A long time ago, before the Internet and the World Wide Web, i.e., the www world arrived, computers did not talk to computers. Indeed, computers did not talk to the world. Yes, you could store and interchange information, but that was using things called ‘floppy disks’, or dread …, floppy punched cards.
And there was no standard way to interchange your family tree study information. Back then, last century, a family researcher would print off a simple row-and-column list of people in the tree, using a clunky dot-matrix printing device. I am dating myself with these memory recalls.
At that era, you would fill in the family tree information into plain text files or simple spreadsheets by laboriously doing manual typing of the information. The tools were primitive for associating sources, references and supporting documents. Forget about images; that was just not available. You might call this the “Dark Age” of genealogy.
As personal computers started to proliferate in the 1980’s and 1990’s, smart people wrote smart programs to help us folk do better organizing of our research, including the building of family trees. Databases back then were basic, that is, written in Microsoft BASIC, or something called dBase II. Any of you remember Aston-Tate and dBase II, and having only two data tables opened at the same time?
But the various computer programs could not share the information on the same computer. Or you might be using the same family tree software but on different computers.
The LDS people, properly known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stepped in with a way to make this happen. They came up with Personal Ancestral File, PAF for short. PAF was a genealogy management software tool provided at no charge by the church, first released in 1984 and now retired as of 2013. PAF was a pioneer in having a file output that contained all of the key information on the stored individuals and families. This file allowed other software applications to interchange information with other systems and to make it easy to archive one’s family data.
Along with the first release of PAF was the release of GEDCOM in 1984. GEDCOM stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication. GEDCOM is NOT software; GEDCOM rather is a standard. GEDCOM defines a flat file format, which means a plain, text-only file. You can pick out a GEDCOM file because it has an extension of “.ged” or “.GED”. You can open a GEDCOM file with any text editor. In the next article, we will get friendly with the contents.
Why do we care about GEDCOM files? This will be the preferred way to get information going from your home computer family tree application into your shiny, new, but empty, TNG website.