It might be exciting to find your great-grandmother in FamilySearch Family Tree. But what about finding her four times—each record with a little different information?
This duplication can feel bewildering and frustrating. And yet finding an ancestor more than once in Family Tree is a fairly common occurrence. The reason for these duplicates (the term used when there are multiple records for the same individual) is because information in the tree comes from a variety of sources and because users can enter their own information directly into the tree. Although FamilySearch has put safeguards in place to prevent creating more duplicates, with the various points of information entry, it’s still possible for an ancestor to end up in Family Tree more than once.
Duplicate records make your tree messy, cause confusion, and can lead to wasted time. They often divide the known information about an ancestor into the separate records. One record might have accurate and thorough information about a person’s birth while another record has information and sources about his death. Duplicate records also complicate relationships since in one version of the record, your great-grandmother might be married to your great-grandfather but not have any parents while in another version, she might be listed her with her parents but not with a spouse.
While looking at multiple versions of your great-grandma can be confusing, there is a solution to the duplication problem—merging the duplicated records. Because most people will encounter duplicates in their tree at one time or another, merging is an important skill for anyone to master.
The Merging Process
Merging, although not difficult, can feel intimidating—particularly if you are new to it! The most common error people make is attempting to complete the process too quickly. Take your time as you merge to make sure you are coming to the right conclusions, retaining the most accurate information, and documenting your conclusions. Also, the more you know about your ancestor when you start the merging process, the easier the process will be and the more confident you will feel that you are making the right judgment calls.
Here are a few simple steps to help you in the process.
Find Possible Duplicates
The most straightforward way to locate duplicates on your tree is from a person’s details page. In the Tools box at the bottom of the right column, click Possible Duplicates.
A new page will open. In the example below, I selected “Possible Duplicates” on Jens Christian Thustrup’s page and learned he had a possible duplicate.
Because of its stringent criteria, the Possible Duplicates search doesn’t catch everything. If you suspect an ancestor has duplicates, try searching from the Find option located in the Family Tree menu at the top of the screen.
Another place you might encounter possible duplicates is when adding a new person to your tree. FamilySearch will automatically search existing records to see if the person might already be in the tree. Similarly, when you add a historical record, FamilySearch will automatically find people who might be a match, which could include more than one version of the same person.
Review the Merge
On the Possible Duplicates screen, click Review Merge. A Merge Persons screen opens.
On the top of the screen, you will see the overview of the two records being compared. You will merge the record on the right into the record on the left. If you would like to use the record on the right as the primary record, simply click Switch Positions.
Scroll down the screen, comparing each piece of information as you consider the following questions.
Is the person a match? If, after reviewing the information, you are confident both records describe the same person, then you should continue with the merge. If you conclude the person is not a match, scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and click Not a Match. Once you determine the two people are not a match, FamilySearch will no longer offer merging the two records as a possibility. If you are unsure, don’t merge the two records! Simply cancel the process, and go back to the person’s details screen. Spend some time digging deeper and researching this person. You can always come back and merge the records later.
For each field, do you want to add, replace, or reject the information? Arrows offer you choices for each field. If you choose “Replace,” the information on the right will replace the information in that category on the left. If you choose “Reject,” the information on the right will be deleted when the records are merged. If there is no information in the corresponding field on the left, you can choose “Add” to add the information. These fields include information about dates and places as well as relationships.
Some pieces of information are automatically merged into the preserved person, and both sets of information are kept. This information includes sources that are shown at the bottom of the comparison. If you don’t want that information saved, click Undo in the Sources box. Also, although anything stored in Memories (including photos, audio files, and stories) is not displayed on the “Review Merge” screen, this information is automatically stored with the preserved record.
Explain Your Reasons
When you have finished choosing which information to keep, click Continue Merge from the bottom of the screen. Before you can complete the process, you will be required to fill in a box labeled “Reason This Merge Is Correct.” Although it may be tempting to simply type, “Same person” or something similar, take a moment to give a more thorough explanation. Including the ID numbers of both records, for example, can be helpful.
When Not to Merge
While the steps above will work in most circumstances, there are some special circumstances to consider. Most importantly, not all records can or should be merged! It’s important to check each possible match carefully. Be sure not to merge:
- Children of the same parents who have different birth dates. Sometimes the family wanted to ensure a family name survived. With infant and child mortality rates sometimes so high, families in many cultures sometimes gave more than one child the same name to increase the chances of the name continuing.
- Records you aren’t sure about. Do some more investigation before moving forward.
When You Can’t Merge
FamilySearch does not allow you to merge:
- Records of two living people.
- Records of one living person and one deceased person. If needed, change the information on the living person’s record to indicated that he or she is deceased and then merge the two records.
- Records of two people whose information came from Latter-day Saint membership records.
- Records of people of different sexes.
For help on these and other situations where you are unable to merge, read here.
How to Unmerge
If you merge two records and then later learn you shouldn’t have merged them, all is not lost! If no changes or only a few changes have occurred to the record since the merge, open the person’s details screen, and scroll down to the Latest Changes box in the right column. Click Merge Completed. From this screen, click Unmerge to restore the old information. For more information on undoing merges, read this article.
For additional information, review these articles:
- “Finding and Merging Possible Duplicate Records in Family Tree”
- “Duplicates in Family Tree,” interactive slides in the FamilySearch Learning Center
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