GEDCOM File (What is It & How to Use This Genealogy File)

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 youor 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 Basics

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.

import GEDCOM file

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.

GEDCOM transfer

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.

Family tree using GEDCOM

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.

GEDCOM export

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

Beginning British Genealogy: What You Must Know to Start

With about 1/3 of Americans claiming British ancestry, chances are that at some point you will need to extend your research across the Atlantic Ocean. Genealogical research in the British Isles has some important differences when compared to the United States. Guest blogger Kate Eakman, a Senior Researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, clarifies confusing terms and helps you get your research started on solid footing!

Beginning British Genealogy

Britain? England? The United Kingdom?

When beginning British genealogy research, it’s important to first talk about the difference between British and English research. There are several terms which get used interchangeably but which really refer to different locations.

Great Britain is an island, the largest island in the British Isles.

On the island of Great Britain are three of the four sovereign nations which make up the United Kingdom, or the U.K.: England, Wales, and Scotland. Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland is the fourth country of the U.K.

The four countries of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Map courtesy Nate Parker.

Usually, when people talk about their British ancestors, what they really mean are their English ancestors. Although we Americans often treat the two words as interchangeable they really aren’t, and I suspect our English friends giggle a bit when they hear us misuse the words.

The four countries of the U.K. have some similarities but many important differences, and that is equally true for genealogical research. Rather than trying to explain all of those differences, this post will focus on English research.

One last thing to keep in mind when we talk about genealogical research in England is that today the country is divided into counties, which are sort of the equivalent of states in the U.S. Older records might refer to those counties as shires, and over time the borders have shifted, shires and counties were added, divided, or absorbed into each other. So a good map or two will be a useful tool to keep handy while you research your English ancestors.

Usually, when people talk about their British ancestors,
what they really mean are their English ancestors

What do you know?

Before beginning British genealogy research and making that leap across the pond, it is a good idea to consider what you already know about your English ancestors. Of course, you have a name, and you probably have an approximate date of birth.

  • Were you fortunate enough to find the name of a town or county where that ancestor lived or do all of the census reports and vital records simply say “England”?
  • If the ancestor arrived as an adult, what occupation did he pursue?
  • When did he or she arrive in the U.S.? Are there any clues on the passenger list to tell you where to start looking?
  • Once you have reviewed all of the information you have already acquired about your English ancestor, it’s time to start your research.

Beginning British Genealogy Research with the Census

The first step in most genealogical research is to study the existing census reports. Designed as a means to count the population for a variety of years, the census of Great Britain (including Scotland) is taken every ten years with the earliest records available in 1841. Due to very restrictive privacy laws, the most recent census available is from 1911, with one really valuable exception being the 1939 Register, available at FindMyPast.

Used for genealogical purposes, the census can give a snapshot of the family at the time the census was taken, as well as provide invaluable information such as the birthplace of the individual being recorded, occupation, birth year, and familial relationships. Elderly parents, or widowed mothers, aunts, or sisters, can be discovered living with younger members of the family.

Drawbacks of using the census for genealogical purposes include inaccurate name spellings, inaccurate age reporting, and inaccurate assumptions made by the enumerator. Another thing to keep in mind is that in the 1841 census the enumerated rounded down to the nearest five years the ages of people over 15. So a person who was listed as 25 could have been 25 through 29 years old.

It is important to remember that for the census reports through 1901 the enumerator copied the household information into books, and these copies are what we have today. Of course, when information is copied it is susceptible to error. The person who completed the census form may have had difficult-to-read handwriting, or the enumerator may have entered things on the wrong line. The individual reports have been kept for the 1911 census and offer a greater likelihood that the information they contain is very accurate.

An example of a transcription from the 1891 English Census from Familysearch.org.

Detailed transcripts of English census records are available for free on FamilySearch and the images can be found for a fee at FindMyPast.

It is important to remember that for the census reports through 1901 the enumerator copied the household information into books, and these copies are what we have today.

Civil Registry of Vital Events

All English births, marriages, and deaths were required to be registered in a civil registration office beginning in July of 1837. In addition to the records themselves, there are indices which list the name of the person who was born, married, or died, the place where the event was registered, and the quarter and year in which the event occurred. Because the General Register Office (GRO) will only search one year on either side of the date provided, it is best, but not required, to include the index information when ordering documents from the GRO.

Free BMD is a free database which allows you the most freedom to search for the birth, marriage, and death index record of your relatives. You can enter whatever information you know including the place where the event happened, a specific year or range of years, age, and mother’s maiden name.

Depending on the time period, the index may be handwritten or mechanically printed. The information can then be used to order a copy of the actual record from the General Register Office (GRO) in England for about $10 per record.

An example of handwritten (left) and mechanically printed (right) birth index entries. Photos courtesy https://freebmd.org.uk.

The information contained in birth records includes:

  • Name, date, and place of birth;
  • Father’s name (if given at time of registration), occupation; and
  • Mother’s name, maiden surname.

The parents’ places of birth were added after 1969, and the mother’s occupation is listed after 1984.

Marriage records include:

  • Date and place of marriage;
  • Name, age and marital status (spinster/bachelor, widowed, divorced) of the bride and groom;
  • Occupation and usual address;
  • Name and occupation of the fathers of the bride and groom, with a note if either man was deceased at the time of the marriage;
  • Names of the witnesses;
  • Name of the person who solemnized the marriage.

Death records in the United States are often relied upon to provide the names of the parents. English death records do not include that information and therefore are not as useful for genealogical purposes. Each death record includes:

  • Name, date, and place of death;
  • Date and place of birth (before 1969 a certificate only showed age of deceased);
  • Occupation and usual address;
  • Cause of death;
  • The identity of the informant.

There are other records available, which we will talk about in a later post, which can be used to find and trace your English family members. The largest group are the religious records, and sometimes those can help you extend your family back in time to the 1600s – 400 years or more!

Beginning British Genealogy Important Take-Aways…

  1. “Great Britain” is an island. “The United Kingdom” is a country. And “England” is a country. Normally, when people are talking about their British ancestors they are referring to their English ancestors.
  2. England has counties, or what used to be known as “shires,” which function sort of like our states. The borders have changed over time, as have some of the names, so use a map when necessary to verify where you are researching.
  3. Census records are available from 1841 through 1911. Really good transcriptions are available for free at Family Search, or on the for-fee site Find My Past. And remember that age idiosyncrasy about the 1841 census.
  4. Finally, civil birth, marriage, and death records are available from the GRO. You can use the index listings to find the most likely match for your ancestor, and those can be found online at Free BMD.

Have fun and good luck finding your English ancestors!

 

Kate Eakman is a Senior Researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. 

Click here to learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team.


(Read our Disclosure and Affiliate Disclaimer on this page)

 

What to Do When Genealogy Records Were Burned

flames_300_wht_8629Recently Sue from Elk Grove, Illinois wrote in with a question about what to do when records were lost due to fire (or war, or disasters, etc.):

“We have been trying to locate information on my great great grandparents Hugh and Mae Sullivan. I have never been able to find marriage or birth records and have realized that it was mainly due to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Interestingly, through a directory from 1866, they may have lived only blocks from the origin of the fire. I have them in 1880 with 4 sons, the first of which was born just 10 months following the fire.

“I suspect that they may have lost other children in the tragedy. I am unsure which direction to go to find more of their story and any suggestions would be helpful. Several newspapers are reported to have lists of the missing but I have either been unable to read them or to locate them. Sam Fink’s list [an index of Cook County marriages and deaths] did not provide any information. I suspect that my ancestors were among the very poor immigrants that flooded into Chicago. There were relief societies and I have wondered if records were kept of those who were rehoused.”

Here’s my response to Sue:

download backblazeI think you are on the right track with newspapers. Newspapers.com (owned by Ancestry) carries the Chicago Daily from 1871. Here is a screen shot of the List of Missing from Oct. 11, 1871.  It might be worth a subscription to Newspapers.com to be able to really comb through all the issues.

newspapers com missing clipHere’s a tip on working with less-than-the best digital images of historical newspapers. You can “invert” the actual image (have it read white-on-black instead of black-on-white), then darken it and add a little more contrast to get the most readable copy possible. This can be done right from the Newpapers.com viewer.

Also, in Family History podcast episode #37 I discussed a book specifically on Chicago research: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A Beginners Guide To Family History In The City Of Chicago by Grace DuMelle. As I recall, it was a very comprehensive book and could give you good leads on where to look.

 

For more tips like these, read my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Inside you’ll find:

  • Step-by-Step Instructions
  • Worksheets and Checklists
  • Tech Tools You Probably Aren’t Using But Should
  • A Massive Amount of Location Specific Websites  and a Case Study that Puts It Al Together

New Digital Archives for Genealogy: Canada, Oregon, Virginia

New digital archives for genealogy host Canadian photos and history magazines, Oregon historical records, and Virginia newspapers. Also this week: Google Maps additions in Canada; Norfolk, England records; England and Wales criminal records; Scottish Presbyterian church records and Glasgow newspapers; and criminal records from England/Wales.

Canada: History Magazines in Digital Archive

Canada’s History Society has launched a new, mobile-responsive digital archive. Canada’s History launches with the entire run of a unique magazine: The Beaver, which explored the history of the Far North from fur-trade colonial days to modern times. “In addition to The Beaver, the archive will feature issues of Canada’s History magazine as well as Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids,” says a news article. The project was partnered by the Hudson’s Bay Company History Foundation. Its website is also worth exploring if your family history reaches into that part of the world.

Image courtesy Canada’s History Society.

Canada: Photo Archive

More than 100,000 digitized photos represent the beginning of a new Canada photo archive available to subscribers of The Globe and Mail, which is celebrating its 173rd birthday this year along with the country’s 150th. According to a news article, photo topics “range from a 1901 picture of the Forester’s Arch being erected on Bay and Richmond streets for a royal visit to a Canadian astronomical discovery in the late 1990s. You can search the archive by date or Globe photographer, and there are special collections that cover different aspects of Canadian life.”

England: Norfolk Records

Subscription website Findmypast.com has added to these collections of genealogical records on Norfolk, England (see a Findmypast special offer at the bottom of this post):

  • Norfolk Marriage Bonds, 1557-1915. “Browse 444 volumes of marriage bonds from four ecclesiastical courts: the Archdeaconry of Norfolk Court, the Archdeaconry of Norwich Court, the Dean & Chapter of Norwich, and the Diocese of Norwich Consistory Court.”
  • Norfolk Non-Conformist Church Records, 1613-1901. Browse “11 registers covering various denominations including Methodist, Quaker, and Baptist in the parishes of Attleborough, Aylsham, Kenninghall, Norwich, Tasburgh, Walsingham, and Wymondham.”
  • Norfolk Poor Law Union Records, 1796-1900. Browse “55 volumes covering 20 unions across Norfolk to discover whether your ancestors fell on hard times. Explore 10 different types of records, ranging from baptism and report books to relief lists and court orders.”

England and Wales: Criminal Records

Findmypast.com has finished adding a final installment to its Crimes, Prison and Punishment Collection. About 68,000 records were added that may help you “uncover ordinary and extraordinary stories of criminals, victims and law enforcers from Georgian highway robbers to Victorian murderers, Edwardian thieves, and a whole host of colorful characters in between!”

Scotland: Glasgow Newspapers

The British Newspaper Archive has added the following to its collection of Glasgow newspapers:

  • Glasgow Evening Citizen: added the years 1879-1892, so the current collection now tops 20,000 pages and covers 1866-1890.
  • Glasgow Evening Post: added the years 1881-1890. The total collection of over 14,000 pages and covers 1867-1890.

Scotland: Presbyterian Church Records

More than 36,000 Presbyterian church records, covering 1744 to 1855, have been added to ScotlandsPeople, a website maintained by the National Records of Scotland. “The 20,255 births and baptisms (1744–1855), 10,368 marriages and proclamations (1729–1855) and 5,422 death and burial records (1783–1855) may be especially helpful for anyone searching for a person who was born or baptized, married, or died before the introduction of statutory registration in 1855,” states an article on the site.

United States: Oregon Digital Archive

The Oregon Historical Society has just launched OHS Digital Collections, a new resource for researching Oregonians on your family tree. “This new website allows online public access to a rich variety of materials from the OHS Research Library, including items from the manuscript, photograph, film and oral history collections,” states a Hillsboro Tribune article. More content is planned for this new site, so check back periodically.

United States: Virginia Newspapers

The Virginia Newspaper Project is putting the Library of Virginia’s collection of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) newspapers on Virginia Chronicle, a free digital newspaper archive with nearly a million pages. According to an announcement, “The camp newspapers in the LVA’s collection, published from 1934 to 1941 by the young men of the CCC, were mostly distributed in camps throughout the Commonwealth, though a handful are from locales outside Virginia….[The camp newspapers] offer a vivid picture of camp life during the Depression…[and] are also packed with the names of people who were active in the CCC–you might find a mention of one of your relatives among the pages. Click here to learn more about the CCC and the newspapers they produced.”

Special offer: Through July 2, 2017, get your first month of Findmypast.com World Subscription for just $1.00! In addition to unparalleled record content for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Findmypast has added tons of great content to its US and Canada collections.

Bonus! Get an exclusive subscriber-only webinar, 20 Unmissable Resources for Tracing Your British and Irish Ancestors, when you sign up!

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Top Tips for Finding Marriage Records in New and Updated Genealogical Collections

Finding marriage records doesn’t have to be difficult. Let us share with you some top tips for locating those hard-to-find marriage records using the FamilySearch marriage record collections this week. Other new and updated record collections include Leicestershire county family history records and Jersey Church of England parish records.

dig these new record collections

United States – Marriage Records

Harvey Hall and Edna Selby, 1886, Cameden County, Missouri. Photo courtesy of Sunny Morton.

The following states have had their marriage records updated at FamilySearch.org:

Top Tips for Finding Marriage Records

We know you know are familiar with how to use these marriage records, but maybe you have had trouble finding the marriage records you need. Here are 3 top tips you could try when searching for marriage records on FamilySearch.org:

1. Search first by the groom’s full name and then the bride’s full name, separately. In this way, if one of them is indexed incorrectly, you may be able to find their marriage record after all.

2. Search only by last name’s and location (county and/or state).

3. Search the states around your targeted state. Sometimes, it was easier to marry in a different state due to marriage laws. Like in the case of Ohio, it was common to go to Kentucky to marry because there was no time requirement between the time of the marriage license and the wedding.

Here is a quick video tutorial showing you exactly how to use these tips!

England – Jersey Church of England Marriage Records

Ancestry.com has also added records to their collection titled Jersey, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1940. The pre-civil registrations typically include the name of the bride and groom, the date of the marriage, and the parish of origin or residence of both parties. Sometimes the occupation of the groom is included or the parentage of the couple. After 1842, the registers of the parishes are all written in a standard format and record further details including the age, status, place of residence, place of birth, occupation, name of father, and father’s occupation.

United Kingdom – Leicestershire  & Rutland County – Family History Records

Findmypast has just launched the first phase of a new landmark collection for five centuries of historic records for Leicestershire and Rutland counties. Over 3.5 million records dating back to the reign of Henry VII are now available online.

This new archive spans the years 1490 to 1991 and includes beautifully scanned images of original handwritten documents. When complete, the collection will be the largest online repository of Leicestershire family history records in the world.

There is a variety of documents, including parish records of baptisms, marriages, burials, wills, and probate records dating back to 1490. Also, millions of electoral registers spanning the years 1710 to 1974.

These records cover the ancient counties of Leicestershire and Rutland. However, as some of the collections are drawn from different jurisdictions or were subject to boundary changes, some areas now beyond today’s boundaries, such as Little Bowden and Over and Netherseal, are also included.

Some famous individuals appear in the records like:

The parents of the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick which can be found in an 1861 marriage register from the parish of Thurmaston.

More on Finding Marriage Records

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastTo learn even more about researching marriage records for family history, listen to Lisa’s free podcast episode titled Using Marriage Records in Family History. This episode is part of a series called Family History: Genealogy Made Easy. This specific podcast is all about marriage records and how to find and utilize them for your research.

If you have not yet taken the opportunity to engage with Genealogy Gems through our free podcast, please join us. You can find the free episodes listed here.

For further in-depth tips and techniques, subscribe as a Premium Member and enjoy the Premium Podcasts just for members! There is always something more to learn in the world of genealogy and we want to share it with you.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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