GEDCOM…Why do I still have to care?

Why should I care about GEDCOM?

What is GEDCOM? The long and short of it is…a standard to transfer data between genealogy programs. Sure, some genealogy software packages have added support for importing directly from another program’s files. But not all. And not always as successfully as one might like. 

For example, the free download version of Legacy 8 only allows imports from PAF and Ancestral Quest. For any other programs, you must create a GEDCOM file from your old program and import the GEDCOM file into Legacy.

RootsMagic 6 does import from old versions of Family Tree Maker (pre-2006). This was great for me because when I changed programs in 2012, I was still using FTM 2005. RootsMagic 7 now has some support for importing directly from TMG (which ceased operations) and new versions of FTM (after announced they would not continue development of the desktop software).

So you are saying, well, what is the problem? You use RootsMagic. Your data transferred over. You are all set! Why worry about GEDCOM.

A couple reasons.

  1. What if I need to share my data with relatives? They may not use RootsMagic and their program may not be able to import from RootsMagic. Oh sure, I can just generate a report in pdf or rtf, etc., to send them, but then if they want to add my branch of the tree to their own, they have to re-key everyone in. Not very helpful.
  2. What happens if RootsMagic ceases operations like TMG? (I hope it won’t. But I bet a lot of TMG users never thought TMG would cease either.) And look at Ancestry and FTM. (Note: the company that previously produced the MAC version of FTM will now be releasing both Windows and MAC versions.)
  3. As much as I like RootsMagic, the reports aren’t always as I would like. Other programs may have better or at least different reporting options. So even if I don’t like the other program for data entry, etc., I may like the report options.
  4. And the same goes for generating web pages. RootsMagic does generate web pages. But they really could be a lot better. (Note: I have my own website, so I generate the html files for placement on my host server.)  I have 3 program options at the moment I am evaluating for the purpose of generating my web pages. Those are: Legacy (free), RootsPersona plugin for WordPress, and TNG (The Next Generation of Site Building).  The catch? The only way to get my data into those programs is via GEDCOM.

OK. Fine. So you need to be aware of GEDCOM. What does that really mean?

Best case: You feel you can ignore it. You don’t share your database with other people and if they have to type names in to their database, then oh well. Your genealogy program will always be around or, if it ceases operation, someone will surely write code to allow you to import your files directly. And you are perfectly happy with the reporting and web page creation functions of your software. If you are in this group, boy I wish I were one of you.

I’m in another group. Most of us will probably have some concern about at least one of the four situations I presented. For me, it is mainly the web page issue. I’m really not happy with the look of the web pages generated by RootsMagic. Maybe that will change with the next version of RootsMagic…whenever that may be.

Backing up briefly, let’s first remember that the current GEDCOM standard was implemented way back in January 1996. Do you remember what computing was like back then? Windows 95. Dial up internet. Dumb phones. Yeah. It has been a while. And while genealogy programs have changed and support more facts and features, GEDCOM hasn’t changed. So in one example, while RootsMagic and Legacy both have some sort of support for “Shared” events/facts, GEDCOM doesn’t. So if you have to export via GEDCOM, the “Shared” event/fact only gets attached to the primary individual. Any people to whom that fact was shared? The fact no longer exists in their data.

Another example…those nifty Source templates. They help you craft citations to EE standards. Great, right? Well, only until you have to do an export to GEDCOM. (Note: In this part I am only referring to how things work with RootsMagic. I have not paid for the Legacy Deluxe Edition which contains Legacy’s Source Writer module for citations.) First of all, in RootsMagic you have Footnote (aka Full Citation), Short Footnote (used after the first instance of the Full Citation), and the Bibliography. Well, guess what? Only the Footnote exports to GEDCOM. The Short Footnote and Bibliography are used in RootsMagic only.

So what does this mean for how you do sources and citations? What other ramifications are there? We’ll get to that. In another post.

For now, just wrap your head around the fact that you may still need to at least be aware of GEDCOM.

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