Genealogy 101 – GEDCOM Overview
One of the biggest advantages of using the Internet for genealogy research is
the ability to exchange information with other researchers or interested
parties. To share genealogical information, genealogists often transfer
electronic documents containing genealogical information. The most common way to
do this is to send that information as a GEDCOM file.
What does GEDCOM stand for?
GEDCOM is an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication. When saved,
transferred or shared, this data usually takes the form of a text file, commonly
referred to as a "GEDCOM file" or "GEDCOM" for short.
What are GEDCOM files used for?
GEDCOM is a structured method of formatting genealogical or family tree data.
Because its format and usage are described in a written, open specification, the
majority of genealogy software applications have settled on the GEDCOM file as
the standard for input and output. Many genealogists use GEDCOM files to save,
transfer or share genealogical content or data.
One service Geni provides is an online representation of the information
contained in a family’s GEDCOM file or files. Users can simply invite their family to
join their family network and share their information with known family members.
Sharing information with potential (or unconfirmed) relatives is another
story. Since Geni shows living and deceased relatives, inviting an unconfirmed
relative to your family tree is not recommended, as it may risk showing private
family information to a person who may turn out to be unrelated. Instead, try
determining relatedness before inviting. One way to do this is to mutually
exchange GEDCOM files that are configured to show only deceased relatives. If
you are indeed closely related and able to build a relationship path to one
another, then it is probably safe to go ahead and invite that person to your
It is recommend that Geni users use (and anyone using any genealogy program)
back up their data as often as possible. You can do this through a process known
as GEDCOM export, which is a
common feature of many genealogy applications, and one that Geni offers online.
How does a GEDCOM file work?
A GEDCOM file is nothing more than a text file formatted along certain rules, as
described in the GEDCOM specification. This specification calls for the use of
tags (denoted by the TAG label in the file) to describe individuals and
their familial relationships. Examples of tags include: INDI for individual, FAM
for family, BIRT for birth and DATE. A GEDCOM file is basically a "flat file"
database of records with pointers to track the relationships of all the people
How do I view a GEDCOM file?
It is possible to decipher a GEDCOM by viewing it with any text editor. However,
it is usually much easier to read a GEDCOM file with a software application that
specializes in viewing family trees or displaying GEDCOM files. The great
majority of genealogy applications support GEDCOM. Geni also supports the GEDCOM
format, through its Geni’s Import feature.
How do I open and read a GEDCOM file?
Save the GEDCOM File to Your Computer:
Whether downloading the GEDCOM file from the Internet or receiving it as an
email attachment, save the file to an easy-to-find location on your hard drive.
Determine whether it is really a GEDCOM:
Begin by ensuring that the file that you want to open is truly a GEDCOM file,
and not a family tree file created in another custom or proprietary format by a
genealogy software program. GEDCOM files end with the file extension
.ged. Sometimes, a GEDCOM file may be compressed for faster transfers,
and in this case the file is likely to end with the .zip extension.
Compressed GEDCOM files must be decompressed before being imported.
Import your GEDCOM file to Geni:
- Go to the GEDCOM Import page.
- Fill out the form and upload your GEDCOM file. (There is currently a
5,000-person limit per import, but no overall limit to how many people you may
- Indicate who you are in your GEDCOM file.
- View your updated family tree, containing information from the GEDCOM file
you just uploaded.
For detailed information on the formats and fields Geni supports, visit the GEDCOM page on the
Geni User Wiki.