USING GEDCOM FILES
For genealogists, record-keeping has always been a concern and, occasionally, a source of frustration. Staying organized consumes a great deal of valuable time. Written notes and photocopies of original documents eventually take over every corner of a bedroom or closet. Locating specific information can become an exercise in futility. But with the advent of the Internet, personal computers and genealogy software, keeping track of research material has never been easier.
Database technology has been used in the business world for many years. A database is a digital directory of organized information that can be easily entered or retrieved. This feature has been discovered and embraced by genealogists, who use it to record ancestral information so that it may be updated and recalled at any time, with minimal searching involved. No longer is it necessary to scour reams of printed documents to find a family connection.
A special type of database was developed for genealogists by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is the GEDCOM, which stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication*. This database file stores typical genealogical information such as names, dates, places, sources and citations. It automatically organizes and indexes family relationships to provide researchers with traceable lineages and sources for creating "ahnentafels" or ancestor charts. Information can be cross-referenced with ease.
A GEDCOM file downloaded from the Internet will have a file extension of ".ged" and can be used in conjunction with nearly every genealogy application. Information is added by importing a GEDCOM into an existing family record. However, use of a GEDCOM file does not require having genealogy software. Since a GEDCOM is basically a text-only file, it can be opened with nearly any word-processing program such as Microsoft Word. You may view the content of the file, and extract any information in it by copying and pasting to another document. However, the indexing features of a database will not be available in this text-only format.
Some genealogy software will allow you to create a GEDCOM of your existing information, that can be archived for safekeeping. Others such as "Personal Ancestral File" and "GED2HTML" can take your family information and automatically generate web-formatted (HTML) content for posting on the Internet. These files may them be viewed with any Internet browser on any computer. This is especially handy for researchers who would rather post this information to the Internet and use it on library computers, that carry around armloads of 3-ring binders full of "stuff."
*NOTE: the GEDCOM standard (current version 5.5) has not been updated since 1996, and, on occasion, has resulted in inconsistent import/export of information between different genealogy applications.
For further information on using GEDCOM files and genealogy software, please refer to these web sites:
GEDCOM - expanded definition from Wikipedia.
Personal Ancestral File - free genealogy software that can be downloaded from the Family Search web site, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For Windows.
Using Technology - Lesson Three of "RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees."
The GEDCOM Standard, release 5.5 - technical information about the newest GEDCOM format.
UncleGED - a free Windows application that converts GEDCOM files into HTML.