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Everything you need to know about the GEDCOM format

Did you say GEDCOM?

GEDCOM is an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication. This is a file format that was initially defined by the Church of JC of the LDS in order to facilitate the sharing of digitalized genealogical data in their community.
This format is now the international standard for sharing information between almost all the genealogy programs.

A GEDCOM file is a relational database of genealogical information that has in fact a sequential organization. A relational database is a file with a structure that allows elementary units of information to be linked together by a relationship. For example, two individuals can be associated by a 'marriage' or a 'child-parent' relationship. In a sequential file, units of information are stored one after the other. In a sequential GEDCOM file, genealogical data is always associated to a tag(or identifier) that defines its type and that is used to link a data unit to another

Since its creation the GEDCOM standard has evolved and the current version is now 5.5. From one version to another, new tags were added to manage new information and some existing tags were suppressed. Not all the genealogy softwares are compatible with the current version of GEDCOM. When you import a GEDCOM file a program usually ignores the information that is associated to unknown identifiers.

The GEDCOM version 5.5 language

Format of a GEDCOM information line

In a GEDCOM file four different line formats can be found.
To describe information that is merged in a structure and that has no link with other information in the file, the line format is:

  • Format 1
    {level} space {identifier}
    or
  • Format 2
    {level} space {identifier} space {information}

    ... and for information that is linked to other information located anywhere else in the file, the line format will be:

  • Format 3
    {level} space @{reference}@ space {identifier}
    or
  • Format 4
    {level} space {identifier} space @{reference}@
  • Legend:

    • {level} : a number between 0 and n that is used to define the information structure. Information at the n level is always associated to the preceding n-1 level. Information order in a GEDCOM file is very important.
    • {identifier} : identifiers or tags are 3 or 4-character keywords that are used to define the information, like INDI for individual, MARR for marriage, FAM pour family, etc (see the list below)
    • @{reference}@ : references are labels that are used to link one information to another. They are alphanumeric strings that start and that end by a '@' character. In a GEDCOM line, a reference that appears before an identifier is used as the address of the information. A reference that appears after an identifier is used to establish a link with the information that has the corresponding address (it is a pointer). The association of an information line with its address and of one or more information lines that points to this address defines one or more relations. In a GEDCOM file, each reference used as an address must be unique, but several pointers can be defined to this address.
    • {information} : genealogical data that can be found in a specific format (dates), in free text or in pre-defined constants of the GEDCOM language (M or F for sex, for example).

How to decode GEDCOM information

Every GEDCOM always starts with a header (HEAD tag) and always contains a trailer like (TRLR tag). Different types of information can be found between the header and the trailer. The main types of information are:

  • information associated to an individual (INDI tag)
  • information associated to a family (FAM tag)
  • notes (NOTE tag)
  • sources (SOUR tag)

The GEDCOM standard has many other tags and their description can be found further in this page. Many of these tags are used by members of the Church of JC of the LDS only. Some genealogy programs use some other specific and non standard tags. Information associated to these special tags cannot usually be transfered between different programs by the Export/Import function of a GEDCOM file.

Analyzing a GEDCOM file

Header

0 HEAD                          file header
  1 SOUR Legacy                   system used to generate this file
    2 VERS 2.0                      version
    2 NAME Legacy for Windows       name of the program/system   
    2 CORP Millennia Corp.          name of the society, company or organisation
      3 ADDR PO Box 1800              address
        4 CONT Duvall, WA 98019         suite de l'adresse
  1 DEST Legacy                   destination system of the file
  1 DATE 10 Sep 1998              creation date of the file
  1 CHAR ANSI                     character set 
  1 SUBM @S0@                     author  (points towards the @S0@ author)
  1 FILE ancetres.ged             name of the GEDCOM file
  1 GEDC                          GEDCOM ID
    2 VERS 5.5                      version used
    2 FORM LINEAGE_LINKED           format used

Author of the file

0 @S0@ SUBM                      definition of the @S0@ author
  1 NAME Louis JEANPIERRE          name of the author

An individual in the file

0 @I1@ INDI                      definition of the @I1@ individual
  1 NAME Jules Albert /Leprince/    given name/family name
  1 SEX M                           sex = male 
  1 BIRT                            birth
    2 DATE 19 Aug 1875                birthdate
    2 PLAC Metz, 57, F                birthplace
    2 SOUR @S1@                       source (points towards the @S1@ source)
      3 PAGE pg 56                      page number
  1 DEAT                            death
    2 DATE 21 Feb 1947                date of death
    2 PLAC Nancy, 54, F               place of death
  1 CHAN                            last change
    2 DATE 10 Sep 1996                date
      3 TIME 09:07                    and time
  1 FAMS @F3@                       family with his spouse (points towards the @F3@ family)
  1 FAMC @F1@                       family with his parents (points towards the @F1@ family)
  1 OCCU mécanicien                 occupation
  1 NOTE @NI1@                      note associated to the individual (points towards the @NI1@ note)

A family

0 @F1@ FAM                       definition of the @F1@ family
  1 HUSB @I3@                      husband  (points towards the @I3@ individual)
  1 WIFE @I4@                      wife  (points towards the @I4@ individual)
  1 MARR                           marriage
    2 DATE 5 Mar 1874                date
    2 PLAC Sarcey, 69, F             place
    2 NOTE @NF1@                     note associated to the marriage (points towards the @NF1@ note)
  1 CHIL @I1@                      1st child of the family (points towards the @I1@ individual)
  1 CHIL @I2@                      2nd child of the family (points towards the @I2@ individual)
  1 CHAN                           last change
    2 DATE 30 May 1998               date
      3 TIME 15:24                   and time

A note

0 @NI1@ NOTE  blablabla...        beginning of the @NI1@ note
  1 CONT  etc...                    continuation of the note 
  1 CONT  etc...                    continuation of the note 
 

Another format can be used where the note is directly inserted in a structure (INDI, FAM...):

0 @I19@ INDI                      definition of the @I19@ individual
  1 NAME  Alphonse /Leprince/       given name/surname
  ...
  1 NOTE  blablabla...              beginning of the note 
    2 CONT  etc                       continuation of the note 

A source

0 @S1@ SOUR
  1 ABBR Pontaudouce Families, by David Koskoff.
  1 TITL Pontaudouce Families, by David Koskoff.

An unrelated individual (friend, neighbour, godfather...)

O @I9@ INDI
  1 NAME René/LAMORCE/
  1 ASSO @I4@
    2 RELA godfather

Trailer

0 TRLR                              trailer

The complete list of GEDCOM 5.5 tags with their definition

  • ABBR {abbreviation} : a short name of a title, description, or name.
  • ADDR {address} : the contemporary place, usually required for postal purposes, of an individual, a submitter of information, a repository, a business, a school, or a company.
  • ADR1 {address1} : the first line of an address.
  • ADR2 {address2} : the second line of an address.
  • ADOP {adoption} : pertaining to creation of a child-parent relationship that does not exist biologically.
  • AFN {AFN} : a unique permanent record file number of an individual record stored in Ancestral File.
  • AGE {age} : the age of the individual at the time an event occurred, or the age listed in the document.
  • AGNC {agency} : the institution or individual having authority and/or responsibility to manage or govern.
  • ALIA {alias} : an indicator to link different record descriptions of a person who may be the same person.
  • ANCE {ancestors} : pertaining to forbearers of an individual.
  • ANCI {ances_interest} : indicates an interest in additional research for ancestors of this individual (see also DESI).
  • ANUL {annulment} : declaring a marriage void from the beginning (never existed).
  • ASSO {associates} : an indicator to link friends, neighbors, relatives, or associates of an individual.
  • AUTH {author} : the name of the individual who created or compiled information.
  • BAPL {baptism-LDS} : the event of baptism performed at age eight or later by priesthood authority of the LDS Church. (see also BAPM)
  • BAPM {baptism}: the event of baptism (not LDS), performed in infancy or later. (see also BAPL, and CHR)
  • BARM {bar_mitzvah} : the ceremonial event held when a Jewish boy reaches age 13.
  • BASM {bas_mitzvah}: the ceremonial event held when a Jewish girl reaches age 13, also known as "Bat Mitzvah."
  • BIRT {birth} : the event of entering into life.
  • BLES {blessing} : a religious event of bestowing divine care or intercession. Sometimes given in connection with a naming ceremony.
  • BLOB {binary_object} : a grouping of data used as input to a multimedia system that processes binary data to represent images, sound, and video.
  • BURI {burial} : the event of the proper disposing of the mortal remains of a deceased person.
  • CALN {call_number} : the number used by a repository to identify the specific items in its collections.
  • CAST {caste} : the name of an individual's rank or status in society, based on racial or religious differences, or differences in wealth, inherited rank, profession, occupation, etc.
  • CAUS {cause} : a description of the cause of the associated event or fact, such as the cause of death.
  • CENS {census} : the event of the periodic count of the population for a designated locality, such as a national or state Census.
  • CHAN {change} : indicates a change, correction, or modification. Typically used in connection with a DATE to specify when a change in information occurred.
  • CHAR {character} : an indicator of the character set used in writing this automated information.
  • CHIL {child} : the natural, adopted, or sealed (LDS) child of a father and a mother.
  • CHR {christening} : the religious event (not LDS) of baptizing and/or naming a child.
  • CHRA {adult_christening} : the religious event (not LDS) of baptizing and/or naming an adult person.
  • CITY {city} : a lower level jurisdictional unit. Normally an incorporated municipal unit.
  • CONC {concatenation} : an indicator that additional data belongs to the superior value. The information from the CONC value is to be connected to the value of the superior preceding line without a space and without a carriage return and/or new line character. Values that are split for a CONC tag must always be split at a non-space. If the value is split on a space the space will be lost when concatenation takes place. This is because of the treatment that spaces get as a GEDCOM delimiter, many GEDCOM values are trimmed of trailing spaces and some systems look for the first non-space starting after the tag to determine the beginning of the value.
  • CONF {confirmation} : the religious event (not LDS) of conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost and, among protestants, full church membership.
  • CONL {confirmation_l} : the religious event by which a person receives membership in the LDS Church.
  • CONT {continued} : an indicator that additional data belongs to the superior value. The information from the CONT value is to be connected to the value of the superior preceding line with a carriage return and/or new line character. Leading spaces could be important to the formatting of the resultant text. When importing values from CONT lines the reader should assume only one delimiter character following the CONT tag. Assume that the rest of the leading spaces are to be a part of the value.
  • COPR {copyright} : a statement that accompanies data to protect it from unlawful duplication and distribution.
  • CORP {corporate} : a name of an institution, agency, corporation, or company.
  • CREM {cremation} : disposal of the remains of a person's body by fire.
  • CTRY {country} : the name or code of the country.
  • DATA {data} : pertaining to stored automated information.
  • DATE {date} : the time of an event in a calendar format.
  • DEAT {death} : the event when mortal life terminates.
  • DESC {descendants} : pertaining to offspring of an individual.
  • DESI {descendant_int} : indicates an interest in research to identify additional descendants of this individual. (see also ANCI)
  • DEST {destination} : a system receiving data.
  • DIV {divorce} : an event of dissolving a marriage through civil action.
  • DIVF {divorce_filed} : an event of filing for a divorce by a spouse.
  • DSCR {phy_description} : the physical characteristics of a person, place, or thing.
  • EDUC {education} : indicator of a level of education attained.
  • EMIG {emigration} : an event of leaving one's homeland with the intent of residing elsewhere.
  • ENDL {endowment} : a religious event where an endowment ordinance for an individual was performed by priesthood authority in an LDS temple.
  • ENGA {engagement} : an event of recording or announcing an agreement between two people to become married.
  • EVEN {event} : a noteworthy happening related to an individual, a group, or an organization.
  • FAM {family} : identifies a legal, common law, or other customary relationship of man and woman and their children, if any, or a family created by virtue of the birth of a child to its biological father and mother.
  • FAMC {family_child} : identifies the family in which an individual appears as a child.
  • FAMF {family_file} : pertaining to, or the name of, a family file. Names stored in a file that are assigned to a family for doing temple ordinance work.
  • FAMS {family_spouse} : identifies the family in which an individual appears as a spouse.
  • FCOM {first_communion} : a religious rite, the first act of sharing in the Lord's supper as part of church worship.
  • FILE {file} : an information storage place that is ordered and arranged for preservation and reference.
  • FORM {format} : an assigned name given to a consistent format in which information can be conveyed.
  • GEDC {gedcom} : information about the use of GEDCOM in a transmission.
  • GIVN {given_name} : a given or earned name used for official identification of a person.
  • GRAD {graduation} : an event of awarding educational diplomas or degrees to individuals.
  • HEAD {header} : identifies information pertaining to an entire GEDCOM transmission.
  • HUSB {husband} : an individual in the family role of a married man or father.
  • IDNO {ident_number} : a number assigned to identify a person within some significant external system.
  • IMMI {immigration} : an event of entering into a new locality with the intent of residing there.
  • INDI {individual} : a person.
  • LANG {language} : the name of the language used in a communication or transmission of information.
  • LEGA {legatee} : a role of an individual acting as a person receiving a bequest or legal devise.
  • MARB {marriage_bann} : an event of an official public notice given that two people intend to marry.
  • MARC {marr_contract} : an event of recording a formal agreement of marriage, including the prenuptial agreement in which marriage partners reach agreement about the property rights of one or both, securing property to their children.
  • MARL {marr_license} : an event of obtaining a legal license to marry.
  • MARR {marriage} : a legal, common-law, or customary event of creating a family unit of a man and a woman as husband and wife.
  • MARS {marr_settlement} : an event of creating an agreement between two people contemplating marriage, at which time they agree to release or modify property rights that would otherwise arise from the marriage.
  • MEDI {media} : identifies information about the media or having to do with the medium in which information is stored.
  • NAME {name} : a word or combination of words used to help identify an individual, title, or other item. More than one NAME line should be used for people who were known by multiple names.
  • NATI {nationality} : the national heritage of an individual.
  • NATU {naturalization} : the event of obtaining citizenship.
  • NCHI {children_count} : the number of children that this person is known to be the parent of (all marriages) when subordinate to an individual, or that belong to this family when subordinate to a FAM_RECORD.
  • NICK {nickname} : a descriptive or familiar that is used instead of, or in addition to, one's proper name.
  • NMR {marriage_count} : the number of times this person has participated in a family as a spouse or parent.
  • NOTE {note} : additional information provided by the submitter for understanding the enclosing data.
  • NPFX {name_prefix} : text which appears on a name line before the given and surname parts of a name. i.e. ( Lt. Cmndr. ) Joseph /Allen/ jr. In this example Lt. Cmndr. is considered as the name prefix portion.
  • NSFX {name_suffix} : text which appears on a name line after or behind the given and surname parts of a name. i.e. Lt. Cmndr. Joseph /Allen/ ( jr. ) In this example jr. is considered as the name suffix portion.
  • OBJE {object} : pertaining to a grouping of attributes used in describing something. Usually referring to the data required to represent a multimedia object, such an audio recording, a photograph of a person, or an image of a document.
  • OCCU {occupation} : the type of work or profession of an individual.
  • ORDI {ordinance} : pertaining to a religious ordinance in general.
  • ORDN {ordination} : a religious event of receiving authority to act in religious matters.
  • PAGE {page} : a number or description to identify where information can be found in a referenced work.
  • PEDI {pedigree} : information pertaining to an individual to parent lineage chart.
  • PHON {phone} : a unique number assigned to access a specific telephone.
  • PLAC {place} : a jurisdictional name to identify the place or location of an event.
  • POST {postal_code} : a code used by a postal service to identify an area to facilitate mail handling.
  • PROB {probate} : an event of judicial determination of the validity of a will. May indicate several related court activities over several dates.
  • PROP {property} : pertaining to possessions such as real estate or other property of interest.
  • PUBL {publication} : refers to when and/or were a work was published or created.
  • QUAY {quality_of-data} : an assessment of the certainty of the evidence to support the conclusion drawn from evidence.
  • REFN {reference} : a description or number used to identify an item for filing, storage, or other reference purposes.
  • RELA {relationship} : a relationship value between the indicated contexts.
  • RELI {religion} : a religious denomination to which a person is affiliated or for which a record applies.
  • REPO {repository} : an institution or person that has the specified item as part of their collection(s).
  • RESI {residence} : the act of dwelling at an address for a period of time.
  • RESN {restriction} : a processing indicator signifying access to information has been denied or otherwise restricted.
  • RETI {retirement} : an event of exiting an occupational relationship with an employer after a qualifying time period.
  • RFN {rec_file_number} : a permanent number assigned to a record that uniquely identifies it within a known file.
  • RIN {rec_id_number} : a number assigned to a record by an originating automated system that can be used by a receiving system to report results pertaining to that record.
  • ROLE {role} : a name given to a role played by an individual in connection with an event.
  • SEX {sex} : indicates the sex of an individual--male or female.
  • SLGC {sealing_child} : a religious event pertaining to the sealing of a child to his or her parents in an LDS temple ceremony.
  • SLGS {sealing_spouse} : a religious event pertaining to the sealing of a husband and wife in an LDS temple ceremony.
  • SOUR {source} : the initial or original material from which information was obtained.
  • SPFX {surn_prefix} : a name piece used as a non-indexing pre-part of a surname
  • SSN {soc_sec_number} : a number assigned by the United States Social Security Administration. Used for tax identification purposes.
  • STAE {state} : a geographical division of a larger jurisdictional area, such as a State within the United States of America.
  • STAT {status} : an assessment of the state or condition of something.
  • SUBM {submitter} : an individual or organization who contributes genealogical data to a file or transfers it to someone else.
  • SUBN {submission} : pertains to a collection of data issued for processing.
  • SURN {surname} : a family name passed on or used by members of a family.
  • TEMP {temple} : the name or code that represents the name a temple of the LDS Church.
  • TEXT {text} : the exact wording found in an original source document.
  • TIME {time} : a time value in a 24-hour clock format, including hours, minutes, and optional seconds, separated by a colon (:). Fractions of seconds are shown in decimal notation.
  • TITL {title} : a description of a specific writing or other work, such as the title of a book when used in a source context, or a formal designation used by an individual in connection with positions of royalty or other social status, such as Grand Duke.
  • TRLR {trailer} : at level 0, specifies the end of a GEDCOM transmission.
  • TYPE {type} : a further qualification to the meaning of the associated superior tag. The value does not have any computer processing reliability. It is more in the form of a short one or two word note that should be displayed any time the associated data is displayed.
  • VERS {version} : indicates which version of a product, item, or publication is being used or referenced.
  • WIFE {wife} : an individual in the role as a mother and/or married woman.
  • WILL {will} : a legal document treated as an event, by which a person disposes of his or her estate, to take effect after death. The event date is the date the will was signed while the person was alive. (see also PROB)

For further information about the GEDCOM format, you can consult the reference guide of GEDCOM version 5.5.

For further information about the future of the GEDCOM standard, you can have a look at the GEDCOM X project (Feb. 2012).
Different alternatives to the GEDCOM 5.5 standard appeared as projects in the last decade but none of them could succeed in replacing this standard. A list of these projects can be found on the Modern Software Experience site.

 

Utility Programs to manage GEDCOM files

Many utilities that can handle GEDCOM data are available on the web site of the University of Pennsylvania. With these programs you can:

  • compare GEDCOM files,
  • generate charts from GEDCOM files,
  • browse, update and print GEDCOM data,
  • create web pages from your own GEDCOM data,
  • convert GEDCOM data into MS EXCEL or MS ACCESS files,
  • obtain statistics from GEDCOM files.

For a list of these utilities, visit ftp://ftp.cac.psu.edu/pub/genealogy/gedcom/
Demonstration versions of several genealogy programs are also available on this site. To browse the list visit ftp://ftp.cac.psu.edu/pub/genealogy/programs/

You will also find on these sites some utilities to manage GEDCOM data :

  • PAF Review Home Page
    A place where you will get at everything about the PAF program that is used by the Church of JC of the LDS and about additional utility programs.
  • GenBox2
    A program that can make trees and charts from a GEDCOM file.
  • GEDSplit
    A program used to split GEDCOM files.
  • GEDPlace
    A program to edit placenames in GEDCOM files.
  • WWW Genealogical Tools
    Examples of web pages created from GEDCOM files by the Ged2html, Ged2htm, Gedpage, Ged2www, Webged utilities.
  • VisuGed [in French]
    A program to display, compare, check, print or convert GEDCOM files.

Creation of web pages from GEDCOM files (conversion to HTML format)

On this web site http://help.surnameweb.org/knight/ you can find different tools to make GEDCOM-HTML conversions.

To delete information about living people in a GEDCOM file

 


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