All About GEDCOM

The GEDCOM digital file format is essential to genealogy. My expert guest from FamilySearch explains what a GEDCOM is, how to use it, and the most recent changes. He’ll also answer some of the most common GEDCOM questions. 

Show Notes

If you’ve been watching my videos for a while, then you probably know that I really recommend that you have a complete copy of your family tree on your own computer. But what if you’ve been building your family tree totally online up to this point?

The good news is that you can export your family tree as a GEDCOM file. But what exactly is a GEDCOM file?

Gordon Clarke,  the GEDCOM Developer Relations Manager at the free genealogy website FamilySearch.org joins me to answer that question and provide the latest information about the GEDCOM.

What is a GEDCOM?

(00:54) Lisa: What is a GEDCOM?

(01:14) Gordon: GEDCOM is actually an acronym for:

GEnealogical
Data
COMmunication.

It’s a type of file with specific rules that allows digital family history products to exchange information. It’s been around so long that all the software companies can read and export it.

Say for example that you have a particular family tree program you’ve been working in but there are some features in another application that you like to try out. You want to try it out with a computer file that the program can read. All of the popular genealogy programs allows you to write a GEDCOM file and then you can read it in and review your information and add to it. That is what a GEDCOM is for.

It’s a specific file type that was works with most family history applications. It’s a text-based file, though it has special constraints to it. It was designed to be easily adaptable and compatible with importing and exporting. So, as long as the developers of both products adhere to GEDCOM specifications, you shouldn’t have a trouble downloading from one and uploading to the other.

You can learn more at GEDCOM.info.

What GEDCOM stands for

Lisa: It sounds like each genealogy software database and website probably have their own proprietary file type, right? So, this is one everybody sort of agrees on that can extract the genealogy data set right. Is that right?

Gordon: Right, and there are differences between the proprietary program and GEDCOM. There are some products out there that only support GEDCOM. So that’s their proprietary format.

Why Use a GEDCOM?

(03:45) Lisa: So why should we use one a GEDCOM. When would we find ourselves wishing we had this universal file?

Gordon: Family history is more of a record keeping whether it’s photos and stories and genealogical data. People like to keep it and have control over it. So, GEDCOM is I like the word “personal”. You can personally control it. It’s just a .GED file, so any operating system can handle copying and emailing it. So, for personal control, preservation and sharing of genealogical data. It’s the most universally accepted format.

I would think for your backup purposes because it’s so universal, make sure that the program that you’re using has the ability to save your data in GEDCOM. Then you can decide whether you put it in your thumb drive or removable drive or you put it up in the cloud, you can decide how to preserve it. Think of it more as your personal file over this important information.

(05:31) Lisa: I like that idea. I’m probably not alone in that I once had somebody give me a little floppy disk and it had the whole family tree that this person had been working on. Unfortunately, it was a proprietary file, and it was a program that no longer exists. I’m helpless to be able to use it. So, a GEDCOME can really solve that issue.

Do All Family Tree Programs Support GEDCOM?

(06:00) You kind of touched on this, but I just want to just double check. Can all family tree programs and websites export the GEDCOM? Are you familiar with anything that don’t?

Gordon: I would say all of the popular programs and websites make it possible to import GEDCOM, and most of them allow for exports. There are some exceptions to that rule. If you’re going to spend your time using a program, look to see if it’s GEDCOM compatible.

To help even more so standardize the industry, the software providers commit to implementing the newest version of GEDCOM. Much of that is backward compatible. We presented those that have or will be planning to implement the newest version of GEDCOM at Rootstech. You can search at Rootstech for “GEDCOM” and see the videos of what’s been rolled out and what’s coming.

Who Owns and Controls GEDCOM?

(07:41) Lisa: Is there one particular group or authority or somebody who’s in charge of deciding what the GEDCOM is and how it works? Or is that a role that FamilySearch is playing?

Gordon: It is a role that Family Search has been playing. FamilySearch is the software development, education marketing, support arm of the department called The Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So sometimes because of marketing reasons, people think that we’re different. Family Search is totally run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

From a historical standpoint, the original specification was created and released in 1984. All subsequent versions have been copyrighted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Now, in the last three years, as a like a product manager, I took on the responsibility for working on the new version, version 7 of GEDCOM. But it’s always been an effort of FamilySearch as the outreach arm for the Family History Department.

What we did differently in this last version is we solicited all the key players and software companies. It was much more of a collaborative effort to go through the changes, things to keep, things to just get rid of. It took about two years working with many people. Now the version is what is called a public GitHub repository. As we worked toward version 7, it was to prepare it for a starting point. The decision process is still a steering committee sponsored by FamilySearch, but the input and the communication on changes is open to all software developers. You can learn about all that because it’s hosted at GEDCOM.io. So GEDCOME.info is kind of like the general public, and GEDCOM.io is more for technical software developers.

GEDCOM Features

(10:38) Lisa: What are some of the features of GEDCOM 7? What are some of the things that you consider when you’re continuing to develop the GEDCOM?

Gordon: The process that we worked on was, I think to eliminate ambiguity, there could be different software providers that would interpret the file specifications a little bit differently. We wanted to clean up the specifications so that there would be much more, not 100%, but a much better compatibility between the people that were reading it and writing it. So, we worked very tediously on eliminating the ambiguity.

I would think that the biggest thing is, it’s become more of a storage format of photos, and records and data. Let me read something, “FamilySearch GEDCOM version 7 incorporates the added ability to include photos, and other files when users download a FamilySearch GEDCOM 7 file from a supportive family tree product.”

Your local photos can be bundled in a special file that we called GEDZIP. It’s a GEDCOM file that is a zip package. That means that anybody that unzips that package will get the GEDCOM file and all the external files associated with it and have everything be readable. It’s a packaging technique to put everything together, which really adds to this idea of a personal preservation and sharing. Now you can package everything together and preserve it and share everything that’s important to you with others.

In addition to this zipped packaging capability, notes have been expanded for more versatile use and styling of text. When you add notes, whether it’s a relationship or a location, you can actually stylize those notes now and use bold and italic.

Many tools and sample files were created to help with self-testing. It’s based upon the Apache license, which is more of a technical slant on things, but to software developers, that means it’s an open software license. There’s a public GitHub repository that you go to github.com/familysearch so that you can request and watch ongoing changes in a more of a public environment, though Family Search is still the stewards and has the final say on decisions.

So that’s what’s new. It’s more open to the public. It’s been cleaned up with some important new features.

But backward compatibility for 90% of the GEDCOMs that are out there (and the last one was 5.5.1) is still possible. But it won’t go back to 3.0, 2.0. That’s where that’s where some of the incompatibilities are, is because people are using versions that are 20 years old. And things have changed a lot in the last 25 years. We have a clean, fresh start, and a new community working on continuous improvements. But there won’t be changes because the standards shouldn’t change much. This new version 7 is going to be pretty much the same for a while everybody gets on board.

Do GEDCOMs Include Image Files of Attached Records?

(15:21) Lisa: You mentioned photographs. Would that include image files? Would that include if we downloaded an image of a genealogical record which might be a .JPEG file? Would those come along with the GEDCOM?

Gordon: Yes, absolutely. All the elements of GEDCOM have definition of how to use them. And what’s called the multimedia link, the multimedia link means you can link to local files, JPEGs, PDFs, you know, whatever they are. And if you don’t want to put it all together, you can link to files that are in the cloud, and it will remember where they are. If you package them together in a GEDZIP file, and then you unpackage it, you’ll be able to access the local image files and the local records there.

So, this idea of putting it all together, I mean, bandwidth is much better than it used to be. But still, for people that have hundreds of thousands of images. This is not the best format for that. So they can work out a strategy taking into account the cloud service they use, and which photos they will keep locally on their computer. So, they can keep track of everything, both in the cloud and on their local drive. And that can all be referenced in this new version of GEDCOM.

Is There Data Loss When Exporting a GEDCOM?

(16:59) Lisa: Excellent.

So one of the questions I’ve heard from people is that they are concerned about loss data loss. If they’re importing or exporting, maybe going back and forth, is there a chance that you’re going to lose things or even introduce an error of some type?

Gordon: This is kind of the issue of the work on version 7. One of the biggest issues is not only new features, but to get a new standard to kind of clean the slate. If you get stuff into the new GEDCOM version 7 the likelihood of data losses is greatly reduced. So, we’re encouraging the adoption and use of GEDCOM 7 because it’s less likely to cause any data loss or errors.

Family Search and industry experts have worked for two years to remove ambiguities, simplify the definitions and samples in order to eliminate the possibility of data loss and errors when transferring between programs. In the long run, not only does it include more media, but the whole goal is to improve the consistency, the compatibility and minimize or even eliminate data loss. So, what you will start being seeing is the question “is GEDCOM 7 compatible?” Because GEDCOM 7, when we were working on something that was 20 years old, is going to be more compatible in the future. We have a body to watch out for it. Your data will migrate to the new version without data loss. But looking at down the road, staying with the version 7 or higher will assure a sure better preservation of what you have.

Learn More About GEDCOM at Rootstech

(19:17) Lisa: I think you mentioned or alluded to that there were some announcements at Rootstech 2022.

Gordon: Yes, go to the sessions and type in “GEDCOM” and you will get three opportunities. One is a session called GEDCOM 7 Launched and Rolling Strong. Another session will be FamilySearch GEDCOM 7 What’s Next? And the answer is teamwork.

There’s two pre-recorded videos about the What’s New in GEDCOM 7 and then how the industry’s going to join together in working on it in the future. In in one of the sessions, the first one, there actually is a slide that shows all the companies that have committed to it. But all the majority of the companies have said, both in the cloud and desktop and laptop, and some have said when they’re going to release it. And one company I think, is announcing their release at Rootstech of the new GEDCOM version 7.

Future Updates and Changes to GEDCOM

(20:44) Lisa: That’s great to see. Anything I didn’t ask you or that you think people should really be aware of as they move forwarding and keeping up to date with GEDCOM 7?

Gordon: Again, with a standard, we don’t want to change too much too fast, because they wanted to get solid as a new transfer format.

I think the big areas that we’re working on for future versions is related quite a bit to internationalization. There are probably 20 different calendaring systems that are different than what we do in the U.S. To be able to respect those different calendars and to understand the translation between calendars is a big part of internationalizing GEDCOM.

The other part related to that is that there are some places in the world where how they define relationships between people is not typical to either the US or Western Europe. And so we are working on major upgrades and encourage people to come join with us. With naming conventions we may think given name, surname, but in reality, there’s other relationships that get into the name. If we even go to Africa their name is the first name may go back 10 generations, so their name is a memorization of all those names. So, improving on names is an important effort, the structure and relationships.

Another improvement is places. We think hierarchal and certain jurisdictions, but over time, and in different areas of the world, how you organize places is different. We need to address that in the GEDCOM specification.

Sources and Citations need to be upgraded for the genealogical community. And so, we certainly invite not only software developers, but genealogists to join our effort to improve sources and citations.

GEDCOM Hypothesis

One thing I’m really excited about is that we have a team that’s been working a year, and they’re probably working on it another year or two, on what we call hypothesis. This is so that you can share information without claiming it as a conclusion, and keep it separate from a conclusion. This encourages collaboration. So instead of arguing about I’m right, you’re wrong, we call it a hypothesis. Then we can have a discussion until there’s enough sources to prove it. This Hypothesis module I think is going to be really exciting. But that won’t be for a couple years or so until we actually release it.

Lisa: I think that’s a terrific idea because so often we are just battling with ourselves over what we think the answer is, and we want to track it while we’re doing it.

I’m curious: sometimes we go to a website, and you have to pick what language you speak. Perhaps if you’re searching for videos on YouTube you might say English. Is this something being considered? Is the goal no matter what that it’s only one type of file that serves every country or was there a consideration that you could select your country and then the GEDCOM would support your calendar and your geographic areas. I’m sure that was a discussion.

Gordon: Oh, absolutely. And, but what you’re talking about, just to be clear, is the specification to give all of the options and more to the software developer. The software developer can decide the language of the interface, and many of them are already doing this. So the actual presentation, if it’s Norwegian, or Danish, or whatever, it’s different according to the language that you place. What we’re looking according to your language of choice is that the orientations are names, relationships, and places jurisdictions, will be easy for the software developer to switch to by just changing that.

When we look at an international – how people look at information – it may be a different lens that they look through. So having the ability to give the software developers out of our future specs, to switch their interface, and switch around because they might be working in one part of the country because of their heritage, and then they might work in another and to be switched between it and to still have the data be the same, regardless of what national lens they’re looking through.

Lisa: It’s amazing that one little package contains so much and so much flexibility. That’s really terrific.

The Team Working on GEDCOM 7

(26:52) Gordon: I won’t drop names but in my immediate steering committee, that we meet with weekly, not only do I have three representations from within FamilySearch, but from the community, I like to call them doctors, they are doctors, they have their PhDs in computer science. Some are genealogists, they have their peers, one is even a linguistic professor. Another is an actual legal professional. It’s been wonderful to work with such experts, really, that are reasonable, and want to make things easy for the software developer. So, it’s quite a dilemma, instead of just making it right in the specification, but we’ve got to make it right and make it easier for the software developers to implement it. So that’s my thanks to all the people I’ve been able to work with.

GEDCOM Resources

(28:19) Lisa: Visit GEDCOM.io and GEDCOM.info.

Are they able to offer any volunteering opportunities? Do you need the help of people who are doing genealogy?

Gordon: Oh yes, you can volunteer in lots of different ways at GEDCOM.io.

Lisa: Thank you so much for taking time to explain GEDCOM.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members. (Learn more and join Premium Membership here.)

 

Family History Episode 39 – How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 2

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished July 8, 2014

family history genealogy made easy podcast

Listen to the free podcast in your favorite podcast app.

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh39.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 39: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 2

This week we continue to explore the world of family history blogging, a terrific way to share your findings, connect with other researchers and long-lost relatives, and pass on your own research experiences. In the last episode The Footnote Maven advised us on how to get started blogging. In this episode I interview TWO more successful genealogy bloggers:

  • Denise Levenick, author of The Family Curator Blog and alter ego of “Miss Penny Dreadful,” who writes on the Footnote Maven’s Shades of the Departed blog. Denise will tell us about the origins of her Family Curator blog, and why she feels motivated to write it.  And she’ll also share some of her top tech tips!
  • Schelly Tallalay Dardashti, author of the Tracing the Tribe blog. She’ll tell us how she got started blogging, and what really got her hooked on it. She’ll tell us about her process for posting articles and how much time she spends blogging, and will dispel the myth that you have to be technically inclined to have a blog.

This episode is your personal genealogy blogging training with some of the best in the biz!

Denise Levenick: The Family Curator

Denise, a native Californian, has worked as an editor and journalist since publishing a neighborhood newspaper in grade school and has taught both journalism and literature in Pasadena schools for 19 years, so it’s no wonder that she took to blogging.

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Denise:

  • She says that “each of us is a family curator with responsibility.”
  • Use a free downloadable software program called Transcript. I found the most recent version available and described online here.
  • She mentions a blog called Family Matters on the Moultrie Creek website.
  • Denise mentions Evernote, free software helps thousands of genealogists keep their research organized and their sources (online and offline) at their fingertips. Want some help using Evernote for genealogy? Click here to read some of my top tips.
  • She also mentioned Scribefire. (Update: Scribefire is now a web browser extension.  Chrome: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/scribefire There is also GenScribe here: http://genscriber.com/genapps/start)

Schelly Talalay Dardashti: Jewish genealogy specialist

Schelly Talalay Dardashti has tracked her family history through Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Spain, Iran and elsewhere. A journalist, her articles on genealogy have been widely published.  In addition to genealogy blogging, she speaks at Jewish and general genealogy conferences, is past president of the five-branched JFRA Israel, a Jewish genealogical association, a member of the American Jewish Press Association, and the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Highlights from the conversation with Schelly:

  • “You don’t have to be a techie to blog!”
  • She mentions using Feedburner for headline animation. Feedburner was bought by Google; learn more about headline animation from Google here.
  • Schedule blog posts in advance for your convenience.
  • Got Jewish DNA? She recommends testing through Family Tree DNA because they have a critical mass of Jewish DNA samples already in their system.
  • Genealogy conference recommendation:  The Southern California Genealogy Jamboree.

Turn a Kindle Ebook into an Audiobook on iPhone

Wish someone could read your Kindle e-book to you? Your iPhone can. Here’s how to turn a Kindle ebook into an audiobook. For free.

Turn eBook into AudioBook

Turn eBook into AudioBook

I love to read. But when I’m on the road, doing chores or working out, it’s easier to listen to books. Sometimes I purchase an audio format or find one at my local library. But audiobooks are pretty expensive, and they’re not always available for the books I want.

So what if I have an e-book already on my Kindle and I want my iPhone to read it to me? It can.

Here’s how to turn a Kindle ebook into an audiobook on an iPhone 5s:

1. Customize VoiceOver settings. On your iPhone, go to Settings > General > Accessibility.
2. Set the reading speed. On the VoiceOver screen, go down to the Speaking Rate bar and adjust it to a speed you like: toward the turtle image for slower, and toward the running rabbit for faster.
3. Choose the reading voice. On the same screen, you can select the voice you want to hear. Choose Speech. Under Default Dialect, you can choose among several English-speaking reading voices, categorized under U.S., Australian, U.K., Irish and South African English. Or tap “Add New Language” to enable one of many other languages.
4. Open your Kindle app (or download it here).
5. Choose a book from your Library. Or go to Amazon.com, select Kindle Store under the All Departments dropdown menu on the search bar, and search for titles (or search “Kindle free books” for free Kindle books to read). You should also check with your local library about borrowing Kindle ebooks.)
6. Open the book. Tap the book and swipe left to page forward through the front matter until you want to start reading.
7. Ask Siri to “turn on VoiceOver.” You can also do this manually by going back to Settings > General > Accessibility. Once you turn on VoiceOver, it reads everything to you. I find it annoying and more difficult to navigate in the iPhone with VoiceOver on, so I don’t enable it until I am ready to use it. After Siri confirms that VoiceOver is enabled, press the Home button once to return to your Kindle book.
8. Start the audio reading. A black border will appear around your Kindle book page. A voice will start to give you instructions. Swipe down with two fingers to begin reading continuously (beginning with the current page and continuing through the book until you stop.
9. Double tap the screen to stop reading and bring up the menu options.

If you’re used to audiobooks read by actors and professional readers, you’ll miss their polished performances. But the voice works for me in a pinch, when I just want to listen to an e-book I already have on my Kindle.

Why not try this with the current Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson? Click on the book title to order the Kindle e-book. It’s a perfect summer read: a light-hearted romance with colorful characters and a compelling historical backdrop at the outset of World War I.

genealogy book club genealogy gemsThis post was brought to you by the free, no-commitment online Genealogy Gems Book Club. We choose titles for their appeal to family history lovers, AND we interview their (often best-selling) authors. Click here to learn more about the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

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