A GEDCOM file is a universal type of file that genealogists use to move data from one genealogy software program to another. Using these helpful tips below, you can open genealogy files your family members send to you, or share your data with others.
When and Why You Would Need to Open a GEDCOM File
A Genealogy Gems reader recently wrote:
I recently signed up for [the Genealogy Gems] newsletter. I received a CD from a relative with family history information that was set up through Family Tree Maker. I am currently not subscribed to any of the genealogy sites. My question is, how can I retrieve this information [from the CD.] Can you help?
The answer to the question is: Use another program to open the GEDCOM file from the CD. Let me show you how easy it is to open and create GEDCOM files.
GEDCOM is an acronym standing for Genealogical Data Communication. It is a universal genealogy file that allows you to exchange genealogical data between different genealogy software programs.
Because it is “universal” in nature, a GEDCOM file can be read by many different types of genealogy software. That means, 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 names, dates, and places manually.
Occasionally, not all the information included in a GEDCOM file will transfer perfectly. There are differences in how that information is interpreted and some things, like notes and sources, may be affected. However, for the most part, much of it will transfer correctly.
How to Open a GEDCOM File
Our reader needs to open a GEDCOM file contained on the CD he was sent. To do this, he must have a program on his computer that will read a GEDCOM file. There is an option I would like to share with you.
RootsMagic is a downloadable software for both Mac and PC users. (And, it is the one we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast use! That’s why we accepted them as a sponsor of the podcast.)
Once you have downloaded RootsMagic to your computer, open it. At the top left corner, click on File and from the pull-down menu, choose Import.
Now, a new pop-up window will open and ask from what source you would like to import from. You will notice several options, but for our reader’s question, he will choose the GEDCOM option.
Then, choose I know where the file is, and the file explorer window will appear. In this case, our reader would click on the CD that he has loaded into his computer’s disk drive, and follow the prompts to open the GEDCOM file. All that information his relative sent him will be slurped into RootsMagic and he can easily look through the pedigree of his family.
Creating a GEDCOM to Share with Others
RootsMagic also allows you to create a GEDCOM file. This is what you would send to your relatives when they would like to have a copy of the family tree.
To do this, open RootsMagic. Click on File, as we did before, and this time choose Export from the pull-down options.
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 by clicking on the down arrow next to Everyone and choosing Select from list.
Once you have clicked OK, the GEDCOM file is ready to be saved to your computer. Save the file on your desktop or somewhere you will be able to locate it again. Remember to name the file and pay attention to where you are saving it!
Creating a GEDCOM from Ancestry.com
If you have stored your genealogy data at Ancestry.com, you may be interested to know that you can create a GEDCOM file for your family tree there as well. It’s just a matter of signing into your Ancestry account, locating the Tree Settings, and then clicking Export. I found a nice article outlining the steps on how to do that here.
Protecting Your GEDCOM Files
Creating a GEDCOM is also a great way to save or backup your hours and hours of family history research. One of the saddest tales of genealogists everywhere is losing their computer or printed family files with all that work!
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. You can also invest in a company like Backblaze, the official backup of The Genealogy Gems Podcast, that will automatically backup all your files. (Read more about Backblaze, here.) All of these methods protect you and your genealogy.
More on Protecting Your Genealogical Data
Learn more about Backblaze, The Genealogy Gems Podcast’s first choice when it comes to backing up precious genealogy research and personal files. Read the article’s below and determine if Backblaze is the answer you’ve been looking for.
How to Download Backblaze in 4 Easy Steps
Backing Up Your Genealogy with Backblaze – Q & A
Extra, extra! Thousands of pages of US and UK newspapers are newly online for your genealogy research. Also new this week are birth, marriage, death, and parish records for England and the United States, a large historic Irish photo collection and a unique family history research aid for Iceland.
Feature Photo: Newspapers
UK Newspapers, Parish Records and More
England: Parish records and newspapers
Ancestry.com got a big update recently to their English records! The following collections have been added for Derbyshire, England:
Originals of these documents come from Derbyshire Church of England Parish Registers, and dozens of parishes are included. You can narrow your results by parish by selecting from the drop-down menu in the Browse this Collection box (shown here) on the right side of the page.
Also brand new this week are several newspapers for England, hosted by the British Newspaper Archive:
Hampshire: Hants and Berks Gazette and Middlesex and Surrey Journal 1892-1902
Oxfordshire: Thame Gazette 1857-1928 (some gaps).
Durham: Darlington & Stockton Times, Ripon & Richmond Chronicle 1847-1894 (some gaps).
London: Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser, Upton Park and Dagenham Gazette 1889-1909
You can search the British Newspaper Archive for free, and they’ve recently created a brand new package: Save 31% with their 3 Month package for just £25.90! You’ll get access to over 22 million newspaper pages across Britain and Ireland, with more added every day.
Scotland: Parish records & newspapers
A new collection of Scottish parish records is now available at Ancestry.com: Extracted Parish Records, 1571-1997. The records in this collection include baptisms/christenings, burials, marriages, tombstone inscriptions, obituaries, tax lists, wills, and other miscellaneous types of records. For copies of the originals, “the microfilm number of pertinent corroborating records can often be found on the LDS Church’s FamilySearch site (www.familysearch.org) in the Family History Library Catalog.”
Also new for Scotland, the Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette newspaper is available at the British Newspaper Archive. Years span 1875-1908 (except 1877) and it was published by Newsquest in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. 1,722 issues comprised of 14,000 pages are now available to view online.
Historic Irish photos & newspapers
More than 10,000 historic pictures from have been added to a folklore website, duchas.ie. A recent article announcing the launch stated that “the Collection contains photographs taken by professional photographers and by collectors working with the National Folklore Commission, amongst others, and are classified under 14 different topics including: festivals; holy wells; settlement; folklore collection; and games and pastimes.” A large number of the photographs date from the early 20th century.
The British Newspaper Archive has added a new newspaper title from Antrim, Northern Ireland: Carrickfergus Advertiser 1884-1895, 1897-1910. Nearly 1,400 issues and over 5,000 pages are included in this new digitized collection.
Iceland: New language resource
If you have ancestors from Iceland, this unique resource is for you! A new website has made Icelandic spelling, declension, and etymology dictionaries now free online. From Iceland Magazine: “In an effort to protect the Icelandic language in a time of smartphones and computers, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies at the University of Iceland has opened a website which offers free access to the institute’s large catalogue of dictionaries, including etymology- and spelling dictionaries and the institute’s declension database for the Icelandic language.” Here’s a tip: The site is in Icelandic, but use Google Translate to navigate in English! Plus check out our favorite resources for pronunciation help.
United States: Vital records & more
California. County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849-1980 are new online at Ancestry.com. This collection contains records from various counties throughout California, and you can use the drop-down table to search by the county, record type, and year range of your ancestor’s life events.
Connecticut. New records are available online at Findmypast for Connecticut baptisms, church records, and burials from the 1600s-1800s. These records cover various towns and have been transcribed from public domain records.
Georgia. New from the Georgia Archives: Colonial Conveyances. This collection contains 11 volumes of property transactions between private citizens in the Colony of Georgia from 1750-1804. Each book contains a grantor index at the end of the volume.
Maryland. The University of Maryland Student Newspapers Database has recently launched. From the press release: “[This collection] provides keyword and date access to issues of The Diamondback and its seven predecessor newspapers from 1910 to October 1971. Users can search names and topics across all the issues, as well as focusing in on a particular day, month, or year of publication or publication title.”
Want more help with newspapers, Google Translate, and more? Genealogy Gems Premium Members can watch full-length video classes by Lisa Louise Cooke on those topics and more! Sign up today
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Cemetery research is a crucial family history skill. Tombstones are monuments to our ancestors lives and may have key genealogical clues engraved in the stone. Follow these four steps to finding your ancestors’ burial places and the records that complement them.
Many of my ancestors are buried just two miles from my house in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, Virginia. I drive by the cemetery each day, as I take my daughters to school. I never pass by without glancing up at the hallowed ground which holds the remains of those who came before me. The sun perfectly illuminates their resting place each morning and a majestic tree stands at the very top of the hill–a living monument to the lives they led in the town where I now raise my own family.
It is an emotional experience to stand in the place where an ancestor’s remains have been laid to rest.
Each time I visit the grave of my grandma, I have a vision of a family standing around a casket on a bitter cold day in March. It was a just few days before the official start of spring, but it was the dead of winter to me. That ground is sacred to me, now.
Each time I visit, I am transported back in time to that day. A wound is re-opened for a moment, but the moment is fleeting because I quickly remember her life, not her death.
I remember the stories she told, the service her hands rendered to her family and, most importantly, the love that transcends time and even the icy grip of death. Death truly loses its “sting” as we stand before a monument of stone and see beyond to the life it represents. Scenes like this one have played out at each grave.
I am reminded of this quote from Fear Nothing, a Dean Koontz book, whenever I visit the cemetery:
“The trunks of six giant oaks rise like columns supporting a ceiling formed by their interlocking crowns. In the quiet space below, is laid out an aisle similar to those in any library. The gravestones are like rows of books bearing the names of those whose names have been blotted from the pages of life; who have been forgotten elsewhere but are remembered here.”
I have often gone to my ancestors’ resting places to take pictures of headstones and search for relatives I may have missed in the past. It seems like each time I visit, I notice something new.
This library of marble holds many clues that have helped me break down brick walls in my family history research. These clues have been there, etched in stone, for decades. It wasn’t until I recognized how to read the clues that I began to understand the importance of cemeteries in family history research.
These resting places have become much more to me than merely a place to go and offer a bouquet of flowers. There are answers waiting to be discovered. The key to getting the answers is knowing which questions to ask.
In my experience, the best genealogists are not the ones with the best cameras, the best software, or the best gadgets–they are the ones with the best questions.
Curiosity is the most important tool to the successful genealogist. The next time you find yourself in a library of marble, take a few moments to let your curiosity run wild. Ask yourself:
- “Who are the people surrounding my family members?
- What are their stories?
- What do the etchings on their headstones mean?”
That curiosity will lead to the most remarkable discoveries and you will see for yourself how a piece of marble truly can break down a brick wall.
Below I’ve outlined the steps for finding family cemeteries and which questions you should be asking when you get there. Get inspired by my own examples of breaking down brick walls, and implement these methods I used for your own success!
Cemetery research step #1: Identify the cemetery
The first step in cemetery research is to identify the name of the cemetery where an ancestor was buried.
The best places to start looking are death certificates, funeral home records and obituaries. Each one of these records should contain the name of the cemetery where a family member was buried.
We sometimes fail to look beyond the names and dates on death certificates. If we get in the habit of taking the time to absorb all of the information on these important documents, we will find genealogical treasure.
Sometimes, the death certificate will not give us the name of the cemetery.
This was the case with my great-grandmother, Mollie Weimer Overbay. I was frustrated to see that the death certificate only indicated that she was buried, as opposed to cremated or removed to another location. While the certificate did not provide me with the name of a cemetery, it did offer the name of the funeral director: W.B. Seaver.
Luckily, I was able to follow this lead to the local funeral home. Within their records, I discovered that she was buried in Round Hill Cemetery, along with many of my other ancestors.
Cemetery research step #2: Locate the cemetery
Once you have located the name of the cemetery, several resources can guide you to its location.
Three helpful websites are listed below. Which you choose may depend on personal preference or familiarity but also on which site seems to have more records for the locales of most interest to you.
1. One of my favorite online resources is Find A Grave.
This website allows you to search for cemeteries all over the world.
At the home page, click on the Cemeteries tab (#1, below).
Then enter the name or location of the cemetery (#2). In the screenshot below, you can see part of the Google Maps interface that shows you the exact location of the cemetery, should you want to visit in person:
Find A Grave also has pictures of many of the headstones located within cemeteries.
2. Billion Graves allows users to collect photos of headstones by using an iPhone/Android camera app.
The app, available on Google Play and the App Store (for iPhone and iPad), tags the photos with the GPS location and, essentially, maps the cemetery as headstones are added.
Search for cemetery locations using the Billion Graves app or on the website by selecting the “Cemetery Search” option and then entering the name of the cemetery or a known address (to see it on Google Maps):
3. Interment.net can also be helpful.
From the home page, scroll down just a little until you see “Browse Cemetery Records by Region.” This can be especially helpful if you’re looking for all records within a specific county or other region. However, it’s not quite as useful if you’re trying to locate all cemeteries within a certain radius of a location, regardless of local boundaries.
In addition to these resources, it is essential to contact the local library, genealogical society, and/or historical society where your ancestors are buried. These organizations are well-known for maintaining detailed listings of local cemeteries within their collections.
For instance, within Smyth County (where I live) there is a four-volume set of books that contains the work of two local historians, Mack and Kenny Sturgill. They spent several years mapping local cemeteries and collecting the names on all of the headstones.
Although these books were completed in the 1990s, the information is still valuable to genealogists. Detailed driving directions were given to help future researchers locate cemeteries that would otherwise be difficult to locate. Many of them are on private property and even in the middle of cow pastures or wooded areas.
Furthermore, some of the headstones that were legible in the 1990s have now become difficult to decipher due to weathering or have altogether disappeared. It is likely that the counties in which you are conducting cemetery research offer similar resources.
Cemetery research step #3: Prepare for a visit
Once you have found the cemetery you want to visit, you will want to take the following items along with you to make the most of your visit:
- a camera
- pair of gloves
- grass clippers
- notebook and pen
- long pants
- sturdy shoes
You may also want to use a damp cloth to bring out the carvings on headstones. A side note: if you are like me and have an aversion to snakes, you will either choose to go on cemetery expeditions during the winter, or you will invest in a pair of snake chaps.
Get more help! The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide (above) contains detailed step-by-steps for using FindAGrave and BillionsGraves, plus guides for understanding tombstone epitaphs and symbol meanings.
Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting our free podcast by using our link.
Cemetery research step #4: Visit and search for clues
This headstone shows something unusual: the couple’s ham radio call signs (the codes engraved just below their names).
The headstones found in cemeteries can reveal much about your family. You will find more than birth and death dates. If you look closely, you will discover symbols related to military service and religious beliefs, maiden names of the women in your family, and you may even find family members that you never knew about. Many times, you will find children buried in the family plot. Look around to see who is buried near your ancestors. It is likely that you will find connections to other family members when you are visiting the cemetery. These connections may lead you to break down long-standing brick walls within your family history.
In my own experience, there have been several instances in which cemetery research has helped shed light on a family mystery. I had grown up hearing that there were members of our family who had fought in the Civil War. Who were these men? What experiences did they have during the war? Where had they fought?
The answers to these questions came as the result of a visit to the cemetery. I had gone to Round Hill Cemetery to photograph the headstones of my Weimer ancestors. As I worked my way down the row, I encountered an unfamiliar name—William Henry Wymer. At the top of his headstone, there was a Southern Cross of Honor—a symbol used to denote a soldier who fought during the Civil War. Below his name was the following inscription: “Co. A, 6 VA RES, C.S.A:”
When I went home that afternoon, I began to search for more details. With some census research, I learned that he was the uncle of my great-grandmother, Mollie Weimer Overbay. Upon confirming his relationship to our family, I began searching for a pension application for his wife, Rhoda:
The application had been submitted in 1926 and told the story of William’s life. Among other things, I learned the answers to my questions about his service during the Civil War. His wife indicated that he enlisted during the last year of the war and was present during a well-known battle in our county—the Battle of Saltville. I am sure that my great-grandmother had grown up listening to tales of this battle and William’s experience during the war. The details of the story had been lost but were now re-discovered thanks to a trip to the cemetery.
Subtle clues like this one await you as you search out your own ancestors. The next time you make a trip to one of these libraries of marble, take a few moments to look closely at the clues that surround you. They may not be obvious, but they are there, waiting for your curiosity to uncover them. So, bring your cameras, your gloves, and your grass clippers to the cemetery on your next visit—but don’t forget to bring your questions and your ability to perceive the minute details, as you stand beneath the towering trees, among the rows of marble, waiting to offer up their long-held secrets.
More cemetery research tips
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