Ancestry gives you the ability to download your Ancestry family tree to a GEDCOM file on your local computer. Not sure what a GEDCOM file is and what you can do with it? Are you aware that some photos and documents in your tree will not be exported? We’ll cover all that after this quick list of the steps to download your Ancestry tree.
Steps to download your Ancestry tree to GEDCOM file
- Open the Tree Settings page
- Click on the “Export tree” button in the bottom right of the page
- Wait for the Download button to appear
- Click the “Download your GEDCom file” button
- Find the file in the Downloads folder on your local computer
An illustrated guide to exporting your Ancestry tree
Here is a pictorial sequence of these actions.
When you are working within a tree, you navigate to the Tree Settings page by using the drop-down menu under the tree name.
This takes you to the Tree Info tab, which has exactly what you need.
Look to the bottom right of the page under the “Manage your tree” section, and you will see the “Export tree” green button:
The export may take some time, depending on the size of your tree. You will see a spinning wheel, and an indication of progress.
You can navigate away from this page and do other actions if you like. The file will continue generating on the Ancestry servers. Once the file has finished processing, you will see a Download button in the same place.
On a Windows computer, this button will download the GEDCOM file to C:\Users\[user name]\Downloads. It changes from version to version of the Mac, but a quick internet search will get you the location.
The file will have the name of the family tree, but with a file extension of “.ged”.
Would you like a video walkthrough on exporting Ancestry trees to GEDCOM?
So, what is a GEDCOM file anyway?
GEDCOM is a standard file format for the storage and transfer of family trees. This means that other genealogical websites and software can import the file if they recognize this standard.
The standard was developed by the LDS Church and has been around for over twenty years. So most genealogical software should be able to use GEDCOM files.
A GEDCOM file is a text file. If you open it in notepad, you’ll see a human-readable list of tree entries with tags to denote vital events such as birth and death details. Here is an example:
1 NAME Peter /Ryan/
1 SEX M
2 DATE 5 Mar 1930
2 PLAC Upland, San Bernardino, California, USA
2 DATE 10 Apr 1973
2 PLAC San Diego, San Diego, California, USA
Does a GEDCOM file include attached records and photos?
The fact that it’s a text file means that the information that can be stored in a GEDCOM file is limited. No photographs, no images of records. Does that mean you lose all your sources? No.
Have a look at this line I’ve grabbed from an Ancestry exported GEDCOM file. This is recording that the tree profile has an attached 1920 California census record.
3 PAGE Year: 1920; Census Place: Oakdale, Stanislaus, California; Roll: T625_151; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 180
And these lines record an attached web obituary record:, complete with the URL that is external to Ancestry.
3 PAGE Publication Date: 03/ 28/ 2012; Publication Place: Modesto, California, USA; Web edition: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/modestobee/obituary.aspx?n=florabelle-lathrop&pid=156735640
Suppose you uploaded this GEDCOM file back into Ancestry as a new tree. You will see these Ancestry records attached to the correct person prfiles.
Uploaded images and documents are not exported
It’s important to be aware that the Ancestry export does not include photos and documents that you uploaded to your tree.
So if you are looking for a complete backup that represents your full Ancestry tree, then you won’t get it with a gedcom file.
Who can export a GEDCOM file from your Ancestry tree?
Only the owner of the tree can export it to a GEDCOM file. Even if you’ve added other people as editors, they will not have access to the export button.
Does exporting a GEDCOM file have any impact on an Ancestry tree?
I’ve seen people ask in forums if exporting to GEDCOM will also delete the tree. Absolutely not. I think the confusion arises because the DELETE link is right under the export section. Don’t get these two actions mixed up!
You can’t undo a tree deletion – which brings me to the next section.
Download your Ancestry tree to GEDCOM as a basic backup strategy
The GEDCOM file provides a limited backup, in that it doesn’t include any of your uploaded media. But it’s still better than having no backup at all. I don’t think Ancestry as a company is going to disappear any time soon, but it’s always good practice to have a copy of your hard work kept outside of an online application.
But what about all those photos and documents that are left behind? Well, there are ways to download those too. If you’re looking for a quick dump of your photos and media, you can try the free chrome extension “Ancestry Media Download” that we review in this video.
Can you export a branch of your Ancestry tree to GEDCOM?
No, you can’t choose a portion or a branch of your tree for export. Ancestry always exports all persons and relationships in your tree.
However, there are genealogical software programs that may be easier to split up trees than using the Ancestry interface. And now you’ve got that GEDCOM file, you can upload it to other software. You can even do your maintenance in separate software, export the reduced tree as a new GEDCOM file, and upload that to Ancestry.
That’s why GEDCOM was created in the first place – to exchange genealogical information between different systems!
Uploading your GEDCOM file to other genealogy websites
I got an email earlier this year from someone who had spotted his relative in my family tree and wanted to exchange knowledge. It took me a few seconds to realize the message was coming from the MyHeritage website, not Ancestry. I had uploaded my Ancestry GEDCOM file into MyHeritage several years ago, but it was quite out of date. It missed some additional branches I’d pursued.
So I exported a new GEDCOM file (following the instructions presented above), and imported this “latest and greatest” version into MyHeritage. And had a great exchange of info with my distant relative. The lesson is to cast your net wide in order to gather more fish!
There are a few gotchas and limits when importing into MyHeritage, depending on your membership level. I’ll go into that in another article. But there are some other free sites where you can load in your family tree.
How to open a GEDCOM file from Ancestry
You can open the file with a text editor. But you will need software to view and work with the standard family tree displays.
All genealogy software should be able to read the GEDCOM file that you have downloaded from Ancestry. Some options include:
- Family Tree Maker (FTM)
- RootsMagic (has a free version)
- Legacy 9 (has a free version)
- Family Historian (has a free trial)
I’ll be reviewing some of these options in future articles, so subscribe to our newsletter to get a weekly notification when the reviews appear.
Looking for an e-book on building your Ancestry tree?
Check out our e-book on building your family tree with Ancestry.com. It’s available on Amazon now! Content includes:
- Setting up your DNA-linked tree
- Using your tree to find connections with DNA matches
- Best practices for entering names, dates, and locations
- Strategies for getting the most benefit from Hints
- Tips for using powerful Search features
We also have a full blog series of articles on using Ancestry. The first chapter will link you to all of the other chapters in the series.