Common Family Tree Problems

September 11, 2013  - by 

FamilySearch Family Tree has been available to everyone since March 2013. Since then, new features and enhancements have been added. During this time, we have discovered some concerns relating to the records of living individuals and to features such as deleting a person or merging records.

Records of the Living and the Deceased

In general, there are two rules regarding the Family Tree records: (1) Everyone can see and edit deceased records, and (2) only the original contributor can see a living record due to privacy rules. Yes, there are exceptions to both of these rules, but this article will focus on when a living person is accidentally marked as deceased.

Currently, Family Tree does not allow users to automatically fix these unique situations. When someone tries to change a record from deceased to living, a request is created that is reviewed by a group of specially trained individuals. Due to the quantity of cases and available specialists, it may take a few weeks before the review is complete. Once a case is reviewed, this group either asks for more information or informs you that the case has been resolved.

Once the case is resolved, the record is visible only to the original contributor since the record is of a living person. Others who may have seen the record while the person was considered deceased will either no longer see the record at all or the record will show as a record with “Unknown Name” and no other data.

If the record is not visible and you want the living person as part of your pedigree, you will need to create a new record for that person. Yes, this new record will be a duplicate of the other record, but remember that no one else will be able to see it but you.

If a record shows an “Unknown Name” as part of your pedigree, then you will want to delete the relationships (couple, parents, and children) to this record, and then create a new living record as part of your pedigree. If you have problems deleting the relationships or getting the “Unknown Name” record off your pedigree, please reply to the email informing you the record was changed from deceased to living, or create a new case, and a specialist will review the issue.

Remember, due to current privacy rules, most people will not have permission to see a record for a living person after it is corrected and will need to take further action if they want the person to appear in their pedigree.

Deleting a Person and Other Options

In May 2013, the Delete Person feature was released as part of FamilySearch Family Tree, and many people have been using it. However, we are concerned that it is being used when it should not be. If a person existed, he or she needs to have a record in Family Tree. When a person’s record is deleted but he or she really did live, then valuable information regarding that person, such as sources, photos, stories, discussions, and other information, is no longer visible in Family Tree.

For example, there is a record for John Smith, but he is listed as being in the wrong family. Since John Smith did live and was part of a family, instead of deleting the record for him as a person, you should delete instead the relationships to the wrong parents, spouse, or children.

The links to edit or delete relationships, especially child-parent relationships, are not as visible as the Delete Person option. For example, when there are multiple spouses or multiple parent sets, the children under the additional sets may not be easily visible.

The edit links are found on the person’s detail page and not on the pedigree or fan chart view. Once on the person’s detail page, you can do the following to see the children for each couple:

To show the children for a specific couple, click the Children link immediately under the couple box.

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If you want to show the children for all sets of spouses or all sets of parents, click the Show All link above the first set of spouses or parents.

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Once the children are visible for a couple, then the child-parent Edit Relationship link can become visible when you move your mouse over the child’s name in the list. Here is an example of what you will see when the mouse is on another part of the page:

Kristi 3







This is what you will see when the mouse is over the child’s name on this page, with the Edit Relationship link visible.

Kristi 4







From the child-parent relationship page, the option to completely delete the relationships to both parents is easily available. However, there is also an option to delete the relationship to just one of the parents after you click on the name of the parent you want to remove or change.

If there are multiple copies of a person, you should merge duplicates instead of deleting them. (More will be discussed on merging duplicates in the next section.)

We will soon release a change to the Delete Person page in which you will be required to indicate that you have already tried to edit the relationships. We will require a justification for deleting the person. (All other justifications in Family Tree are optional but highly recommended to assist in collaboration, but this one will be required.) Hopefully, these steps will give an opportunity for users to consider what they are really trying to accomplish and then choose the best feature to correct the problem instead of just using the most visible feature.

Merging records

If you see multiple records for a person in Family Tree, you should merge the records so only a single record for that person remains in Family Tree. Merging records in Family Tree gives you the ability to analyze the data, keep the best information from both records, and discard incorrect data.

In some circumstances, you will not see the possible duplicates option to start the merge process or may not be able to review a duplicate, such as if one of the following situations apply to the record:

  • One or both records are of living individuals.
  • One or both records are restricted.
  • One or both records are linked to another record (such as for a spouse, parent, or child) that is restricted.
  • A pedigree could become looped because of a merge (such as if a father and son or a mother and daughter would end up as the same record).

The merge process starts from the person’s detail page in Family Tree and not from the pedigree or fan chart view. To start a merge, click the Possible Duplicates link located on the right side of the page. You will see a list of possible duplicates based on the original information on the record you started with. The most likely matches will be at the top of the list, while the least likely matches will be at the bottom. To do a side-by-side comparison between the original record and another record, click the Review Merge button on the same line as the other record you want to review.

During the review, you will see some options for each value on the second record:

  • Replace—Replaces the information on the left with information on the right.
  • Add—Adds missing information on the left to the information on the right.
  • Reject—Leaves the data on the left unchanged, and makes the box on the right pink.
  • Undo—Restores the data on the left as though you had not changed it.

Ultimately, anything left on the record on the right will be archived and not visible on the final record. Choices made to relationships will affect not only this record but other records involved.

For example, there are two records for John Etherington. The first record has Margaret Williamson as a spouse. The second record has a different Margaret Williamson as a spouse. (Note: Family Tree will use the ID numbers, or system–assigned person identifiers, to determine if spouses, children, and parents are the same records. If they are, it will try to show them side-by-side, with the Replace option. If they are different, then Family Tree will show an Add option instead.)  If during the duplicate review process, the Add option for the relationship to the second Margaret Williamson is not selected, then the relationship between John Etherington and the second Margaret Williamson will be deleted on her record as well. This deletion could affect whether the records for Margaret Williamson appear as duplicates in the future so they can be resolved.


Here are some suggestions to remember when you are going through the merge process:

  • Don’t rush. Carefully evaluate every piece of information shown.
  • Use the Replace, Add, Reject, or Undo options for all changes when starting the merge process. The Add or Replace options on the compare screen will show the information moving from one record to the other record and what the final record (on the left) will look like.
  • Keep extra relationships even if they may make the record temporarily incorrect. This is strongly encouraged, especially if the extra relationship may show duplicate records for a spouse, parent, or child. By keeping them in the beginning, the duplicates can be easily found again, and the system may show them on the correct Possible Duplicates screen in the future.
  • If you are not sure whether a record is a duplicate, cancel the process, continue to research, start discussions, and come back to these records once you have more information.
  • Don’t forget that any data left on the right side of the compare screen will be archived (deleted) and will not be visible after the merge has been completed.


We hope this information helps you better understand and use the FamilySearch Family Tree. We encourage you to use the training documents and videos or the other helpful information in our Product Support section to learn more about these features.

As FamilySearch Family Tree has developed, we have received praise, suggestions, and comments about problems. We encourage you to continue to send us your comments. More changes are planned that will make it even easier for individuals to collaborate with others through Family Tree. You and others can work together create a worldwide pedigree with photos and stories that will help you get to know your ancestors as real, living people, not just as names, dates, places, and relationships.


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  1. Two people I was previously descended from are now missing and I don’t know why. One is Richard Mather, the other is Catherine Carey. I’m not related to them anymore? What happened?

  2. I would like to know why my deceased husband is visible on the pedigree page but does not show as my husband on my personal detail page, but my living ex husbands do. Also I do not show as his wife. I can refresh each detail page and then it shows, but it is gone again the next time I look. Is this a software issue? Why will it not stay when it always has in the past?

  3. I entered and changed data for my wife and myself on 3/16/2021 due to not seeing our names when I requested the Tree and I knew I had entered them yesterday, but didn’t see them when I signed on today. So I reentered them again on 3/16/2021. I would like to delete these records as they are duplicates of ones I entered yesterday. Thanks for any help you can offer.

  4. My personal family input on familytree has been ruined by listing my closest family only as “living” and a last name. I first noticed this years ago and was so stressed I never was able to work on my tree. Due to severe family illnesses, I have not been able to find a solution. How can I fix this?