How to Delete a Family Tree on Ancestry

I’ve been working on my family tree on Ancestry for over a decade now and I’m not afraid to admit in the early days I made some huge mistakes. I was green as grass and made the rookie error of trusting too much in the “Ancestry Member Tree” hints.

While these can be a great source for hints I quickly learned that they can be very flawed especially when I noticed glaring impossibilities in terms of parentage. Sometimes people will shoehorn in a match to try and confirm a connection to someone notable.

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This early naivety on my part meant that my tree was littered with bad connections that simply could not be proven. I’ll admit at first I was of a mind to just delete the whole thing and start over. Ultimately I didn’t do this but I certainly understand the instinct to just scrap the work and retry.

In this post I will begin by exploring why you might want to delete your tree entirely and then walk you through the simple process of doing so. I will however also outline some tips and tricks that might also help you avoid a complete reset so be sure to explore the entire post before hitting that irrevocable delete button.

Why You Might Delete Your Ancestry Family Tree

In my work as a genealogist I frequently create research trees on Ancestry.com to help me track down important documents for my clients. As such I am often deleting these trees once the projects are complete so as to not clutter up my account.

This is obviously one reason that you would definitely want to delete a tree, if it no longer serves a purpose. You may also have made some horrible mistakes and can no longer cope with the cluttered abomination of a tree that you are left with.

I fully understand the daunting nature of an over packed, cluttered and inaccurate tree. You can definitely delete this and start over but as you will see later in the post it might just be prudent to go on a cleaning spree first.

You may have gone as far as you can with your research and feel you have found all the records you are going to find. After years of research you might have all this information saved somewhere outside of Ancestry along with all the records as well.

In this instance you may decide you just don’t want your tree up on Ancestry any longer so obviously it just makes sense to delete it.

One final reason you might be considering deleting your family tree could be to protect the feelings of others. In my tree my entire father's side is somewhat of a minefield. I am the result of my father's extramarital affair and I have a number of half siblings.

If they were ever to come across my tree they wouldn’t see their father's name as he is still living and the profiles of those still alive only show up as private. They would however see their grandparents who are now both deceased.

The point I’m trying to make is that I know about these half siblings but to my knowledge they do not know about me. Were they to do an Ancestry DNA test or start building their own trees they might find out about me.

Some people facing a similar set of circumstances may not want to be discovered or risk causing some drama by having their trees out there on Ancestry. They have every right to include those who they related to in their own tree but some might feel a pull to delete their tree to protect the innocent.

There are many reasons people might delete their family tree, some of which could be remedied in other ways. In the next section I will teach you how to fully delete a family tree because I don’t want you to have to read through the whole post just to get a simple answer. Please though, if you have any hesitancy read further beyond that to learn other ways to deal with problematic trees.

How to Delete an Ancestry Family Tree

So without further ado to the matter at hand, how do you delete an Ancestry family tree?

  • The first step is quite obviously to log into your Ancestry.com account and go to the home page
  • From the home page click the “Trees” tab in the top toolbar to get a dropdown menu of all of your family trees. Choose the tree that you wish to delete and click on it
  • You will be taken to the main tree page which shows your tree in either family or pedigree view. In the top left of the screen you will see the name plate. To the right of this name you will see a downward pointing arrow. Click this
  • The resulting dropdown menu will give you a list of options but the fourth one down will say “Tree Settings,” click this
  • On the next screen scroll to the bottom of the page and look at the right hand side of the screen. You will see in red “Warning! This action cannot be undone!” Just below that is the delete button, click this to continue
  • You will be asked one final time by a popup box if you are sure you wish to delete and if you are then one more click and the tree is gone forever.

So there we have a very simple process to delete a tree. Just remember as the warning says this action cannot be undone. If you have any doubts that deleting the tree is what you need to do then read on for tips to clean up a cluttered tree.

How to Delete People from Your Tree

Some of you may be considering deleting your tree because it has gotten out of hand and there are too many mistakes. I’ve been there folks and I very nearly did just that but then I decided to knuckle down and clean up my messes rather than have to start all over again.

I’ll be honest with you, forcing myself to fix the mistakes actually helped me make some major breakthroughs in my research. As I proved that family links were incorrect and severed then I also discovered the right answers in some cases.

So let's talk about how to delete those mistakes in your trees such as a wrong set of parents. Firstly I want to give little warning here, you can only delete one person at a time.

If for example you discover that you have a wrong name in your tree but you went a few generations back in that person's line, deleting them will not delete their ancestors. If you delete that person without first deleting any other family connected to them you merely sever the visible link.

Those other people now no longer show up as part of your tree but they are ghosts in your tree that you will see listed in the names in the tree but with no recognized relationship.

At one time I had almost 200 such profiles in my tree so I painstakingly located them and deleted them one by one. It took a while but eventually I got the mistakes fixed and cleared out the messes.

The process of deleting a person from your tree is very easy. Simply visit their profile page. In the top right you will see three tools: search, tools, and edit. Click on edit and from the dropdown menu choose “Delete Person.” You will get a popup to ask you if you are sure so just click this and hey presto they’re gone.

Can You Delete an Entire Family Line?

As I mentioned you can only delete one person at a time from your tree. If that person has ancestors also attached to them those profiles do not get deleted. What happens is that they are disconnected from your visible family tree but are still there hidden in the background.

This can be frustrating as you will still likely get hints for those people and they still show up in your lists of family tree members. It is therefore important to delete any ancestors of the person you want to delete before you delete that person themselves.

Deleting the Ghost Profiles

I don’t know if this is an official name but on many of the genealogy forums I visit most people refer to those profiles that are your tree but not part of your family tree as “Ghost Profiles.” These are really annoying and can be a little tricky to get rid of.

  • From your Ancestry family tree page which shows either your pedigree or family tree views click on the tab “Tree Search” in the top right corner
  • You will see a menu slide in from the right, at the bottom you will see “List of all people.” Click this to get a list of all the names in your tree. This will include the disconnected profiles.
  • Start going through your tree clicking each name to see their profile. You can identify a ghost profile because there will be no relationship to you listed below their name and birth/death details.
  • Choose to look at this person using the “View in Tree” tab. On the tree choose a family view and you will all the people related to that person.
  • Delete firstly their ancestors starting with the furthest back, then their siblings, their offspring and finally the person themselves.
  • Repeat this process as needed working through the list methodically until all ghost profiles are deleted.

Avoiding Ghost Profiles

As mentioned the best way to avoid ghost profiles is to delete the ancestors of a person you are ultimately going to delete before you get to them.

  • Start by identifying their most distant male ancestor and deleting them as described earlier in the post
  • Delete any spouses of this distant ancestor starting with any they had children with
  • Work down through the generations removing individuals methodically until you reach the ultimate focus of the deletion project.

Taking this approach should prevent ghost profiles and keep your tree free of clutter and background profiles that have nothing to do with your actual family tree.

If You Delete Someone Do the Attached Records Disappear as Well?

The simple answer is yes once you remove someone from your tree any sources, documents or pictures attached to them are deleted as well. The only exception being if any of those records are also attached to another individual still in your tree.

Removing someone from your tree will also delete any DNA connection that you may have entered from your AncestryDNA match list for that person.

Can You Retrieve a Deleted Person?

What if it was a mistake and you shouldn’t have deleted that person can you get them back? Sadly no, there is no way to undo the deletion. You would have to add the person back in manually and reconnect any records, pictures, or ancestors.

Conclusion

It is very easy to delete a whole family tree on Ancestry.com if this is something you really need to do. You should however bear in mind that you cannot undo a deletion so if there is any doubt as to the need for deleting pause for a second.

There are ways to clean up a cluttered inaccurate tree which although they may take time could well be worth the effort. Yes starting over may be quicker but in my experience being forced to fix the mistakes actually helped me learn and discover the right information.

It takes about 60 seconds to delete a tree that may have taken years to build so be 100% sure that this is what you want and need to do.

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  • "How to Delete a Family Tree on Ancestry". NameCensus.com. Accessed on August 16, 2022. https://namecensus.com/blog/how-to-delete-a-family-tree-on-ancestry/.

  • "How to Delete a Family Tree on Ancestry". NameCensus.com, https://namecensus.com/blog/how-to-delete-a-family-tree-on-ancestry/. Accessed 16 August, 2022

  • How to Delete a Family Tree on Ancestry. NameCensus.com. Retrieved from https://namecensus.com/blog/how-to-delete-a-family-tree-on-ancestry/.