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 Pruning and Grafting Branches of Your Family Tree with Advanced Filtering Tools


Have you ever had the situation where you’ve imported a GEDCOM file, only to find that several branches of the tree were extraneous? Or you started with some data from an unreliable source, and now know where a new, more reliable source is, so you want to trade in your old data for new, more correct data? Or perhaps you are coordinating research efforts with a relative, where you have taken on the research of one branch of your family tree and your associate is researching another branch, and you want to keep each other updated.

Using the Advanced Filtering capabilities of Ancestral Quest, you can clean up these types of problems. Here’s how:

Let’s say you received a lot of data from your aunt Mae, which includes three generations of descendants for your second-cousin, Robert. You don’t want to track the descendancy of your distant relatives so closely, and would like to remove Robert’s descendants .

  1. Make a backup of your database, in case you make a mistake.
  2. Go into the Search for Individual/Browse screen:
    • Search for Individual toolbar button
    • In AQ versions 2.1 - 3: From the Menu bar choose Tools > Browse List, or click the Browse toolbar button (the icon that looks sort of like a pair of Rolodex cards)
    • In AQ versions 2002 (version 10), 11, and 12: From the Menu bar choose Search > Individual Search or choose the Search for Individual toolbar button (the same icon that looks sort of like a pair of Rolodex cards), or press Ctrl+s on the keyboard
  3. Click the Advanced button to open up the Advanced Filtering portion of the screen.
  4. Select the root person of the branch you wish to work with. In this case, Robert is the root of this branch of your family tree, so select Robert (highlight his name in the alphabetic list).
  5. Set the relationship type. In this example, you are trying to remove Robert’s descendants, so set the relationship type to ‘Descendants.’
  6. Click the Select button: you will be given the chance to indicate the number of generations and whether spouses should be included. When complete, you will have all direct descendants of Robert selected, along with Robert himself, and optionally their spouses.
  7. Check the ‘Show results only’ box to view the list of selected individuals and scroll up and down the list to verify that those marked are the ones you want.
  8. Now click the Delete button and indicate that you want to remove all selected individuals. Ta da! You have successfully cleaned out, or pruned, an unwanted branch of your family tree.

There are two potential problems with the above procedure:

  1. If Robert’s descendant branch contained side branches, such as the parents and siblings of some of the spouses, they will still be in the database, but be disconnected from the main tree. To remove these side branches you would change step ‘E’ above to set the relationship type to ‘All Descendant Related’. When you click the Select button in step ‘F’, you will not be asked for information such as number of generations or spouses. Instead, ALL descendants of Robert will be selected, and additionally their spouses, parents of spouses, siblings of spouses, spouses of these siblings, and on and on. Anyone connected in any way to the descendants of Robert will be selected so that the ENTIRE branch of the tree – every little leaf – will be selected.
  2. You probably intend to keep Robert and perhaps his spouse(s) while removing their descendants. To do this, once you have the descendant branch selected you need to DESELECT Robert and his spouse(s). Since Robert’s record is already highlighted, just change the relationship type to ‘Individual’ or ‘Couple’, then click the Deselect button. You will notice that Robert and his spouse(s) are no longer on the list of selected individuals.

You can use this technique of selecting and deselecting SETS of people to isolate just those you want. You can delete the set as described above, or export the set to a GEDCOM file.

By defining field filters, you can refine these sets based on information in individual’s records. For example, you could specify that you want only those descendants who were born in Germany between 1820 and 1860 and who died of cancer. The definition of field filters is beyond the scope of this article, but is fully described in Ancestral Quest’s online help, along with several examples in the Online Tutorial.

There are some powerful uses of this technique, whether you are selecting ancestral or descendant branches:

  1. Split your database. Do this by copying your database (use the File > Copy menu function), then select yourself and your ancestral related to remove from one database, and select your spouse and his/her ancestral related to remove from the other database.
  2. Export the selected branch to send to a relative as a GEDCOM file.
  3. Prior to importing a more correct branch from a relative, purge the outdated branch from the tree in your database. Once you import the more correct branch, all you have to do is link an appropriate person from the imported set to the appropriate relative in your database and you have completed the grafting of the new branch. You won’t have to spend hundreds of hours merging duplicates and hoping you don’t make any mistakes.

One note of caution. When you use ‘All Descendant Related’ or ‘All Ancestral Related,’ certain types of intermarrying in your lines can cause the selection process to ‘wrap around’ and give the same results as ‘All Related.’ If your intent is to use this list in a non-destructive way (ie: print a custom report for the selected people, generate a birthday/anniversary calendar, export them to a GEDCOM file, etc.) you would have to locate the intermarriage link that causes the ‘wrap around’ and temporarily unlink in order to get the results you want – remember to relink after you are done. If you are trying to prune the branch of the tree, you can first select just direct ancestors or descendants of the branch’s root person and delete them, then find all people that are no longer connected to the main tree and delete them (you do this by first selecting ‘All’, then deselecting ‘All Related’ to anybody you know should be on the main tree.)

Proper use of these advanced capabilities can save you hours and hours of time, effort and frustration when coordinating research efforts with others.