Gedcom Files

Even if you don’t use computer software to manage your family tree, you may have heard of “Gedcom files” and you should probably know what they are for future reference.

A Gedcom file is a universal file format that is used specifically for moving genealogy information from one software program to another. You can also use them to create websites or to publish family histories. Because the format is standard, anyone who deals in genealogical information will likely be able to read them. Well, computers read them, people don’t.

The name is an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication, and these types of files first came from the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (I have more on their genealogy resources). They created this type of text file to make it easier for the church members to share and communicate their files with each other.

Many websites utilize Gedcom files for any members who want to upload their trees to their collection. Sites like RootsWeb WorldConnect and GenCircles are wonderful resources because individual people make their research available to the public through the use of their Gedcom files. I’m not sure if Ancestry.com uses these but I’ll check.

If you are using any type of software for your genealogy database, it is very easy to make a Gedcom file. I can’t think of any program that won’t export this way though the specifics will vary by program. I have Rootsmagic 4, and I just have to click on “File” up in the toolbar, and then on “Export”. I can then choose the details of what I want to include in my file and that’s it. It creates the file on my hard drive.

If you have a Gedcom file from another source and want to add it to your database, just use the “Import” function and follow the instructions. You may have to give your computer some details on how you want to handle any duplicates or conflicts with your current data, but it’s still just a few clicks to get it going.

Though you can open up a Gedcom file with a word processing program like Wordpad, it will look like a big jumbled mess. It’s intended for computers to read, not you.