Transforming your GEDCOM Files into Web Pages


This article first appeared in the February 1997 issue of the Journal of Online Genealogy


Many in the online genealogy community are taking the GEDCOM output of their favorite genealogy software programs and converting it into HTML pages for display on the World Wide Web. This article reviews the use of the GED2HTML software program for converting GEDCOMs to HTML web pages.


By Mark Howells

Please note that this article was originally written in February, 1997. Due to it's advanced age in "web years", some links mentioned may no longer be functional and some sites may have had their design and/or contents changed since the article was originally written.


Your Electronic Billboard

One of the best ways to use the World Wide Web for genealogy is to put up your personal research information on a web site. By creating an "electronic billboard" for other online genealogists so see, you increase your opportunities for others who are researching your same lines to contact you. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, a web site displaying your research is available on the Internet for other genealogists to view, study, and hopefully recognize some common surnames.

Since putting your research on a web site is a basic strategy in online genealogy, a wealth of tools have been developed to help you accomplish the task. The vast majority of genealogists use computer software programs to store & organize their research and most of the programs we use will create output in one of the versions of the GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) standard format. The GEDCOM standard allows one brand of genealogy software, say Reunion, to successfully share information with another brand of genealogy software, say Family Tree Maker. GEDCOM files are commonly traded amongst genealogists as both e-mail attachments or on floppy disk.

The development of software which transforms these pre-existing GEDCOM files into HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) for display on the World Wide Web was a natural next step. Web pages are documents coded in HTML which a web browser interprets and displays according to the HTML code's instructions. Once converted to HTML, the genealogical research represented by your GEDCOM can be uploaded to a web server for the entire online genealogy community to admire.

This article will examine the features of the GED2HTML program which was used by the author to convert his GEDCOM files to HTML pages. In addition, the GEDClean utility program which assists in the conversion process will be discussed. The URLs to other GEDCOM to HTML conversion programs are also listed at the end of this article.

Gene Stark's GED2HTML

Perhaps the most popular software for converting GEDCOM files to HTML pages is Gene Stark's GED2HTML: A GEDCOM to HTML Translator (http://www.gendex.com/ged2html/). Gene released Version 3.0 in early February of this year and it includes versions for Windows 95, Windows 3.1, and UNIX operating systems. A version for the Macintosh, called Sparrowhawk, is also available (http://www.tjp.washington.edu/bdm/genealogy/sparrowhawk.html). Sparrowhawk is based on the previous Version 2.5 of GED2HTML.

GED2HTML is a shareware program. Unregistered demonstration copies can be downloaded from the GED2HTML web site. The demonstration version is limited in its functionality in several ways including not working on GEDCOM files containing more than 5,000 individuals. The demonstration copy will also place an UNREGISTERED message at the bottom of every HTML page it creates. The demonstration version is available for evaluation period of fourteen days.

If you wish to purchase the full version of GED2HTML, the price is a very reasonable US$20 with several payment methods available. Registered owners receive via e-mail the appropriate codes to directly download the full version directly from the GED2HTML web site. Shareware distribution of software works on the honor system. Then next time you view an online genealogist's GEDCOM on a web site and see that they are using an UNREGISTERED version of GED2HTML, send them to the GED2HTML Registration page (http://www.gendex.com/ged2html/3.0/registering.html) and tell them to do the right thing by paying for the software they use.

The GED2HTML web site contains all the instructions & help you might need to download, register, and install the software. In addition, the web site provides complete online instructions and help for the use of the software. A careful reading of the various instruction pages is essential for successfully using this software. Version 3.0 has many new features and options including support for the GEDCOM standard version 5.5, non-English character sets, and many new customization options. I found that reading through the entire web site made for a smooth conversion process when I went to use GED2HTML.

Step One - Create your GEDCOM

Once you've registered and installed the full version of GED2HTML, you may begin the process of converting your GEDCOM file. The first necessary step is to export a GEDCOM formatted file from the genealogy software program that you use. The GED2HTML software is not used is this part of the process as the GEDCOM being created is used in a latter step as input to GED2HTML. You should study your genealogy software's instructions carefully to determine the best method for creating a GEDCOM file. All genealogy software programs differ on how they create a GEDCOM so read your manual or help files for the proper method.

Personally, I found the creation of my GEDCOM file to be the most troublesome part of the conversion process. I blame this on my genealogy software's poor instructions and non-intuitive options. I eventually determined that while Gene Stark's GED2HTML was advanced enough to support GEDCOM standard release 5.5, my commercial genealogy software program only supported up to GEDCOM draft release 5.0. This meant that I was not able to benefit from the additional features of the latest GEDCOM standard due to my choice of genealogy software. Hopefully the commercial software I use will catch up with the more advanced GED2HTML in the near future.

Step Two - Purge the Living

With a GEDCOM file in hand, it is time to consider whether you really want to share EVERYTHING in your family history research with all of us on the Internet.

Putting your living relatives' personal information on a web page is a bad idea. Scam artists and others might use these personal details to commit fraud either against your living relatives or use their details to impersonate them. Often banks and other institutions use mothers' maiden names to identify their customers. For these reasons, putting online the personal details of anyone who is still alive, including their mother's maiden name, is simply not safe.

One of the pages on the GED2HTML web site suggests that you may not wish to include details of living individuals in your GED2HTML output. The instructions say that you can either manually edit your GEDCOM file to remove these individuals or their details or you can use your own genealogy software program to flag these folks as living. My genealogy software program did not provide me with such a flag feature so I had to investigate alternatives.

The freeware program GEDClean offers a partial solution to this problem. Available at the GEDClean Home Page (http://www.raynorshyn.com/gedclean/), this simple to use software will remove personal details of living individuals and replace the details with a note stating "Living Individual - Details withheld". GEDClean allows you to easily build a list of living individuals. First it considers an individual to be deceased if there is any sort of data in their DEAT (death) field in the GEDCOM file. Secondly, GEDClean will assume anyone born over 100 years ago is no longer living but you can alter this number of years to suit your own preferences. You can either create a file of known living individuals manually, use your GEDCOM's existing !ALIVE notes, or let GEDClean step you through who may still be living. Any suspected living individual is displayed by GEDClean for you to indicate your wish to include or exclude their details from your GEDCOM file.

GEDClean is a step in the right direction for personal privacy. However, such privacy protection is at best a minimum effort for the considerate online genealogist. GEDClean does nothing to address the problem of exposing living relatives' mothers' maiden names on the World Wide Web. In order to reduce this exposure, I believe that manually editing either your GEDCOM file or the output of GED2HTML to COMPLETELY REMOVE any living relatives is essential. Where these individuals have been eliminated, simply replace their names with generic titles such as mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, etc. A mother's maiden name can be displayed so long as the identities of the mother's living children are not revealed.

Step Three - Running GED2HTML

GED2HTML is quite simple to run. To get your GEDCOM in a standard form of output from GED2HTML, all that is required is that you specify the GEDCOM file's name and press the OK button. If you want to modify the standard output, there are a multitude of options which effect how its output is generated.

Options include using a template file to control output, specifying the output destination directory, and appending your home page URL & e-mail address to every page created. This last option is essential in my opinion. The whole point of using this software is to help others with similar research interests make contact with you. Make it as simple for your web site visitor to contact you as possible - put your e-mail address at the bottom of each page. Additional output options can control the number of individuals, notes, or links placed on a page, the number of sub-directories generated, how many generations to include on the pedigree charts, and much more.

If you choose the standard output options, you will get two basic types of output pages - individual pages & index pages. Both types of pages will be completely formatted for display on the World Wide Web. An example of GED2HTML's standard output may be found beginning with an Index of Persons. These pages were created using a small GEDCOM file of only 15 individuals representing only the direct ancestors of one of my great grandfathers (note that by working backward in time from my great grandfather, I have avoided the problem of placing living individuals' personal details on the Internet). An individual page, such as that for John ARIS, lists the individual ancestor's name, links to their parents, spouses, & children, a pedigree chart for that ancestor and a link to notes on that individual. Notice how GED2HTML automatically links family members together using hypertext links. Basically, the software is doing all the web site organization and co-ordination of links for you automatically.

Index pages provide organized links to the individual pages. Standard output includes surnames, persons, and notes pages. The surnames page contains a listing of all your individual surnames with links to their appearance on the index of persons files. The persons page contains an alphabetical index of all individuals listed by surname with links to their individual pages. The notes page contains all notes for your entire GEDCOM file. Each note is numbered and the individual pages are linked to these numbered notes.

Step Four - Editing the GED2HTML Output

The above section showed what was possible using standard output from GED2HTML. While usable, the standard output begs to be edited into a more visitor-friendly form.

I took the same small GEDCOM file and selected some different options for its conversion by GED2HTML. The GED2HTML web site has excellent instructions on how to customize the output from GED2HTML. You may have noticed on the standard output pages that GED2HTML will combine multiple individuals on a single individual page. I reset this option to allow only a single individual on each individual page. In addition, I changed the pedigree depth option to show 5 generations instead of the default two. This allowed me to display the entire direct ancestor line from my great grandfather to my 5th great grandparents as shown on the individual page for Albert Ernest ARIS.

I then took the resulting output from GED2HTML and manually edited the HTML pages. It's easy to edit HTML pages using a word processor so long as you save the resulting documents in text-only or ASCII format. Think of the GED2HTML output as clay which you can then sculpt into any form you desire. You're really only limited by your own imagination.

I added more meaningful titles to the pages, especially for the surnames and persons pages. I added line breaks and extra spacing to make pages more readable. Each page was given the same background and default font colors to match my pre-existing web pages. Text was added to better describe links back to the surnames page, my main page, and my e-mail address. Remember that anything you do to help visitors contact you more easily is essential. I removed the pedigree charts on some individual pages where only two generations were shown. As a matter of personal preference, I moved each individuals' notes off of the single notes page and on to their individual page. I wanted to see all the information on a single individual on a single page.

The manual edits I made certainly change the look & feel of my GED2HTML-generated web pages. I think that the changes also improve their usability. Only a handful of modifications were made - there are many more ways to improve web pages. For more ideas on how you can create and edit HTML pages for genealogy, visit Cyndi's Genealogy Home Page Construction Kit (http://www.CyndisList.com/construc.htm). It has a wealth of "how to" ideas and links to many different tools for web page construction and re-modeling.

Step Five - Uploading Your Pages

The final step in the process of converting your GEDCOM file to web pages is the uploading of the web pages to your Internet Service Provider's web server. Gene Stark has provided a strategy & troubleshooting page for uploading the output of GED2HTML to a web server (http://www.gendex.com/ged2html/3.0/uploading.html). His page covers the most common trouble points you will encounter in this final process of getting your GED2HTML output up on the Internet. I did have a spot of bother with the upload process and found that I had to rename all the files generated by GED2HTML from the .html extension to the .htm extension in order to get them to work with my FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program. I also found that I had the common problem with the links inside my web pages being in both upper and lower case. These links did not work since the correct file names for my web pages were all lower case on my server. After quickly correcting these hiccups with my word processor's Find/Replace feature, the pages displayed as expected.

Other GEDCOM to HTML Converters

While one of the most popular, GED2HTML is certainly not the only software which will convert GEDCOM files to HTML pages. Leslie Howard's GEDWWW GEDCOM converter (http://pw2.netcom.com/~lhoward/ged2www.html) is a similar freeware program for DOS and UNIX. GEDWWW allows for basic birth/marriage/death information to be displayed with an emphasis on keeping the file size of the resulting pages small to minimize disk space usage. Links to examples of GEDWWW being used to create online genealogists' web pages can be found on the GEDWWW web site.

Chris Cooper has developed JavaGED as a US$20 shareware Java applet (http://www.sc3.net/JavaGEDHome.html). JavaGED converts your GEDCOM file into a Java-enabled web page. Another Java-based program is webGED: Progenitor (http://www.access.digex.net/~giammot/webged/). webGED has an excellent search feature as shown on its demonstration page but it requires your web site visitors to have Java-enabled browsers. Fortunately, a non-Java surnames list can also be generated as well. This software which originally was distributed as freeware is expected to become shareware in early March.

Nicholas & Deborah Oughtibridge's uFTi is a GEDCOM to HTML converter for Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and Windows NT (http://www.ufti.demon.co.uk/homepage.htm). This program is available as freeware on the condition that you do not alter the output of the program. Since this is an extremely limiting condition, the program is also available as shareware with no such condition for US$20 or 10GBP. uFTi version 1.3 generates web pages which utilized frames. Remember however that not all of your visitors' browsers will be frames-compatible - see the article Frames: Friend or Foe? (http://www.oz.net/~markhow/writing/frames.htm). Examples of genealogy web sites generated by uFTi can be found at their users' page.

Of course, if you don't want to take on the challenge of converting your GEDCOM file to web pages on your own, there are services available which will do the conversion for you. Rayman & Thomas Meservy offer their PafWeb service for a fee (http://rmeservy.byu.edu/). This takes customers' PAF files plus other text and pictures and displays some impressive results as web pages. See the pedigree chart for Raymam Meservy as an example.


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Transforming your GEDCOM Files into Web Pages
Created & maintained by Mark Howells.
For re-publication information about this article, please send email to markhow@oz.net
Updated March 25, 1999
Copyright © 1997 - 1999 by Mark Howells