Part 3: Tidying Up an Tree


  • Introduction

  • Step 1: Identification and “pre-flight checks”.

  • Step 2: Merging duplicate individuals.

  • Challenge to Green Room members.



We looked briefly at the construction of Pam’s Tree in Episode One, and the fact that she has a number of individuals who have been duplicated.  BEFORE we even think of undertaking any research we want to tidy up these anomalies and make sure we are only working with one set of individuals.

I will be restricting this work to Anna/Annie Marie Laughlin (“Annie”), her husband and immediate family.  Hopefully the workshop will give Pam (and the rest of the membership) the knowledge of how to look at their trees and begin the process of weeding out any obvious duplicates.


Step 1: Identification and “pre-flight checks”.

The first thing I’m going to do is switch to a list of all people – at the top right hand side of the screen we will find the button “Find Person”


By choosing the bottom option “List of all people” will give us an overall summary of the names and numbers of individuals that Pam has connected to her tree.

This shows us that Pam has 339 individuals connected to her Tree.

The first thing I want to do is check out is how many profiles “Annie” has.  As Annie has been recorded over the years as Annie, Anna, Mariah, has the maiden name of Laughlin and married name of Daily/Dailey – I want to be sure I identify all the profiles.  So I am going to start by looking for anyone whose First Name commences with the string “Ann”.

From this list we can see that Ancestry locates 8 individuals with their first name beginning “Ann”

Only 2 profiles are a match for “Annie”

Laughlin, Annie M – born County Down, Ireland died 28/02/1912 Kansas City

Laughlin-Daily, Anna Maria – born about 1845 Ireland, died 28/02/1912 Jackson

The first decision will be to see which set of information is more correct and what discrepancies, if any other than the name and birth date, exist between these two profiles and who is attached to each person before we merge the records.

We can do this by looking at the Fact Sheet for Each. By clicking on Laughlin, Annie M we are brought to this screen

We can bring this to a more user friendly sheet by using the Print icon and printing a pdf version.  Unless you have two computers (and/or screens) side by side – this is one of those instances where it is very useful to actually print the sheets and take careful comparison between the facts.  It is also a useful exercise to save the two pdfs to a Quarantine File before you make the changes and when finished to repeat and save the merged version before making any further edits. (For both “Annie” and Peter I have additionally captured the main relationship details into a table we will see below just how easy it is to spot the differences when it comes to Peter x 5.)

While merging two individuals in Ancestry can help tidy up that individual, if like Pam you have daughters attached by their married surnames, (the same applies to mothers and sisters) and/or if you have individuals attached by incorrect family relationships, Ancestry cannot always extrapolate that a daughter shown by her married name is the same person as the daughter shown by her maiden name.  Therefore the process of merging one individual can very occasionally lead to a profusion of other duplications appearing on a tree.  It’s rare but worth watching the numbers as you go.

We have already noted that Pam’s Tree contains 339 individuals.  We will want to keep an eye on this figure as we work through any changes – a sudden increase rather than expected decrease in numbers of individuals attached to the tree will alert us to any potential glitches of this nature.

We can then use the “back” button to go back to our list of 8 “Ann” individuals and repeat this step for Laughlin-Daily, Anna Maria.

Now we can see the two fact sheets. The discrepancies are easiest noted in a table

It also makes sense to double check all the records that are attached to each individual.  In Pam’s case the only difference is the 1870 Census is included as being attached to Anna Maria but not to Annie M.  All the other collections – AND records are the same.

Checking the content of the individual records is the final pre check – to make certain you do not have any conflicting information attached to your duplicate individual and that you are looking at one individual and not a pair or bunch of second and third cousins all born around the same time, with the same name, and virtually indistinguishable from one another.


Step 2: Merging duplicate individuals.

On the facts page of Annie M Laughlin (this is the profile that includes father, husband, siblings and the larger list of kids) at the top right hand side of the page we click on the Tools Option.

Choose “Merge with Duplicate”

(Occasionally Ancestry will place a suggestion in “Person 2” for you – if this happens, always take time to read and check, that you do have the correct individual that you want to merge!)

As I begin to type “Anna” into the “Find a Person in this Tree” I am given several options:

In our pre-checks we already identified that Anna Maria Laughlin-Daily 1845 – 1912 was the correct individual so we will click on her.

This brings us to our next screen – Compare

Ancestry will automatically select all options for Person 1.  In this instance I am going to accept this for all three sections.  We will go back in to the merged individual and make necessary changes after we have completed the merge. 

Any of the individual options can be changed to Person 2 by clicking the selection dot you require under Person 2 if these facts are a better fit.

Now that I am satisfied that I have selected the options I want I will click on “Merge” (orange button at the bottom)

This then automatically brings me back to Annie’s Profile.

You can see here that Ancestry has included all the facts from both individuals.  The facts pertaining to Person 2 (in this case Anna Maria Laughlin-Daily) have been included as (Alternative) facts. If you have noted which are the correct facts before you begin the merge it will be a relatively easy exercise to delete the incorrect facts or add additional comments to the final profile page to explain why you are retaining a potential conflict of information.

The next thing we want to do is go back to our “List of All People” and double check the number of individuals in the Tree.

This shows us that

There are now 338 individuals in Pam’s Tree.  As we had 339 individuals pre-merge everything is looking good.

Now we can go back to Annie M Laughlin and make a couple of minor edits.

I have changed Annie’s name to Anna Maria Laughlin

Edited Annie’s birth date to “Abt. 1840” as per the 1860 Census and add some clarifying information after Pam’s description about Annie’s death certificate.  I have also deleted the “alternative birth” of 1845.

Changed her date of arrival to Abt.1855 and added some additional clarifying information to the description.

Added a fact “also known as” with the word Annie (this shows up at the bottom of the page)

We can see how this begins to alter some of the information

Now it is clear to anyone having a look at Pam’s Tree and “Annie” that there are discrepancies in the documentation and that some of the evidence is unconfirmed and estimated.

We can still see we have more than one Peter Daily and that Katherine and Catharine M Daily still need to be merged.

Catharine/Katherine is a “rinse and repeat” job exactly as her mother.

Peter Daily is slightly more complex because he has 5 profiles.

However there is an easy way of taking out a lot of the hassle of merging 5 into one, and that is by taking a few minutes before starting and adding a temporary number after the forename.  Pick who you want to keep add #1 to his forename and then sequentially number the rest of him #2, #3, #4 and #5.  Then merge them one at a time.

We can see the original list of Peter Daily individuals in the list of all people

Now after I have made the temporary changes to name.

So back to our table, to double check our data and relationships.  I’m only going to show the relationships here for speed.  But if you are doing this for your own tree do take the time to check each record source and the records themselves and check for any potential discrepancies. 

While this may seem like a time consuming exercise you could avoid – from experience I can tell you it is much quicker than trying to sort out several half-sibling twists or not quite correct relationships between individuals at a (much) later stage.

Currently there are 337 individuals in Pam’s Tree.

By putting this into table form it is easy to spot that Peter #2 has a daughter Susan Daily McVay, Peter #5 has a daughter Nellie B McVay but Peter #1 has daughters that include Susie A Daily, and Ellen Daily. 

Peter #1 has sons Francis born 1869 and Frank born 1870

So did one or two daughters marry a McVay?  And are Francis and Frank one or two individuals?

Peter #1 has a brother Ulysses but Peter #4 has a father named Ulysses – Peter #1 and #3 have fathers called Joseph – so who is Ulysses?

On completion of the merge we can now see that the total numbers of individuals is 333. (337- 4 = 333) so all good again.

The next thing that needs to be completed is to clear up some of the duplication of events that now litter Peter Daily’s Profile and to remove the #1.

Based on census records Peter’s birth shows a variety of dates between 1826 and 1828 so I will set his birth to Abt. 1827

With the alternate births deleted we can still see that we have births of siblings and births of half-siblings showing within the facts.  His mother is also recorded as Mary Dailey.  She should be recorded under her maiden name of Burns.

To change these facts we have to use a mix of strategies, some of which will include Editing Relationships, making edits to the individuals attached to Peter Daily as well as editing the Facts Page of Peter Daily

Again this is the point where the old maxim of “More Haste – Less Speed” stands – we don’t want to rush off and detach individuals or delete individuals until we have worked through all of the information and checked for other duplicated individuals.

If we start with Joseph Daily we can see we have 6 individuals with this name.

Two were born about 1800 and died in 1865, three were born about 1837 and one has no dates.

By looking at this individual’s profile we can see that his parents are recorded as Joseph Daily 1800-1865 and Mary Burns 1808-1878 which indicates that he is likely to be the Joseph Daily born about 1837.

Looking for Mary Daily – as hoped there are none.

The same applies for Mary Dailey.

We do however have two of Mary Burns.

A bit of “rinse and repeat” required.

A day later and we are now down to 305 individuals

Pam will still have a bit more to do to ensure that all the ladies in her tree are recorded by their maiden names and to weed out duplications in other lines. There are also a number of dates recorded in numerical fashion – Pam will need to check back at her information and decide whether dates recorded as 07/11/1918 are 7 Nov 1918 or 11 July 1918 (eg Carol, Middleton S).

There are several ways of avoiding unintentionally adding duplications of individuals in your family trees:

  • When adding census records make sure you are not adding new individuals if they are already on your tree.  This can happen very easily if you are not watching for nicknames, contractions, married names, and even slightly different spellings.
  • If you open a list of all people on a second tab or other computer while you are working on your family tree it is much easier to track whether any particular individual is already on your family tree.
  • Make sure women are recorded by their maiden names – if you don’t know the maiden name of the woman leave the field blank
  • Watch out for duplication spouses as you work in your tree
  • Keep checking how individuals are related to one another – this can help avoid adding individuals as their own parents or children or grand-parents as parents.
  • Apply consistency in adding names beginning O’ or Mc or Mac

If you need to edit a relationship go to the profile page of the individual you are working on then in the top right hand corner choose Edit.

Then pick Edit Relationships from the drop down list.

This will then bring up a pop up box showing how that individual is related to the various others that are directly connected.

You can then use the option boxes to change the nature of the relationship between each individual.

Options for each parent are – Biological (auto selected), Adopted; Step; Foster; Related; Guardian; Private; Unknown

Options for Spouse are:  Spouse; Partner; Friend; Single; Other; Unknown

Options for Children are:  Biological (auto selected); Adopted; Step; Foster; Related; Guardian; Private and Unknown

Here you can also change who the parent is, remove alternative parents or spouses.  Note:  removing a relationship does not delete the individual that you have removed as being related from your tree.  If you detach a person from all others in your tree they will still sit there in the background as an individual attached to no one.

If at any time you are not certain how to fix an incorrect relationship take a few screenshots and post them with the details of your problem below and we will talk you through the process.


Challenge to Green Room members.

This entire case-study was released as a series over several weeks in the Green Room forum. Between each release, we challenged the members to help and offer comment – so we could use our collective brain – before the release of the next part of the case study. Here was the challenge we issued to the members at the end of the current part of the case-study:

Now, let’s move on to the part of this post that makes it a workshop! We invite your comments, questions and insights in the comment section below. In fact, any observation!

Once we get your replies on the forum we will begin to work through any potential additional information that may help us find where in Ireland Anna lived and when she arrived in the USA. 

We want to continue to involve you all as much as possible in every stage of this process – what you can spot, suggest, search, analyse, learn and teach.

(You can see the full set of comments and suggestions offered when we first published the above part of the case-study here. Feel free to have a look. When you are ready, come back here to jump on to the next part of this case -study.)


You can now Click here to comment on this Case-Study or ask further questions in the Green Room forum