by Beau Sharbrough
From Ancestry Daily News, 29 January 2004
In discussions about genealogy, everybody is talking about GEDCOM. “Do you have a GEDCOM?” “Would you GEDCOM that to me?” “I need a GEDCOM file But what is GEDCOM?
GEDCOM is two things. First, it's a specification for a computer file of family history information that is owned, copyrighted and managed by the GEDCOM Project of the Family and Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church).
GEDCOM is an acronym for “GEnealogy Data COMmunication.” In this context, it's a set of rules about how to prepare family history information for exchange.
Second, GEDCOM refers to a computer file that complies with that specification. This type of file is used for moving genealogy data between different genealogy computer programs, such as Legacy and Family Tree Maker. The specification was originally developed in 1985, and is currently in version 5.5. It has been more than eight years since I saw a genealogy computer program that did not read and write GEDCOM files.
The specification describes a list of “tags” such as INDI for an individual, BIRT for a birth event, DATE for a date, and so on. It also describes relationships between the tags. An example of a relationship between two tags: DATE can go with BIRT to relate a date to a birth.
GEDCOM 6.0 is not like any of the previous versions. It's an XML specification. XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language, somewhat similar to the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) that is used to make webpages.
GEDCOM is a text format. A person can read it. It looks a lot like gibberish, but there you go. Here's an example of a description of a person in GEDCOM format:
0 @I1@ INDI
1 NAME William Jefferson (Blythe)/Clinton/
1 SEX M
2 DATE 19 AUG 1946
2 PLAC Hope,Hempstead Co,AR
1 NOTE Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe IV. His last
2 CONT name was legally changed to Clinton on 12 June 1962 in Garland
2 CONT Co, Arkansas.
1 NOTE He was inaugurated as the 42nd President of the United States
2 CONT on 20 January 1993.
1 FAMS @F1@
1 FAMC @F2@
Please notice that each line starts with a “level number,” followed by a “tag,” followed by a possible value. The level-2 lines go with the level-1 line above them, and so on.
Why Do We Use GEDCOM?
Genealogy computer programs store your information in their own table designs. These designs are not the same from one program to another. In order to move data between different genealogy computer programs, it has to be converted to an intermediate format first. That format is almost always some flavor of GEDCOM.
When your genealogy computer program writes a copy of your genealogy information in GEDCOM format, it is “exporting a GEDCOM file.” When it reads a GEDCOM format file into your program, it is called “importing a GEDCOM file.” You can export a GEDCOM file, e-mail it to a friend or relative, and they can import it and see your conclusions. Depending on which genealogy computer programs you are using, they might or might not see your evidence. In general, GEDCOM transfers do a good job on births, marriages, and deaths, and relationships among families (getting the names, dates, and places right).
There are down sides to GEDCOM. First, it is really designed to handle your conclusions, not your evidence. It's a tool for communicating very specific and very important information within the LDS church, and they've been kind enough to add a few fields in which the genealogy community is interested.
It's your genealogy computer program, not GEDCOM, that does the GEDCOM import and export functions. Some programs do not import or export every tag as that might be created by other programs. At one time, there was a GENTECH project called the “GEDCOM TestBook Project” that has recorded information about specific transfers and the results are still on the GENTECH website.
Many genealogy computer programs produce a webpage from your family information. If yours doesn't, and you want to make a webpage of your tree, GEDCOM can be used to help. There are several free or shareware “GEDCOM to HTML” converters out there.
My last thought on GEDCOM imports and exports is a privacy issue. Exporting information on living people is a no-no. especially true if information is going to be published on the Internet.
Copyright 2004, MyFamily.com.