me much food for thought. Don’t you find it helpful to have cousins in your trees? If not, why not? Thanks! Diane

    • I do extend the lines from the ancestors at least a few generations. The goal being to allow the tools to work. I don’t extend the non- related wives meaning the wives of my ancestors siblings, for example. I generally add lines to known close cousins. At FTDNA I add lines to all cousins because they use the segment info to assign sides. When you say you find it helpful to have cousins in your tree, do you mean close cousins or distant cousins. If distant cousins, how does it help you to have them in your tree at Ancestry or MyHeritage, given that you don’t need all the way down to them for TOFR and ThruLines to work? Thanks.

      • I have very few TOFR and thru lines because I have all fairly recent roots in Europe. Unfortunately, it appears that I have better trees than maybe all of my cousins. Putting more distant cousins in my trees tends to help with obituary hints and other hints, which has been a huge help in identifying my cousin matches. I have had very limited luck, as have many others, in reaching out to my matches. They simply don’t answer me.

        At this point, to go back further in my family I am stuck in Europe. I am 3/4 Irish, and am mostly stuck in the early 1800s in Ireland, with scant records. I’m also stuck in the mid-1800s in Alsace Lorraine and Western Germany on one line, with no apparent cousin matches, and few published records. On my other German line, we’re back centuries. By the way, the German ancestry is my mother’s maternal line. Ancestry DNA had originally categorized it as Northwestern Europe. Now, of course, we’re Scottish. Not buying a kilt, because it’s absurd.

        So to sum up, new records dribble in, and genetic genealogy is my best bet – identifying those cousins! It helps pull in hints, stories and even great pictures! I struggle as to how far to go with “in-laws” in my tree. While on the one hand, they’re not part of my genetic family, knowing about them helps flesh out family stories, and leads to new obituary and other hints which DO refer to actual cousins. It helps me to answer those questions rolling around in my head, such as, “Who were those people we visited in Jackson Heights, NY when I was 5 years old.” Unfortunately, at my age of 60, there are very few living people who can answer them any more.

        I am a highly motivated, inspired and enthusiastic genealogist, albeit untrained, unorthodox and disorganized!

        I subscribe to a number of genealogy blogs. Yours is the best!!! I read every word of each post. I am in awe of your ability to work so hard, and how you are a scientist, a great communicator, an artist, and an all-around compassionate and great human being. You have helped me more than anyone in this journey I’m on. Thanks!!!!!! Diane

        • Oh Diane. Thank you so much.

          Your comments about cousins make a lot of sense now. I put closer cousins in my tree too.

          We visited someone when I was quite young and I wish I could figure out who they were. I just remember being told we were related to them.

  2. An interesting dilemma, isn’t it? I’ve done things differently.

    1) I have a master tree in RootsMagic that now has about 60,000 profiles – ancestral families of mine, my wife’s and my sons-in-law; plus one name studies for Seaver/Sever/Sevier, Carringer, Auble, and Vaux; plus descendants of several other ancestral surnames; plus descendants of my 4th great-grandparents.

    2) I TreeShare my Ancestry tree (connected to my DNA) with RootsMagic every week – and try to prevent Ancestry record images (poorly named) and sources (poorly crafted) from coming into RootsMagic. So my Ancestry tree is always up-to-date and immediately creates Hints for new or changed profiles.

    3) I upload a new GEDCOM to MyHeritage every year but save the previous file and delete earlier files. I change the DNA links, but messed up last time because I missed the ToFR. I use the Record Matches by source, but don’t accept many.

    4) I have a ancestors only tree at FamilyTreeDNA which rarely provides any useful matches.

    5) I upload a new GEDCOM to Findmypast every once in awhile.

    6) I match profiles in FamilySearch Family Tree with profiles in my RootsMagic tree, or create new FamilySearch Family Tree profiles from RootsMagic profiles, and share information both ways, including sources and notes.

    I can see a blog post coming from this on Genea-Musings!! Thanks!

    • I think the new record hints at Ancestry us a benefit I probably overlooked. At FTDNA, the benefits to adding cousins who’ve tested and you match is in the assignment of other people to maternal or paternal. I only add cousins there who I match, but I do add and link those. I’ll enjoy your article.

  3. I ran this by Ancestry and here is the experts reply: Directly Expert: Ingrid K. – You will need to upload your Legacy tree via gedcom and that will create a new tree. Below is a link that has instructions that will step you through how to upload a gedcom file to Ancestry. Uploading and Downloading Trees: You will want to wait about 24 hours after you unlink your DNA with your old tree and make sure all the hints and ThruLines are zeroed out before you link your DNA to your new tree. It can take up to 48 hours for your hints and ThruLines to fully populate with your new tree. If you don’t delete your old tree, you will receive hints from that tree. Below is a link that gives step by step instruction with photos on how to link your DNA to your Ancestry tree. Linking DNA to a Tree: Let me know if you have other questions. Ingrid

    • What she didn’t mention is that you’ll lose any linked documents and you’ll need to redo that. Thanks for the links.

  4. I’m new to your list and this is the first time I have respond. AND I’m the first one to “like” this post… because I really like it. The issue for me isn’t deleting or replacing but rather knowing where my best work is, making it better and preserving it. Mine is in the context of a One-Name (Surname) Study. Besides my personal tree, I have more than 120 project trees. I have a system. It isn’t perfect or even great, but it is the best I’ve figured out how to manage it all. I would love to offer up my system for feedback and suggestion.

    That’s going to require some thought, and I’m not sure entering it in this “Leave a Reply” box is the way to go. Would it be acceptible to put it in a Word document and send it for whatever use you see fit?

  5. You’ve described me exactly. I thought I was the only one in the world who did that kind of ‘treeing’. What do you do, though, when MyHeritage, for instance, offers a possible match to your tree? You say to yourself from the description that, Seems right to me.” and accept the match. Then you can no longer consider it your true tree and vouch to others for its quality as you originally meant. Small price to pay, I think, for the added but maybe not perfect information.

    • I’m not sure I understand the Match question. If you confirm a match, you don’t have to bring any info over.

  6. Hi Roberta
    Do you keep both trees on each site or do you delete the original once you have added the info from the original to the new upload. Can you link yourself to two trees – dont think you can on Ancestry but not sure about MyHeritage.
    Excellent article

    • Not that I know of. I have never replaced a tree personally. I would only leave the second tree long enough to be sure I had relinked the documents, etc, and make it private.

  7. Roberta, As always, thanks for the post. It is more topical than usual. My main tree with all the sources and links and pictures is on Ancestry. This summer I finally uploaded a copy of the tree to MyHeritage. It was basically the same tree, though at the sane time I merged in another one that I have kept separate on Ancestry. Since then, though, my wife’s side of the tree has exploded. I literally have added more than 4000 Polish “ancestors” (blood relatives and a whole lot of siblings and in-laws). I want to replace the tree on MyHeritage, especially because there were some mistakes in that tree. I haven’t really done anything to the tree there beyond uploading the original gedcom. Should I not just delete it and replace it with the new one? I can see uploading the new one before removing the old one, but won’t it be more confusing to keep multiple overlapping trees alive on one site?

    By the way, have you ever discussed how to properly merge two trees so that you don’t have to attach all the documents again? I know it is possible on the desktop apps, but those are often a pain to use.


    • I would suggest calling MyHeritage. They can actually look at your tree. I would think a lot would depend on linked documents and TOFR, but everyone’s usage is different.

  8. Thanks for this article, it is very helpful. I have been thinking about what to do with my trees for some time. I was very happy with my trees on Ancestry for several years until my family and I did the DNA testing and had to associate one tree with each person. Prior to that I had 4 trees – a maternal tree and a paternal tree for my husband, and for me. So I manually created a composite tree for each of us. Then my sons tested and I needed to create another composite tree that included both their paternal and maternal sides. I did not put as much detail into the composite trees. Maybe I should have/could have done it some other way than manually.
    As for MyHeritage, my tree is a mess. When I first got European matches I went ahead and accepted their tree members into mine. I thought since the people were European they would have sound information about all my European ancestors. It quickly got out of hand and I ultimately deleted the tree and uploaded another tree. That tree is still a mess and I haven’t found the time/energy to go through and see what’s in it. For some reason I find it kind of hard to look at the information in the tree on the MyHeritage, easier for me on Ancestry.
    So, still much to ponder, but definitely helpful advice from you, thanks.

  9. I’m am somewhere along this path, trying to build a master tree on my desktop with as many folks as I can. And yes I have tree9s at Ancestry and MyHeritage for hints and such. I would love to find a way to extract most recent changes to then pull into the main tree at home. So, yes. I can download periodically gedcoms from those sites, but merging and editing duplicates is an overwhelmingly dumb and difficult process.

  10. Somewhat related, and belated question: I was asked by a cousin whether if she ceases her subscription to Ancestry, does her tree remain for her to add to or change, or even view, or is she simply cut off from accessing it? I would think that to log in one would need a subscription. Thanks Roberta. I know it wouldn’t at FTDNA as they have no periodic subscription requirement – yet.

    • I know the tree remains. What I don’t know is about access restrictions. I would suggest contacting support.

      • Thanks Roberta, I hesitated contacting Ancestry Support but did so as you advised. This is what their “virtual assistant” stated,

        “Once your subscription is canceled, you’ll still have an account with Ancestry as a registered guest.
        As a registered guest of Ancestry, you will still have access to any family trees you have created, to a selection of free databases, and to the Support Center. You will also retain the same username and password.
        For more information about using your free Ancestry account, refer to the following Support article:”

        Now whether in the future Ancestry changes this practice of “free” accounts is a different matter.

  11. 23andMe does now have a tree, but it is one that is generated from DNA matches on the site, not by uploading a gedcom. I have actually found it quite useful at times, since I have enough known cousins who’ve tested at 23andMe. You can add both matches and relatives who are not on 23andMe to the tree, make corrections, and so on. It’s a bit more free-form than the trees at other sites.

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