By Janet Maydem
Many of us keep our trees on Ancestry, even if we don’t always subscribe to their somewhat pricey record subscription service. Because Ancestry’s online family tree is easy and free, it’s a great alternative to paid programs. But backing up that tree, along with its attached records and other media, can be a major challenge – despite how important it is to do so.
Family History Daily has covered this issue several times before, including the bumpy road Family Tree Maker (the downloadable family tree program previously owned by Ancestry) has been on over the past few years.
We have also provided warnings about how not to lose your “attached” records on Ancestry when you let your record subscription lapse and alternative approaches to storing records attached to a tree in general.
Today, we would like to go through a very easy option for backing up your Ancestry tree and records that works quickly and is reasonably priced. But first, let’s go over why backing up your tree is so important.
3 Reasons Backing Up Your Ancestry Tree With an External Program is So Important
1. When You Stop Subscribing to Ancestry You Lose Access to Your Records
There is more than one reason backing up your data is so vital, but the most important – when you are dealing with a subscription site – is the possibility of losing access to your records. While this can happen with any site at any time, subscription sites limit access to many documents based on paid status and losing your membership can mean losing the right to view or download records you’ve collected.
In other words, if you attach records directly to your tree via Ancestry and then lose your paid subscription, you will no longer have access to many of the birth, marriage and death documents you spent so long locating. We have covered this issue extensively here if you want to know more.
Many people are simply unaware of this.
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2. Ancestry’s Included Method for Backing Up Doesn’t Include Records and Pictures
To further exasperate the issue, there is no easy way to back up all of these records from Ancestry’s site.
Ancestry does allow users to download their family trees, but you won’t get everything you hoped for. The included backup works by converting the tree into a GEDCOM and – while GEDCOMs include all of the data, text and source citations from a family tree – the format doesn’t support media, such as digital records or pictures. These must be downloaded separately one by one – even if you have hundreds or thousands of files. This means that if you only back up your files via Ancestry’s download then you lose the attached records in the process.
3. In General, You Should Always Have at Least Two Copies of Your Data
No matter where or how you store your family tree you should always, always have at least two copies. It is very easy to lose access to data online, or on a hard drive, and you do not want to face the loss of years of hard work because of computer failure. Read our article on free places to store your backed up genealogy data here or how to download GEDCOMs from the big genealogy sites here.
The Solution: Back Up and Sync Your Data With a Program Like RootsMagic 7 TreeShare
Luckily, there is an affordable solution to this problem, and it’s called RootsMagic. For a long time Family Tree Maker (FTM) was the only software that could download and sync your Ancestry tree in full. But when FTM was officially discontinued and then sold off by Ancestry (it was revived by Software MacKiev but continues to face issues), RootsMagic (another downloadable family tree program) promised the genealogy community that they would create an alternative syncing and back up feature for Ancestry trees. And they delivered with TreeShare.
The RootsMagic TreeShare option takes care of the record loss problems mentioned above by syncing your tree and downloading data, citations and media, so everything that you have saved in your family tree is stored on your computer.
Unfortunately, this option is NOT free (the full version is $29.95), but the one-time fee is very reasonable compared to other software. Especially considering that we can easily spend this amount on a single month of service to Ancestry or another genealogy subscription service.
Please note that Family History Daily is NOT an affiliate of RootsMagic and will NOT receive compensation if you choose to buy their product. This article is a fully independent review and recommendation by our team.
RootsMagic does offer a free version, but if you use RootsMagic Essentials, as it is known, you will only be able to download or upload your tree without media. If you have lots of records and pictures the full version of RootsMagic 7 is your best bet. You can check out both the free and paid versions of RootsMagic here.
The following step-by-step tutorial will walk you through the process of using TreeShare to download your Ancestry family tree and all of its records and pictures to RootsMagic 7.
1. Start by installing RootMagic 7 (available for Windows or Mac) on your computer, then create a new tree in the program. You can do this by going to the toolbar on the top of the screen and clicking “File,” then “New.” After this, follow the prompts.
2. Click on “Internet” in the toolbar. In the dropdown window, you will see that TreeShare for Ancestry is the first option.
3. Click on TreeShare for Ancestry. You will be directed to the sign in page. Sign in with your Ancestry username and password.
- Once you sign in you will see this screen. Click on the button on the right that says Download an Ancestry Tree.
4. Select the Ancestry tree that you want to download and click Download Ancestry Tree.
5. Your tree will begin downloading after you click this button. Allow some time, as your tree will download in three phases. In the first phase, your tree will download.
Then your tree will be imported into RootsMagic 7.
Finally, all of your media items will be downloaded.
Downloading media takes the longest, so make sure to leave your computer on until this process is complete.
6. After your tree has downloaded, you will see a screen that compares individuals in your RootsMagic 7 tree with individuals in your Ancestry tree. You can also click an option to only show people who have changed here. This is especially handy when you are backing up updates from new research that you have completed in Ancestry.
When you have finished reviewing changes, you are done! You will be able to view your full family tree in RootsMagic 7 and your tree will easily sync back and forth between your computer and your online work.
Let me demonstrate the difference between simply downloading a GEDCOM from Ancestry and using TreeShare with my husband’s grandfather as an example.
In the first screenshot below you can see that I chose to download my tree as a GEDCOM from Ancestry without using a syncing and backup option like TreeShare. Here is what the media page looks like for my husband’s grandfather, Edwin Meydam, after importing that GEDCOM into RootsMagic.
As you can see, none of the pictures or records are visible. I then downloaded the tree again, this time using TreeShare. Here is how Edwin Meydam’s media page looks in this version of the tree:
All pictures and digital records that were not viewable in the GEDCOM version are present in this version. This is exactly what I wanted. Everything downloaded, backed up and attached properly to my tree.
Of course RootMagic offers other features as well. If you do not currently use RootsMagic 7 and you would like to see what it offers before buying and using TreeShare, you can certainly download RootsMagic Essentials, the free version, and give it a try. Just remember, to get the full ability to back up your Ancestry tree, pictures and all, you will need to purchase the full version.
Janet Meydam is a freelance writer who has over 40 years of experience in genealogy as a hobby. Her knowledge includes researching many different records from the United States, Germany and Poland. She is also a co-author of her parents’ family history book “I Come from a Long Line of Dilleys.” Janet works as an occupational therapist. She and her husband Tim have three adult children and live in Wisconsin.
Image: George Dimotakis at barn on his family farm, Manteca, California. Bet. 1935 and 1942. Library of Congress.