Splitting a Family Tree with Family Tree Maker, Part 2

Ben recently wrote about his frustrations with splitting a tree in Family Tree Maker for Mac 2 (FTMM2). I needed to do this for my own tree, so I set about finding the best way to do it. I recently prepared a family tree for my stepmother-in-law and, silly me, included it in my primary file. After reading Ben’s post, I became concerned that splitting that branch from my file would be impossible. As Ben said, many steps are involved, but it’s not impossible. 

A family tree is not like a real tree where you can just lop off a branch. A family tree is a metaphor for or a graphical depiction of relationships among people, the most basic being ancestor and descendant. In most genealogy software that I’ve used, you can select people based on relationships. For example, in Reunion, you can use Find > Relatives and drill down to Direct Ancestors, Aunts & uncles, Nieces & nephews, etc., and mark all of these relatives. But even Reunion doesn’t have a way to automatically find and mark a second spouse of one of your ancestors and their children, because there is no recognized relationship. To me, this is where the real problem lies with splitting a family tree in almost any software, including both Reunion and Family Tree Maker (FTM). Does anyone know of an application that can automatically identify these people? I will say that in Reunion, you can do a search for all marked people who had more than one spouse. Then you could manually mark all the additional spouses and children. In FTM, you either must know the people in the branch you’re splitting or pruning, or review a family tree chart for all people in that branch who had more than one spouse.

Once you’ve identified any potential problem areas, actually splitting or pruning the branch isn’t too difficult. Here are the steps I recommend. (Note: I used FTMM2 to write this, but the steps work for FTMM and Family Tree Maker for Windows, as well.)

  1. Save your work, close all running applications, and restart your computer. If you’re running Mac OS X Lion, uncheck the box to reopen windows. This is to free up as much memory as possible. If any memory intensive applications reopen automatically after restarting, like an internet browser, close them.
  2. Open your FTM file and back it up. That way if something goes wrong, you can restore your backed up copy.
  3. Select the person whose branch you want to split or prune. In my case, I selected my stepmother-in-law’s only son because he was related to everyone else in his branch, except for his wife’s ancestors and a few second spouses, like the second wife of his great great-grandfather (and their children).
  4. Click on Publish > Charts > Extended Family Chart > Create Chart. FTM may appear to not respond momentarily (spinning beach ball, etc.), but then “Chart Loading” should appear, followed by the chart itself.
  5. If the font is too small to read, zoom to something that’s readable (I had to use 150%). Uncheck the “Center tree on page” and “Boxes overlap page breaks” boxes to make the chart more readable. The chart will reload.
  6. The default chart lists only up to 7 generations, so if the branch has more than this, increase the number of generations of ancestors and/or descendants. If your computer has plenty of memory, you could also tick the box “Include all individuals,” but if there are a lot of people in your tree, it may take some time for the chart to reload (my MacBook Pro with 4 GB of memory took 3 minutes to load 22,000 people). See Figure 1.

    Fig 1 Set Up Chart
  7. Use the Person Locator in the lower righthand corner to find the person whose branch you’re splitting or pruning. Check the chart to make sure you’ve selected the correct person. If there’s more than one instance of the person on the chart (either because their branch wouldn’t all fit in one place, or they had more than one spouse), select the correct instance.
  8. Right-click (or Control-click on a Mac) on your target person. A menu like the one in Figure 2 will appear.
    Fig 2 Select Branch & Mark

    I have highlighted the selections you will probably need to make in order to select most, if not all, people in the branch. Note that you probably won’t want to “Select Person and All Relations” because this could end up selecting most people in your tree, if everyone else is somehow related to your target person.

  9. This step is optional but recommended. You may want to review all the people you’ve selected to ensure you don’t split or prune someone you don’t want to by accident. Right-click (or Control-click) anywhere on the chart and the context menu will appear again. Select Mark Selected > Marking 1. This will shade all the boxes of the selected people so you can see them more easily (see Figure 3).
    Fig 3 Review Marked People

    Scroll around the chart to see which boxes are shaded and make sure they’re all the right ones. I found that I could do a quick visual check by zooming out to 50% and checking the pedigree lines; I didn’t need to read the names in the boxes.

  10. If you need to make any changes, use Command-click (ctrl-click in Windows) to deselect or select people. You will have another chance to make changes in Steps 11 or 13.
  11. If you’re only pruning a branch (i.e., deleting), then skip to Step 12. Once again, right-click (or Control-click) anywhere on the chart and the context menu will appear again. Select Export > Selected Persons (see Figure 4).
    Fig 4 Export Selected

    A dialog box with Export options will appear (Figure 5).

    Fig 5 Export Options

    Select the options that are appropriate for you. Use the “Choose” button to make any last-minute changes to the people who are selected. The dialog box that opens works just like the one for filtering people from the Index. You can also choose what kind of file you export here. You have a choice of FTMM 2, FTMM 2010, GEDCOM 5.5, or GEDCOM for FTM 16 (assuming you use FTMM2). Make sure the “Include only items linked to selected individuals” box is checked; otherwise, your exported file will contain all the media and sources from your master file. Once you’ve made all your selections, click the “Export” button and, in the following dialog box, choose a file name and folder. Don’t worry about losing any data at this point; you aren’t deleting anybody yet. After exporting the branch, I recommend opening the exported file and checking it to ensure everything is as it should be. If you find anything wrong, you can change your selections and export the branch again. This concludes the splitting portion of the tutorial.

  12. To prune a branch from a family tree, i.e., completely remove it, use the Extended Family Chart to delete the selected people from the file. Right-click (or Control-click) anywhere on the chart and the context menu will appear. Select Delete From File > Selected Persons (Figure 6).
    Fig 6 Delete Selected

    A list of the selected people will appear (Figure 7).

    Fig 7 List of Selected People
  13. If you want to change the selected people, click the “Select” button; otherwise, skip to Step 14. The Filter dialog box will appear, where you can include or exclude the people to be deleted. Click the “OK” button when ready (Figure 8).

    Fig 8 Change Selected People
  14. Click the “Delete” button and a confirmation dialog will appear (Figure 9).
    Fig 9 Confirm Delete

    I know it’s scary, but Just Do It. Remember the backup you made in Step 2? You can always restore it if need be. You will get a box that counts down the people remaining to be deleted. When the operation is completed, you can check the Extended Family Chart to verify that the branch is gone. You could also run a Data Errors Report and check for “Person is unattached,” or run a Kinship Report based on your home person and look for any people who are unrelated; these would probably be collateral people you missed in the selection process.

  15. I recommend you compact your file next. When I did so after pruning only 200 people from my 22,000-person tree, my file size was reduced by 74%.
  16. Lastly, you’ll probably want to delete any places, media, sources/citations, charts, and reports that were linked to the people you deleted. Unfortunately, FTM does not automatically delete them. It deletes just the people.

There you have it: how to split a family tree in 16 steps (3 optional) using Family Tree Maker. I was able to prune a 200-person branch in about an hour without any crashes. Let us know how it worked for you.

[In keeping with the practice of showing you how to complete tasks with your genealogy software, I created the following videos to demonstrate the method Keith presents in his article. —-Ben >@<]

Splitting a Family Tree in FTM 2012

Splitting a Family Tree in FTMM2


  1. Lois says

    I absolutely *love* you guys!!! I’m the individual that originally posed this question to Ben awhile back. I can’t thank you two enough for the time and effort you have put into solving this dilemma. Your instructions (both written and visual) are amazing and will help a great deal. I can’t wait to tackle it with a small sampling of my own.

  2. Paul says

    In Reunion you can mark everyone who is “linked” to a particular person. This picks up second spouses and their children, etc. Having made the switch to FTM3, I’m really missing the power and simplicity of Reunion’s marking feature.

    The above procedure (which I’m grateful for) is so convoluted and difficult, and then you finally get to step 16 to find you still have a huge mess on your hands. Is there any advice on how to easily accomplish step 16 after you have deleted thousands of individuals from your tree?

    I’m trying to decide if I would be better off exporting my file back into Reunion to split it, and then back to FTM3. Unfortunately, I’ve found no painless way of moving a tree from the one platform to another.

    • Ben Sayer says

      Hi Paul. I agree with you. In fact, that’s why I wrote in the article that this one was in response to: “I’ve tried every which way to develop a method for cleanly splitting trees in FTMM2. After putting several hours into it I can say unequivocally, that it cannot be done.”

      It’s not that trees could not be split, but that developing a method for cleanly splitting them was not possible.

      Maybe Keith can respond to your question as he’s the author of this article and method.

      —-Ben >@<

  3. Keith says

    Paul, I believe the simplest and easiest way “to delete any places, media, sources/citations, charts, and reports that were linked to the people you deleted” would be to repeat Step 11 for everyone remaining in the tree to a new file. When you do this, just make sure the “Include only items linked to selected individuals” box is checked. Just be aware that, if your tree is synced with Ancestry.com, you will need to upload and sync the new file. You can then either delete the old file and media folder, or perhaps keep them as a backup. Does this answer your question?

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