There are many genealogical software programs on the market which researchers can choose. When you enter your family history data into one of these programs, it stores your data in a complex database structure which only that program can read. Thus, in general, Legacy cannot read the database created by RootsMagic; and Family Tree Maker cannot read the database created by Legacy. (With their newer releases, however, a few genealogy programs are able to read data directly from other programs.)

When they created Personal Ancestral File (PAF), one of the earliest genealogical programs, the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS—the Mormons) developed a way to move family data from one program to another. The idea was to create a simple format for writing the data in a basic text file—so simple that all genealogical software developers could include in their programs the ability to read or write a file in this format.

They called this format GEDCOM—the Genealogical Data Communications format.



There are two basic uses for a GEDCOM file:

  • To move family data from one genealogy program to another, e.g., to share data with others who do not have your software
  • To upload family data to an Internet website


Virtually every genealogical program today can read and write a GEDCOM file. If your software cannot do this, it’s time to buy a different program.

To create a GEDCOM file using your genealogical program, first finalize all of the data in your program so that is as good as it can be before you create your GEDCOM file. From the File menu in your program, select the “Export GEDCOM File” option. (The exact mechanics of this will vary from program to program.) If given choices by your program, select the options that you wish to use in creating your GEDCOM file. Give your GEDCOM file a name and remember where you save the file. A GEDCOM file automatically has a file type of “.ged.” Usually you will use your primary family surname to identify the file. So your GEDCOM file will probably be called [yourfamilyname].ged. Finally, click the “Save” or “OK” button and wait for the program to write your GEDCOM file.

As noted above, when you create a GEDCOM file to load on the Internet you will want to “privatize” living people. This is a simple precaution to prevent people from using your data for the identity theft of living people. Most programs will include this option. Even if your software does not, the program that copies your data to the Internet website will also include an option to privatize living people. The result is that the name of a living person will be hidden and no information about that person (no genealogical “facts”) will be posted.

If you are creating a GEDCOM file to send to a relative or to a known researcher, you probably do not want to privatize anybody. The person receiving your data will probably want to have all of the names and facts of everybody, including living people. So look at those GEDCOM options and use your best judgment.


Perhaps you have decided to change your genealogy software from Program-A to Program-B, but you don’t want to lose all of the family information that you have entered into Program-A. What to do? The answer is GEDCOM.

Use Program-A to create a GEDCOM file of your family data as outlined above. In this case, you will want to include everybody in your database in the GEDCOM output file. Then, open Program-B and tell it to read the GEDCOM file that you created using Program-A. Now you can see all of your family data in the new program. Once you test it to be sure that everything, including all of your notes and sources, has been transferred properly, you can safely delete your old program.

Or, perhaps you have some family data that you want to share with a family member or another researcher. How will you get the data to them? You may not even know (or care) what program they are using. The answer, again, is GEDCOM. Create your GEDCOM file, perhaps selecting only one branch or selected families from your entire database. You can then either copy this GEDCOM file to a disk or e-mail it as an attached file to the person who will be receiving the data.

If you are reading a GEDCOM file into your genealogy program, never import it directly into your main database. Always create a new (temporary) database and import the GEDCOM into that. You can then review what’s there before you move the data into your main file.


Another major use for a GEDCOM file is to post your family history information on the Internet. The most significant reason to do this is to allow other genealogists who are researching your family lines to find you. When you post your family history onto a website you also include your e-mail address with that data. This enables other researchers to find you and to send you e-mail messages.

Another good reason to post your data to the Internet is so that you can use it, for example, at any library in the world that has Internet access. So, if you don’t have your detailed family history data with you, you can still see what information you have.

And finally, the Internet makes a good backup for your data. In the event that your computer crashes, you can download a GEDCOM file from the Internet and re-load it into your repaired (or new) computer.

You will need to decide where on the Internet you will post your family history information. There are many choices, including (in alphabetical order):

  • Ancestry.com, a commercial site
  • FamilySearch, the Mormon genealogical site
  • GenCircles, a private site that contains many thousands of GEDCOM uploads
  • Genealogy.com, a commercial site
  • RootsWeb’s “WorldConnect” database, a free private site with over 400,000 databases containing nearly 500 million names

The RootsWeb site’s WorldConnect project is one that is frequently used by genealogists throughout the world. WorldConnect permits researchers to upload their genealogical data (from GEDCOM files) and builds that data into Web pages which other researchers can then search. And millions of researchers do just that. It also makes it easy for you to update your family data by simply uploading a new GEDCOM file whenever you have significant changes to your data at home.


The Society has written a booklet outlining GEDCOM and its uses in greater detail. For further information, click here.

Last modified: 04-Jul-2016 12:10