Devon Noel Lee
Should Spouses Have One Tree or Separate Trees?
The couples that research together stay together. But should they have their ancestors in the same database?
Today, we will address a question posted to a Facebook genealogy group of which I’m a part.
If I am researching my ancestors and those of my wife, is it better to maintain two completely separate RootsMagic databases or combine them?
Many people have weighed in from the RootsMagic user's group regarding what they do with that genealogy program. However, I want to broaden the scope of the question to include any genealogy tree-building website and/or genealogy software.
One Tree to Rule Them All vs. Targeted Family Trees
Let’s first discuss the two approaches to tree building in the genealogy community that address this topic.
Many prominent genealogists prefer to have anyone and everyone in a massive family tree. The theory, as best as I understand it, is that the “One Tree to Rule Them All” will help you see when people are linked together that you had not expected. Plus, it keeps you focused rather than fragmented. And some researchers say you’re not doing double the work.
By contrast, Targeted Family Trees segment sections of a family tree. In this way, a researcher works on a specific research question, a specific location, specific surnames, or their side of the family versus their spouses’ lines. These researchers avoid being distracted by tree hints in online trees or individuals they are not interested in researching on any platform.
Additionally, some researchers work with other researchers on a smaller tree. By having separate trees, these researchers collaborate on only the portions of the tree of common concern.
Both genealogical approaches have their merits and deficiencies. Only you and your spouse can decide which one will work for you both.
7 Things To Consider Before Sharing a Tree
Except for collaborative family trees such as FamilySearch, WikiTree, and Geni, you can have a shared tree or separate trees in MyHeritage, Ancestry, Findmypast, RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, and other genealogy tree-building programs.
Here are some things to consider when deciding with your spouse whether to have one tree or separate trees.
Do You Have Children?
Some genealogists believe that if you have children, you should definitely create one tree because it will be much easier for your offspring to manage later.
However, the age of your children and how many years you may have left to research will impact your decisions.
For example, Andy and I are in our mid-40s. We have children at home involved in sports, band, and academic pursuits. Another child is on a mission. Our eldest is working entry-level jobs and in college. In short, we have children, but they are not ready to take on the roles of genealogists for our family. We can, and do, keep separate trees in our Ancestry accounts.
By contrast, when my mother passed her genealogy research to me, she combined her lines with my father’s into one tree. Since I was a married adult, the one tree for mom’s research made sense.
In short, consider your age and the stage of life your children are in before deciding whether to combine or keep your personal trees separate.
Will Color Coding Serve You
In a previous post, I discussed how you could color code portions of your family tree using RootsMagic. You can also color-code your family tree using Family Tree Maker. Some researchers have found that by using color-coded names, they can share a family tree with their spouse.
However, if you and your spouse can not agree to your color coding system, it might be best to separate your trees.
Are You and Your Spouse from One Location?
If you and your spouse share a common ancestral location, it would make sense to make one database.
It’s possible you will discover you have pedigree collapse or endogamy in your family tree. Thus, a combined family tree helps you see how interrelated your ancestors are.
However, my husband and I do not share ancestors or cousins in common back to our 6th generation. Since we focus our active research in this time frame, we can keep separate databases without missing possible intersections.
Additionally, since we have our ancestral lines on collaborative family tree platforms like WikiTree and FamilySearch, we could find any connection outside of our active research there.
Reduce Citation Replication
This next topic pertains to efficiency in genealogy research.
As some of you may know, I am always looking for ways to be a more efficient researcher. Hence, the release of the video about the Goldie May Research Log that records your online investigation while you search. (Hint: It's the best research log ever!)
One time-consuming research task is creating source citations. Some researchers assert that their combined family tree reduces source citation efforts.
If you have watched my video about creating citations:
You have learned about the many ways we can be more efficient with our citations. However, the ‘one tree’ advocates do have a point about combining their family tree to reduce citation work.
If you’re using citation templates or copies of previously created free-form templates, you could save time by not creating these sources again and again.
However, if your and your spouse research in very different locations, you will likely not have much overlap in citations. Thus the potential for saving time is negligible.
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Smaller Trees are Easier to Manage
One RootsMagic user said that when her tree exceeded 35,000 persons, the database was too cumbersome to work with. I would have to agree.
I advocate creating smaller research trees to tackle your active research projects, particularly brick walls. If you find yourself going down rabbit trails, it’s likely the result of having too many people clamoring for your attention.
One other thing I have found is transferring databases, and cleaning up facts, sources, and locations are more manageable when you’re working with a smaller tree.
Are Your Research Styles the Same?
As I mentioned earlier, the couple that researchers together, stays together. However, do you and your spouse research in the same way?
Off-camera, Andy and I have had many discussions about different research approaches. Some discussions get very heated. We both agree on the need to support our research with evidence. However, that’s where many of our agreements end.
For instance, cleaning up place names is a constant obsession of mine. This is why I made a series of videos about fixing locations in your Ancestry, FamilySearch, Family Tree Maker, and RootsMagic family trees.
And do not get me started on our citation differences! There’s a reason I wrote a post entitled, Genealogy Source Citations Made Easy for Those Who Dislike Them.
Since we have such different genealogy research styles, it’s better that we keep our family trees separate. In the future, our children (or I most likely) will have to combine our trees and resolve these differences. But for now, we are more at peace with separate trees.
Genealogy research should lead to more connection, not division, in our families. So, would you and your spouse benefit from separate trees?
Do You Have Multiple Subscriptions?
One final thing to consider is whether you and your spouse share genealogy subscriptions.
If you are sharing a subscription and there is a cap on the size one family tree can be, then you might want to have separate trees.
Or, if you and your spouse don’t want to be bothered with tree hints for “their side” of the family, have separate accounts. (This is SO true of Andy and me).
However, if you do not have a tree size limit or you both work out a solution to the tree hints of the other’s side of the tree, then have a shared tree.
Andy and I are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One benefit of membership for genealogists is we can each have separate access to Findmypast, Ancestry, and MyHeritage to build our family trees.
As such, we don’t need to have the other spouses’ tree data in our account. Refer back to the previous point and you’ll know how this helps us have a happy marriage.
If at any time you would like the assistance of an experienced heir hunter or forensic genealogist, check out our friends over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. and tell them Devon Noel Lee referred you.
Which is Right For You?
There is no genealogy standard for which tree-building strategy is right for couples. I hope you have some things to consider before making your decision. And remember, it’s your and your spouse’s decision, not someone on the internet.
However, I would LOVE to know have you and your spouse have decided. Let me know in the comments section.
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