What Is a GEDCOM File and Why Do I Need It?

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What Is a GEDCOM File and Why Do I Need It?

Postby bimjim » Sat Oct 03, 2015 5:38 pm

http://rootsbid.com/blog/what-is-a-gedc ... i-need-it/

What Is a GEDCOM File and Why Do I Need It?
By Amie Bowser Tennant

There is a level of false security among many genealogists and family historians. Unless you have had a bad experience with losing your data, you may not have thought about how to protect it.

Paper can be destroyed, computers can crash, and internet sites can be disabled. Where are you storing your information and decades of research?

The best way to protect your genealogy data is to use a backup GEDCOM file. Let me share with you what a GEDCOM file is, why you need it, how to make it, and where it should be stored.

What is a GEDCOM file? GEDCOM is an acronym that stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunications. Genealogy software uses this “language.” The nice thing about a GEDCOM file is it can be read by many different types of genealogy software. That means even if you are using RootsMagic, you can still share all the data you have collected with your cousin who uses Family Tree Maker and she will not have to type in all the data.

Occasionally, not all the information included in a GEDCOM file transfers perfectly. There are differences in how that information is interpreted and some things may be affected. However, for the most part, much of it will transfer correctly.

Why do I need to use GEDCOM files? A GEDCOM file is the easiest way to store and protect loads of genealogical data. Yes, you could decide to print all your pedigrees and family group sheets as a backup, but can you imagine having to type in information for over 9,000 ancestors to a new genealogy software! Yikes!

Using a GEDCOM file as your backup will protect you from loss and put you back on track quickly should tragedy strike.

Some software programs automatically make backup files. These are often files written in the same language as the program itself and cannot always be interpreted by other software.

For instance, if you are using RootsMagic and have used only their automatic backup file feature, it is stored in RMGB data format. If you were to save that file, it is likely only able to be opened in RootsMagic software. Let’s say RootsMagic became obsolete. You would have all your information in files that may not be able to be opened. Do not be lured into a false sense of security by only making backup files using the automatic features.

How do I make a GEDCOM file? If you open your genealogy software, you will have an option to “Export” data. In RootsMagic, it is found under the “File” tab. Click “File” at the top left corner, then choose “Export” from the pull down menu.


What Is a GEDCOM and Why Do I Need It?

Once you have chosen “Export,” the export box will pop up. You can choose what you wish to have included in this export. I typically choose “Everyone” but you can do yours by family names if you wish.

Once you have clicked “OK,” the GEDCOM file is ready to be saved to your computer. I have a folder on my computer’s desktop that I have named “GEDCOMs” and I save them there first.

Remember to name the file and pay attention to where you are saving it.

Congratulations – you have created a GEDCOM file.


If you have stored your genealogy at Ancestry.com, you may be interested to know that you can create a GEDCOM file for your family tree there as well. I found a wonderful article outlining the steps on how to do that here.

Where do I store my GEDCOM files?

GEDCOM files can be saved to a hard drive, saved to an external unit, emailed, put on a thumb drive, or uploaded to the Cloud. All of these methods protect you in the case of loss of data or computer.

I send my GEDCOMs in an email to my sisters. They kindly save the file to their computers. This protects me if anything should happen to my device.

If you do not have family members that will save this file for you, consider using the Cloud. The Cloud is like a virtual server in the sky. I use the Cloud via my Google Drive account (other . storage platforms include Box and Dropbox). To do this, I go to Google.com and sign in. Once signed in, you will notice a little icon to the top right that looks like a grid of tiny squares. Click there to have a pull down menu of options, then choose “Drive.”


Now, you are directed to your Google Drive page. I have created folders in mine entitled “Family Histories,” “Family Pictures,” and “GEDCOM.” Creating a folder is easy. Simply click “New” and create a folder by any name you wish.

You can then upload the GEDCOM file you saved to your hard drive to a folder on the Cloud.

To upload a GEDCOM file to your desired folder, double click on the folder you want to upload to. In this case, I would double click on my “GEDCOM” folder, then click “New” again, and lastly, click on “File Upload.” Find the GEDCOM file you saved to your computer and click “Open.” You have now attached this GEDCOM file to the Cloud.

By doing this, you can retrieve that GEDCOM file from any computer, any where. All you have to do is log in to Google, go to your Drive, and there it is.

How do I use a GEDCOM file? If for some reason your computer crashes or you transition to new genealogy software, you will need to use your GEDCOM files.

Let’s assume you have a new computer or installed a new genealogy software program. Let’s also assume that you have previously saved your GEDCOM file to the Cloud. You would go back to the Cloud and retrieve your GEDCOM file and save it to your new computer.

Now, I will use RootsMagic as an example of using a GEDCOM file to retrieve lost data.

Open the program and create a new family tree. Your tree is blank. You do NOT want to enter by hand your 9,000 ancestors, right?!

In the top left corner, click on “File” and choose “Import” from the drop-down menu. You will have a pop-up box that will ask what type of file you want to import.


I chose “GEDCOM” and then clicked on “I know where the file is.” I found the GEDCOM file I had saved and clicked “Open.”


All that data is imported into the program and you now have a completed tree of 9,000 ancestor names, dates, and places in a matter of minutes.


You are likely one of the lucky ones who has not yet experienced the loss of your family tree and files. Someday your luck may run out. Don’t be blindsided. Take the time to back-up your years of research and protect it by storing it in a GEDCOM file format.


Amie Bowser Tennant Amie Bowser Tennant

Amie Bowser Tennant has served as a volunteer at her local Family History Center for more than 10 years. She was awarded the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course Scholarship in American Genealogy in 2011. She also enjoyed the position as newsletter editor for Miami Meanderings, a local county genealogical publication, for two years. Now, she is a research genealogist, speaker, and writer.
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