GEDCOM Overview

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GEDCOM Introduction

One of the biggest advantages of using the Internet for genealogy research is the ability to exchange information with other researchers or interested parties. Many genealogists email GEDCOM files to each other to share genealogical information.

What does GEDCOM stand for?

GEDCOM is an acronym for Genealogical Data COMmunication. When saved, transferred or shared, this data usually takes the form of a text file, commonly referred to as a "GEDCOM file" or "GEDCOM" for short.

What are GEDCOM files used for?

GEDCOM is a structured method of formatting genealogical or family tree data. Because its format and usage are described in a written, open specification, the majority of genealogy software applications have settled on the GEDCOM file as the standard for input and output. Many genealogists use GEDCOM files to save, transfer or share genealogical content or data.

One service Geni provides is an online representation of the information contained in a family's GEDCOM file or files. Users can simply invite their family to join their family network and share their information with known family members. Sharing information with potential (or unconfirmed) relatives is another story. Since Geni shows living and deceased relatives, inviting an unconfirmed relative to your family tree is not recommended, as it may risk showing private family information to a person who may turn out to be unrelated. Instead, try determining relatedness before inviting. One way to this is to mutually exchange GEDCOM files that are configured to show only deceased relatives. If you are indeed closely related and able to build a relationship path to one another, then it is probably safe to go ahead and invite that person to your Geni Tree.

It is recommend that Geni users use (and anyone using any genealogy program) back up their data as often as possible. You can do this through a process known as GEDCOM export, which is a common feature of many genealogy applications, and one that Geni offers online.

How does a GEDCOM file work?

A GEDCOM file is nothing more than a text file formatted along certain rules, as described in the GEDCOM specification. This specification calls for the use of tags (denoted by the TAG label in the file) to describe individuals and their familial relationships. Examples of tags include: INDI for individual, FAM for family, BIRT for birth and DATE. A GEDCOM file is basically a "flat file" database of records with pointers to track the relationships of all the people it contains.

How do I view a GEDCOM file?

While you should now be able to decipher a GEDCOM with a text editor, you will still find it much easier to read with the appropriate family tree program or a special GEDCOM viewer. Geni's import function can be used for this

How do I open and read a GEDCOM file?

Save the GEDCOM File to Your Computer:

Whether you are downloading the file from the Internet or opening it as an email attachment, the first thing you should do is save the file to a folder on your hard drive.

Determine whether it is really a GEDCOM:

Begin by ensuring that the file that you want to open is truly a GEDCOM file, and not a family tree file created in some proprietary format by a genealogy software program. A file is in GEDCOM format when it ends in the extension .ged. If the file ends with the extension .zip then it has been zipped (compressed) and needs to be unzipped first.


Import your GEDCOM file to Geni:

  1. Go to the GEDCOM Import page
  2. Fill out the form and upload your GEDCOM file. (There is currently a 5,000 Profile limit to Importing but no overall limit)
  3. Indicate who you are in your file.
  4. You're done

For detailed information on the formats and fields we support visit the GEDCOM page on the Geni User Wiki.

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