gedcom tutorial

Like all beginnings, it is best to explain what GEDCOM is, or maybe in this case isn't. I recently had a person come up to me ask "How do I buy GEDCOM, and can I use it on my computer?" This is not a funny or silly question, as this person actually did not know what GEDCOM is, or its historical background. Just remember, there is never a stupid question, because if you don't know, how are you going to learn? Also remember that at one time, there was a time when you didn't know the answer to a particular something, so how did you find out the answer.

Definition GEDCOM is an acronym and is defined from - GEnealogical Data COMmunication.

Created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, GEDCOM, is basically a means of transferring information from one program/service to another. What initially started out as a means for Church member's to be able to submit (exchange) genealogical data, it has since become more generic and Standardised over the years, and now every program has the ability to be able to in some form create a GEDCOM file from its own database.

But what is a GEDCOM file? Very simply, a GEDCOM file is a basic text file written in plain text that holds most of the information of your database in a structured manner so that it can be read by any program that imports the file. So you can have your information in a Legacy Family Tree database and export a GEDCOM, then with that file, import it into a RootsMagic database. Here you have two very different programs made by two different programmer's, yet the transferring of information from one program to another really does make family history portabable.

In simple terms, a GEDCOM file is a lot like your database but in a written form instead of a visual form.

GEDCOM Standard A GEDCOM transmission represents a database in the form of a sequential stream of related records. A record is represented as a sequence of tagged, variable-length lines, arranged in a hierarchy. A line always contains a hierarchical level number, a tag, and an optional value. A line may also contain a cross-reference identifier or a pointer. The GEDCOM line is terminated by a carriage return, a line feed character, or any combination of these.

Every individual has a record containing all their information, facts and figures, even your notes.

When viewed in a simple text editor such as NotePad/SimpleText, you will see a document similar to my GEDCOM article, but here, we will explore this some more. Any GEDCOM file in order to be read by any program must be properly formatted, as described by the current GEDCOM Standard. This means that it above all else it must have (like a good story) a beginning, a middle and an end.

0 HEAD
  // The rest of the GEDCOM file goes here
0 TRLR 

The important thing though is the tags at the begining and end, because this tells the program reading the file where the GEDCOM file starts and finishes. You will note that the HEAD and TRLR tags are preceded by the number zero. A zero tells the program that that line being read is a new record.

The HEADer record is a special record that identifies pertinent information about the entire file.

0 HEAD 
  1 SOUR <APPROVED_SYSTEM_ID>
    2 VERS <VERSION_NUMBER>
    2 NAME <NAME_OF_PRODUCT>
    2 CORP <NAME_OF_BUSINESS>
      3 <<ADDRESS_STRUCTURE>>
    2 DATA <NAME_OF_SOURCE_DATA>
      3 DATE <PUBLICATION_DATE>
      3 COPR <COPYRIGHT_SOURCE_DATA>
  1 DEST <RECEIVING_SYSTEM_NAME>
  1 DATE <TRANSMISSION_DATE>
    2 TIME <TIME_VALUE>
  1 SUBM @<XREF:SUBM>@
  1 SUBN @<XREF:SUBN>@
  1 FILE <FILE_NAME>
  1 COPR <COPYRIGHT_GEDCOM_FILE>
  1 GEDC 
    2 VERS <VERSION_NUMBER>
    2 FORM <GEDCOM_FORM>
  1 CHAR <CHARACTER_SET>
    2 VERS <VERSION_NUMBER>
  1 LANG <LANGUAGE_OF_TEXT>
  1 PLAC
    2 FORM <PLACE_HIERARCHY>
  1 NOTE <GEDCOM_CONTENT_DESCRIPTION>
    2 [CONT|CONC] <GEDCOM_CONTENT_DESCRIPTION>
	

For some real-life examples, I have created some GEDCOM's from Family Historian, Legacy Family Tree, The Master Genealogist and RootsMagic.

The TRaiLeR record is also a special record where it indicates the end of the GEDCOM file, and has no subordinate lines.

There are a number of different types of records that hold your data - the most obvious two being the Individual and Family records because this is where you'd expect to find all your information - but there are a few others that we will eventually cover. The types of records that can be included in a GEDCOM transmission are:

  • Individual Record
  • Family Record
  • Multimedia Record
  • Note Record
  • Repository Record
  • Source Record
  • Submitter Record

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