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GEDCOM, an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication, is a specification for exchanging genealogical data between different family history systems. It was developed by the church as an aid in their extensive genealogical research. A GEDCOM file is plain text containing genealogical information about individuals, and data linking these records together.


The current version of the specification is GEDCOM 5.5, which was released on 12 January, 1996. A subsequent draft specification was issued in 1999, introducing nine new tags, including WWW, EMAIL and FACT, and adding UTF-8 as an approved encoding. This draft was never formally approved, but its provisions have been adopted in some part by a number of genealogy programs. On December 6, 2002 a beta version of GEDCOM 6.0 was released for developers to study and begin to implement in their software. GEDCOM 6.0 will be the first version to store data in XML format. This will further change the preferred character set from ANSEL to Unicode, allowing, for example, the storage of East Asian names in their original characters, without which they could be ambiguous and of little use for genealogical or historical research.

Software limitations

The file structure handles basic relationship information very well. However, some genealogists feel that keeping track of records and events is just as important as keeping track of relationships. GEDCOM stores these as details under the individual and family records. This makes them more difficult to organize and add further details. Another dilemma is it is not clear which record should own an event. For example, the record for adoption details could be associated with the child, the adopted parents, the birth parents, or the family of which the child becomes part.

As a result of the limitations of the GEDCOM format, some genealogy software incorporates the use of proprietary extensions to the GEDCOM format, which are not always recognized by other genealogy programs.

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