Thursday, September 10, 2009

Download record images ... don't link to them

One of the major issues facing genealogy researchers is how to effectively capture, save and use images of genealogy records that pertain to our ancestors. has made it very easy for researchers with an subscription to attach a link to record images to persons in an Member Tree. However, there are two problems with this seductive and easy task:

1) The "attached" (really "linked") record images do not download to a family tree program, even to's Family Tree Maker 2010.

2) If access to a record database is removed from the website, then the "linked" record images are not available to users.

The latter instance is what has happened to thousands of subscribers that "captured" images from the Drouin Collection of Quebec baptisms, marriages and burials - the database was recently removed from access by as a result of a court order - see Lorine Schulze's blog post Ancestry in arbitration over the Drouin Collection for details. Consequently, the "linked" images in Ancestry Member Trees disappeared from the user databases - because there were only links to the images, not saved images attached to persons (like family photos are uploaded and attached).

The latest versions of Family Tree Maker 2010 permit the subscribed user to download their Ancestry Member Tree from, including all of the images and other media uploaded by the user, but not the record images "attached" ("linked") by the user to their tree directly from databases. However, the subscribed user can upload a new Member Tree to from within FTM 2010 that includes all images and media that the user attached to their FTM 2010 tree from files on their computer.

What should a genealogy researcher do in order to prevent "record image loss" due to either scenario? My "best practice" recommendations include:

1) Download and save to your computer hard drive any record images that pertain to persons in your family tree. Doing this, you have "captured" the record. Print it out if you want to using your favorite image program, and be sure to note the source citation of the record image - both the original data source and the online data source. The software programs can capture images and sources from a Web Search, and can be used to do this task. Frankly, I find it easier to do the downloading and saving directly from the database provider into a file folder where I can name it and find it easily.

2) Attach the saved record images to persons in your family tree program. The latest program versions (FTM 2009/2010, RootsMagic 4, Legacy 7, TMG 7) make this very easy to do. While you're at it, input the source information into the Source fields of the program. You'll be glad you did!

3) Do not attach record images to persons in your Ancestry Member Tree directly from the record databases - the links to these images (and therefore the images themselves) will disappear if you do not renew your Ancestry subscription or if the database is removed from

4) Make all changes to your family tree in your genealogy software program on your computer, not in the Member Tree on, if you do not have Family Tree Maker 2009/2010. If you use any other program, you can download only a GEDCOM from that will not include the record images that you have attached to persons in your Ancestry Member Tree.

The major challenge for some researchers is to create and use an organized file folder system with a consistent file naming convention so that you can find the record images easily on your computer hard drive. If you don't know how to do this, contact a knowledgeable computer user in your local society, or your friendly neighbor computer geek, to teach you how - it is not difficult.

Unfortunately, what I have recommended above does not mesh well with the "Genealogy in the Cloud" vision that seems to be the future of genealogy research. is very well-positioned to be the major player in the Genealogy Cloud competition. They have made it easy for subscribers to move data between and FTM 2010 family tree. No other family tree software program can upload the attached media to an Ancestry Member Tree, or vice versa.

At this time, there is NOT a seamless synchronization between FTM 2010 and Ancestry Member Trees. Uploading from FTM 2010 creates a NEW Ancestry Member Tree, and does not just update an existing Member Tree. A downloaded Member Tree into FTM 2010 can create a new family tree, or can be merged into an existing family tree.'s goal is probably to provide a synchronization feature that permits a user to change their database information in either a Member Tree or an FTM database and have it automatically update the other element.

There are several other family tree websites that exchange genealogy databases and media with family tree software - the website and the free Family Tree Builder genealogy software is one such combination. But the MyHeritage site is not free for users with more than 500 persons in their database, and true synchronization is not yet available.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insight! I didn't know that they sometimes pull the images. I've downloaded a few of the census images sporadically, but don't do it regularly. YET. I guess I better get with the program!

Holly Timm said...

I agree absolutely. It also means you can work on your family tree and view images when needed without being online. I have surname folders and download my images into those, adding a text file where I have copied and pasted the source info and any additional notes or comments I have on the image. These are kept together simply by giving them the same name.

GrannyPam said...

Thanks for pointing this out Randy. Inexperienced computer users may not be able to discern the difference from what is stored on their computer's hard drive and what is stored on the internet.

I have always downloaded images for records of my research subjects. I have never used Ancestry's family tree function, but I was aware that those links were just that, links. A link to Ancestry's information (or that of any other service provider) is pretty useless if the data is moved or deleted.

Bill West said...

Good advice,Randy. I've had
to unsubscribe from Ancestry but
I save any census images I'd found to my computer. I use the same method as Holly, folders for each name with any images I've found online.

That meant I could still use them
if necessary during the past few weeks when I had no Internet access.

Cousin Russ said...

Randy, -- I was about to do a Blog on how to put the Image from into Family Tree Maker Version 2010, and link the existing Source-Citation to that downloaded image. Your Blog is now a work item for me this afternoon.

Thank you


Paul Rickett said...

Good points, well made.

I have (mostly) got in the habit of downloading useful information directly to my computer when I find it. Primarily, it gives me access to the content when I need it, but it is also faster to work directly with files on the hard drive than across the net.

I wrote 'mostly' because I came across another danger in relying on the internet to maintain its content.

A few months ago I found a site that had useful information but simply bookmarked it for research at a later date. At the time the site was clean and I could have downloaded what I needed directly. Unfortunately when I recently returned to the site it had contracted a virus which tried to install itself on my computer. Thankfully my anti-virus software did its job and blocked the site but now I can't get the info from the site.

I guess the lesson is to download useful information when you find it rather than rely on internet content to be persistent or virus free.

Tonia Kendrick said...

There is no reason not to link images to Ancestry member trees, as long as one also saves the image to one's hard drive.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Randy,

Seems I have some work to do over the next few days. Making files on my computer and then downloading all of the images!

Neil Richard said...

I've had this issue with other resources in the past (especially old Nebraska books that list farmer biographies). I've since learned that the Internet is a living being where some links live a long time and others die. So I download as much information as I can when I find it and keep the link if I ever need to go back.

Cousin Russ said...


Please visit:

Attach Images following Download at

This is how you can recover those online images and attach the image to the Source-Citation in Version 2010.


Tina Lyons said...

I think it is very important to save these images to your hard drive. But I also think that it is good to attach the records to your Ancestry online tree. My online Ancestry tree is not my entire tree, but I add all records I find on Ancestry to it. This helps me to easily find the record if I need to access it later (as I am doing while updating my source citations). It can also give you easy access to the records and images if the images are enhanced like the censuses have been. Another good reason to attach records is that it allows others to find those records easier if they are researching the same family. Finally, I attach the records because my father does not have a subscription, but is able to view any records and images that I have attached to my tree that I share with him.
How do you know that when a subscription to Ancestry lapses, you lose your attached records? Ancestry trees are free and I wonder if it would keep your already attached records. Since my dad without a subscription can view my tree and its records, it makes me wonder.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I agree with Tonia and Tina. I save the records to my hard drive but I also link to the ancestry record for easy and quick reference.

Tina said...

Tina, I have an Ancestry subscription that lapsed, and I can no longer view the images that are linked to my tree. :-( I had hoped that I would still be able to see them. The only records I can use are the ones I downloaded to my hard drive.

Thanks for the great post, Randy.

Eileen said...

Your post is on target and why I am not a fan of cloud computing. If you use FTM 2009/2010, the merge function in Web Search of will physically download the image. It names the file with a long number in JPG format and stores it in the folder where FTM saves its database. This functions also attaches the image to a source citation that it generates (such as it is) and provides a caption using the source name and the primary person being merged. It also provides a link to the online copy (which as you so aptly illustrated may go away some day).


Mestephil said...

Very sound advice that I follow already. I use Reunion for Mac and not FTM as my primary database. I have FTM 2010 but uploading the file is a new tree as you note. I download the images and the record index page with the citation notes, and print to pdf. I then dump the pdf file in a source directory and link the pdf to my citation in Reunion. It is fast and easy. Uploading gedcoms of my database to is not at all seamless, so my hard drive databse is the first priority. Lastly: back-up, back-up, back-up....