The Joys of GEDCOMs
9/27/2009
You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.
Q. How do I get a GEDCOM file? Do I have to buy it, download it or what?

A. GEDCOM is a file format that allows genealogists to swap information about their ancestors. It's designed to be compatible with all genealogy software, so no matter what program you use, you can open files that were created with different software—and other researchers can open your files.

You don't have to buy a GEDCOM, since it's a file format. Just as your word processing files end in the extension .DOC; GEDCOMs end in .GED. You do need a genealogy software program to create or open a GEDCOM. You can't use GEDCOMs in other types of software, such as word processors (Microsoft Word), Web browsers (Internet Explorer) or spreadsheet programs (Excel).

You can get a GEDCOM file a couple of ways:

1) Create a GEDCOM file of your family information using your genealogy software (this is the only way to get a GEDCOM file from your own family tree information). The process is easy, but it varies slightly depending on your software. In general, though, you'd just open up the program and pick Export GEDCOM (or a similar command) from a menu. Then you'd click through a few dialog boxes that will ask you questions or give you instructions.

2) Download someone else's GEDCOM file from a Web site. Sites such as RootsWeb WorldConnect and GenCircles allow genealogists to share their GEDCOM family tree files with one another. You can search these sites to find a match for one of your ancestors, and if you do, you can download the whole GEDCOM—with all the family information that the creator included in his or her file; not just on the one matching person—to your computer. Then you can use your genealogy software to incorporate the information from that GEDCOM file into your own family file.

These Web sites just provide common forums for researchers to exchange information. You can share a GEDCOM file as you would any other computer file—by, for example, saving it to a disk or e-mailing it as an attachment.

For more answers to your basic and not-so-basic genealogy research questions, see the September 2004 Trace Your Family History, a special issue of Family Tree Magazine. Learn how you can win a free copy before Aug. 9, 2004, or purchase it now.