If you have been researching your family, it is only a matter of time before someone asks you to share your information.
For example, cousin Jane wants to exchange information about the Thomas Warren family. You have been using Family Tree Maker for your genealogy program and Jane uses Legacy. Family Tree Maker does not read Legacy files and vice versa. How can you and Jane share your information without hours of tedious work?
The answer is GEDCOM.
GEDCOM is an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication. It was developed in 1985 by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. GEDCOM is the process of arranging genealogical data into text so that different computers and programs can read and understand the text. There are over 50 genealogy programs on the market today. Each program has it’s own "native" file format. Most programs cannot read files in another program’s format. This was the reason that GEDCOM was created. It is a format that all genealogy programs can read and is the method most genealogists use to share genealogical information.
GEDCOM files are made up of Tags. Tags are short words that identify a piece of information in the GEDCOM file. Basically, Tags are abbreviations. If you look at a GEDCOM file in your word processor, you would see many lines of text. Each line begins with a number and a tag that identifies the contents of that line. Some genealogy program manuals provide a list of Tags.
You do not need to know how to read the text to use GEDCOM. The genealogy programs do understand the text and they do all the work. Tags can be divided into two categories: Standard and Optional tags. Standard tags are set automatically such as birth, marriage and death. Optional tags are extra fields such as burial or notes. The way tags are handled will vary by program. Read and follow the directions for your program.
Today, most genealogy programs will import and export GEDCOM files. But there may still be a few that do not. I would not recommend buying a genealogy program that does not fully implement GEDCOM.
The process of importing a GEDCOM file is relatively simple but there are precautions that should be taken. First, save the GEDCOM file on your hard drive before importing into a genealogy program. A GEDCOM file will have an extension of .ged. It does not matter if the file was sent to you through email or on a disk, save it to the hard drive. Next, make a new family file in your genealogy program and import the saved GEDCOM file. Never import a GEDCOM file into your existing data file. It is not a good idea to combine the work of someone else with yours. Each name and piece of evidence should be evaluated separately before deciding to add the information to your data.
To import a file, launch the genealogy program and close all family files. Click "Import" from the file menu, then choose the GEDCOM file that was saved to the hard drive. The rest is done automatically. After the import, you will be able to read the GEDCOM file and save it in your genealogy program’s native format.
To export a file, launch the genealogy program and open the family file. Click "Export" from the File menu. The entire file can be exported or a selected group. You may want to export only a portion of the family file. For instance, cousin Jane may only want the maternal side of the family and is not interested in the paternal side. The last task is to give the file a name and save it. Then, send the GEDCOM file to cousin Jane by email or save to a disk to mail.
Some people have more than one genealogy program or they want to change from one program to another. This can be done by exporting a copy of your family file from the first program and importing the file into the second program.
GEDCOM can also be used to submit information to online databases and opening files downloaded from online databases. Issues such as privacy need to be considered when submitting to online databases. A good rule of thumb is never to include information about living people. If you receive a GEDCOM file and do not have a genealogy program, there are programs available called GEDCOM Viewers that allow the file to be viewed. On Google, do a search for GEDCOM Viewers and it will provide a list of sites for this product.
Want to learn more about GEDCOM? Most genealogy program manuals have a chapter. There are also numerous articles online that can be read. Do a Google search for GEDCOM to find links to articles.