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

I tested the merge of two Ancestry trees with RootsMagic 7. There were plenty of issues with the merged tree.

However, it was easier to fix the issues than to create a merged tree manually.

This article has a step-by-step guide to the process. But before I give you the steps, I go through the problems that I encountered and how I fixed them.

If you want to jump straight to the steps, then use the table of contents. But I do advise that you work on a copy of your trees in case the merge goes wrong!

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 are two software applications that 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.

Test 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.

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
Note on tree profileYes
Comment on tree profileNo
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 were 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.

Problems with 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 subsequent 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.

Problems with 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 I couldn’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 Were Not Merged Correctly

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 single source for:

  • a birth fact
  • an alternative birth fact
  • a baptismal fact
  • 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.

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.

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)

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.

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 that you will be merging into

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.

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:

  1. upload to a new tree, or
  2. sync your changes into your existing connected tree.

I’ll look at each option next.

Option 1: Upload Your Merged Local Tree To A New Tree On

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 The Local Merged Tree To An Existing Treee

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.

Margaret created a family tree on a genealogy website in 2012. She purchased her first DNA kit in 2017. She created this website to share insights and how-to guides on DNA, genealogy, and family research.

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.


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