Do you want to split your Ancestry family tree? You may have started one tree for yourself and your spouse, and now would like to separate it into two. Or you may wish to split a branch into a new private tree while you’re looking for supporting records.
Ancestry.com does not have an online feature that splits your tree. The Ancestry support pages describe deleting or copying people manually. This article walks you through several options that are much faster and take far less effort.
Ancestry Recommendations For Separating Trees
You can’t currently split your family tree on the Ancestry website. The Ancestry support page recommends two different ways to separate a tree:
- Make a copy of your tree via GEDCOM export/import and delete the people you don’t want
- Start a new empty tree and copy the people you want into it
The problem is that both methods require working on tree profiles individually. You are either deleting them one by one, or you’re copying them one by one.
Given that Ancestry’s website isn’t lightning fast, this could be very tedious. Surely there must be a better way?
Yes, there are several. But you have to work on a copy of your tree outside of the Ancestry.com website. You have two broad choices:
- Use software that works with standard GEDCOM files, or
- Use software that integrates with Ancestry
Our Case Study – Splitting The Ancestry Tree of Spouses
I tested the instructions in this article on a scenario that I see popping up a lot on genealogy forums. Many Ancestry users create a single tree for themselves and their spouse. But as the tree grows, they want to break it into two separate trees.
The sample tree shown below presents a few challenges. I want to end up with a tree that has the direct pedigree line of the woman marked with an arrow. I’ve highlighted the direct line in blue.
But I also want the other descendants of her maternal grandparents and great-grandparents – and their spouses. I’ve marked those in yellow.
Splitting A GEDCOM File
Ancestry lets you export your tree in a standard genealogical. We have an article with a full walkthrough of exporting your Ancestry tree to a GEDCOM file.
You have a choice of many paid and free software tools that can import your GEDCOM file as a copy of your family tree.
The general approach here is to use the software features to split the tree or remove branches in a fast and efficient way. You can then export the altered tree and upload it as a GEDCOM file up to a new tree in Ancestry. Read on for a full walkthrough!
What Do You Lose With GEDCOM Copies?
You may encounter a problem if aspects of your Ancestry tree aren’t part of the GEDCOM standard. For example, photos and documents you uploaded to the original tree are not included in the export.
The GEDCOM copy should include all the Ancestry records you attached to your tree. So if you only use Ancestry sources and don’t upload your own media, then this won’t be an issue for you.
Comments will be included, but Ancestry features like Tree Tags will not. Again, you may not care about Tree Tags.
If your tree has a lot of uploaded media, then you will have a chore to upload and attach them again after a GEDCOM import. The alternative approach is to use one of the two software applications that can integrate and synchronize with Ancestry.
Before we look at an integrated approach, the next section shows you how to use free software on a GEDCOM file exported from Ancestry.
Walkthrough #1: Using Family Tree Builder To Split Your Ancestry GEDCOM File
Family Tree Builder (FTB) is a free family tree desktop application from MyHeritage. There is a version for Windows and a Mac.
You can download it from here.
Step 1: Use the Import GEDCOM Wizard
Find the “Import GEDCOM” item in the File drop-down menu.
This launches a wizard that will guide you through the import. If you leave all the defaults and click “Next” through every screen, the software will create a local family tree from your GEDCOM.
Step 2: Launch “Selected People” Sequence
Family Tree Builder lets you export selected parts of your tree.
Choose “Export GEDCOM” from the File drop-down menu. This launches the export wizard. After you’ve set the file name, you’ll arrive at the content screen.
The default option is to include all people in the project. Toggle from the default to “Include only selected people”.
Step 3: Choose The First Person From the Pop-Up List
A pop-up screen appears with a list of every person in the tree. What you do now depends on how you want to split your tree.
In our case study, I want everyone in the wife’s tree – her direct line and all collateral branches. To achieve this, I need to select every direct ancestor of the wife. And I also want their descendants.
I use Ancestry’s horizontal view as a guide here. This is the pedigree view for the wife, Susan Cole.
Family Tree Builder only lets you select one person at a time. I need to select any of the four great-grandparents – so I’ll take Laurence Ryan first.
Step 4: Choose The Options For The Selected Person
The display shows who will be included with the person you have just chosen. By default, descendants and spouses are included. That’s exactly what I want.
If you wanted to remove spouses or include ancestors, then click the Edit button to get to the screen shown below. In my case, I want the default descendants and spouses. I also don’t need to add in ancestors, because I’ve started at the top of my tree.
Step 5: Select The Next Person To Work With
At this point, I’ve selected one great-grandparent and included spouses and descendants. But I don’t have the other set(s) of great-grandparents in my net. So I’m not done yet!
I’m returned to the Selection screen with one person selected.
Now I click the Add button and choose another person from the other set(s) of great-grandparents. Again, I take the defaults to include descendants and spouses.
Because that is the extent of this tree, I’m done with the selection.
Step 6: Export The Selection To GEDCOM File
Now I can move on through the Export GEDCOM wizard and export the GEDCOM to file.
Step 7: Import The New GEDCOM File To Ancestry
I have another tutorial on importing a GEDCOM file to Ancestry.
You always create a new tree when taking a GEDCOM into Ancestry. But this is a good thing. It makes sense to leave the original tree intact, in case you don’t get the results you want.
Be sure to verify that the new Ancestry tree has the people you want. It’s usually easy to get the direct line. But taking in collateral lines requires choosing the correct options, and it’s quite easy to leave people behind!
So it’s worth using the Ancestry tree list to count how many people you expect to be in this new tree. There is a total count of people at the bottom of the list page.
Step 8: Rinse And Repeat
At this point, I’ve got a new tree for one of the spouses. What about the other spouse? I just have to repeat the process using the same Family Tree Builder project.
Remember, I didn’t delete anyone from the local tree in Family Tree Builder. I just exported a selected portion for one spouse. Now, I run a second export to GEDCOM. This time I select the ancestors of the other spouse.
Using Software That Integrates With Ancestry
In the previous walkthrough, we were working with a GEDCOM file. This is because Family Tree Builder doesn’t integrate with Ancestry. The software is owned by MyHeritage, and it integrates with that platform instead.
There are two software applications that can sync directly with an online Ancestry tree:
This means that you can work on a local copy of your tree and do things like splitting it in two. Their integration features can then sync your changes up to new trees on the Ancestry website.
The advantage is that you should retain all elements in the online Ancestry tree. In particular, any media that you uploaded to the original tree should be copied automatically to the new split versions.
If you have uploaded a lot of documents and photos, this could save you a considerable amount of time.
My next walkthrough uses the free version of RootsMagic. You can also do this with Family Tree Maker.
Walkthrough #2: Using RootsMagic To Split Your Ancestry Tree
RootsMagic is a desktop family tree application with a free and paid version. You can download RootsMagic Essentials (the free version) from here.
The current version is a Windows application. The company also offers a Mac version, which runs on an emulator that is bundled with the installation.
I’m going to leave the original tree intact in this walkthrough. Instead, I’m going to create two new trees for the separated spouses in the case study.
I do advise leaving the original tree on Ancestry.com. This lets you start over if you make mistakes. I speak from experience!
Step 1: Use RootsMagic To Create A Local Copy Of The Ancestry Tree You Want To Split
I have a pictorial walkthrough in another article on how to use RootsMagic’s integration feature to download your Ancestry tree.
Step 2: Disconnect Your Local Tree From The Ancestry Version
We are going to make changes to the local copy that we do not want to sync back up to the original tree. Follow these steps to break the connection:
- Expand the Tools Menu and choose “File Options” from the drop-down list of items.
- Open the “Ancestry” tab on the left side of the pop-up window.
- Click on the “Disconnect From Ancestry Tree” button.
Step 3: Make A Backup Of This Local Tree
I’m following a specific case study of splitting a tree with two spouses. But you may have different requirements that take a bit of trial and error to get what you want.
You can always start again by syncing down a new copy of your original tree on Ancestry.com. But if it’s a big tree with lots of attached media, that can take a while.
You may save yourself a lot of time by making a backup copy before you start working on the local tree. Expand the File drop-down menu and click the “Copy” menu item.
Step 4: Edit Your Local Tree
What you do here depends on what you want to achieve. My case study requires splitting a common tree for two spouses into two separate trees.
Let’s say I want to create the wife’s tree first.
I could work my way through the husband’s side of the tree and delete each tree profile. And sure, you could do this on Ancestry.com. But it will be way faster in RootsMagic. You won’t be waiting for the website to respond to your actions.
What’s more, RootsMagic has a “bulk” delete. You can’t delete a full branch with a single click. But you can delete what they call a “family”. This is an option when you right-click a tree profile and select the “family” option. This basically deletes the parents and all the children.
The problem is that you will be left with disconnected entries such as floating grandparents. Then you have to find these and delete them. This can be a pain in the neck.
So I’m going to approach the husband/wife split a little differently. And it’s kinda neat. We’re going to disconnect the husband and wife, and export the wife’s tree with almost a single click.
So, for this step – I edit the local tree to remove the husband-wife relationship.
In the picture below, I’ve right-clicked on the wife and am about to unlink her from her spouse.
Step 5: Launch the GEDCOM Export Wizard
Expand the File menu and choose “Export GEDCOM”.
Change the “People to export” option from “everyone” to “Select from list”.
RootsMagic pops up a screen with a list of every person in your tree.
You could work down the list and tick everyone that you can remember is in the tree of the target spouse. But with a big tree? That would suck.
Instead, I simply choose one spouse and click on “Mark group”.
The drop-down list gives you lots of options. Because I want all the collateral lines, I am going to choose “Everyone in the highlighted person’s tree”.
This works because I removed the spousal relationship. Otherwise, the option would give me everyone in the tree of both husband and wife. In other words, the full tree.
To verify your choices, you can scroll up and down the person list and see exactly who has been ticked for inclusion by the choice you made.
An alternative approach is to follow the same path that I took in the first walkthrough with Family Tree Builder. This is to choose the highest ancestors of the target spouse and mark their descendants. But this takes more clicks, and I wanted to show an alternative route that Family Tree Builder doesn’t offer.
Now you’ve done all the setup, let the Wizard follow through to exporting the included people to a GEDCOM file.
Step 6: Import The Export Into RootsMagic
You could import the new GEDCOM file straight into Ancestry now. But then you lose out on the integration features of RootsMagic.
For my test case, I had uploaded a word document into the original Ancestry tree. The advantage of using RootsMagic as an intermediate step is that it will preserve the media attachment. If you upload a lot of files into Ancestry, this will be a big time-saver.
For this step, simply close the database project you’ve been working on. Create a new database project (File->New).
Import the new GEDCOM file into RootsMagic (File->Import). The last option on the Import menu is the GEDCOM format.
Step 7: Sync The New RootsMagic Tree To A New Ancestry Tree
Expand the Internet menu and choose “TreeShare for Ancestry”.
Click the “Upload to new Ancestry Tree” button.
The upload page has several options selected by default. This includes the upload of media – which is exactly what I want. It will also be a private unsearchable tree by default – which may or may not be what you want.
Step 7: Verify Your New Tree On Ancestry
For the purpose of my case study, I verified that the uploaded document in the original tree was preserved in the tree profile of the new spouse tree.
It was all there. This is the benefit of syncing with RootsMagic as opposed to a GEDCOM uploaded to Ancestry. And I should mention that Family Tree Maker will give you the same benefit.
Step 8: Rinse And Repeat
At this point, I have unlinked the spouse relationship and exported the entire tree of one of the pair.
To get the second tree, just repeat the export process for the other half.