Observations on downloading a family tree from Ancestry

Like most things in life, downloading your family tree from Ancestry is not as simple as might be expected. For it to work well, you need to prepare your tree first and tidy up afterwards.

How to download your family tree

Open the family tree that you want to download, then open the Tree Settings. Under the heading Manage your tree there is a button labelled Export tree. Click on the button, wait until it creates the file and you can then download it and save it to your computer.

A few important points:

  • You can only download your own family tree and you can only download the entire tree.
  • The file type is a GEDCOM file. Although it is a text file and can be opened in Word or similar programs, it is really only useful if you import it into family history software. I cannot speak for all the software, but for Legacy Family Tree, I have to import the file, not open it.
  • The file you download is a copy. It does not delete or remove your tree from Ancestry.
  • The GEDCOM file does not include all the images that are attached to your tree, but it does include the source citations.

Alternatives to downloading your tree

  • If you have Family Tree Maker (FTM) software, you can sync your tree on Ancestry with your tree in FTM.
  • You can print profiles of individuals or parts of your family tree from Ancestry to a PDF.
  • You can print the entire family tree using MyCanvas to create a family history book or chart.

Issues that I observed when downloading a tree

These observations are only relevant for Legacy Family Tree software, but similar results may also occur with other software.

While I have not conducted a thorough review of the tree that I imported into my family history software from Ancestry, the process does appear to correctly include all the people in a tree, including those with multiple marriages.

The imported file does not automatically select the starting person in the family tree, so you need to reset that after importing it into your software.

In Legacy Family Tree there is a field below births on each person’s profile where you can enter christenings or baptisms. The imported file moved baptism information to the Events/Facts section. I assume this occurred because I have the label in Legacy set to christenings, even though I also place baptisms there. If that is an issue for you, you might need to check that you have this field labelled as baptisms before you import the tree.

The imported file placed AKA names as Notes instead of recording them as Alternative Names.

AKA from Ancestry tree added as a General Note in Legacy, as well as the other unwanted text that appears in each profile.

Where I had put notes in the Description field of a birth death or marriage fact on my Ancestry tree, the imported file appropriately added these as notes to the relevant BDM entry in Legacy.

Notes that I had attached to a birth fact in my Ancestry tree were appropriately placed as notes to the birth fact in Legacy family tree.

The imported file left extraneous text in the General notes of each person (see the AKA image above).

Place names in the imported file are only as good as the information in the Ancestry tree. Ancestry sometimes adds incorrect place names when sources are attached – for example, for Australian electoral rolls it adds the electoral district instead of the suburb. Place names in an Ancestry tree should be tidied up before downloading a copy of the tree.

Source citations are also only as good as the citation in Ancestry. Unfortunately, the quality of citations is variable. This is probably the bit that needs the most work before you download your tree, as downloading information without adequate source citations is not very useful.

My tips for fixing source citations

Make sure that all of your sources are attached to the relevant facts in your Ancestry tree, as sometimes the link does not happen. If you click on a source or a fact, there should be a line linking the two.

The imported citation will only include the text that Ancestry records on the Citation Details tab. It will not include the text from the Ancestry Record tab. The details on the Ancestry Record tab may be essential for tracking down the source, so the omission is quite significant. To overcome this problem, you should edit the source citation to add these details before downloading the tree.

Example citation details tab for an Australian birth record. Note that it does not contain the date or reference number, so the citation will be incomplete.
Same source, with the date and reference number appearing on the Ancestry Record tab.
Click on Edit Citation (not Edit Source!) and add the details from the Ancestry Record tab.
Same source, after editing it to add the details.

This problem with missing details is not always an issue. For example, citations for census records do tend to include the details on the Citation Details tab (see below).

Citation details tab for an English Census citation.

Some citations in my imported files had extraneous information and gobblygook (see below). This appears to occur when the citation has text under the heading Notes in the Ancestry citation tab. I was unable to find a way to remove that text in Ancestry before downloading the tree, so it will have to be deleted from the imported file in my family history software. It appears to be a rare occurrence, but something to look out for.

Example of where Ancestry added text on the Citation details tab under the heading Note. This ended up in my citation after importing the tree into my family history software (see below).
The resulting citation in my software.

Final tips

Downloading a copy of your Ancestry tree and saving it on your own computer is highly recommended. However, be aware of these types of issues and resolve them first, so that the resulting file is useful for your research.

Download copies of source images to your computer before downloading your tree. It is a good idea to do this each time you attach an image to your tree, so that it is not such a huge task later.

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