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What is a GEDCOM?

Intermediate Genealogy:

Who to include

Scams and Tricks

What it is
How you read one
Converting text to GEDCOM


Systematic Research

Publishing your data on the Web

Related Sections:
Main Genealogy Page
Beginning Genealogy
Essays on Genealogy
Biography Questions
Why do it at all?

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To review, a GEDCOM is a text file with levels and key words.

The Mormons developed the GEDCOM standard. (By "Standard" here, I mean how they spell the key words and what the numbers mean.) Another page of this set discusses other Standards, ones you should follow.) Back to the GEDCOM standard. The key words are three or four letters. For instance, the birth fact is spelled BIRT instead of BORN. Which spelling is used isn't important; the fact that all genealogy programs know it is spelled BIRT is very important. Facts about individuals start with level 0 and work up. All the common genealogy programs write (export) and read (import) GEDCOM files. You can look at a GEDCOM file with Notepad, Wordpad, Word or any other program that can open a text file if you are curious. Normally, you import the GEDCOM into a new database, look it over, clean it up, then export the data and import it into your main database. The next page, How do I read a GEDCOM?, describes the complete process in detail.

I cobbled up a GEDCOM for demonstration purposes. It assumes Goldy Locks returned to the house in the woods and married Baby Bear. The GEDCOM will have twenty or thirty lines of information at the top; things like the program that created it, the name and address of the person who created it, and other general information. Then it will have the people and the facts about them. I skipped the header information in my example. Here is the GEDCOM. It makes sense by itself, but I put in some comments below each individual entry.

0 @I01@ INDI
1 NAME Papa /BEAR/
2 GIVN Papa
1 FAMS @F01@

Papa bear is INDIvidual 001. His NAME is a level 1 fact; which name is the GIVeN name and which is the SURName are level 2 facts. The FAMS entry tells us Papa is the S-pouse in FAMily 001.

0 @I02@ INDI
2 GIVN Mama
1 FAMS @F01@

Mama Bear is the other spouse in family 001. Her maiden name was URSINE.

0 @I03@ INDI
1 NAME Baby /BEAR/
2 GIVN Baby
2 DATE 01 Apr 1604
2 PLAC Little house, Big Woods
2 DATE 10 Apr 1604
2 DATE 11 Nov 1674
2 PLAC Own House
1 FAMC @F01@
1 FAMS @F02@

Baby Bear has a couple of level 2 details. He has BIRTh, CHRistened and DEATh facts, with supporting details. Many level 1 facts (Birth, Death, Marriage, Graduated) will have level 2 DATE and PLACe details. Some facts (Ancestral Family Number, for instance) will not. Baby bear is a C-hild of family 001 (FAMC) and a S-pouse in family 002 (FAMS).

0 004 INDI
1 NAME Goldy /LOCKS/
2 GIVN Goldy
1 FAMS @F02@

The bouncing bride - spouse in family 002.

After a GEDCOM lists all the individuals it will have the family groupings. These groupings refer to individuals by their numbers only. Here is family 001, the Bears:

0 @F01@ FAM
1 HUSB @I01@
1 WIFE @I02@
1 CHIL @I03@
2 DATE 01 Jun 1602
2 PLAC Little Church

The numbers here correspond to the ones in the INDIvidual entries above. Note the MARRiage fact is attached to a family, not an individual. There will be as many FAMily groups as necessary. If your great-grandfather's first wife died and he remarried, he will be in two family groups as HUSB. If you have his parents, he will be in a third as CHIL. Baby Bear's family, F002, would be similar; I omitted it.

That's about all there is to it; levels, keywords and relationships. I'd be happy to answer questions if I can. Click on Mail link below to send them. This was a quick overview for beginners. There are entire web sites devoted to GEDCOM standards. You can search for
+GEDCOM +Standard
in any search engine to find them. My next page in this series, How do I read a GEDCOM? is really "What do I do when I get a GEDCOM?". It gives you some steps to follow when someone sends you a GEDCOM file.

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This page updated: March 08, 2017