Resolving Merge Issues

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Revision as of 22:15, 24 March 2010 by Shmuelakam (talk | contribs) (Advanced Topics)
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Most people who have added profiles to their tree on Geni, will sooner or later "discover" in the top-right corner of their Home page on Geni, that they have a link to Merge Issues.

This page will try and explain what these issues are and how to resolve them. Don't let the long explanations put you off. It's really NOT that complex. The length here is mostly due to trying to make this as clear as possible. After you have fixed a few of these, you will see how simple it really is.

What are Merge Issues

To understand "Merge Issues" we must first understand where they come from:

  • Duplicate profiles - are profiles for a single person that appear multiple times on Geni, either in their own tree, or in separate trees created by other users.
  • Merging - is the process of combining these duplicates, to create a single unified profile (and tree). See Profile merging and Tree Merging.

Merge Issues issues are caused when you (or someone else) initiated a merge between such profiles, but didn't (or couldn't complete it).


  • pending merge - This is when two (or more) profiles have been merged via the tree, by dragging one onto the other, but the actual profiles have NOT yet been merged. In the Tree these are indicated by a small blue circle with a plus sign in it (+) in the bottom-left corner of the profile's box. In the profiles this is indicated either by a message that says "This profile has been linked to another profile pending a merge. View his other profile." either in the yellow title line of the profile, or in a light-orange box under the person's name.
  • stacked profiles - When multiple profiles are in a pending merge, they are said to be "stacked", because they were dragged one onto the other. People will also refer to this as "the stack" for a profile.
  • compare profiles screen - This screen is used to compare two (or more) profiles to each other and actually merge them. A detailed description is given below: Compare Profiles screen
  • carousel - When more than two profiles are in a stack, then at the bottom of the compare profiles screen, you will see a line of 1-6 boxes. Clicking on them will compare the profile on the left, to a different profile in the stack. When there are more than 6 profiles in the stack, the carousel will also have blue Left/Right buttons on the end, which will "rotate" the carousel itself, and show you a different set of pending merges within the stack.
  • "main" profile - When the merge is created, Geni automatically chooses the profile with the more complete information, as the one that the other profile(s) are merged into. The manager of that profile, will be listed as the first manager. ALL managers of the combined profiles, retain full control and access to the profile. So there is very little practical difference/importance as to which manager this is. When looking at the compare profiles screen, you can identify which profile will end up as main. It's the one with the manager's name in bold.

'Merge Issues' List page

At first glance, the list of merge issues CAN be pretty confusing. So if we are to resolve these issues, then we must first understand the information that is listed on this page, about each merge, and in general.

Ignoring the yellow box of Advanced Controls on the left side of the screen for now (they may even be hidden initially), the page is arranged as a table with the following columns:

Photo First/Last Name Relationship Modified by Modified on Manager Merge Issue Actions

This is a brief explanation of what these columns mean:

  • Photo - profile photo of the person (if any), otherwise the standard gender specific icon.
  • First/Last Name - Full name of the person being merged. Also contains their years of birth and death (if entered), or "(deceased)" when relevant. If the person also has nicknames entered in their profiles, these too will be displayed. [If the profile is shared, the green circle icon, will also be displayed.]
  • Relationship - a description of the person's relationship to you, if any (e.g. "wife's third cousin").
  • Modified by - Name of the person who created this merge issue. With multiple profiles pending merge, this is for the LAST one added. As always on Geni, the name is a link to their profile.
  • Modified on - Date of the last change to this merge issue.
  • Manager - Name of the actual manager of the the "main" profile.
  • Merge Issue - Identifies the TYPE of merge issue. See the Merge Issue Types section of this document which explains these types in detail. This (and the next) are the most important columns in this table.
  • Actions - The action you can take to resolve the issue. These are specific to the type of merge issue. As such, they are explained with them.

Compare Profiles screen

This is the screen that is used to actually merge profiles. It has the following elements, from top to bottom.

  • Profile Comparison table

The majority of this page is a table that displays two profiles opposite each other, so that we can properly compare them and determine whether to complete the merge or not. As such, the information displayed is that which is most relevant to the merging: Their full name and profile photo, the names of their parents, siblings and spouse(s), dates and locations of birth and death, the specific values entered in the various name fields.

Last in the table, but of crucial importance, are listed the managers of the two profiles. It is your connection to these people (if any) that determines if you are permitted to complete the merge or not.

Under the bottom-right corner of the table you will see the name of the person who created this pending merge, and when this was done. If you have doubts about the merge, you can send that person a message (from their profile) and discuss this with them.

  • Yes / No buttons

Under the table you will see two Yes/No buttons to actually complete or undo the merge. The exact text on the Yes button is important.

If you can complete the merge, it will say "Yes, merge these profiles" otherwise the label will read "Yes, Request to merge", in which case a special message will be sent to the manager of the profile being merged to complete it. You can add your own message, perhaps explaining why you think the merge is needed.

If you send such a request, then the next time you review this merge issue, the 'Yes' button will be absent, and the title above the buttons will read "You have requested that this profile be merged." and the 'No' button will give you the option to cancel the merge request.

  • Carousel

When more than two profiles are in a stack, then at the bottom of the compare profiles screen, you will see a line of 1-6 boxes. Clicking on them will compare the profile on the left, to a different profile in the stack. When there are more than 6 profiles in the stack, the carousel will also have blue Left/Right buttons on each end, which will "rotate" the carousel itself, and show you a different set of pending merges within the stack. Rotating the carousel does NOT actually change the profiles displayed. That only happens when you click on a box.

Merge Issue Types

The following section explain what each type of "Merge Issue" means, and what needs to be done to resolve them. The "types" are displayed in the next to last "Merge Issue" column of the list, followed by the type specific link in the "Actions" column.

merge pending

This type of merge issue means that two profiles (or more) have been merged in the TREE, but not the profiles themselves. These are generally the simplest to resolve.

What needs to be done is to click the "view profiles" link for that issue. This takes you to a page that displays the two profiles opposite each other. Like a regular profile view, it starts with links to the immediate family: parents, partners and children. Below that is the basic profile information, such as the various name fields, birth and death dates and locations. When the data in both profiles is the same, it is displayed in green, to indicate a match.

At the very bottom of the comparison table, you will see the names of the managers of the two profiles (initially you will most often be one of them). If you are a Family Member or Collaborator of the other(s), you should be able to complete the merge. If not (or if the other manager(s) have restrictive Settings on profiles they manage), the Yes button will be labeled "Yes, request merge". This will open a screen that let's you add a personal note, explaining why you want to merge etc., press the send button, and an email will be sent to the other manager with your request. I generally avoid sending merge request because most users seem to ignore them. So… compare the data, and press the appropriate Yes / No button at the bottom of the page. If the merge went through, and the two profiles have conflicting data, you'll be taken to a page with a table comparing the specific fields that are different. You will have to choose which value you want for each field. If you don't know, you can decide to not choose, leaving this for later. When done, press the Save button. Because people often divide the names differently between the various fields, you might have to go into the merged profile and edit/fix the fields.

conflicting data

This is the type of merge issue that happens when two profiles (or more) that have conflicting data in some fields, are merged (see previous item), and the final step to resolve these conflicts was ignored (or postponed). These too, are generally easy to resolve.

Pressing the View Profile link will take you to that table comparing the specific fields that are different. You will have to choose which value you want for each field. If you don't know, you can decide to not choose, leaving this for later. When done, press the Save button.

If one of the profiles is "claimed", i.e. the person it is for has joined Geni, then by default only they will be able to resolve the conflicts. As such (and for additional reasons), it is always best to NOT merge such profiles, instead, after connecting the trees, just delete your copy of the duplicate.

parent conflict

This type of merge issue means that two trees have been merged, but only partially. These can be tricky to resolve, depending on the exact case. The profile with the merge issue has a "problem" with its parents, who have not been merged properly. If the profile lists more than two parents, then the duplicates need to be merged. This can be done by pressing the 'View Tree' link, which will open the usual "resolve conflicts dialog", in which you can drag-n-drop the duplicate parents onto each other. This is not always possible because you might have the required edit permissions to do this (in this case the profiles that you can't move, will have padlocks on them). Complete stepping through the dialog and save.

A simpler form of this type of issue happens when one of the merged trees had only one parent while the other had both. In this case, the profile will only show two parents, but when stepping through the "resolve conflicts dialog", you will be asked to choose which "set" of parents is the correct one – the two listed in one tree or the one Parent & Unknown, referring to a possibly unknown other partner. Choose the correct answer – most often the two parents, of course. Complete stepping through the dialog and save.

possible partner conflict

This is somewhat like the "parent conflict" both in cause and solution – Two profiles were merged, but the system thinks they *might* (hence "possible" conflict) also have partners (and children) that are duplicated and need merging. Press the 'View Tree' link, to open the "resolve conflicts dialog", and if any, merge the duplicates. Complete stepping through the dialog and save.

When NOT to merge

In general if people pay attention, the cases when not to merge, or even when to CANCEL a pending merge, are pretty obvious, but I'll try and also mention some non-obvious ones.

  1. When the data in the two profiles being compared does NOT match. This means that:
    1. Names in the profiles look completely different. This is NOT an absolute rule, as in many cases, especially in the historical parts of the tree, people will enter names in different languages. Example: I myself would never have guessed that Guillaume is the French form for... William. Not to mention biblical names which in English were completely butchered after going two-three-four consecutive translations.
    2. Dates of birth/death are completely different. Again this is not an absolute. The further back in time you go, the greater opinions/estimates/guesses about such dates tend to vary.
    3. Spouses and/or children are rather different. Presently this is actually NOT an easy case to identify, because Geni lumps them all together, combining the lists from the two (or more) profiles, instead of comparing them. So some knowledge of the relevant part of the tree is needed. If this is an actual near-relative of yours and you know Uncle Ed had a single wife named Nancy (and/or two spoiled brats named Reuben and Simon), then if the compare display shows an additional wife or child, by another name, you're probably better off not merging.
    4. Parent names are rather different. Because of how Geni presently displays them all together, this isn't always obvious. But if you see a pending merge with parents listed as Peter, William, Sarah and Sue, then most likely you are talking about two different trees entirely.
  2. A trickier case is when the parent(s) names are the same, but yet these are different people (having for example different grand-parents). When people send you and invitation "out of the blue", you probably want to do more than a superficial check, so looking at the grandparents, is actually very reasonable. Undoing a BAD merge later, can be a real mess.

A less obvious case to not merge, is in my personal opinion ANY pending merge that has duplicate parents. I find it is always best in such cases to go and first try to merge the parents, and only then handle the children. This is because you won't always have the required permissions to do so, and completing the merge will only create a 'parent conflict' that won't get resolved.

Of course in ANY case you find a merge suspect, you can ask the person who created it, as Geni now shows their name on the bottom right side of the compare page.

Other possibilities

Older profiles, especially in English speaking countries, have a number of "special cases" for when to go forward (or not) with the merge, despite apparent "differences":

  1. You can very often run into multiple occurrences of "Multiple Parent" (mother) having the same first name but different last name. due to life expectancy issues it is entirely likely that one could have three marriages where Jane Doe and Jane Smith are the same person, one's a maiden name and one is a previous married name.
  2. "Back in the day", it was quite common for people to have ~8 children and they used the same family names over and over again , ergo, their could easily be 2nd cousins with the same name and birth years. Consider the family of USA Presidents John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, the number of people named "John Adams" is truly staggering. Not to mention that it wasn't uncommon for 1st and 2nd cousins to marry, which adds a fun wrinkle, sorting them out.
  3. Another "naming tradition" that we'd find morbid today, was due to high child mortality. You can find families that "recycled" names within the same nuclear family. So yes, John & Mary Smith, really DID have three sons named James. So be careful to check the birth-death dates. Because of the common differences in version prevalent in such dates regardless of this issue. It is ALSO a Very Good Idea to check the lists of managers before merging. If the same manager added all three James, then you had better ask them before you merge them!

Advanced Controls

Down the top-left side of Merge Issues list page is a light-yellow colored box, with a number of "advanced controls" in it that make working with this list a lot easier. If you don't see this box, then to the right of the page's [your name here]'s Merge Issues title, you should see a blue link, in regular sized text, that says "show advanced controls". Clicking that should make it appear.

The various fields in this box enable you to filter/limit which merge issues the list will show. This can make things easier when you have a long list, or only want to work on specific subsets of it.

  • Merge Issue: - This refers to the TYPE of merge issue, as explained above. The default value is 'Any', which displays issues of any type (i.e. all of them). You can select a specific type, such as 'conflicting data' so that you can find all of those profiles lacking this final stage of the merge.
  • Show only modified by: - Show only merge issues created by a specific user. This is especially useful if you want to complete (or undo) all of the work of a specific person. If the person's name does NOT appear when you start typing it, you can use the "profile-ID trick" to find and add their name.
  • Show only managed by: - Will limit the list to merge issues where the "main manager", as listed in the Manager column, is a specific user. This is useful, for example, if a specific user accepts a request to collaborate and you want to find all of the merge issues you share. Here too you can use the profile-ID trick.
  • Include Collaborators - If this check-box is clicked, this will enable you to see all of the merge issues that all of your Collaborators also have. You'll probably want to combine this with other filters.
  • Update List - Pressing this all important button, causes the list to be updated, with the filters defined (otherwise nothing happens).
  • clear form - Will clear all of the above filters you might have entered.

These filters, can of course be combined in any way you find useful. So you could, for example, display all of the 'pending merge' issues that you and your collaborators have with a specific other user.

Lastly, the list page (filtered or not), can be sorted by the Modified on and Merge Issue (i.e. type) columns, by clicking on the column header.

Advanced Topics

In general if you someone has duplicates of your relatives in their tree, and you want to combine (i.e. merge) them, or if the trees have already been partially merged, but a number of non-merged duplicates or unresolved merge issues remain, it is best to send the manager(s) of these profiles a message pointing to overlapping parts of your trees and the duplicated profiles. You can then invite them to Collaborate with you, or even join your Family Group, if they are a closer relative.

You send such requests to Collaborate, or Family Group invitations by pressing the links for this, from the managers profile. The 'requests to Collaborate' link, is under the 'More Actions' link. You can in theory, send a customized message WITH this request/invitation. But you'll get better results, if you FIRST send a regular message, because people often categorically reject such requests if they are not expecting them.

Collaborate vs. Family Group

There are pros and cons to each option, and you mutually need to decide what works best for the given situation.

Collaboration: Family Group:
Collaborators have limited exposure to your tree. They can NOT edit (or even see) profiles for living people, such as your actual present-day relatives.

The exception to this rule are living profiles, that are marked as Shared.

People you invite to be Family Group members, are then just like ANY other actual relative in your immediate tree. They can see all of your tree, including children and other living relatives.
The above also means that if you have profiles that are WRONGLY marked as "living" (AKA "zombie" profiles), that your Collaborators will NOT be able to edit or merge these either. You have MUCH finely tuned controls, as to what "relatives" can do with either living or deceased profiles. See the Managed Profiles Settings page. You could even, in theory, give them full access to SEE your tree, but not change anything.
Once you collaborate with someone, the only way to stop them from editing your profiles, is to remove them from your list of collaborator. You do this on the Collaborators Settings page. See above, regarding control. You can also remove them from your Family Group. See "added relatives" on the Family Group Settings page.
Wherever their name appears as manager, you will see a small green double-arrow next to it, to indicate their status. On their profile page ONLY, you will see in the title of the Relationship Path box, "X is your relative".
Presently the only way to see your list of collaborators is on the Settings page. If you click on the list of your Family Members, filter for Claimed profiles, and go to the end of the list, you'll see all of your added "relatives".


  • Family Group membership gives much more comprehensive access to your tree and profiles. But with this access comes various privacy issues, that you or your other relatives might not feel comfortable with.
  • For this reason, people are generally MUCH more likely to accept the less invasive requests to Collaborate.
  • If the relatives in common between the two trees are 'living' (rightly so or "zombies"), collaboration won't do you much good...

Merge Groups

The further away from your core-family that you are merging or resolving merge-issues, the more likely you are to find profile managers that you don't know and/or don't collaborate with.

NOT all managers will respond to messages, merge requests or requests to Collaborate. They might not even be active on the site anymore. So how can you get these issues resolved? You look for someone else who can!

Known Issues

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