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 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.”
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.
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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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
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – professional genealogy research
- Genealogical.com – lots of wonderful genealogy research books