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Family Tree of the Jewish People

Part IIa: Explaining GEDCOM


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GEDCOM was developed by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to provide a flexible uniform format for exchanging computerized genealogical data.

The Problem

As soon as people started using Personal Computers they had the bright idea of storing their family trees electronically.

To meet this interest, various genealogical packages were developed and marketed, all with ththeir own individual ways of storing information.

One may store dates and places for only births, marriages, and deaths.

Another program may store the same information, but may allow place names to include twenty more characters than the first program.

Still another program may allow the storage of burial, occupation, and emigration information, etc.

Oy Vay

This is not unusual

This is a common problem in personal computing.

It happens with word processing software, spreadsheet software, project management software, because each manufacturer of software makes their file format proprietary - to get people to stick with them.

However, when programs are not compatible with each other, then it becomes impossible to exchange the information between them.

If you use, say, the 'Brothers Keeper' program, and your relative has the 'Family Tree Maker' program, then one cannot read the information held in the other. Some programs may have conversion utilties to import a foreign file format, but this is no solution, because versions of programs change frequently.

The Solution

What was needed was a lingua franca, a standard, that all genealogical programs could understand.

A standard was developed by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with input from developers of other genealogy programs

That standard is called GEDCOM, which is an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication.

It works like this:

  • You have, say, Family Tree Maker. You save or export your family tree as a GEDCOM file.
  • Your friend/colleague/relative has say, Lineages. They import that GEDCOM file into their own package, and can now play with your family tree.

Is it Perfect?

No, of course not. You may lose some information that your Genealogy program saves in its own idiosyncratic way. You will, of course lose photos that you store in your program, as the GEDCOM format does not store graphics. You will, however, be able to export all the really important stuff.

The Family Tree of the Jewish People

As mentioned, researchers will have been keeping their family trees in various formats, using a variety of genealogical software programs. We needed a common file format so that we didn't spend hours and hours trying to convert one program into another, and that would be robust enough to survive all the various changes in version number that these programs go through. So we chose GEDCOM as the common format that people could send us their files in.

More information about GEDCOM can be found in this article, and at the Wikipedia page.

Back to Submitting your Family Tree


Authors: Warren Blatt, Michael Tobias, Carol Skydell, Iris Folkson, Susan King, Tony Zendle.
Version 2.04   Last Updated: May 1, 2004   WSB

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