Stop ‘Saving’ Records to Your Ancestry Tree Until You Read This

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It’s no secret that we love free genealogy sites here at Family History Daily. But, we have to admit, we also like Next to, you’re not going to find a larger, more diverse genealogy website, and many of us are willing to pay their subscription fees for that reason alone.

But we also like Ancestry for the convenient free family tree they offer. It’s easy to get started with, maintain and share (or keep private). Plus, they’ve made it extremely convenient to add records from Ancestry’s databases. A couple of clicks and you can easily attach any number of sources, or names, to your tree (although we could tell you why that’s generally a bad idea).

But it’s this very convenience that poses a serious problem for many family historians.

Most people who keep their trees on probably regularly attach records to individuals using the ‘Save This Record’ or ‘Save to My Tree” function as seen in the screen captures below.

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Here’s what it looks like when you add a record to a person in your tree.

Save Record to Person in Tree Ancestry

Here is what this feature looks like when adding a record via hints.

Save a Record to Ancestry Tree Using Hints

At first, this seems like a quick and easy way to attach relevant records to people in your tree – and it is. The problem lies in the fact that when you ‘save’ a record this way, you are not really saving it at all. Instead, Ancestry is simply linking that record to the correct fact.

This causes two vital problems:

1. If you decide you want to download your tree as a GEDCOM and import the data into another family tree program (other than Family Tree Maker) you will not have any copies of these files.

2. If you stop subscribing to records on Ancestry, or access records during the a trial subscription and then don’t subscribe, you will no longer have access to these records if they were in a paid database, which most are. You will need to resubscribe to access these records. This is true even if you currently have a paid subscription that doesn’t cover the record you want to view (such as having a US only subscription when trying to view a record from England). You can read Ancestry’s statement about what happens when you cancel a subscription here.

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If you have been using Ancestry for awhile you may already be aware of this and have taken actions to secure these documents. But it can be surprisingly easy to overlook this fact and be left wondering why you no longer have access to a record you saved to your tree. We respect that Ancestry has to support their site by limiting access to records, but we wish this fact was clearer to subscribers.

How to Maintain Access to Ancestry Records When Cancelling Your Subscription

Luckily, there are two main ways to maintain access to the records you’ve added to your tree.

Option 1: Use Preserve My Tree from Ancestry

In late 2023, Ancestry started rolling out a new feature called Preserve My Tree to some members. The feature is in beta and so it is only being offered to select subscribers at this time. The $5 a month memberships allows you to maintain access to the records you’ve attached to your tree, but does not allow you to research or access paid records you have not previously added.

For those who have are offered this membership, this could be a convenient way to still be able to view and download the records added to the facts in your tree. However, this does mean continuing to pay Ancestry for access to records you really already paid for and it is not available to everyone. That’s why we encourage you to take the time to back up your records manually instead.

Option 2: Download Records to Your Own Computer

By downloading the records you have added to your tree you will ensure access to them in the future, no matter your subscription status. Here’s how to download your records.

1. When viewing the record’s landing page, as seen in the first screen capture above, click on the image to view it.

2. Now look for the green ‘Save’ button and click on that. There are several options, one of them says ‘Save to Your Computer’ – this is what you want.

Download Record from Ancestry

3. After you select this option Ancestry will likely just download the file to your default download location (usually your ‘downloads’ folder or your desktop). You will now need to find the file and rename it something you will recognize later, since the file name is usually a string of numbers. Once you do that you should move it to a folder on your computer for these files specifically.

Of course, you can also print files.

You should save every single record you attach to your tree on Ancestry and any record you want to view later that you have not attached. Adding records to your ‘Shoebox’ for later review is easy but, again, you will have no access to these files later if you end your subscription.

We recommend that you create a section on your computer for your downloaded records, and then create folders for each surname or line for easy reference later. You can also upload these files manually one by one back in to your tree so that you can view them later in context, since manually uploaded media files continue to be accessible after a subscription ends.

Taking these steps is no big deal for a few records, or when doing so one by one as you research, but what if you’ve already linked many records to a current tree?

You have a couple of options in this case, but neither one is ideal:

1. The first is to simply go through and manually download, one by one, each record as outlined above. Work on it little by little everyday in order of importance so it does not become overwhelming. Make sure to rename each file for easy organizing and place it in a safe location on your computer where you can find it later. This takes a long time for large trees but is worth it if you want permanent access to these files.

2. If you already use Family Tree Maker, or plan to, then you can download all of your media files quickly by syncing the program to your online tree. Unfortunately, it is another expense if you don’t already have a copy, but if you cancel your subscription to Ancestry all of the media files you downloaded to Family Tree Maker will still be available. This makes the purchase price of this software reasonable if you have many records to download, plan to hold a subscription to Ancestry only for a short time, or want to try their free trial and download many records to use later.

Dec 1, 2023 Update: Ancestry added Preserve My Tree membership

March, 2017 Update: TreeSync from Ancestry has now been discontinued and replaced with FamilySync in the new FTM. See this article for more information.

Feb, 2016 Update: In late 2015, Ancestry announced that it would discontinue Family Tree Maker and no longer offer updates or support for it after 2016. However, on Feb 2nd Ancestry has stated that Software MacKiev, the company that has developed FTM Mac for Ancestry for 6 years, will continue to offer the program as well as updates and new versions. This is great news for FTM users. They also announced that Rootsmagic, another respected genealogy program, will be working to connect their program with Ancestry by the end of 2016. This may offer a new way to easily back up and save your records. You can read all about it here.

Backup Your Ancestry Tree Data Too

And while we’re talking about backing up, you should download your Ancestry tree gedcom regularly as well, even though you will still have access to your tree data if you end a subscription. The gedcom does not contain actual images of records you have attached, so it can’t be used to save those, but it is always good to have a backup of your other data. To download this, go to your tree, click the ‘tree pages’ dropdown, select ‘tree settings’ and the look for the green ‘export’ button on the right sidebar of the setting page. Find our tutorial here.

Backup All of Your Data Somewhere Safe

We also highly recommend that you backup all of your genealogy data to a second computer, thumb drive, respected online storage site Amazon Cloud, or some other safe location — you don’t want to spend hundreds of hours researching only to lose all of your files. It happens more often than you think.

By Melanie Mayo, Family History Daily Editor

Also read: Why You Need to Quit Attaching Records to Your Family Tree, and What to Do Instead

Image: Chinese ambassador gives latest war news to newspapermen. Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 1937. Library of Congress

171 thoughts on “Stop ‘Saving’ Records to Your Ancestry Tree Until You Read This”

  1. Some articles attached to my wife’s Ancestry tree in 2016 degraded to the point they were unreadable in September 2023. We use Family Treemaker and subscribe to Ancestry and periodically. We really love the newspaper articles as they give you a unique perspective on the life and times.

    Ancestry and Newspapers. com offer some wonderful integration which makes saving an article to the Ancestry tree very efficient. However the quality of the document saved appears to be compromised. For example I attached a clipping to the Ancestry tree and then downloaded it from Ancestry. It was a 77K JPG file and very low resolution. When I downloaded it from to my hard drive it was 270K. Both were readable but the 270K was much clearer.

    Currently I have an flat Ahnentafel numbering and filing system for the first few generations of direct ancestors and as I go forward intend to save as many important documents to that as possible. Ideally I do not want to depend entirely on either Ancestry or FTM. FTM almost died a few years ago and I am old enough to have seen many great software programs come and go. That said I am getting more and more used to FTM and for the most part am depending on that program and its integration with Ancestry.

  2. How sad that things. Are so complicated and a bit underhanded. I too need to go over my Ancestry facts. But then why bother? I’m 71 years old with about 30 binders of sourced info. Nobody in my family is interested so it will probably go in the garbage. Not a lot of incentive to condense it for libraries excetera . as the technology is baffling for me.

  3. I know this is an “old” response to an even older article but the “while you have a subscription” is critical to the idea that you don’t need to do some manual backups. I can’t always budget money for a subscription so my membership is stop and go. I’ve lost a lot not realizing that was the case especially when downgrading from International to US only. In addition, make sure you know the exceptions to what FTM 2019 will Sync to either Ancestry or FamilySearch. Here from the Help section on Synch for FTM 2019:

    Item that don’t synchronize:
    • Research notes
    • Fact notes
    • Relationship notes
    • Media notes
    • Source media
    • Saved charts and reports

    Some of those aren’t too critical (depending) but you still want to take care if don’t want to lose or don’t have a b/u for those exceptions. The next part pertains even more to idea that all media, etc

    Media considerations
    As noted above, person, fact, and citation media all get synchronized between trees. However, there are some other exceptions to media synchronization. Media that fall in these conditions cannot be synchronized:

    • Media that are linked to an Ancestry source record
    • Media that are linked to a Family Tree Maker source (rather than linked to a citation, which is synchronized)

    So you still need to take care that everything you think is synched, and downloaded, actually is.

  4. I am not trying to be snarky, but that will last about as long as the flash drive holds up and/or as long as the technology lasts. Remember floppy disks? Remember CD’s? Everything everywhere is becoming subscription-based-only or so it seems. An external hard drive might hold up better than a little flash drive.

  5. Yep, that’s why I never made my tree public, but was shocked to see a photo of my parents attached to a stranger’s tree. I private messaged him through ancestry and he messaged that he had just captured it – His wife what is the relation through marriage to my sister. I read terms of service that the photo was my own until I marked my tree public, but obviously that’s not the case… so there is a little bit of disingenuous claims going on there. That experience really left a bad taste in my mouth and I don’t think I will ever make my tree public; it will probably die with me, as family members seem disinterested. For the record, most of my tree is fairly well documented and verified. I have made mistakes which I rectify as unfolding and as I have gained experience, I learned to slow down in my research.

  6. FamilySearch is great, but can and does get changed by well-intended, if misguided amateurs. You do not control this, nor do you have autonomy over your tree. Interface is also cumbersome. Although it contains wonderful features many users never find them. FS Is exactly why Ancestry became popular. IMHO

  7. “Disks” are no longer a commonly used format as computers do not come equipped with optical drives. The world has gone subscription based. The technology continues to morph and will invariably become unrecognisable by the end of the decade, let alone beyond. This issues we enumerate will need to be addressed and the genealogy community needs to demand answers to these concerns. Ancestry, are you listening? You set the gold standard, now follow through.

  8. Agree TOTALLY Robin. Would you mind sharing the name of the program you are using? Also Did you purchase it in a CD format? Now computers don’t come with them adding to this issue further I think!

  9. I find the FamilySearch interface is so non-user-friendly as compared to Ancestry. I actually use both. I also don’t like that anyone can edit and change your information on FamilySearch adding people that are incompatible to your tree. I had that happen. I reached out to the gentleman who posted an erroneous relation and he didn’t get back to me for months. What if he had passed away? FamilySearch would not allow me to delete his mistake Even after reaching out multiple times to customer service. The error was a very obvious one as a child cannot be born before a parent. Fortunately he corrected it after many months of my reaching out to him ( he was ill). I do like some of the FamilySearch features especially the fan chart and they have also reached out to me on things I missed that other people found. But when it comes to merging multiple listings of people, it’s so unfriendly. That is why Ancestry rocks – much better interface.

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