Why You Should Download Your Files From Ancestry and Every Other Website

Why You Should Download Your Files from Ancestry

Back in 2015, rumors of a possible sale of Ancestry.com sparked reactions ranging from "Run! The sky is falling!!" to "Yawn..." A common theme among many of the posts in social media was that everyone should download their GEDCOM files from Ancestry ASAP. 

Those people who urged everyone to download their GEDCOMs from Ancestry were spot on... but not for the reason they think.​


You SHOULD go download your GEDCOM and other files from Ancestry… and any other website where you have them. 

Note that I said “download,” not “delete.” It isn’t that I think that Ancestry or any other website is going anywhere. It’s a matter of sensible data management.

Eggs and Baskets

The great thing about electronic files — GEDCOMs, digitized photos, audio files, etc. — is that you can easily have multiple copies of the same data. (It’s also a challenge, but that’s a topic for another post.) When you have multiple copies, you don’t need to have all of your eggs in one virtual basket.

LOCKSS - Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe

Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) is an archival principle that does just what it says. There’s safety in numbers.

One of anything is vulnerable. If that one thing is destroyed or lost, that’s it. It’s gone. With lots of copies, you increase the odds of that item surviving. Losing one doesn’t mean you lose everything.

While I don’t think that a sale of Ancestry would mean the shuttering of the site (I mean, do you pay $2.5B – $3B for something and then shut it down?!), you shouldn’t have the only copy of your files there. You shouldn’t have the only copy of your file anywhere. You shouldn’t have only one copy. Period.

You shouldn't have only one copy of your #genealogy data. 

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Let’s say that the site where you have your data has trouble with a server; the site is down while they fix it. Your data is inaccessible during that time. Same if you lose your Internet connection. If you can’t reach the web, you can’t reach your data.

And there’s the possibility that the site where you have your data goes out of business.

On the flip side, don’t let your computer store the only copy you have. When that computer dies — and it’s when, not if — you could lose it all. Utilize the Internet as off-site storage.

We Can Play It Safe

Genealogists use many types of data. We have GEDCOMs, photos saved as JPGs and TIFFs, PDFs of family histories. It takes us a long time to compile it all and we don’t want to have to recreate it.

We owe it to ourselves to not have only one copy — not on Ancestry, not on our laptop, not anywhere. When we use the LOCKSS principle, we help ensure that our data lives on.

Locks keep our things secure... and Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe

Why You Should Download Your Genealogy Files from Ancestry

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16 thoughts on “Why You Should Download Your Files From Ancestry and Every Other Website

  1. Toria, exporting from FTM (or from Ancestry.com, other genealogy programs, other websites, etc.) creates a file in a text format called GEDCOM. Exporting will not remove data from the original program or website. The GEDCOM file can then be imported into a different program, uploaded to another website, given to a relative, or just saved on your computer, on a disk, in the cloud, etc. just in case it was needed later.

    Although one could open a GEDCOM file in Word, Notepad, etc., that would not be advisable for the average user, as it is very easy to corrupt the data. There would be little point for most users, anyway, as it simply contains a long list of data, with code to tell programs which people to link, and in what way.

  2. Should I be able to do all tasks on Ancestry’s Web Site which I presently do on FTM 2014 and sync to the web site?

    • Hi John.
      If you have Ancestry’s FTM 2014 the sync function no longer works. You have to update to MacKiev’s latest release of FTM which has the sync function.
      But before you do, make sure you have a copy of your FTM files on an external storage device before you instal the new program

  3. Thanks for the information. I have no idea how to download, upload or whatever it is to anything else. Is there a place I can go to for more details? I would be crestfallen if I lost my Ancestry tree. I am just a hobbyist but I have been doing this on and off for more than 25 years. Thank you….

    • Hi Linda! Ancestry has a tutorial showing how you can download a GEDCOM of your tree: http://help.ancestry.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/472/kw/472. A GEDCOM file includes only the text; it won’t capture any digital images that are attached to your tree.

      If you use Family Tree Maker as your genealogy software on your computer, you can also link your tree that’s in Family Tree Maker with a tree that’s on Ancestry and sync them. (Do that regularly.) BTW, if you do use Family Tree Maker, Ancestry may or may not continue the syncing with FTM after the end of 2016.

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  5. I keep several copies of my gedcom, and other files like jpgs, pdfs, historical ebooks, etc. And I NEVER trust anyone access to them! You’d be surprised how many folks have lost data and jpgs due to trusted siblings who betrayed them and deleted this stuff!! The reason why I keep family group records hardcopies to digital copies on an external hard drive, and two flash drives! It will never happen again!

  6. As a family history consultant I teach to have a software program installed on your computer, and not just use one of the online sites, such as Ancestry. This way you can keep track of living relatives, keep your family tree correct, and work offline. I really like your article and find it a good reminder to have several back ups.

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