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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

April 05, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Opening a GEDCOM

Q: Could you please advise me on how to open a Gedcom file that has been sent to me by e-mail. When I click on the attachment Acrobat reader comes up and says it is ?% PDF and the file cannot be opened, can you offer any advice please. -- Marion

A: GEDCOM stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication. Developed by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, GEDCOM is a standard by which different genealogy programs may be able to share information with each other.

GEDCOM files end in a .ged extension. This file should only be opened with a genealogy program that supports GEDCOM imports. While the files can be viewed in a word processing program, if you change anything in the file, it may not be possible to import it into your genealogy program.

The Windows environment recognizes some extensions and assigns a program for opening them. When you click on the attachment, for some reason it thinks it is an Adobe Acrobat file and tries to open it with the Acrobat reader.

While it is possible to set a particular program to open that file, in the case of a GEDCOM file it is better if you save the attachment to a specific folder and then open it with your genealogy program manually. This protects your genealogy database by allowing you to first open the genealogy program, close your project and then open the GEDCOM file into a new project, database, or folder. I encourage you to not open GEDCOM files directly into your database. It is much harder to figure out how to get unwanted people out than it is to add the wanted people in after looking at the database.

For more information on importing a GEDCOM file, you will need to refer to the manual or online help for your software program.

Finding Blank Forms

Q: Is there a site online where I can get copies of family group sheets and five-generation ancestor charts? -- Vera

A: There are a number of different places where you can find forms online. Some of these sites offer forms that can be opened in specific programs, usually a word processing program. Others are available in PDF format. PDF stands for Portable Document Format, and requires the use of Adobe Acrobat's Reader, which is a free download. Sites with such files usually include a link to the site where you can download the reader if you have not previously done so.

One place that offers some forms, including the pedigree chart and the family group sheet is Family Tree Magazine. These forms can be saved to your disk or opened in your browser.

Another site that will lead you to a variety of other available forms, including research logs and more, can be found at Cyndi's List - Organizing Your Research.

The Key is Organization

Q: My problem is how to organize my information. I have records on 9 families, including cemetery records, death certificates, and miscellaneous records. What is the best way to do this? -- Jane

A: There are a number of systems that have been created and written about. There are also many systems that some genealogists use that are never written about. Some researchers read up on these various systems and then take what they consider the best of each and combine them to make their own system.

One system that many people use was developed by William Dollarhide. This system is outlined in his book Managing a Genealogical Project. The book was published by Genealogical Publishing Company. This system relies on binders and works on a premise that all the pages be the same size. They are organized by surname, then by locality. Each entry is given the next consecutive number in the binder.

Another program has been developed by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack and is outlined in her Organizing Your Family History Search. This book was published in 1999 by Betterway Books, a division of F&W Publishing. This system works with file folders. The pages included in each folder are divided up by surname and record type. So you may have a folder for Smith - Probate Records and another one for Smith - Birth Records. In each folder you would have an index page that allows you to quickly locate the exact document previously placed in the folder. Also see articles at, such as Another Sort of A to Z: Your Genealogy Filing System.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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