A grass roots initiative to improve data exchange among genealogists

Tuesday Nov 9, 2010. Alexandria, VA. A group of genealogists and programmers have established a workspace called Build A BetterGEDCOM for developing better data exchange standards to facilitate sharing between researchers using a variety of technology platforms, genealogy products and services.

"Genealogy software users are painfully aware that sharing data with other researchers is difficult since the existing GEDCOM (GENealogy Data COMmunication) file transfer script hasn't been updated in 14 years. In the meantime genealogists have incorporated tools with expanded capabilities reflecting changing technology," says Russ Worthington, a genealogy software power user and popular genealogy lecturer.

In developing a wiki site for pulling together genealogy software programmers, website developers and end users, genealogy blogger DearMYRTLE explains "The focus is cooperation. We seek solutions that will enable regular researchers like me to share genealogy with cousins regardless of the genealogy program they've chosen to use. The current GEDCOM file exchange strips out much of my hard work, leaving only some of the data I've typed in and attached to each well-documented ancestor. We experience similar problems when uploading and downloading our genealogy data with popular genealogy websites. If all genealogy product developers agree to a BetterGEDCOM format, such problems will be overcome."

The BetterGEDCOM wiki site is open to all, and is located at

"BetterGEDCOM will be independent. This means no single entity who has an interest in our work will be the single driving force. Likewise, no work that anyone has done will be the defined starting place or the de facto basis of our work." says Greg Lamberson, the technician who developed initial pages at the BetterGEDCOM wiki. "We also seek to account for language and cultural differences as we develop data standards for recording family history information in text and multi-media formats. Input from BetterGEDCOM participants the world over is a vital component of this initiative."

"BetterGEDCOM will seek ISO recognition or recognition by other international standards bodies," continues Greg. "This has never been done in the genealogical community. This means we will have to be a community effort with participation by a substantial part of the genealogical technology community. Also, unlike previous efforts, having standards actually codified will provide developers a framework to resolve ambiguities, conflicts or other problems that may develop in using the standard as well as a way to correct or amend the standard as needed."

"Indeed everyone seems to be ready for something new," says Greg. "Every person I have talked to agrees that now is the time for action. The BetterGEDCOM project invites all to participate so that we may achieve meaningful results."

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Pat Richley-Erickson


DearMYRTLE 2010-11-10T05:45:40-08:00
Why we ask for change

From a non-techie point of view, here is a brief synopsis of challenges noted by other genealogy bloggers when importing or exporting GEDCOM files, and their feelings about needing an alternative data transfer mechanism so genealogists don't lose data they've entered.

Non-techies can and certainly should provide input at the BetterGEDCOM wiki. It is our combined buying power that can influence software programmers and website developers to spend the time making a uniform code for genealogy data transfer. I, for one, don't want to print out my genealogy data in the hopes that my new found cousin will take the time to type everything in again using his different genealogy management program.

This isn't going to happen over night. But it WILL happen if we ask for it. The guys and gals that do genealogy software development have provided great products in the past. We applaud their efforts to come into compliance with emerging source citation standards. Let's get them to develop an internationally accepted method for sharing that data with others -- as genealogists surely do.

Ancestry Insider 1 November 2010 “There was no small dissatisfaction among attendees regarding GEDCOM’s deficiencies. It has not been updated since way back when FamilySearch barely gave source citations any attention. It does not support the best of breed citations supported by FamilySearch’s competitors. Instead, it relies on a single text field, cremating citations that are forced through it. GEDCOM also does not support transfer of artifacts, images, and attached documents, all of which are misrouted to the great lost-luggage warehouse in the cloud.”

DearMYRTLE 1 Nov 2010
“How can average Joe researchers, like Ol' Myrt, here share info with a new-found cousin if GEDCOM files are stripping out our citations, notes, links to source documents, etc.?”

Dick Eastman 1 Nov 2010 “GEDCOM was invented as a file format in the 1980s and has had a few updates since then. However, there have been no major updates at all in more than ten years. An XML version of GEDCOM was proposed more than five years ago, but nothing has happened with the proposal since then. The XML proposal has never been implemented in any of today’s genealogy programs. Meanwhile, genealogy software has become much more advanced in recent years, and the existing GEDCOM standard no longer can accurately transfer all the data between dissimilar programs.”

James Tanner 1 Nov 2010 “[...] I will try to state the issue as I understand it, in terms that can be used for a further discussion. First, this is not just a FamilySearch problem. It is a data transfer program that grows more complicated each day as genealogy programs are updated and new programs introduced. It is important to remember that GEDCOM 1.0 was released in 1984, the year the Apple Macintosh Computer was introduced. The difference is that GEDCOM stopped in 1996 at version 5.5 Standard, while the Macintosh is currently at dual quad core status. It is well known (by those who care) that the GEDCOM standard allows for far more tags than were implemented in PAF Version 5.2 and that many software programs have implemented non-GEDCOM extensions. So, the world as it is, means that most genealogy software programs are even now, only barely compatible even using what ever parts of GEDCOM will work.”

Greg Lamberson 1 Nov 2010 “The only way to solve this problem is for the user community to step up and exhibit some leadership in the area of genealogical technology. We have to band together and get these software companies to work together, because they’re not going to do it themselves.”

James Tanner 02 Nov 2010 “OK, to be fair, PAF [Personal Ancestral File] is still a viable program, but unfortunately, most of the people using the program do not realize its limitations. As a result, we still have tens of thousands of the program's users who are failing to properly attribute sources to their information and are otherwise not documenting their research in a way that can be ported successfully to other programs. It is not that PAF cannot add sources, it is that the source citation programming is itself very limited. I do not want to get into a critique of PAF, but my main objection is its limitations on sourcing. PAF and current version of GEDCOM are sort of like an old car, it was new and modern at the time, but in comparison with the latest models is now really old and clunky.”

Tamura Jones “This is an overview of GEDCOM alternatives. It is not an overview of conversion products or utilities. This overview does not include GEDCOM to DAML conversion for the same reason that it does not include every GEDCOM to HTML conversion utility. It does not include projects that merely demonstrate that genealogical data can be modelled in a particular language. It does not include any geocoding standards or mark-up languages for addresses. This overview is focussed on genealogical standards that could replace GEDCOM. It does not include GEDCOM extensions such as GEDCOM 5.5 EL. It does include organisations that intend or intended to produce a standard, but have not done so yet.”

Thomas MacEntee 9 Nov 2010

"Editor's Note: we just received the following press release from DearMYRTLE and are we ever psyched! While the GEDCOM standard has been around for some time, it is in dire need of updating. Also, how can you not love a tech initiative within the genealogy community that has its own wiki! w00t!"

Randy Seaver 09 Nov 2010

"I sincerely hope that this happens. If you, or someone you know, has an interest in this project and skills that can help the group, please volunteer and sign up at the Build a Better GEDCOM website. It's free. Greg Lamberson has put together a Wiki in order to coordinate the effort."

James Tanner 10 Nov 2010
"I laud the goals and the effort. Especially their note that GEDCOM, as conceived, was a portable storage file format. This aspect of GEDCOM, i.e., that it was conceived as a standardized way to archive as well as transport/transfer data, is an important feature worth retaining."

Happy family tree climbing!

Myrt :)


Your friend in genealogy.