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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

How to Fix a Bad Merge in the Family Tree on FamilySearch

FamilySearch Pedigree with title unmerge persons on your FamilySearch family tree

Have you stumbled across a situation in your family history research where two people are combined incorrectly in your online family tree? Learn how to fix bad merges on the FamilySearch family tree.

Before you separate improperly combined individuals on FamilySearch, first learn how bad merges happen and how to evaluate whether you have a bad merge.

How Do Incorrect Merges Happen on FamilySearch?

Two common reasons causing genealogy researchers to assume that two people are duplicate profiles when they are not, include shallow research and same name confusion.

The first reason poorly combined individual happens is that FamilySearch users are doing very, very shallow research. They may only be looking at a parish record in England that said Richard Richard married Mary Tripp. They had a child named William.

Did you know there are quite a few Richard Richards who married Marys and had sons named William?

If you don't look at other records such as census, enumeration records, baptismal records, death records, and other things from this parish, you'll combine people in the family tree that should remain separate individuals.

Be sure to do reasonably exhaustive searches for your ancestors. To learn more about what records you might be missing, check out this blog post.

The second mistake on this collaborative website is same name confusion, particularly with commonly named kinsfolk. You may think your ancestors have a fairly unique name, such as Dorothy Zumstein or Effingham Townley. However, there are multiple people with that name living about the same time period. If you don't look at other identifying pieces of information, you're going to tangle up the tree.

What Happens When You Unmerge Ancestors on FamilySearch?

My colleagues over at FamilySearch want us to understand what happens when combing and separating profiles before we do the task.

  • Suppose you have Sally 1 with some facts and sources.

  • You also have Sally 2 with some facts and documentation.

  • Someone determined that these two Sally's are the same person and merged them together.

When that merge took place, Sally 1 receives the facts from both Sally 1 and Sally 2. Meanwhile, Sally 2 is not deleted but hidden from use.

What happens when you want to separate the ladies?

If you decide later that they are two separate people, you can split them apart.

If you have recently merged these persons or made no changes to Sally 1 since the merge, you can easily hit and unmerge and separate the two people. Sally 1 will retain her sources, and Sally 2 will retain hers.

If you have made changes or attached more family members t the new Sally 1 combined profile, a few things happen.

  1. FamilySearch will restore ally 2 along with the family relationships and sources she had prior to the merge.

  2. FamilySearch will leave the new documentation and changes on Sally 1's profile

As such, if you need any of those facts and sources to go over to Sally 2's profile, you will need to detach those resources from Sally 1 and link them to Sally 2.

While cleaning up your tree on FamilySearch takes some effort, it's worth it to have an accurate reflection of your family history.

VIDEO: Unmerge persons on FamilySearh family tree

Watch this video.

Evaluate Evidence to Validate a Merge Happened Incorrectly

In the training video above, I demonstrated how I determined Dorothy Ann Zumstein was incorrectly combined with another woman.

The short version centers on shallow research caused by a Canadian border crossing record. A researcher added this document to their relatives based on Dorothy's name and her living in Vermont. However, upon examining the record, the crossing happened in Michigan and had identifying details that relate to a different family.

Make a habit of evaluating the research behind the merge. FamilySearch family tree is a working tree. People should peer reviewing each other's work.

If you think something's wrong, figure out where the mistake was made. When you correct it, share your decisions with other FamilySearch users.

↪️ Are you looking for more genealogy resources?

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Steps for Unmerging Individuals

  1. On the Person Page for the relative that you want to correct, click in the right column. You'll find a box labeled "Last Changes."

  2. On the Change List, you'll notice a link that says "Unmerge."

  3. Click this link, and a guided series of screens will help you unmerge two individuals.

  4. When you get to the screen that says, "Reason to unmerge," please explain your decision. In fact, FamilySearch has some starter sentences for you. DON'T STOP THERE.

  5. Once you've finished your reason statement, click unmerge.

Here's an example of how I explained my reasoning.

Dorothy Ann Zumstein married Howard Merritt and her parents are Robert Victor Zumstein and Clementine Comfort. She never married Richard Zeeman, which is the one that's connected with this profile. There is evidence that Richard did marry a Dorothy Zumstein and had a daughter. Yet, his wife is different from the one who married Howard Merritt.

While this is a good start, I can rework the explanation until it can hold up in the future.

If you follow these tips, you'll have two separated individuals.

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What To Do After You Unmerge Your Relatives?

You may still have some tree clean-up work to do, but your ancestor will not be fighting with another person for their identity.

From here, you can:

  • Fix the family relationships. Add a missing husband, children, or parent.

  • Search the FamilySearch database from the person profiles for new documentation about your relatives.

  • Add photos or stories to the memories section.

  • Link to family history videos uploaded to YouTube

If you find out you have to re-merge them again, the process is simple. Make sure you check out my video about how to merge people together right up there.

Additional FamilySearch Tips

Read the following blog posts for things you can do to improve your family tree or find your ancestors.

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