GEDCOM

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Expert Question: I heard of GEDCOM, but I'm unsure what it really means or what to do with it.  What do I need to know?

Expert Answer: Just about every word associated with computers is an acronym.  The tie between computers and genealogy is not exception, summarized as GEDCOM.  GEDCOM is an acronym which stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication and is the universal way of describing genealogical information.  In 1985, the Mormon Church of Latter Day Saints' Family History Library set out to define a standardized format to allow data to be transferred between various genealogical databases and software programs.

There are dozens of genealogical software packages available toady and each one stores information in its own format.  This becomes a problem when two people using different software packages want to exchange all or part of their genealogical information without re-entering the data.  Using the GEDCOM definitions, the information from one program can be arranged in the GEDCOM format before saving the information to disk.  Then the data can be imported (read) in the GEDCOM format by the receiving program and saved in the manor which the second program is accustomed.  The following illustrates the process:

               

 This resolves many problems facing genealogists including:

  • Data Sharing - giving your information to another genealogist via computer

  • Changing Software - allow you to upgrade or switch software packages

  • Database Inclusion - you can submit your information to a centralized database.

Since the exact same genealogical information is not kept by each software program, information not retained in the receiving system will be stored in a footnote format.  For instance, if the sending program stored burial date and the receiving system did not, it would be saved as footnote information.

The GEDCOM format consists of keywords defining the data to follow.  Some of them are: 

HEADer

Start of file

SUBMitter

Name/address of submitter of data

SOUR

Sending software type

DEST

Receiving software type

DATE

Current date

FILE

Filename of data

ADDRess

Address

CONTinued

Continuation of address

PLACe

Place of event

SEX

Sex of individual

BIRTh

Date of birth

DEATh

Date of death

INDIvidual

Declaration of new individual

FAM

Declaration of new family

TRaiLoR

End of file

As a user of a genealogical software package, you need not be too concerned with the details of the GEDCOM format, however, you should ONLY use software which allows you to import (receive) and export (output) information using the GEDCOM format.  Most genealogy software programs today either include GEDCOM as a standard option or can be purchased for an additional cost.

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