Now What: The Joys of Gedcoms

By Allison Dolan Premium

Q. How do I get a CEDCOM file? Do I have to buy it, download it or what?

A. GEDCOM is a computer file format that lets genealogists swap information about their ancestors. The format’s compatible with all genealogy software, so no matter what program you use, you can open GEDCOMs created with another program — and other researchers can open your files.

You don’t have to buy a GEDCOM, but you do need a genealogy program to create or open one. You can’t use GEDCOMs in other types of software, such as word processors (Word or WordPerfect) or Web browsers (Internet Explorer). You can get a GEDCOM file several ways:

Create a GEDCOM file of your family data using genealogy software (this is the only way to get a GEDCOM file from your own family tree information). The process is easy, but varies slightly depending on your software. In general, you’d 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 ask you questions or give instructions.

Download someone else’s CEDCOM file from the Internet. Genealogists post their GEDCOMs on Web sites such as RootsWeb WorldConnect <> and GenCircles <>. You can search these sites to find a match for one of your ancestors, and if you do, you can download the GEDCOM — with all the family information in the file; not just on the one matching person — to your computer. Then you’d use your genealogy software to “merge” the data from the GEDCOM into your own family file (after verifying it, of course).

Share a GEDCOM file the same way you’d share any computer file — for example, by e-mailing it or saving it to a disk.

From the December 2004 issue of Family Tree Magazine.