GEDCOM: The Genealogist's Standard - dummies

By April Leigh Helm, Matthew L. Helm

As you probably have already discovered, genealogy is full of acronyms. One such acronym that you’ll hear and see repeatedly is GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication). GEDCOM is the standard for individuals and software manufacturers for exporting information to and importing information from genealogical databases. Simply put, GEDCOM is a file format intended to make data transferable among different software programs so that people can share their family information easily.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints developed and introduced GEDCOM in 1987. The first two versions of GEDCOM were released for public discussion only and were not meant to serve as the standard. With the introduction of version 5.x and later, however, GEDCOM was accepted as the standard.

Having a standard for formatting files is beneficial because you can share the information that you collect with others who are interested in some (or all) of your ancestors. It also enables you to import GEDCOM files from other researchers who have information about family lines and ancestors in whom you’re interested.

And you don’t even have to use the same software as the other researchers! You can use Reunion for Macintosh, and someone with whom you want to share information can use Family Tree Maker; having GEDCOM as the standard in both software programs enables each of you to create and exchange GEDCOM files. Similarly, GEDCOM enables you to transfer data from your smartphone genealogical application to your home computer.

To convert the data in your genealogical database to a GEDCOM file, follow the instructions provided in your software’s manual or Help menu. You can create the GEDCOM file relatively easily; most software programs guide you through the process with a series of dialog boxes.

In addition to creating GEDCOM files to exchange with other researchers, you can generate GEDCOM files to submit to larger cooperatives that make the data from many GEDCOM files available to thousands of researchers worldwide. You can also convert your GEDCOM file to HTML so you can place the data directly on the web for others to access.

Although GEDCOM has been a reliable standard for a while, the implementation of it in some genealogical software products has been less than ideal. As a result, some genealogical software developers have created products that can import files made from one software package into software that uses a different file format — without the need to save the file to GEDCOM.

One such product is GenBridge, which is part of the Family Tree SuperTools product from Wholly Genes Software. Before purchasing a converter product, check the documentation that came with your genealogical software to ensure that your software doesn’t already have the conversion capability built into it.

Although GEDCOM has been around for a while, efforts are underway to engineer the future of the standard. GEDCOM X is a project to develop a new model to improve the capability of genealogical software and websites to share data.