Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Friday, April 4, 2014

What is a GEDCOM file and how do I create one?

One of the results of the agreements between and, and is that in the first two cases, you will be allowed to upload a family tree to the website. The benefit of uploading a family tree to either or is that the programs themselves with begin doing research for you for sources pertaining to the individuals and families in your database. If the sources show family members that are missing, the programs will add them into your online family tree.

The first question that arises is how to get your existing information into a family tree on one of the programs (or both). To do this, you have to start somewhere. If you have your family information in a program, such as Personal Ancestral File, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, Celebrating Family History or Ancestral Quest, you can export your information in the form of a GEDCOM file.

A GEDCOM file is a Genealogical Data Communications file format that transfers most of the information in your existing file into a format that is recognized by the online family tree programs. I say "most" of the information because some of the media items such as photos, may not move from your existing program into the online family tree. The transfer process is usually done with an "Export" command from your program's File menu. Usually, you can select to export either your entire file or some portion of the file depending on the procedure established by your particular program.

Here are some of the most common questions asked me about uploading family trees to an online program?

Should I upload information about living people?
The simple answer is no. But in most cases, you will have to upload some information about yourself  and any living direct line ancestors, or the online programs may not be able connect you to your own family tree and may not find any source information for you. If you wish to keep information about your living descendants, then keep that information in a local program on your own computer. However, don't be surprised to discover that the online program has suggested adding in living people. This may be possible if any of your own children or grandchildren have put personal information online in a program such as Facebook or some other such social networking program. If they don't guard their privacy, why should you?

Should I start out uploading only part of my file?
This is entirely your choice. You can upload as much or little of your existing file as you wish. Bear in mind that the program cannot invent your ancestors, you must usually give the programs enough information to get started searching. On the other hand, my opinion is that you should let the program do its work and upload your entire file.

How do I get my data out of FamilySearch Family Tree?
If the only copy of your data is in's Family Tree, you will either have to copy it over again manually into the other online family trees or use one of the Certified FamilySearch programs that synchronize data with a local program. Currently, the list of Certified Programs is located at FamilySearch Products. You will have to follow the instructions for each program because they are all different.

Which Certified Program should I use?
I cannot tell you which of the programs would be best for you. They nearly all have a free trial copy of the program you can download. Make sure the program you choose to buy is Tree Share Certified like this:

Tree ShareTree Share (full tree read and write) - Certified to read and write Family Tree data to match, compare, and modify records. Also includes required certification for sources, discussions, change history, and interaction with community members.

How can I get the information out of an old PAF (Personal Ancestral File) floppy disk?
Before I got all worried about retrieving information from an old PAF file, I would take some time looking at FamilySearch Family Tree. It is possible that all your information has already been entered into that program from one of the several sources that make up Family Tree. If not, then you will have to find someone with an old computer that has the program to try and download the information from your disk. Good Luck. You can use any one of the newer Certified Programs to import the PAF file directly, if you can get the information off of you floppy disk.

Can I upload my PAF file information to FamilySearch Family Tree?
Yes, you can. But you must first get it into one of the Certified Programs or into GEDCOM format. I must warn you that uploading a GEDCOM file is a slow and very tedious project especially if the file contains a lot of names. You can find the instructions for uploading a GEDCOM file to FamilySearch Family Tree in the Family Tree Reference Guide.

Should I be concerned about privacy if I upload a family tree online?
First of all, dead people have no rights to privacy. So, if you follow my advice and keep the information about living people to a minimum there is not problem.

Can't someone steal my identity if I put my family tree online?
It is true that some very dumb financial institutions still use questions about your parents or grandparents for their security questions, but except for that the rule is if you don't want to share it with the world, do not put it online. Never put any personal financial information or social security information online about living people or even those recently deceased. I am still waiting for a verifiable report where ancestral information in a family tree was used to compromise some living person's identity. I have never yet heard of this happening.

What if I have very sensitive and private issues in my family, should those be put online?
History is history and should not be changed. If the information affects currently living people, you might consider preserving it on your local computer until all the affected people are dead.

If you have any more such questions, please put them in the comments and I will answer them there or write another blog post.

1 comment:

  1. Usually, you can select to export either your entire file or some portion of the file depending on the procedure established by your particular program.p2p file sharing