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What is a GEDCOM file?

GEDCOM stands for Genealogical Data Communication. Think of it as a universal file format for sharing genealogy files between genealogy software programs. Recognize a GEDCOM file by its extension .ged. Even PC users may share their GEDCOM files with Mac users it s the common language for computerized genealogy around the world.

GEDCOM files are text only files. They will not preserve graphics or photographs of any kind. Your family tree is encoded in the GEDCOM language, which is actually fairly easy to decipher once you are familiar with the structure. For example, John Wesley McCorkle was born 01 April 1852 in Pocatello, Idaho becomes:

  0 @003@ INDI
  1 NAME John Wesley/McCorkle/
  2 GIVN John Wesley
  2 SURN McCorkle
  1 BIRT
  2 DATE 01 Apr 1852
  2 PLAC Pocatello, Idaho

INDI refers to an individual and the other abbreviations are intuitive. Notice the numbers refer to the levels and are progressive. The first pair of twos (GIVN and SURN) relates to the level one (NAME) above them; the second pair of twos (DATE and PLAC) gives more information on the level one (BIRT) directly above them. That s the language of GEDCOM.

You may save your entire family tree in a GEDCOM file in most any genealogy software program you use. Once saved, you may send the file as an attachment in an email to a relative where it can be imported and added to their family tree. You may upload your family tree in the GEDCOM file format to a website where it can be accessed by anyone who views the site. For privacy reasons, professional genealogists recommend you remove information on all living persons before you upload to a public site like the Ancestry World Tree. Many genealogy software programs have a feature to do this for you, and there are add-on utilities available if your program does not remove these names. Your GEDCOM files can also be sent to services to create heirloom quality books and wall charts to display your family history work.

GEDCOM files have eliminated the need for copying genealogy data by hand. Not only are GEDCOM files a valuable time saver, but this standardized file format increases the accuracy of information as it is transferred from one source to another, preserving precious genealogy records for years to come.