Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Genealogy Lesson 15 - Where can you get accurate GEDCOM files?

I had a reader ask where to find accurate GEDCOM files that he could copy and import into his family tree database.  Any experienced genealogist knows that the obvious answer is nowhere. Unless you do the work yourself, it is hard to truly believe anything that you find or are given.
Let me back up for a moment and explain GEDCOM files.  A GEDCOM, or GEnealogical Data COMmunication file, is a means of exporting information from your family tree database and sharing it with others.  All major genealogy programs allow you to import and export your files as GEDCOMs, the standard format being version 5.5.  This allows someone who has Family Tree Maker to share files with someone using Legacy Family Tree. 
Keep in mind that GEDCOMs do not capture all of your data.  They do not copy any photos, some source information, some notes, etc.  They capture all of the basic information such as names, dates and places plus the relationships between people.  These files will end with .GED and are quite small, easily emailed to a friend or fellow researcher.
With that in mind, it can be tough to find reliable GEDCOM files on the Internet.  If you still want to find some, I would suggest that you use a large site such as Ancestry.com.  A lot of people do not trust the information at sites like Ancestry because no one double-checks anything that is posted by its users.
All of the data there has to be taken with a grain of salt. I personally find that the volume of data at Ancestry allows you to compare the research of a lot of people and decide which parts you think are correct.
I use what other people have found (or claim to have found) to help direct my next research step. I always go back and verify what they claim but it saves me a lot of time, keeping me from starting with zero.

If you are not a member of Ancestry, I would suggest that you maybe sign up for a free trial and try to copy as much info as you can during that free period. If you find all that you need, cancel the membership and do not pay anything. (I have been a paying member for around ten years now and I still find their service valuable). Copy what you can now, going back later to see what you came up with.  Take your time and sort out what you think is garbage, keep what you think is good and go from there.

For example, if I needed to know the father of Bobby Jo Malone who died in Mecklenburg County in 1790 (a totally fictitious example), I could do a search on Ancestry and see what other researchers have found. I might find ten trees with Bobby Jo and maybe three of them claim to know of his parents. I could then see what notes those files contain and what sources they cite.
If I get lucky, one person's tree might have a transcribed will for Bobby Jo's father, naming Bobby Jo as his son, in a county that I never thought of checking! I could then turn around, go to the archives, and get a copy of the will for myself. I may have never found that document otherwise since I would have never checked that particular county.

I have extended many of my own family lines using this technique and would recommend it to anyone, especially if you are facing a brick wall. Your brick wall might be common knowledge to someone else!

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