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.
Recently 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:
I 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.
Here’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.
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.
The Genealogical Proof Standard tells us that we need to conduct reasonably exhaustive research in order for our work to be credible. If you’ve ever wondered just what constitutes “reasonable” (and if your family tree is up to snuff) my guest author Kate Eakman,professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists, has answers.
Professional Genealogist Kate Eakman explains evidence on the Genealogy Gems blog.
Genealogical Evidence: Have You Got What It Takes?
How do we know when we have compiled enough evidence to constitute proof?
Is a birth certificate or an autosomal DNA test result sufficient to declare this person is the child of that person?
Must we collect every record regarding an individual – the deeds, the tax lists, the newspaper clippings, the census reports – before we can declare a familial connection?
The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)
The Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) directs us to perform reasonably exhaustive research, which requires that we identify and review all available records related to an individual. This is being as thorough and accurate as possible and is a goal toward which we should all aspire in our genealogical research.
But, let’s be honest: most of us do not want to spend weeks or months (or even years) documenting one person before moving on to the next individual. We don’t want to know every detail of grandpa’s life before we turn to grandma.
We want to build a family tree which accurately provides us with the names of our ancestors so that we can identify our immigrant ancestor, or join a lineage society, or enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a balanced tree extending back a hundred years or more.
We want to be thorough and accurate, but we also want to make some progress. How do we balance the need for accuracy with the desire for results? How do we determine the necessary quality and quantity of evidence for our research?
Below are some guidelines to demonstrate how we can go about compiling the necessary information to say with confidence “this person is my ancestor.”
Genealogical Evidence Guidelines
1. One record/source is never enough.
Any one piece of data can say anything. A mother might lie on her child’s birth certificate for a number of reasons. A grieving spouse might not correctly recall the information for a husband or wife’s death certificate. There are typos and omissions and messy handwriting with which to contend. Even a lone DNA test is not sufficient evidence to prove a family connection.
We need multiple sources, and different kinds of sources, which corroborate the details of the others.
A single source is not enough. A marriage license does not guarantee that John and Griselda married. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.
A census report and autosomal DNA test results.
A deed and a will.
A birth certificate and an obituary.
Or, better still, a birth certificate, a census report, a deed, a will, an obituary, and autosomal DNA test results.
2. The more contemporary the source is to the person or event in question, the better.
Records of events made immediately after the event tend to be more accurate, and provide better details, than records created months or years later. As time passes, details become fuzzy, two events can be confused with each other, and our memories fade.
The passage of time between an event and the record of the event also allows for some revisionist history to creep in.
Here are some examples:
A birth year is adjusted to make someone appear older or younger in order to avoid the draft, enlist in the military, mask a dramatic age difference between spouses, or conceal an out-of-wedlock birth.
An obituary ignores the deceased’s first marriage because of some embarrassment associated with that marriage.
A census report enumerates everyone in the household as natives of Stepney, London, when they really were born in Stepney, and Hackney, and Whitechapel, which explains why the baptismal records can’t be found in Stepney.
According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.
According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.
This is particularly true when it comes to autosomal DNA testing. My autosomal DNA is more useful for identifying my ancestors than is my son’s because I am one generation closer to those ancestors. This is the reason we encourage people to test the oldest members of their family first: their DNA has the potential to be the most useful simply because they are from an earlier generation (or two).
3. It is okay to make appropriate assumptions, but be careful!
In genealogical research we must sometimes make assumptions. When research theories are based on logical reasoning, it is perfectly acceptable to make those appropriate suppositions.
Determining which assumptions are appropriate can be simple: the two-year-old child enumerated in the home of a 90-year-old woman in the 1850 census can safely be eliminated as a biological child of that woman; the man born in 1745 could not have been buried in 1739; the person with whom I share 3150 cM of DNA is my sibling.
The challenge is to avoid making what seems like an appropriate assumption but is really based on faulty reasoning or bias. For instance, we presume that every child listed in a household in the 1860 U.S. Census is son or daughter of the two adults listed first. However, the household could include step-children, cousins, or individuals not even related to the family who were erroneously assigned the same surname.
Other inappropriate assumptions can include:
the notion that a baby was born within a week of his baptismal date;
a woman’s reported surname on her marriage certificate is her maiden name;
there is only one person in any village, town, or city with the name of your ancestor;
someone who shares 2000 cM of DNA with you must be your grandparent, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, half sibling, or grandchild (they could be a ¾ sibling, the child of one of your parents and the sibling of the other parent).
4. All of the data from the various sources must correlate, and there can be no unresolved contradictions.
When the birth certificate says Richard was born in 1914, the 1938 newspaper article about his wedding reports Richard was 24 years old and the 1942 World War II Draft Registration card notes Richard’s date of birth occurred in 1914, we can confidently declare Richard was born in 1914.
If the wedding article declared the groom was 23 years old the contradiction could be explained by the time of year in which the wedding occurred – before or after Richard’s birthday.
But if his birth certificate reported a 1914 birth, and the newspaper article noted Richard was 32 years old, while the World War II Draft Registration listed his year of birth as 1920, we have some important contradictions. It is most likely the records are for three different men with the same name.
By collecting additional evidence, we finally learn that Griselda and John Wise did marry, and after his death Griselda married Willis Tenney. If we had collected only one of these four records we would not have had the most accurate information regarding Griselda Paul. Photos courtesy https://familysearch.org.
It’s important to remember that once we have accomplished that initial goal of building out our tree a few generations (or identifying our immigrant ancestor, or determining if we are related to that historical person) we can – and should – go back and collect other sources related to that person. This will result in uncovering a more complete story of their lives in the process.
As we can see from the four documents regarding Griselda Paul’s marriages, her story is much more than a simple list of birth, marriage, and death dates. As we identify, review, and analyze the other available sources, Griselda’s story will come alive with the facts and details we uncover.
A Fresh Set of Eyes on Your Genealogy Brick Wall
Sometimes the wrong evidence or assumptions can push us into a brick wall. A fresh set of expert eyes can help you identify the problem, and recommend the sources you need to pursue in order to compile trustworthy evidence.
If you are looking for some assistance in your genealogical research, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help. Our affordable ($100 USD) Genealogist-on-DemandTMVirtual Consultation service provides you with the opportunity for a 45 minute one-on-one discussion of your research with one of our expert genealogists. We can help guide you in evaluating evidence and determining research strategies to move forward with your research confidently.
About the Author: Kate Eckman
Legacy Tree guest blogger Kate Eakman grew up hearing Civil War stories at her father’s knee and fell in love with history and genealogy at an early age. With a master’s degree in history and over 20 years experience as a genealogist, Kate has worked her magic on hundreds of family trees and narratives.
Professional Genealogists Kate Eakman
 “Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),” Board for Certification of Genealogists, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards, accessed March 2020.
From coast to coast, U.S. records from the ‘genealogy giants’ are new and updated this week. Findmypast has a new collection of mine accident records for Pennsylvania (and we’ll also highlight a similar collection for England). Ancestry.com has updated a large number of genealogy collections for U.S. marriage, census, and military records that you’ll want to check out. And lastly, FamilySearch has made updates to a small set of U.S. county, tax, and enumeration records.
Pennsylvania, Register Of Mine Accidents
Mining was an integral part of United States history. Immigrants were able to find work in the mines but sometimes at great risk and peril. Findmypast has a new collection that may shed light on the miners in your family tree.
The Pennsylvania Register of Mine Accidents is a collection containing records from the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries. These records document mine accidents for the anthracite districts and the bituminous districts between 1899 and 1972. They are held by the Pennsylvania State Archives and links to the PDF versions of the accident registers are available on the transcripts.
The records explain where the accident happened, the cause, whether the accident was or was not fatal, and who was at fault. A few examples of the accidents include caught in a conveyor belt, runaway trip wrecked into an empty trip, crushed with a possible fracture of the leg, fallen roof, and falling coal.
With each record, you will find a transcript of the vital information about the individual involved in the mining accident, including nationality, name, age, marital status, and other details. Over time the amount of information recorded at the time of the accident changed as the volume of accidents diminished.
More Mining Records at Findmypast
If your mining ancestors were immigrants, they may have also been miners in their home countries. Findmypast has another fascinating collection of records of England Mining Disaster Victims. Included in these records are the 26 children who lost their lives in the Huskar Pit disaster of 1838 as well as 88 of the men who died in the Cadeby Main pit disaster in 1912. The initial explosion at Cadeby Main killed a total of 38 men; however, when a rescue party was sent in, another explosion occurred, killing 53 of the rescue workers.
From these transcripts, you can discover the following information: name, birth year, age, event date, colliery, and incident details. Four counties are represented in the records: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Yorkshire. This collection has been obtained from the Alan Beales Database of Fatalities in the Coal Fields. Additional information about the records can we found on the source’s website.
Updated U.S. Records at Ancestry.com
Over at Ancestry.com you’ll find big updates to numerous records collections for the U.S.
Most of these updates are pretty small, under 2,000 records. But you never know where your ancestor’s name might be lurking! The Ohio Tax Records collection has over 1.5 million new records, so if you have Ohio ancestors you’ll definitely want to check it out.
More U.S. Research Resources on the Free Genealogy Gems Podcast
If you’re filling in the gaps of your family tree with your U.S. ancestors, you’ll love episode #193 of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast! In this episode, we’ll talk about tips for using the U.S. Public Records Index. We’ll also dig deep into using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for genealogy research, including what kind of records you can access, how to request them, and more. Take listen to this episode right now in the YouTube media player below, or find it on the go on the Genealogy Gems App!
About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the producer and host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series. She is an international keynote speaker and the Vice President of the Genealogical Speakers Guild.
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!