Sunday, March 1, 2020

Keeping online and offline family trees in sync

I've mentioned before that one of my goals for this year is to bring this blog up to date. That means, amongst other things, updating the family trees (available in the top tabs) and making sure that the Index of Individuals has useful links to profiles and relevant posts.

One difficulty with doing this is that often the most up-to-date information I have is stored online, on my family trees on But the most useful, editable, way of creating profiles and lists is through the genealogy software that I use offline at home, RootsMagic*. In theory, I should be keeping my online and offline records in sync, but I'm not always methodical about adding information to RootsMagic as I find it on Ancestry.

I also think it's important to have the information from my online research backed up offline, including copies of all the media files from my Ancestry trees. That way, if I ever drop my subscription to Ancestry, or the internet fails in some way, I will still have access to them. So, how can I get the information from Ancestry onto my laptop and into RootsMagic?

It's easy enough to export a whole tree from Ancestry as a .ged file and then import it into RootsMagic (or any other software). The problem is that this only exports the actual information. It doesn't allow me to download all the media files - photos, images of original documents such as census records - that are attached to each person. Downloading them all one-by-one would be a huge task.

The TreeShare button in RootsMagic

Fortunately RootsMagic has a tool called TreeShare, which allows me to download the media files with the data from Ancestry. I've been trying it out recently and found it fairly easy to use. I simply have to hit the icon in the RootsMagic menu bar, log in to Ancestry and specify which tree I want to download. I could also upload trees to Ancestry this way. The process might take quite a while to complete if the tree was very large, but with my trees of around 1,000 entries each, it takes less than half an hour.

The TreeShare start screen

The media files from Ancestry all download to one folder, and come with what, to me, seem meaningless labels. So I can't just look through the folder to find, say, the 1851 census for Walton le Dale. It is possible to find them through the individual they are attached to, via the media button.

TreeShare has some other limitations. I can only download from Ancestry into a new, empty RootsMagic file, not an existing one. Once the tree is imported I can keep syncing any new information between the online and offline version. RootsMagic also allows me to compare two offline trees and merge them. My preference is to keep the two separate and use the Ancestry-downloaded tree as a back up and resource.

Comparing two entries, offline and online, before syncing

There's no way to export part of a tree from Ancestry, either as a .ged file, or through TreeShare, although it is possible to export and upload part of a tree from RootsMagic to a new Ancestry tree.

Another drawback is that the source citations downloaded with the file are not in the format recommended by professional genealogists. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of them refer back to a database on Ancestry rather than the original source.

For instance, the citation for the baptismal record for my great grandfather, John Ward, says the record comes from ", Lancashire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1911", with an additional note that its source is the "Lancashire Anglican Parish Registers, Preston, England: Lancashire Archives." It tells me nothing about the actual source of the information: page 165 of the parish register for St Leondard's church, Walton le Dale, for the years 1831-1854.

I must admit, I've never mastered the recommended method for citing sources. But even I can see that this isn't really adequate for telling a future researcher where to find the information (although it does tell them where I found it.) Nevertheless, TreeShare does provide me with a way to get the basic information off Ancestry and onto Rootsmagic on my laptop.

So, in the next few months I'll gradually be adding new information to the profiles and family trees on this site. But even with the tools available, it may take quite a while to complete. I'd love to hear from you if you have any recommendations or you want to share your own experience of trying to keep your records up to date.

*Why RootsMagic? Because when I first started researching my family history, I downloaded the free version of the software, RootsMagic Essentials, which served me well. Eventually I upgraded to the paid version, which does all that I want and more. I don't have any affiliation to RootsMagic. I'm sure other genealogy programs offer features that RootsMagic lacks. I just haven't felt the need to change it.


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