In this post I’m going to answer common questions about the best strategy for creating and maintaining your family tree data.
Should I build my family tree online?
This is a question I get in various forms quite often from Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners. But there’s really more to this question than meets the eye. Today’s family historian needs a master game plan for how they will not only build their family tree, but where they will build it, and where they will share it.
On the podcast I describe it this way:
Plant your tree in your own backyard and share branches online.
I’m going to explain what I mean by this by starting at the beginning.
When You Start Your Family Tree
If you’re new to researching your family’s history, you probably started out with one of the big genealogy websites, such as Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, or FamilySearch. I refer to them as the Genealogy Giants because they have millions of genealogical records, and they offer you the tools to build your family tree on their website. (Learn more about what each of the Genealogy Giants websites have to offer here in this handy comparison guide.)
These sites make it easy to start entering information about yourself, your parents, and your grandparents either on their website or through their mobile app. But should you do that?
My answer is, “not so fast!” Let’s think through the long-term game plan for this important information that is your family’s legacy.
Family is Forever
Genealogy is a hobby that lasts a lifetime. It’s nearly impossible to run out of ancestors or stories to explore.
But have you noticed that websites don’t last forever? And even if they do, their services and tools will undoubtedly change over time.
And there are many, many genealogy websites out there. A large number of them will encourage you or even require you to start creating an online family tree on their site in order to get the most value from the tools that they offer for your research.
As you work with these different genealogy websites, you may start to feel like your tree is getting scattered across the web. It’s easy to find yourself with different versions of your tree, unsure of which one is the most accurate and complete version.
It’s this inevitable situation that leads to my conclusion that you build and protect a master version of your family tree. I’m not suggesting that you can’t or shouldn’t use an online tree. In fact, regardless of whether you do, you need a “Master Family Tree.”
Plant Your “Master Family Tree” in Your Own Backyard
What do I mean when I say that you should plant your “master family tree” in your own backyard? I’m talking about using a genealogy database software program that resides on your own computer. Let’s explore that further.
A master family tree has three important characteristics:
It is owned and controlled by you.
It is the final say on what you currently know about your family tree.
It is protected with online backup to ensure it is safe.
Your Master Family Tree
1. Your master family tree is owned and controlled by you.
If you create an online family tree on a genealogy website (or in the case of FamilySearch’s global online tree, you add your information to it) you have given final control of that information to the company who owns the website.
In order to own and control your tree, you will need a genealogy database software program installed on your own computer. I use RootsMagic(and I’m proud to have them as a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems Podcast) but there are other programs as well.
A genealogy database software program is installed on your computer. The program and the data you enter into it belongs to you and is under your personal control.
Genealogy databases allow you to not only easily enter data, but also to export it. If you wish to use a different program later, or add your existing data to an online tree, you can export your family tree data as a universally accepted GEDCOM file. (Learn more about GEDCOM files in this article.)
2. It is the final say on what you currently know about your family tree.
As you research your family tree, you will come to important conclusions, such as an ancestor’s birthdate or the village in which they were born. It can take a while to prove your findings are accurate, but once you do, you need one location in which to keep those findings. And most importantly, you must be able to cite the sources for that information. That one location for all this activity is your genealogy database.
However, the nature of genealogy research is that it can take some digging to prove the information is correct. During the process of that research you may find information that you aren’t sure about, and it can be helpful to attach it to the online tree that you have at the same website where you found the information. That gives you a way to hang on to it and keep researching. You can always remove it later. We’ll talk more about strategies for using online family trees a little bit later.
Once you are convinced that the information is correct, then its final resting place is your Master Family Tree. You enter the information and add source citations. This way, whenever you need an accurate view of where you are in your completed family tree research, you can turn to one location: your genealogy database software and the Master Family Tree it contains.
3. It’s protected with online backup to ensure it is safe.
Your family tree isn’t safe unless the database file is backed up to the cloud.
Who among us hasn’t had a computer malfunction or die?
It isn’t good enough to simply back up your computer files to an external hard drive, because that external hard drive is still in your house. If your house is damaged or burglarized, chances are both will be affected.
Another problem with backing up to an external hard drive is that they can malfunction and break. And of course, there is the problem of remembering to back it up on a regular basis.
Cloud backup solves all these problems by backing up your files automatically and storing them safely in an offsite location.
Cloud backup is actually very simple to install and requires no work on your part once it’s up and running. (We’ve got an article here that will walk you through the process.)
There are many cloud backup services available. I use Backblaze (which you can learn more about here). As a genealogist I have a checklist of features that are important to me, and Backblaze checked all the boxes.
Regardless of which service you choose the important thing is to not wait another day to set it up. This protection is a critical part of your Master Family Tree plan.
Using Online Family Trees
Now that you have your own database on your own computer that is backed up to the cloud for protection, let’s talk about strategic ways that you can use online family trees.
First, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to create a tree on a genealogy website just because they prompt you to do so. While there are benefits for you to doing so, the company who owns that website actually benefits tremendously as well.
In today’s world, data is very valuable. I encourage you to read the terms of service and other fine print (I know, it’s boring!) because it will explain the ownership and potential use of that data.
While it’s not the focus of this article, it’s important to understand that other industries are interested in family history data, and data may be shared or sold (with or without identifying information, depending on the terms).
But as I say, there are benefits to using online family trees. These benefits include:
Hints – Online family trees generate research hints on the Genealogy Giants websites and some of the other websites that offer trees.
Cousin Connection – Online family trees offer you an opportunity to possibly connect with other relatives who find your tree.
DNA – Online family trees can now dovetail with your DNA test results (if you took a test with the company where your tree resides). This can offer you additional research avenues.
These benefits can be helpful indeed. However, problems can arise too. They include:
Copying – When you tree is public other users of the website can copy and redistribute your information including family photos.
Errors – If you discover an error in your tree, you may fix it, but chances are it has already been widely copied and distributed by other users.
Email – If you have your entire tree online and your email notifications are active, you may receive an onslaught of hints for people in your tree. Often these are very distant cousins that you are not actively researching. And let’s face it, the emails can be annoying and distract your focus from your targeted research. For example, as of this writing at Ancestry.com you can’t select which ancestors you want to receive email hint notifications for. You can only select hints for the entire tree.
So, let’s review my strategy:
Plant your tree in your own backyard and share branches online.
Now that you’ve planted your tree in your own backed up software, let’s explore the ways in which you can share branches online.
Targeted Online Family Trees
Many people don’t realize that you don’t have to add your entire tree to a website. You can just add parts of your tree.
For example, I may just put my direct ancestors in my tree (grandparents, great-grandparents, and so forth). This can still be a fairly larger number of people. I may want to include their siblings because they grew up in the same household. But I can leave out the far-reaching branches and relatives that really don’t have a direct impact on that line of research.
You can also have multiple trees that focus on specific areas of your research that are important to you.
Exploratory Online Family Trees
Some genealogists also create trees that represent a working theory that they have. This type of tree can help expose where the problems or inaccuracies lie. As you research the theory and as hints arise it can become very clear that a relationship does not exist after all.
An exploratory tree is an excellent reminder that we can’t and shouldn’t make assumptions about someone’s intent or purpose with their online tree. I’ve heard from many people who are angry about inaccuracies they find in other people’s trees. But we can’t know their purpose, and therefore, it really isn’t our place to judge.
However, it is a fair argument that a good practice would be to clearly mark these exploratory trees accordingly to deter other users from blindly copying and replicating the inaccurate information. An easy way to do this is in the title or name of the tree. For example, a tree could be titled “Jonas Smith Tree UNPROVEN”.
Creating multiple, limited trees can be an effective strategy for conducting targeted online research that only generates hints and connections for those ancestors that you are interested in at the current time.
And remember, you can remove any of your trees at any time. For example, you can delete an exploratory tree that has served its purpose and helped you prove or disprove a relationship.
Plan Now for Success
A family tree can seem like a simple thing, but as you can see there’s more to it than meets the eye. A bit of planning now can ensure that your family tree stays healthy and growing.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Big News: TreeShare™ for Ancestry has launched, and Ancestry Hints are now part of RootsMagic’s WebHints™. Both are now available as a free update to RootsMagic 7. No more missing data or trying to remember if you added a new ancestor to your database and your online tree at Ancestry. TreeShare™ for Ancestry makes it possible to synchronize your RootsMagic computer database with your online Ancestry family tree for the first time.
TreeShare for Ancestry
From the RootsMagic blog:
“RootsMagic’s TreeShare for Ancestry will let you move data between your RootsMagic files on your computers and your personal Ancestry online trees. You can transfer people, events, notes, source citations, and even pictures between the two systems.
RootsMagic users also gain the ability to easily share and collaborate with others by giving family members access to their Ancestry online tree. Using the new TreeShare feature, family members can then synchronize the latest changes and additions to both the online tree and their desktop computers.”
This means that if you are an Ancestry subscriber and you have RootsMagic 7, you will finally be able to synchronize your tree between the two! According to Ancestry’s blog:
“You can transfer people, events, notes, source citations, and even pictures between the two systems.”
“Integrating with Ancestry’s trees and records has been one of our most requested features,” said Bruce Buzbee, president of RootsMagic. “It’s exciting to work together with Ancestry to make this happen. The feedback that we’ve received from those who have tested TreeShare has been phenomenal.”
Ancestry Hints Integration
The new Ancestry Hints integration means that RootsMagic users now have the convenience of reviewing their Ancestry Hints from within the software. New information and media from matching records can be added into your own genealogy file.
“For those that are just starting their journey into the world of genealogy, RootsMagic offers “RootsMagic Essentials”- a free version of their software with a limited set of features tailored towards beginners.
If you have an account with Ancestry, RootsMagic Essentials includes the ability to upload your file to Ancestry or download your existing online trees from Ancestry. If you are a subscriber to Ancestry, RootsMagic Essentials also allows you to search and view all of the content in your subscription. Those wishing to compare and transfer individual records between RootsMagic and Ancestry will want to use the full-featured RootsMagic software.”
You Still Need to Backup Your Data
Even though you can synchronize the tree in your database with your online Ancestry tree, you still need to set up an automatic Cloud backup system for you entire computer hard drive. In the end, your tree is your responsibility to preserve for future generations. I use Backblaze, and they are the official backup of my free Genealogy Gems Podcast. No matter what service you decide to go with in the end, the most important thing is that you do indeed set up automatic Cloud backup for your computer hard drive which of course, includes your RootsMagic family tree.
Our blog posts contain affiliate links and we will be compensated if you use them. Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems Podcast and blog!
Adding Source Citations is our third post in the Inherited Genealogy Files series, and in this post, we answer a listener’s question.
We recently received this letter from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener, Cristy. She says:
Thank you for your tip about starting from the present and working backwards. I was having a hard time knowing where to start. I had inherited a tree passed from my mom and my great-grandmother, that when combined with the information my husband’s aunt gave me [I had a] tree with almost 1200 names. But the information from my great-grandmother and my aunt does not have any sources and all of my mom’s sources got lost in our various moves over the years. She only had her old school database that just had the facts and no sources.
I determined that a genealogy book my mom used as a source for one of our lines [had been] copied [from] an older genealogy line that has been proven incorrect. So, my goal has been to re-find my mom’s sources and document everything. I didn’t know where to start. I have now made a second tree in my database keeping the original as a place to start and only putting what I have proved using actual sources and attaching the documentation as I go. Your episode on the Genealogical Proof Standard was really helpful. It will be a big help as I clean up my tree.
Finding Source Citations for Your Inherited Family Tree
Let’s first give a brief definition of source citation.
Source Citation: the information that tells your reader where you obtained a particular piece of genealogical data.
For example, a family tree should include a source citation for the birth date and place, the death date and place, and the marriage date and place…and that’s just the start.
Finding source citations is really easy if you are using FamilySearch. Let’s say I used a death record I found online at FamilySearch as the proof of my ancestors death date. What is so wonderful about using FamilySearch.org for finding records is that it includes a source citation for you to copy and paste. Take a look.
You can highlight the source citation text and copy it into your genealogy software. A bonus is knowing that FamilySearch is free and easy to use.
Adding Source Citations for Genealogy to RootsMagic Software
As I mentioned above, you can take the source citation you found on FamilySearch and copy and paste it into your genealogy software. RootsMagic is the genealogy software we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast use (and we are proud that they sponsor our free Genealogy Gems Podcast.) It is an easy-to-use and effective software for both PC and Mac users. (To learn more about using RootsMagic, read here.)
Using RootsMagic, let’s add a source citation to an event in a family tree:
In this example above, we have double clicked on Clarence’s name and opened up the Edit Person window. We would like to add a source citation for Clarence Bowser’s death date and place. In the line for death, we click on the box in the source citation column. The source citation column is indicated by that little icon that looks like a record.
At the pop-up window, we click Add new source and from the options, choose Free Form and click OK.
Now, let’s assume you copied the following source citation from a record you found at FamilySearch.org:
“Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN : accessed 8 December 2014), Clarence W Bowser, 09 Nov 1958.
The first part of the citation is the title of the collection and the location you found it. “Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN. That front half of the citation is going to go in the Footnote area of the next pop-up window. The remainder of the citation you copied is going to go in the Page field. Then click, OK.
Notice, the entire footnote at the right of the screen looks like the one you copied from FamilySearch. You may wonder why on earth we separated the citation. Because, RootsMagic is going to remember you have a source citation from Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007. The next time you find an ancestor’s death record in this index, you will not need to click Add new source. Rather, you will click Cite existing source, and choose the Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007.
At the next screen, the Footnote field will already be filled out for you. All you need to do is fill in the Page field with the back-half of the new source.
You can get loads more tips and tricks in our helpful Evernotefor Windows for Genealogists quick reference guide (also available for Mac users). Also, get a quick overview about this amazing product from this video clip on our YouTube Channel.
Merging duplicate records in your family tree is important. Perhaps you have inherited a giant genealogy file (GEDCOM) from a relative. What now? Follow along in our series on Inherited Genealogy Files as we talk about how to merge the duplicates in your family tree.
Have you cleaned up your family tree lately? Whether you have inherited a genealogy file from a relative or have been an avid researcher yourself, clean-up is necessary from time to time, especially as your database grows.
Merging Duplicates from an Inherited Genealogy File with RootsMagic
When you sit down to do your genealogy research, the last thing you want to worry about are duplicate names. Duplicates can be distracting and confusing.
You may have inherited a genealogy file or files in the form of GEDCOMs. (Read more on what and how to use a GEDCOM file here.) While inheriting this family history is great, it can also be a lot of work to clean-up, confirm the data, and add source citations where needed.
If you use RootsMagic or other similar software, it can be quick and easy to clean up duplicate names in your database. Start by running a duplicate search by clicking on Tools, selecting Merge, and then clicking Duplicate search merge.
You can search for duplicates by surname or given name. You might consider running a duplicate search for sounds alike, as well. This is particularly important if you have merged two databases in which you and the other contributor may have used different surname spellings.
When you are ready, click Search for duplicates at the bottom of the box. The system will tell you how many duplicates it finds and allow you to compare them one-by-one.
If you find a duplicate, the primary person will be on the left and the matching record on the right. Whichever record/person is most correct, use the Swap button to move that record to the primary position on the left.
If you feel these are a match, click Merge duplicate into primary at the bottom left corner. You have now merged these two individuals. It should be noted that you do not actually lose any of the data of the duplicate person. If I find Dean Howard Lockwood in my index and double click on his name, a pop-up window appears and I see he now has two birth and death entries, however. To fix this, click on the duplicate fact to highlight it, then click Delete fact at the top.
Cleaning Up Duplicate Places
You may not have considered cleaning up the duplicate places that exist in your file. For example, perhaps Great-aunt Susie liked to use the old format for place names. [i.e. , Ross County, Ohio] Notice the comma before the county name Ross. This was the way in which genealogists used to indicate Ross was the name of the county. Now, we use the more recent accepted format and change that to: Ross county, Ohio, United States. You can quickly merge these two places into one by clicking Lists at the top left, and choosing Place List.
Now, choose the place you would like to fix and double click it. In the pop-up window that appears, simply type in the place name as you desire it to appear in your database.
In the example above, we have changed , , Kentucky to Kentucky, United States and clicked OK. But wait, there’s one more step! You may notice your list now shows duplicates of Kentucky, United States or some variation. To fix that problem, click on the merge button at the top of the Place List pop-up window. A new window will pop-up and you can choose all the places you wish to merge together. Then, click Merge selected places.
More on RootsMagic Software
RootsMagic is the genealogy software used and recommended by Lisa Louise Cooke and The Genealogy Gems Podcast. You can purchase this amazing software from the Products We Love tab in our store or by clicking on the RootsMagic 7 image link. When you use our affiliate links, you are helping to support the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. Thank you!
A GEDCOM file is a universal type of file that genealogists use to move data from one genealogy software program to another. Using these helpful tips below, you can open genealogy files your family members send to you, or share your data with others.
When and Why You Would Need to Open a GEDCOM File
A Genealogy Gems reader recently wrote:
I recently signed up for [the Genealogy Gems] newsletter. I received a CD from a relative with family history information that was set up through Family Tree Maker. I am currently not subscribed to any of the genealogy sites. My question is, how can I retrieve this information [from the CD.] Can you help?
The answer to the question is: Use another program to open the GEDCOM file from the CD. Let me show you how easy it is to open and create GEDCOM files.
GEDCOM is an acronym standing for Genealogical Data Communication. It is a universal genealogy file that allows you to exchange genealogical data between different genealogy software programs.
Because it is “universal” in nature, a GEDCOM file can be read by many different types of genealogy software. That means, if you are using RootsMagic, you can still share all the data you have collected with your cousin who uses Family Tree Maker, and she will not have to type in all the names, dates, and places manually.
Occasionally, not all the information included in a GEDCOM file will transfer perfectly. There are differences in how that information is interpreted and some things, like notes and sources, may be affected. However, for the most part, much of it will transfer correctly.
How to Open a GEDCOM File
Our reader needs to open a GEDCOM file contained on the CD he was sent. To do this, he must have a program on his computer that will read a GEDCOM file. There is an option I would like to share with you.
RootsMagic is a downloadable software for both Mac and PC users. (And, it is the one we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast use! That’s why we accepted them as a sponsor of the podcast.)
Once you have downloaded RootsMagic to your computer, open it. At the top left corner, click on File and from the pull-down menu, choose Import.
Now, a new pop-up window will open and ask from what source you would like to import from. You will notice several options, but for our reader’s question, he will choose the GEDCOM option.
Then, choose I know where the file is, and the file explorer window will appear. In this case, our reader would click on the CD that he has loaded into his computer’s disk drive, and follow the prompts to open the GEDCOM file. All that information his relative sent him will be slurped into RootsMagic and he can easily look through the pedigree of his family.
Creating a GEDCOM to Share with Others
RootsMagic also allows you to create a GEDCOM file. This is what you would send to your relatives when they would like to have a copy of the family tree.
To do this, open RootsMagic. Click on File, as we did before, and this time choose Export from the pull-down options.
The export box will pop-up. You can choose what you wish to have included in this export. I typically choose Everyone, but you can do yours by family names by clicking on the down arrow next to Everyone and choosing Select from list.
Once you have clicked OK, the GEDCOM file is ready to be saved to your computer. Save the file on your desktop or somewhere you will be able to locate it again. Remember to name the file and pay attention to where you are saving it!
Creating a GEDCOM from Ancestry.com
If you have stored your genealogy data at Ancestry.com, you may be interested to know that you can create a GEDCOM file for your family tree there as well. It’s just a matter of signing into your Ancestry account, locating the Tree Settings, and then clicking Export. I found a nice article outlining the steps on how to do that here.
Protecting Your GEDCOM Files
Creating a GEDCOM is also a great way to save or backup your hours and hours of family history research. One of the saddest tales of genealogists everywhere is losing their computer or printed family files with all that work!
GEDCOM files can be saved to a hard drive, saved to an external unit, emailed, put on a thumb drive, or uploaded to the Cloud. You can also invest in a company like Backblaze, the official backup of The Genealogy Gems Podcast, that will automatically backup all your files. (Read more about Backblaze, here.) All of these methods protect you and your genealogy.
More on Protecting Your Genealogical Data
Learn more about Backblaze, The Genealogy Gems Podcast’s first choice when it comes to backing up precious genealogy research and personal files. Read the article’s below and determine if Backblaze is the answer you’ve been looking for.