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!


  1. Ginger,

    The Stories should NOT be lost, but the Comments will be.

    The Stories that you say were "lost" how do they appear in your cousin's AMT? If the Story is associated to a Person in the AMT, then it should be in the Notes for that Person in FTM2012. (People Workspace, Person Tab, Bottom Notes Tab under the lists of Facts).

    Is this the same cousin that you were having media file issues with, or is that another cousin?


    1. Hi Russ,

      You are right, the stories did transfer to my Family Tree Maker Software. They show up in the media tab as a link. When the link is clicked, it is a text file that is opened in my browser which points to my media folder on my local hard drive.