Or… Please Don’t Make Me Type All Those Names & Dates Again!!

[Editor's NoteWikiTree team member Tami Glatz discusses the GEDCOM file format, its history and how it can be used with WikiTree.]

You’ve spent decades, years, or perhaps only a few days entering family information into a genealogy computer program of some sort. Perhaps you are using Personal Ancestral File (PAF), or you’re trying out a trial version of RootsMagic, or Legacy Family Tree. Maybe you’re using the latest version of Family Tree Maker.  But what if you want to try a different program, send your family tree data to a relative, or share your information on WikiTree.com‘s worldwide family tree?

Most genealogy programs are fairly unique in how you enter, display, sort and share your information. And, as you probably know, you can usually only open a file within the program that it was created.  You need to have the Family Tree Maker program on your computer in order to open a Family Tree Maker (.ftm) file, etc.   The same is true for most any of the genealogy computer programs.  And yet the thought of re-typing all those names and dates might stop you from even considering sharing!

It isn’t a problem if everyone you want to share with is using the same program. But as you start finding and communicating with new cousins in distant parts of the world, the likelihood that they are using the same genealogical computer program you are gets very slim. How can you share those thousands of names, dates and notes that you’ve painstakingly entered into your computer by hand, without having to repeat that very tedious process?

The answer is GEDCOM! GEDCOM stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication. It was developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the purpose of making genealogical information shareable and portable between different genealogical computer programs. The very first version was released in 1984. The current version is GEDCOM 5.5, and in an effort to keep up with ever-changing technologies, FamilySearch is working with others on the next generation of GEDCOM formats, called GEDCOM X.

How do I make a GEDCOM?

There are instructions for importing and exporting GEDCOMS in the WikiTree Help section, under Gedcom . Or you might want to read the “Help” section or instructions for your particular computer program, but in most programs, you can find the GEDCOM option when you try to “Export” all or parts of your file.

What does a GEDCOM look like?

A raw GEDCOM file actually looks fairly simple, and is almost understandable if you try to “read” it.  It will be a plain text file containing your genealogical information – names, dates, stories, notes, sources, etc. Embedded in the file will be the meta data, or simply put, the magical bits of information that connect the bits of information to each individual, and each individual to others in family relationships.

In the blue box is a sample of a GEDCOM file.  Just looking at it, you might be able to see some of the different parts that make it up. The header (HEAD) shows where the file came from. In this instance, it’s from my Legacy Family Tree program.  Nine lines down tells the date I exported the file from my program, and where it is stored on my computer. Since I declined to include my own information, you’ll see a couple lines further down that it says Submitter Not Provided. That would be where my name and address might normally appear.  Below that begins the data I chose to export from my file, starting with the first individual (INDI), Deborah Forward.

Where did my pictures go?

References to photo and media files can be attached within a GEDCOM, but the file containing those pictures and media must be accessible to the new genealogy program. Simply put, if you have all of your pictures and media linked to your GEDCOM in a folder on your computer, and you send a GEDCOM to your Cousin Bob, unless he has that same folder already on his computer, and is able to follow his program’s directions for making sure the links continue to work, Cousin Bob won’t be able to access the pictures.

Do I use all or just part of my file to make a GEDCOM?

To avoid overload, both to our system, and to your email from info & collaboration requests, we prefer that GEDCOM uploads be no more than 2,000 or so individuals. If your genealogy computer program is already bursting with 50,000 people, that’s great. You just can’t upload them all at once to WikiTree.  And chances are really good with a file that size that many of your ancestors are already on WikiTree. Be sure to read the GEDCOM FAQs at WikiTree.com to understand file limitations.

Pruning Your Family Tree

Creating branches without a hatchet

You can create your GEDCOMs however you like. Some folks create GEDCOMs based on maternal or paternal lines. Some folks will upload a generation or two across both sides of their family at a time. You can choose whatever will work for you to upload the branches of your family tree.

The most important thing to remember is that newly uploaded GEDCOMs will NOT replace previous files, but rather add to them, creating duplicates where branches intersect.  Try to keep the number of duplicates to a minimum, to avoid having to spend too much time merging those duplicates once your new GEDCOM upload is processed. Remember, the goal is to have one profile page for every individual on our worldwide family tree and to eliminate duplication.

 Your family, my family, OUR family.  One worldwide, collaborative family tree. WikiTree!

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  One Response to “Sharing Data with GEDCOMS”

  1. Very well done, Tami. Thank you for the insights. –GeneJ

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