Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The difference between merging, combining and deleting on FamilySearch Family Tree

In all the discussion online about and its Family Tree program, I have noted a significant amount of confusion about the terms merging, combining and deleting individuals. This post is intended to point out the significant differences between the effects of those three actions.
First, I will talk about combining. In the now old program combining was the action taken when duplicate individuals were found. Many of the duplicates were already combined when the program was introduced. Combining records for two different individuals who were (or perhaps were not) the same individual, resulted in a combined individuals page such as this screenshot shows:

Originally, if the records were incorrectly combined, you could "uncombine" or separate the records. The entire process of combining records in has been disabled. At the present time, there is a substantial backlog of records that need to be uncombined but all such actions have to be done by FamilySearch and not by the user. Some individuals had hundreds of combined records.

The second process is not available in, but is reserved to FamilySearch Family Tree, that is, merging two records. A complete explanation of the merge function is found beginning on page 141 of the Family Tree Reference Manual (LDS) and page 137 of the general Reference Guide for all users. There is also a significant discussion of the merging process and the deletion process in a FamilySearch Blog post entitled "Common Mistakes Often Made With Family Tree Data."

When two records are determined to be the same person and merged, only one of the records survives in the database. However, there is a process to unmerge two records. In the old combining records in, the results were individuals showing up to 100s of combined records. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the number of combined records, leaving many records that cannot be combined and as long as Family Tree is connected to, there is no way to merge some of the records in Family Tree.

Deleting a record is just exactly like it sounds. The record is no longer shown in the database, but also the record will not appear again, unless someone uses the same name for an entirely different record. As the FamilySearch Blog points out:
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.
Special care needs to be taken to avoid mistakes. People can be undeleted but it is much better to avoid the process in the first place.


  1. "Special care needs to be taken not to avoid mistakes." Classic. And thank you for your wonderful blog! I read it daily.

  2. "Special care needs to be taken not to avoid mistakes."
    I like your post generally; but lack-of proof-reading is often evident,as shown above.

    1. My dear friend Anonymous,
      Thank you for pointing this out. As you can tell proof reading is not one of my strong points. It probably comes from having a secretary for almost 40 years. I will try to do better. Thanks again. Sometimes I think faster than I write.

  3. Your last line says it all, and it really does show how Family Tree really doesn't work. Now I understand the whoel idea behind it, and it was a noble one, but in practice there are serious flaws. I am not advocating scrapping the whole thing,but I refrain from using it personally b/c anyone can go in and change the info, regardless of what 'proof' I have listed in the sources. It's very frustrating to get information correct (or as close to accurate as I can with the sources I find- enough to make a reasonable conclusion, and then have someone go in and start clicking around and dork it all up. The idea of a collaborative tree is great, but the reality is that it is a frustrating one and not something I neccessarily have time for everyday to check on and make corrections. I would have preferred the trees to remain w/the user (think ancestry) and have a box to check stating you would like to collaborate with someone who also is researching that same name. (I had to have a record disentagled from the whole mess due to gross errors in others combining records together). Not everyone knows what they are doing out there and some are just name gathering and click happy while 'researching'. I am not being mean, just a frustrated user that has a whole host of responsibilities that don't include babysitting my ancestors. Sorry for the diatribe...

    1. You would think I was a college graduate or something by the way I spell. I should have proofread too!.