How To Merge Ancestry Trees With RootsMagic – And Fix the Problems

I’ve been testing the merge of two Ancestry trees with RootsMagic 7. I wanted to be sure it wouldn’t end up in a mess of missing or duplicate entries.

Why would I want to merge family trees on Ancestry? I’ve been working for months on a separate private tree where I wasn’t 100% confident of the relationships. Finally, I’ve found enough good evidence to support each entry.

So, now I’m ready to bring a lot of new people into my main family tree – with Ancestry sources, my photos, and many uploaded documents.

Can You Merge Two Family Trees On does not merge family trees. The “Save to Tree” tool will copy a single entry. Alternatively, RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker have a merge feature.

RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker are both third-party desktop software that can synchronize changes to your Ancestry family trees. They let you download trees from Ancestry and run automated merge features on the local copies. Then you upload or synchronize the merged local tree.

This article looks in-depth at using RootsMagic to do this.

But first, I’ll give a quick rundown of what you need to do if you can only work on the Ancestry website. You have two choices: recreate each entry manually, or use the Save tool to copy an entry from one tree to the other. I’ll give a few tips to speed up this work.

Using Ancestry To Copy People From One Tree To Another

You can re-enter each target person into your second tree with a bit of copy-and-paste. The best way to go about it is to open your trees in separate browser windows – even better if you have two monitors.

Alternatively, the “Save to Tree” tool will save you a bit of time for each person.

The “Save to Tree” tool is available from the drop-down Tools menu on a Tree Profile page. It automates the basic edit screen and will populate names, dates, and places for one individual.

Unfortunately, the tool doesn’t copy Ancestry sources or your uploaded media. You’ll have to recreate these as well.

This may not be as tedious as it seems, particularly if most of your sources are from Ancestry collections. You’ll probably see hints popping up as you enter a few individuals, and hopefully these will match what’s in the other tree. But don’t go into auto-pilot mode of accepting hints – you’ll end up with a mess!

Wouldn’t it be great if the hints were from your second tree? The problem for me is that I set my speculative trees to be unsearchable as well as private. Yes, I can toggle the setting to add my tree to Ancestry’s index – but then there’s a long wait for the change to effect. “A month or more”, according to the Ancestry settings page.

The other big drawback is your uploaded photos and other documents. That’s a lot of clicking to upload them again. Hopefully, you have all the original files saved in an easy-to-find way. And do you annotate your uploaded media with descriptions, dates, and other information? This becomes a little painful.

Testing The Merge Before Messing With Your Main Tree

This article is about using RootsMagic. I use the paid version, but the merge feature is available in RootsMagic Essentials – the free version.

Merging data is not a trivial process – and it may be difficult to fix if things go wrong. I wanted to test RootsMagic’s merge before I set it loose on my treasured family trees!

I go through what I tested in the next section. My particular focus was on how RootsMagic dealt with Ancestry sources and uploaded media. Because I have a lot of these in my trees.

You should try a test run yourself based on how you tend to set up your trees. For example, do you have step relationships, half-siblings, or adoption represented in your tree? I didn’t test that.

So, what did I test?

What Was Included In the Test Merge?

I wanted to test a merge with a variety of sources, citations, and uploaded media. I also threw in a Note, a Comment, and a Profile Photo.

One person profile has an uploaded headstone image associated with the Death fact. The uploaded image also has a description and a cemetery name.

Then I figured: that’s too easy. So I loaded up the complexity in another profile.

The birth fact has two sources: a text-only birth record from an Ancestry collection, and an Ancestry baptismal record with an image.

I explicitly added an alternative birth fact and uploaded a PDF document as source media.

I also added a user story – these get copied to a tree profile with a citation for the Ancestry user who uploaded the details.

Finally, I added a custom source. This is something I’ve never done before but I was curious. Your custom source could be your family bible or a book in the local studies section of your library. I created an entry for the world-renowned “Margaret Book Of Knowledge” – only slightly less celebrated than the Book Of Kells. This became a source for the Alternative Birth fact.

How Successful Was The RootsMagic Merge Of My Ancestry Trees?

When I uploaded the new merged tree to the Ancestry website, I compared the original and merged profiles side-by-side. Below is a summary of the results rated by successful outcome.

  • “Yes” means that the entry in the merged tree was identical to the original
  •  “No” means that it didn’t merge at all
  • “Yes (*)” means that there was a partial merge with an issue
User StoryNo
Profile PictureYes (*)
All facts createdYes (*)
Headstone photo uploaded to factYes
Headstone description addedYes
Headstone citation addedYes
Headstone cemetery name addedNo
PDF uploaded to factYes
Custom Source added to factYes
Ancestry text-only record sourceYes (*)
Ancestry image record sourceYes (*)

You may be looking at the No and problematic Yes rows and thinking – surely this is a deal-breaker. But they can all be fixed after the merge. The question is whether the effort to fix the issues outweighs making manual changes to your tree one person at a time.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the problems.

Ancestry Elements That Failed To Merge

Notes are fine, but comments are not merged. This is because RootsMagic does not download comments from Ancestry. This is mentioned in the RootsMagic FAQ.

The user story is also missing. I don’t care much about stories and comments, so this isn’t a deal-breaker for me.

The uploaded headstone photo was nearly a perfect match to the original tree. But I entered a description and the name of the cemetery as extra details – and only the description transferred. The cemetery name was missing.

Personally, I rarely annotate uploaded media like this. Make up your own mind as to whether this presents a problem.

Elements That Merged With Issues I Can Live With

All the facts were copied or merged with the correct names, dates, and locations.

Problem – Alternative Facts

Unfortunately, not every fact was identical to the original. The problem was with alternative facts.

I explicitly added an Alternative Birth Fact to a tree profile. Ancestry lets you toggle a flag to set one fact as preferred and the other fact as alternative.

Either the RootsMagic merge or the upload resulted in swapping the flag between the two birth facts. I don’t know why.

My concern is that I have quite a lot of alternative Birth facts in my main tree. This is how I deal with conflicting census records, where ages are notoriously different from one census to the next.

Again, this may not be an issue for you.

Profile Pictures

I wasn’t surprised by the Profile Picture being a little odd – I wrote about this in an article on using RootsMagic to back up your tree.

When you assign a profile picture within Ancestry, the photo doesn’t just turn up as an avatar. The image file goes into the Media Gallery too.

RootsMagic gets this half right. The avatar is fine in the merged tree, but you won’t find the image in the gallery.

This didn’t bother me the first time I saw the problem, and it doesn’t bother me now. But that’s because I rarely use profile pictures in my family tree.

I know that many Ancestry users put great effort into loading up their trees with avatars. So I must emphasize: you do get the profile photos appearing as you’d expect.

Ancestry Record Sources Are Not Merged Correctly By Roots Magic

At first, I thought that the Ancestry record sources looked fine. Then I realized I was seeing far too many on one of my merged tree profiles.

Take a look for yourself! The original tree entry is on the left. And this person wasn’t in the second tree already: this wasn’t merging two individuals, it was copying a profile as a new entry.

What’s going on here? It took me a while to figure it out. There are two separate problems.

Duplication of Source Records

One Ancestry source has been duplicated and the other has been quadrupled. Ancestry lets you add the same source record to multiple facts. So, the baptismal record on the left is a source for a birth fact, an alternative birth fact, a baptismal fact, and a residence fact.

RootsMagic isn’t so keen on efficiency. Basically, it has made a copy of the source record for every attached fact. If this was all that happened here, we could say that the merge produced the same outcome i.e. the information is all there.

But the duplication is not a good user experience in my opinion. Because the tree profile only shows the name of the collection of records, I can’t tell if the records are the same – without opening each of them.

At this point, I owe an apology to several Ancestry tree owners for shaking my head at their trees. I’ve seen this duplication in trees over the years, and I assumed it was mistakes on the part of the Ancestry user. Nope, this is a RootsMagic thing. This is how the software organizes facts and sources.

Breaking The Link To Ancestry Source Images

The next issue I spotted was that the merged image sources had lost their thumbnail image. I’m talking about a record that should look be shown like this in the tree profile (the image is a page of a baptismal register):

But instead, it looks like this:

The image hasn’t actually disappeared, although that may seem to be the case when you view the merged record. With an Ancestry image record, you expect to see a medium-sized image with a link to the collection. That’s gone too.

The merge has shifted the image into the Media section associated with the record. The image itself has been renamed with a meaningless RootsMagic string and is in the tree Media Gallery. Here is the media tab of an example merged record:

So, the record is linked to an image in your gallery. It is no longer linked to the Ancestry collection. Why?

Switching Ancestry Sources To “Other Sources”

Take a look below at the side-by-side comparison of the original record versus the merged record. The big red arrow is the clue. The merged record doesn’t have the “Ancestry Record” tab.

The record has also shifted positions in the Profile Page. It’s under the list of “Ancestry Sources” in the original tree. But it’s been demoted down to the “Other Sources” in the new tree. Here’s another look at a side-by-side.

This explains the problem. RootsMagic is treating the Ancestry record as an external source. That has significantly reduced the value of having a tree on the Ancestry website!

Fixing The Simpler RootsMagic Issues In Your Merged Ancestry Tree

It’s important to retain the original trees in Ancestry for problem-solving. Don’t delete them! Switch their privacy settings to Private and Unsearchable, if you want them out of the way of others.

If you have missing user stories in your merged tree, you will need to go through the motions of attaching them again.

Missing comments are more problematic if they were added by other Ancestry users. I doubt you’ll be reaching out to people to repeat their comments. A simple fix is to add the comment yourself, and include a bit of text that gives the original username.

You may have some fields to re-enter on your uploaded media. It looks like the title and description fields are merged, but Ancestry’s “extra” fields are left behind.

Fixing Ancestry Source Record Issues In Your New Merged Tree On Ancestry

RootsMagic makes a real mess of the Ancestry source records. I don’t see a simple way to relink the records.

The fix may be to delete the records that are now in the “Other Sources” section – search for them again, and save them to your tree.

But RootsMagic has quadrupled some of the records in my test! And when the Ancestry website is having a slow day, opening and deleting a plethora of broken records is not my idea of fun.

If you intend to upload your merged tree to a new tree on Ancestry, I suggest that you exclude source records entirely. The option is available on the upload screen. It’s checked by default, so untick it if you want to follow this approach.

You still have to re-add your sources, but at least you don’t have to delete a mountain of bad versions.

Will This Bug Be Fixed?

I saw mentions of this bug in the RootsMagic forums in January 2019. My hope is that the feature will be fixed in the next version of RootsMagic.

I went looking to find out when RootsMagic 8 will be available – it will hopefully drop in 2021.

A Safer Way Of Merging Changes Into Your Ancestry Tree

I said in the introduction that I wanted to merge a small research tree into my main public Ancestry family tree. The research tree has about thirty people along with Ancestry records and other uploaded media.

In a perfect world, I would merge the two offline and upload a new improved tree. Then I’d delete my “old” main tree and replace it with the merged version. There’s no way I’m gonna do that after seeing the results of my test.

Instead, I took a more piecemeal approach.

First of all, I cleared out the unlinked Ancestry media records from the local copy of my research tree. The next section has the instructions on doing so.

How To Remove Ancestry Source Media From Your RootsMagic Tree

Ancestry lets you export your tree as a GEDCOM file – but this doesn’t bring down source media or images. So, it’s a great advantage that RootsMagic does copy down the images. My gripe for this merge is that it leaves the link to the source collection behind.

RootsMagic names these image files with long cryptic numbers. I’ve written elsewhere about how to rename the RootsMagic media files and give yourself your own archive of images.

But for our purposes now, we want some local trees that don’t have Ancestry source records. This way, we won’t have to delete the broken records in Ancestry after we’ve uploaded the merged version.

Take a look at an excerpt from the Media Gallery of my local research tree. The first five files are Ancestry image records.

Then there are a couple of files that I uploaded myself – I don’t want to delete those! They can go up as-is. I use my own naming convention so it’s easy for me to distinguish them from the Ancestry files.

But to be completely sure, you can click on each file and examine the right pane. The example tells me that this is from the Catholic Parish Registers – an Ancestry collection. Any image or PDF that I upload myself will look very different.

Now that you know how to identify your own uploads from Ancestry record images, you can follow these steps.

  1. Open the RootsMagic Media Gallery (under the View menu).
  2. Switch from the thumbnail to the list view – you want to see the file names of the media.
  3. Work down the list of Ancestry image records and click the big red X

I find this a heck of a lot faster than deleting the records from a tree on the Ancestry website.

Now that you have a modified version of your source tree, you can merge it into your target tree. I haven’t actually shown you how to do that yet! So, here is a step-by-step guide.

Step-By-Step Guide To Using RootsMagic To Merge Ancestry Trees

Follow these steps to merge two Ancestry trees. I suggest you set yourself up to try the merge multiple times before you send the changes up to Ancestry. So, take copies or backups of your local trees.

Use RootsMagic to download your tree(s) from the Ancestry website

RootsMagic’s TreeShare utility lets you download Ancestry trees to your local machine.

Here are detailed instructions to download your Ancestry tree with RootsMagic software.

If you intend to upload your merged tree into a new tree on Ancestry, you can disconnect both trees from Ancestry at this point. Expand the Tools menu and find “File Options” near the bottom of the list. The Disconnect button is on the Ancestry tab.

My preferred approach will be a little different. I will eventually sync the merged tree up to my main tree in Ancestry.

Make a copy of the tree

You may need several attempts to get the results you want. I certainly did!

To avoid having to run more downloads from Ancestry, take a copy of one of the downloaded trees. Use the copy to accept the merged data – if it all goes wrong you can delete this copy and make a new one.

Position your two tree windows

The merge function in RootsMagic is a drag-and-drop affair.

Open the two tree databases within RootsMagic into side-by-side windows. The “Tile Vertically” command under the Windows menu will help here.

Plan your connection point

You have three choices when pulling in a new section to your target tree.

You can drop the section into an empty place in the tree. An easy place is the bottom left corner of the pedigree view. But this new section will be unconnected to the rest of your tree. You’ll need to take some further steps to hook it up to the right position.

If you don’t have overlapping entries (the same person in both trees), then you might target an empty parent position. In the picture below, I’d be dragging in the paternal line for Jason.

I had one overlapping person in my detailed test. In hindsight, it may have been easier to remove one of the pair and choose the prior method of targeting an empty position. When I later ran the “real” merge, I removed overlapping persons from my target tree.

But this is how I went about my test project. I dragged one person to the other and examined my choices in the drag-and-drop screen.

Start the drag-and-drop from one tree to the other

The drag-and-drop screen appears when you drag a person from one tree to a position in the other. You can work one-by-one with each individual, carefully placing the entry into its appropriate slot. At the other end of the caution spectrum, you can specify you want to grab the entire database.

The Drag and Drop screen gives you a lot of options. The best choice may depend on the structure that you’re moving across. If it’s entirely an ancestral line, then go for the “Ancestors” option.

This webinar from RootsMagic helped, but it still took a bit of trial-and-error on my part to figure out the correct option for what I wanted to achieve.

I had one scenario where I wanted to grab ancestors, descendants, and spouses. After a few different options left people behind, I chose the last item: Let me select people from a list. This gives you a list of every person in the source database and lets you tick who you want to bring over. It’s a reasonable choice with a small tree.

When you click “OK” on the screen, the merge process starts.

Verify your local merged tree in RootsMagic

RootsMagic will give you a count of how many people were copied.

If this number doesn’t match your expectations, you probably chose the wrong option on the Drag and Drop screen. But don’t despair: this is why we’re working on a copy of the target database. Just delete the mess you’ve made (i.e. delete the target database) and take a new copy.

But the copied number is just the start of verification. You should check for other issues.

One common problem is introducing duplicate entries in your tree. Now would be a good time to run the duplicate check!

When you’re satisfied with your RootsMagic tree, it’s time to send the changes up to the Ancestry website. You now have two choices: upload to a new tree or sync your changes into your existing connected tree.

Option 1: Upload to a new tree

This is the simpler approach. Your tree must be disconnected from Ancestry. When you click the TreeShare button, you can launch the upload process. This creates a new tree on Ancestry.

Option 2: Sync to an existing tree

When I wanted to merge into my main Ancestry tree, I made a copy of my local version. It took me several attempts to work out the best path. I found that deleting overlapping entries made life easier, but you may find a different approach works best for you.

Once I was satisfied with my tests, I ran the merge against my synchronized tree. I made sure that the source tree had no Ancestry record sources (see an earlier section).

Then I launched TreeShare and set the option to show only changed people. And then I worked through the thirty new people, adding them one-by-one to the online tree.

This adds the persons along with media that you uploaded to the tree.

As I also had many Ancestry record sources in the source tree on Ancestry, I had a follow-up task to search for these records again and save them to my main tree.

You may wonder if this process is any better than using Ancestry’s “Save To Tree” feature? I found it to be more efficient. The main advantage is that it greatly reduces your interaction with the Ancestry website – which can be slow at various times.

3 thoughts on “How To Merge Ancestry Trees With RootsMagic – And Fix the Problems”

  1. Thank you! This post helped me to figure out how to do a merge without creating a mess of source records on Ancestry. This is a tedious process, but I did get it to work.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.