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Genealogy GEDCOM 101

How Can I Read a GEDCOM file?


If you've spent much time on the Web researching your family tree, then it is likely that you've either downloaded a GEDCOM file from the Internet or received one from a fellow researcher via email or on a CD. So now you have this nifty family tree which may contain vital clues to your ancestors and your computer can't seem to open it. What to do?

How To Open and Read a Genealogy GEDCOM File

  1. Is it Really a GEDCOM?
    Begin by ensuring that the file that you want to open is truly a genealogy GEDCOM file, and not a family tree file created in some proprietary format by a genealogy software program. A file is in GEDCOM format when it ends in the extension .ged. If the file ends with the extension .zip then it has been zipped (compressed) and needs to be unzipped first. See Handling Zipped Files for help with this.

  2. Save the GEDCOM File to Your Computer
    Whether you are downloading the file from the Internet or opening it as an email attachment, the first thing you should do is save the file to a folder on your hard drive. I've got a folder created under "C:\My Download Files\Gedcoms\" where I save my genealogy GEDCOM files. If you're saving it from email you may want to scan it for viruses first before saving to your hard drive (see Step 3).

  3. Scan the GEDCOM for Viruses
    Once you have the file saved to your computer hard drive, it is time to scan it for viruses using your favorite antivirus software program. If you need help with this, see Protecting Yourself from Email Viruses. Even if you know the person who sent you the GEDCOM file, it is better to be safe than sorry.

  4. Make a Backup of Your Existing Genealogy Database
    If you have a family tree file on your computer you should always make sure you have a recent backup before opening a new GEDCOM file. This will allow you to revert to your original file in case something goes wrong when you're opening/importing the GEDCOM file.

  5. Open the GEDCOM File with Your Genealogy Software
    Do you have a genealogy software program? If so, then begin your family tree program and close any open family tree project. Then follow the program's instructions for opening/importing a GEDCOM file. If you need help with this, see How to Open a GEDCOM File in Your Genealogy Software Program. Be sure to look at the GEDCOM file by itself first, rather than opening or merging it directly into your own family tree database. It is much harder to figure out how to remove unwanted people, than it is to add new people later after you have reviewed the new GEDCOM file. It's also important to note that some fields such as notes and sources may not transfer properly via GEDCOM.

  • Other Ways to Open a GEDCOM File
    If you don't have a genealogy software program you can still open and read GEDCOM files. Many free and shareware programs are available which allow you to easily open and view GEDCOM files. You can find a collection of these here: GEDCOM Viewers.

    Next page > How Can I Create and Share GEDCOM Files?

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