Shirley Hornbeck's This and That Genealogy Tips on Gedcoms


A gedcom is simply a way to exchange genealogy databases with others.

To view a gedcom that has been given to you, you first must import it into your genealogy program. This is easy in some programs and harder in others.

Usually you click on "File" within your genealogy program, look for the word GEDCOM, IMPORT GEDCOM or EXPORT GEDCOM. If you are importing a gedcom that someone sent to you, make a NEW database for it with a different name, and import it to that file. Never import the data into your own database.

Most genealogy programs make booklets or reports that you can print and/or share with others. Most programs have a variety of styles of ancestor and descendant books. Making one of these booklets is generally quite easy to do once you make decisions about the format you want to use. You can then view it on screen and edit if you like. If you don't like what you produced you can delete and start over. Some programs have the option to create footnotes and an index at the end. You can also add photos, copies of vital records, maps, pedigree charts, etc.

Choice of genealogy database program is personal. Personal Ancestor File (PAF) is free from the LDS site and I prefer this to others. A relatively new program is Rootsmagic. Then there is Family Tree Maker (FTM) and Legacy. MAC users often like Reunion.

Always remember to BACKUP your data frequently and keep a series of backups no matter what application you use.

If you choose to import someone else's data into your own database (which I do not recommend) be sure to have a good backup of your database first so that you can easily get back to your own file, should you discover you do not like what you have added.


GEDCOM was originally designed by the LDS Church for their PAF (Personal Ancestral File) Program. It is the international language that allows my Personal Ancestral File to talk to your Family Tree Maker, Family Origins, Roots, or Brother's Keeper.

Hopefully I can help you learn how to upload it, how to download it and if in a compressed state (.zip) how to uncompress it and if received in .txt format, how to convert it. Important to remember is that if you are going to receive these via e-mail , the person sending must send in the same format that you use (for instance IBM-compatible PCs use MIME while Macintosh use Bin-Hex). It is a good idea to tell the person sending this gedcom to you what you use. I use PAF 2.31 so my instructions may not work exactly the same for you if you use some other application. If you use something else, please tell me how you do it.....

Most genealogy programs have the capability of making a gedcom, and when created it always ends in .ged extension (i.e. hornbeck.ged). To create a gedcom, open your genealogy program and look in the menus for GEDCOM, GIE, EXPORT or SAVE AS or FILE - SAVE AS. You should have an option to make and export and save a GED or Gedcom file. You will also have an option to select the drive you want it placed in, the directory you want it placed in, and an opportunity to give it a different name.

In PAF 5.1
Export to: (choose applicable) For most non-PAF it is Other Gedcom 5.5
Char Set is by default UTF-8, usually fine to leave it that way but there are other options.
Choose items to export (All by default are checked)
Click Export
Name the file at the prompt and note save location or change to specific location.
Click Export
You have created a gedcom.

To create a gedcom in FTM you choose: File
Copy/Export Family File
Name the File
Save as type: *.ged
Click Save.

Prepare your GEDCOM and either save it to a floppy or somewhere on your hard drive where you can find it.

Then, write a NEW message to the person you want to send the .ged file to. Do not hit REPLY to send this file.

On your tool bar in your mail application, you will have an item "ATTACH FILE". Hit this and then send it. It should arrive as a .ged file not as text - however if it does, give them the following instructions on how to use it.

When I receive a GEDCOM, whether by E-mail or by snail mail on disk, and it is a ---.ged file, the first thing I do it make a subdirectory in my PAF directory called "TEMP". I then transfer the - - --.ged to that directory and proceed to convert it to FR following instruction in PAF on how to do that.

These instructions are for PAF so if you use some other genealogy application, you may have to experiment a little. After you receive an attachment by e-mail as a .txt file or the text is embedded in the e-mail itself, here is one of the easy ways to use it.

1. If it came embedded in the e-mail message as text, then in your mail application such as Eudora, which is what I use, go to FILE and click SAVE AS and save the message to a TEMP directory. If you don't have a TEMP directory, make one. You will use it often for lots of things (I have a C, D, E, F hard drives and I have TEMP directory in all of them). If the GEDCOM came as an attachment and is already in your ATTACHMENT directory go to #2.

2. If it came as a .ged file, you can skip this part. If it came as a .txt file or embedded in the e-mail, go to File Manager or Windows Explorer and find the file in your TEMP directory. Open it by double-clicking on it.

3. If there is anything before HEAD and after TRLR, delete it being, careful not to delete TRLR itself.

4. Click on FILE and SAVE AS to a floppy disk in A drive renaming it so it ends in .ged instead of .txt.

5. Assuming you have your genealogy application set up for multiple family record directories, make a new directory for this GEDCOM naming it whatever you like.

6. Move the .ged file to the directory you just created.

7. Now follow the directions in your genealogy program to convert this GEDCOM into family records.

If you receive a GEDCOM file that is split between two or more files, one with .ged as the extension and the others with .G00, .G01, G02, etc. - there are several ways to use these files. If it arrived through e-mail and the first .ged file is embedded in a message, you must follow instructions above to open and get rid of the text before HEAD and after TRLR in the first file. It is easy to work with these files if you put each one on a different floppy. Following your application's instructions, proceed to start the conversion to family records. It will ask for the next file (.G00) so insert that disk, then .G01, .G02, etc.

If you receive this file as a .zip file, go to File Manager and move it to a TEMP directory. Double click on it and unzip it to that same directory. It probably will be one or more .ged files. Follow instructions above on what to do next.


What I like to do is use the application called GEN-BOOK to automatically generate a genealogy book of either Descendants or Ancestors, into Word Perfect or WORD format, from the PAF data files of the GEDCOM. Then I print out the "book" (if it is not too many pages) and enter what I want to manually into my PAF files. I never add the GEDCOM directly into my records. There are many options to GEN-BOOK including generating table of contents and a 2 or 3 column Name Index. It does not index your notes however. It requires an IBM compatible computer with PAF, Ancestral Quest or a GEDCOM file from Family Tree Maker, Brother's Keeper, Family Origins, ROOTS, Reunion, TMG, FT, or any other genealogy software. The word processor should be either WordPerfect for Windows/DOS or MS WORD for Windows/DOS. I have no financial interest in GEN-BOOK.... I merely like the application.

GEN-BOOK has a home page at:
GEN-BOOK or e-mail them at:

IBM AND MAC GEDCOMS - BY Ben H. Lashbaugh at
My nephew and I both work in Family Tree Maker -- he on a PC and I on a MAC -- and the method of transferring gedcom files is MUCH simpler than you describe, at least on the MAC end.

In Family Tree Maker, in order to convert an .ftw file to a .ged file, all you have to do is Copy/Export Family File and save it in gedcom format --that's one of the selections you get. The file can then be sent as an e-mail attachment. (I have never tried incorporating it into e-mail because it would lose most or all of its formatting.)

Then, after receiving the file as an e-mail (Eudora) attachment, all I have to do to open it is to have Family Tree Maker open and go to the File menu, select Open Family File, and locate the new gedcom file which I now find in the Eudora Attachments folder. It's that simple. FTM automatically converts the gedcom file and you can save it wherever you want as an .ftw file.

A LESSON PLAN ON GEDCOMS - submitted by Russell Sias at
1) Make a brand new (test) gedcom
2) Add ONE person to the file
3) Open the file in a word processor & look at it. Actually see the format of the file (that THEIR program creates)
4) Make another gedcom, add a family to it.
5) Look again, see the links, notice the header, source, links, trailer, etc. Describe each section of the gedcom so they understand what they are, & how they are "tabbed" by the line numbers, etc.
6) Now, go to the file they want to get into gedcom format, review it for the same items. See that there is no text above & below the gedcom, and teach them to save as an ASCII file, named "*.ged" and them import into their genealogy program (in a new file, of course), etc., etc.

If you make a simple gedcom, they you can compare with the real thing, and (usually) get it into the right format for your program to use.

From: "Patrick J. Eagan" Regarding your comment: "Important to remember is that if you are going to receive these via e-mail , the person sending must send in the same format that you use (for instance IBM-compatible PCs use MIME while Macintosh use Bin-Hex" - - Your step-by-step description of exchanging GEDCOM files was excellent. However, the warning that you included is somewhat off. MIME and Bin-Hex are not equivalents and serve two separate purposes. The Multi-format Internet Mail Extension (MIME) specification is used by all e-mail systems whether it be PC or the MAC. Bin-Hex is the MAC (and some PC's) method of converting binary files to a seven-bit format that can be sent using the Internet mail specification. PC's to do the same job generally use Base64 but can use the combination UENCODE/UUDECODE and most PC mail programs support both. In both the PC and MAC, it is a combination of MIME and a conversion technique.

Another option from John Nairn for working with GEDCOM files for Power Macintosh users is to get a copy of the new genealogy application called GEDitCOM. This applications can be downloaded from; it is available free as a GEDCOM file viewer and shareware as a GEDCOM file editor. Unlike most commercial packages, GEDitCOM uses GEDCOM as its internal data standard. Thus you never "import" and "export" GEDCOM files, you simply read them, make changes, and save them again. GEDitCOM is 100% compatible with all feature of GEDCOM. Thus, there is never any possibility of GEDCOM data getting lost or corrupted. Note, although many commercial programs claim to be GEDCOM compatible, they actually are only partially compatible. It is common for importing procedures to ignore GEDCOM data, misinterpret unusual GEDCOM data structures, or misfile data in generic note records.

Besides GEDitCOM by 100% compatible with GEDCOM, the entire user interface of GEDitCOM is customizable by the user. No one has to settle for the rigid forms and data entry methods provided by typical commercial packages. You can create your own genealogy interface and you can even switch interfaces at will depending on your needs that day.

See Randy Winch's page for: GEDCOM UTILITIES The following utilities are available for download:

GEDSplit.exe - Windows 95 program to split any GEDCOM file in useful ways GEDSplit help file .

Analyze.exe - Windows 95 command line program to display the unconnected individuals in any GEDCOM file.

GEDPlace.exe - Allows editing of places in a GEDCOM file.

Addnote.exe Windows 95 Beta version - addnote.exe - Adds a user specified note to each individual in a GEDCOM file.

Addsour.exe Windows 95 Beta version - addsour.exe - Adds a user specified source to each individual in a GEDCOM file.

Gedcaps.exe Windows 95 Beta Version - changes the capitalization of names and/or places in a GEDCOM file.

gedcaps.exe - Changes the capitalization of the surnames in a GEDCOM file. Can convert to/from uppercase.

GEDLivng.exe Native Windows 95 version 16 bit gedlivng.exe (runs in a dos box or at the dos prompt) 32 bit gedlivng.exe (Must run in a Windows 95/NT dos box) Privitizes a GEDCOM file. (beta testing)

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