Share Your Data Via GEDCOM Files

By Rick Crume Premium

Printed charts and reports are an easy way to share family information with relatives and other researchers, especially those who don’t use a computer. But when you’re giving and getting large amounts of data, sharing your files electronically is usually quicker, cheaper and more efficient. (Remember the tedium of typing all your facts into your program the first time?)

Most brands of genealogy software store data in their own unique file format, so one genealogy program may not be able to open files created with another program. But almost all Windows and Mac genealogy software can import and export data in a standard file format called GEDCOM, an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunications. A GEDCOM file is a simple text file that you can send or receive as an attachment to an e-mail message, upload to a Web site or share via floppy disk.

Basic information such as names and dates and places of birth, marriage and death usually transfers perfectly between different programs using the GEDCOM format. Sometimes sources, notes and other facts don’t convert quite right, so the recipient of the data may have to do a little editing. But with a GEDCOM file you can usually avoid retyping everything. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to include sound and picture files, since GEDCOMs are text only; you’ll have to transfer those separately.

If another researcher sends you a GEDCOM file attached to an e-mail message, save the file to your hard drive and make a note of the file’s name and location. (Since viruses are often spread through e-mail attachments, you should scan any file you receive with anti-virus software before opening it.) To help yourself stay organized, you might save all the GEDCOM files you receive in a special folder such as C:GEDCOM Files or C:My DownloadsGEDCOM Files. It’s a good idea to open a GEDCOM file as a separate family file and to verify that it looks reliable before adding the information to your main family file.

Follow these basic steps for using FTM and Generations to open GEDCOM files you have received and to create GEDCOM files to share with other researchers:

  • To open a GEDCOM file with FTM, select Open Family File from the File menu and locate and select the GEDCOM file. Then select a folder and name for the new file. For easy backup, you might choose a folder within My Documents such as C:My DocumentsJones Family. Finally, select the facts you’d like to import and the corresponding fact names in FTM. Open and examine the newly created FTM file. If it looks OK, go ahead and combine it with your main file by selecting Append/Merge Family File from the File menu (see tip number 5 for hints on merging).
  • To create a GEDCOM file in FTM, open a family file and select Copy/Export Family File from the File menu. Under Save as type, select GEDCOM. If you want to save only part of your FTM file as a GEDCOM file, first display an ancestor, descendant or hourglass tree showing the individuals you want to include. Then pick Copy/Export Individuals in Tree from the File menu and select a file name and folder for the GEDCOM file.
  • To open a GEDCOM file with Generations, select New from the File menu and choose a name and folder for the new file. Then click on Import GEDCOM, locate the file on your hard drive, click OK and then Import. To add a GEDCOM file to an existing family file, open the family file, select Import/Export from the File menu, then Import GEDCOM. Click Add, locate the file on your hard drive and click Open, then Import.
  • To create a GEDCOM file with Generations, select Import/Export from the File menu and then Export GEDCOM. Click on Export, select a folder and name for the GEDCOM file and hit Save. If you want the GEDCOM to include only certain individuals in your family file, first mark the names by displaying the starting individual, selecting Mark Groups from the Find menu and then marking either the person’s ancestors or descendants. To mark the descendants’ spouses, too, select Anything from the Find menu and click on the Couples tab. Select # of Marked Spouses in the first field, More Than in the second field and type the number 0 in the last field. Then click on Find and select Mark Everybody in List from the Mark menu.

(For details on 10 “pedigree databases” where you can find and share GEDCOM files with other researchers, including FTM’s World Family Tree, see the August 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine or Top 10 Pedigree Databases for links to each.)

Rick Crume created the Genealogical Library Master Catalog at