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What’s In Your GEDCOM?

In December, when Ancestry announced that they would no longer be selling Family Tree Maker, it seemed to shake up much of the genealogy world. People wondered what would they do, where would they go with their data?

Although I was not an FTM user, I watched the fallout and the reaction with interest. I guess part of me wondered, if this could happen to FTM, could it happen to Legacy (what I use)? Or any other genealogy software for that matter? I didn’t want to be caught unawares, like the FTM users seemed to be. I wanted to be ready for whatever changes the future of genealogy might bring. On December 14, The Genealogy Guys had a very timely themed podcast on genealogy software. In it, they touched on GEDCOMs and how they worked. I realized that there was a lot that I did not know!

As you know, I participate in the bi-weekly #genchat on Twitter. On January 15, the topic was “What to do with…Changing Technology?” and circumstances arose that enabled me to host the chat for the evening. We talked about how we handled change, how we backed up digital and non-digital data, understanding what was in our backups (in particular, GEDCOMs), petitioning our software companies for futures changes, and the future as we saw it. Because I know I needed a greater understanding, I gave a homework assignment of just taking a look at one of those GEDCOMs that we’ve backed up, just to see what it looked like and what was in there.

Little did I know that I was in for a bigger learning experience than I bargained for! (But that’s a good thing!) Below are some of my “lessons learned” and my thoughts on them:

  • despite how Legacy’s zip file backup is named, it is not a GEDCOM nor is a GEDCOM file in there!
  • what is in the zip file is Legacy’s database back-up. So if I were to transfer to another genealogy program, I would not be able to load that back up into it.
  • I learned how to export a GEDCOM from Legacy (File/Export/GEDCOM file) and have opened it up in Notepad. As everyone promised, it does look messy, but I recognize a lot of what is there.
  • I need a much better understanding of the contents and structure of a GEDCOM. I’ve learned from the Genealogy Guys that some event types do not transfer over exactly, and I know that media and documents typically are not included. This means I need to know what other files — besides a GEDCOM — needs to be backed up.

Thanks to the Legacy Family Tree Users Facebook group, I picked up a couple of handy tips:

  • A link to the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Standard document. I’ve found it myself on the internet to share with all of you. Yes, it looks dry, but it’s the go-to document about GEDCOM today!
  • There is a freeware program called GedPad that allows you to look at your GEDCOM in a more visually friendly way, as well as perform any edits (which I have no desire to do at this time).

Below is just a little excerpt of the beginning of my GEDCOM, so you can see it too:

GEDCOM sample

Next week, I’ll go back to our “regularly scheduled program” of blogging about my Strong family, but I just wanted to let everyone know my latest thoughts on this topic. As I learn more, I’ll be sure to pass it on!

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