Thursday, January 17, 2013

Downloading Someone Else’s Online Tree and then Uploading it as My Own

I have been testing the waters with Family Tree Maker 2012 lately in order to collaborate more easily with some of my cousins and fellow family history researchers.  Mostly I have been helping them enter their genealogy into their online family trees so they can share with their ftDNA Family Finder autosomal test matches. The Family Finder test produces hundreds of matches to 1st – 5th cousins around the country and in some cases, around the world. These are people you share some common DNA and ancestry with.  This test is usually most valuable to folks who have a pretty complete family tree and can be used to verify ancestral lines or to fill in holes in their trees. Some people are using this test to find missing relatives or adoptive parents as well. Success in finding or verifying relatives with this test hinges on the validity and completeness of one’s family tree.’s new Family Tree Maker 2012 software has a new unique syncing capability which allows the tree owner to sync between their desktop version of their Family Tree Maker software and their online family tree.  Photos, source citations and historical records are also synced and downloaded to each file during the sync. (Stories and comments stored in the online tree, however, are not downloaded during the sync.)

Managing a desktop file and online tree for a file that is accessed by multiple people has been a challenging project. This is just one in a series of posts that describes some of the issues I’ve run into – or quite the opposite – some of the cool things I’ve learned how to do with the software and the benefits of it.

In this post, I describe how to download my cousin’s online tree to my Family Tree Maker software that resides on my desktop and then export it as my own file to dropbox and upload to my own online family tree.

Downloading The Tree:

One of the limitations to the syncing feature is that you cannot download a tree that does not belong to you from the online ancestry member trees in any format other than a GEDCOM.

A GEDCOM only supports plain text which will not handle the transfer of photos and many custom fields that various genealogy software packages employ.

Even if you have editor rights to the tree, you cannot download it and sync to your own Family Tree Maker software.  The only way to get around this is to

1)    log into your Family Tree Maker software with the tree owner’s account and download and sync that way or
2)    have the tree owner download their tree to their own copy of Family Tree Maker software and then save the Family Tree Maker software file to dropbox where you can have access to it and open it. The limitation of option 2 is that the tree owner has to have Family Tree Maker software installed on their computer and two or more people cannot open the Family Tree Maker software file at the same time.

Because my cousin, who is the owner of the tree I wanted to download and access with my Family Tree Maker software, does not have a copy of Family Tree Maker software, I went with option number 1 – to log into my Family Tree Maker software with her credentials. Doing so allowed me to download and sync her tree to my Family Tree Maker software.

You can log in and out of your Family Tree Maker software by clicking on the “Plan” workspace across the top and then clicking on the “log out” link on the right side of the page under the Ancestry Web Dashboard.

I can make changes to her tree once it is downloaded into my Family Tree Maker software regardless of whose account I am logged in with.  We both have paid accounts, so I can add records from within my Family Tree Maker software using either account. If only I had a paid account, then I could stay logged in under my account and add records that would then be added to the online tree when it is next synced. However, in order to sync, I have to log in under my cousin’s account every time. This can be kind of annoying after a while.

Copying Family Tree Maker File:

Instead of having to log into my Family Tree Maker software with my cousin’s account every time I want to sync her file with her online tree, I could just create my own online tree and stay logged into my own account whether I am using the online trees or my desktop Family Tree Maker software.

Here’s how I created a new online tree:

1)    From my Family Tree Maker Software, I exported my cousin’s entire file. This is the file that was created from the online family tree via the syncing process.
2)    I saved the file (with the *.ftmb extension) to dropbox
3)    I restored the file by going to File / Restore and selecting the *.ftmb file I saved to dropbox in step 2
4)    I gave it a new name and saved it to dropbox

Creating a New Online Family Tree:

A new Family Tree Maker file has now been created from the original tree file that was downloaded from and synced with my Family Tree Maker software. I can log in with my own account credentials and the “Upload and Link to Ancestry” button is now active within the Plan workspace in my Family Tree Maker software.  

Clicking this button will then upload my new tree to my online account and create a new online family tree for me. This will be viewable to the public. My citations and photos will upload to the online tree as well.

The tree summary on the top is what the original tree that I downloaded from my cousin’s site looked like. The summary on the bottom is what the tree looked like that I downloaded from my cousin’s site, exported to my Family Tree Maker software, restored, and uploaded to my own site:

The stories and comments were lost when I created the new tree. They were probably lost when the tree was synced with my Family Tree Maker software. They weren’t “lost” per say; these two functions of the online family trees do not transfer from the online tree to the desktop Family Tree Maker software tree version as they are only a function of the online tree. All of the media files, including the photos and the historical records which include the census records, did transfer from the old tree to the new tree.


The advantage of creating a new tree from a previously downloaded member tree is that I do not have to log in to the original tree owner’s account to sync between their online tree and my Family Tree Maker software. Now I can sync between my own online tree and my Family Tree Maker software without having to log out of my account and logging in to the original tree owner’s account.

Also, I can see how this could be advantageous over the use of GEDCOMs which only transfer text between programs: I could download my Family Finder DNA matches’ trees, load them into my Family Tree Maker software and incorporate into my own family tree. With that, I could retain their photos and attached historical records with little fuss.


The disadvantage of creating a new online tree from a previously downloaded one is that you lose the stories and comments that were stored with the original online tree. These are not populated in the newly created online family tree.

Another limitation I learned about the Family Tree Maker software is that you can only sync from one computer, even though the file is saved in dropbox. I am not sure why this is or how it could be fixed or if it will be fixed in the future by If you know of any workarounds for this, please email me at ginger dot reney at gmail dot com or leave me a comment below.


There are both advantages and disadvantages to this process; like with anything custom you wish to do, there are usually some technical difficulties involved with both the online trees and the Family Tree Maker software. But overall, these systems are flexible and powerful and give the users some elements of control over what to do with their data.

Check out Russ Worthington's companion post on how he collaborates using's online member trees and his Family Tree Maker Software in Cousin Collaboration. Thanks Russ!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ordering Records from the North Carolina State Archives

I have always enjoyed visiting the North Carolina State Archives that is located in downtown Raleigh. But I rarely have the chance to get down there on a Saturday anymore.  Especially since I’ve been trying to get my feet in the door with the Wake County Public Library system. Because of this, I have been working several Saturdays a month for the past 6 months or so and will continue to do so until I graduate from UNC in May. Even if I could visit the Archives on a Saturday, they have started limiting their hours from 9 am to 2 pm. They used to be open until 5 pm. It’s unfortunate; however, as we’ve seen from archives across the country, funding is short and they are doing what they can to stay open to the public and I am grateful that they are open 5 days a week and on Saturdays!
The North Carolina State Archives does have an alternative for ordering records for those people who have a busy schedule and cannot visit the Archives during regular business hours. If you live In-State, you can order records via an online form found on their website.  They recommend that you read about what they will and will not search for you and that you provide as detailed a description as possible in your request. I decided to give this a try and order some records I had been looking for.
You can request materials from the “Services” link on the left side of the page. Clicking on the “Requesting Information by Mail” link will take you to the general information page which includes information about what kind of requests the Archives CAN and CANNOT answer. This page also has a link by which NORTH CAROLINA RESIDENTS can order materials – just click on the link at the top that says “North Carolina Residents.”
You have the option to submit an online form via email or to print out the form and submit by snail mail. When completed, click the “Submit Request” button and if you checked the box to “Send a copy of this request to your e-mail address,” then a copy of your request will be delivered to your email box. I created a special filter in my email to send all of these requests to.
You won’t receive a reply back from the Archives until an invoice is ready for your review and approval.  My first request for a marriage record was placed on 12/23/2012 and I received an invoice on 1/3/2013. It took 11 days to receive a reply, however this was probably delayed due to the holidays. In my reply, I was given the option to print the invoice and either pay by check or credit card and then mail back the completed invoice to the Archives, allowing for up to ten business days for delivery of copies of materials.
The alternative option, and the one I chose to use, is to pay the invoice online using the Archives’ new Correspondence Portal. I talked about this in a previous post. This is the section of the online ordering process that Out of Staters can use to order materials. They are charged a flat $20 fee for each record.
Speaking of fees, although it is free to order records for North Carolina Residents, there is a $2.00 minimum copying fee associated with each order. That is what I was invoiced for. I still find this to be a fairly reasonable rate considering it is about 25 miles from my house to the Archives. If I were charging the IRS rate of $0.55 / mile to drive there and back, it would cost almost $30 round trip!
Using the online portal to pay my invoice was quick and easy. I entered my shipping address and credit card information into the form and then submitted it. I received 3 emails immediate after my order was processed. One was from the Archives letting me know my order was received and would be processed. Two additional emails arrived from the NC Dept of Cultural Resources letting know that my credit card was charged $2.00 for my order.  
Copies of the record I ordered should arrive in the mail any day now.  Have you ordered materials from the Archives? If so, feel free to share your experiences below or email me at ginger.reney [at]

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best of 2012 Blog Posts

As you may have noticed, I did really well to post often at the beginning of the year and then by the summertime the number of posts per month had trailed off to almost 1 or 2 per month. This was due to a combination of factors. For one, I joined this great outdoors group for women, so I was busy every weekend doing something fun outdoors, sometimes taking up the whole weekend with NO electronic devices within walking distance. Then in August I started another internship at the library. It’s not for lack of material that my number of posts has dwindled, it’s merely for lack of time. In fact, I will be starting a 2nd job at a new library this weekend!!! It’s a lot of work and time and energy, but will be worth it in the end. Or at least at the end of May when I finally complete my Master’s paper, graduate from Library School and transition from being a scientist full time to being a librarian. That will be a time for celebration! So now that you are all caught up on my personal and professional life, I’d like to share some of the highlights of my 2012 blog posts with you. Consider these to be the “best of” posts from 2012. The ones worth reading or rereading.

Using a Timeline to Visualize Your Data - this post started off my New Year's Goals in the right direction. I downloaded this quick and easy Excel template which allowed me to enter dates and events in a table and have them automatically populate a timeline-looking chart. The chart was customizable in some aspects, including event description heights and date ranges and it was completely FREE! Check it out! 

Determining No. of Acres of a Land Grant in the State Land States – This post discusses the differences between the State Land and the Public Land States.  The original 13 colonies were considered to be State Land States and measured land using the metes and bounds survey system. Chains and links were used to describe land in this manner. Do you know how many feet are in a chain? If not, read on to learn how to translate a description into a plat.

How I use my Genealogy Software – Susan Clark of Nolichucky Roots blog started this thread back in March by asking why and how do people use a genealogy software program. So I wrote about how and why I use my RootsMagic software. I like this post because it gives specific examples of how I do things, like managing my sources, adding events like census reports, and facts. Are you on the fence about using a genealogy software? If so, read this and make sure to check out other bloggers’ posts at the bottom.  

Genetic Genealogy – What is my Ethnicity? – This was a more recent post discussing some aspects of the ftDNA Family Finder autosomal DNA test. . A lot of people, including my friend Keith, ask whether a test like this will prove or disprove if they have Native American blood in them and if so, how much? In this post, we used the Population Finder tool on Keith’s homepage to show his ethnicity but much to our surprise, it said he was Middle Eastern. How close is that Native American? Read on to see…

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and my posts. I am looking forward to publishing more content in 2013 and look forward to hearing from you. Please don’t forget to take a look around my site. The right hand side has a list of surnames; as well there is a link to my surname page at the top of the page that will provide links to all posts about each of my surnames. I also have posts categorized by location and subject.

If you would like to cite this blog post, feel free to copy the following citation:
Ginger R. Smith, “Best of 2012 Blog Posts,” Genealogy By Ginger, posted 01 Jan 2013 ( : accessed [type in the day you accessed this post here]).

The “Best of 2012” Graphic was created by me, Ginger R. Smith, on 1 Jan 2013 by Microsoft Publisher. Feel free to use it with attribution. In other words, please tell everyone you got it from me and link it to my blog. Thank you.