Small leaves indicate "hints" from an Ancestry database
Last week I covered the definition of a GEDCOM, so this week, we'll look at how it is used.
Let's say you want to update your genealogy software. The software that you're currently using no longer meets your needs, but you don't want to retype all of the information you've already collected. Chances are, if you software is less than ten to fifteen years old, you'll have a GEDCOM export option. Check the various menu and find the "Export" command (frequently in the File menu). You may have some options but pick "GEDCOM." Typically it will ask if you want to export the entire file, or a subset, and if you want to "privatize" the file by removing private information and living individuals. Once you've made your selections and named the file it should appear in your directory with the file extension ".ged."
Next, open your new software program, create a new file and find the "Import" command. Then navigate to the appropriate directory and find your .ged file and import it. That's it...almost. Although the majority of your information has come through, it's important to check for errors. Some programs provide an error log after import, which is helpful, most don't. The biggest problem I seem to have is with source citations which frequently are not attached to the information as they were in my original file. If the new program can't figure out where to put information, it may put it in a notes field so don't forget to check.
What are other reasons for using a GEDCOM? Perhaps you want to share your file (or a part of it) with a cousin who is using a different software package. You can export a GEDCOM and attach it to an email so your cousin can import it into their software.
Another reason might be to upload your file to an online service to share or to use for research. For example, if you upload your GEDCOM to Ancestry you have a choice of making it public or private. Either way, Ancestry will check your file against its thousands of databases and provide "hints" when they think there might be a match. You need to look at each of these and determine if the information is correct (you will require a subscription to Ancestry to use this feature). I have my file uploaded as a private file and one of the hints I received was my grandfather's World War I Draft Registration which I had never been able to find. Ancestry matched his birth date and came back with a slightly different spelling from what I had for his original name. Even though my file is private, if someone should come up with a match, Ancestry will forward their name to me so I can opt to contact them. Once your information is at Ancestry, you also have the option of creating a book or chart.
With the advent of the Internet there are thousands of GEDCOM files out there. You may want to download one of them and compare it to your file (maybe the cousin who ended up with the Family Bible has a file floating out there). One very important word of caution. NEVER upload a GEDCOM into your existing file. ALWAYS create a new blank file and keep the information separate until you can verify it. My experience is that there are very few files out there that contain source data, and therefore the information they contain represents only a hint. You must find the source documentation (because all of your records are sourced, right?) to confirm the connection. Don't let that stop you from contacting the owner of the file to ask about documentation.
Some places to look for these files are in Ancestry OneWorld Tree and FamilySearch. Pedigree Resource Files can be downloaded as GEDCOM's at your local Family History Center.