At Greg's request, a little bit about the UK and family history in case it helps to inform the design of BetterGEDCOM. Warning - this is Adrian Bruce's personal view of things.

Firstly, we tend not to have "genealogy" but "family history". Flippantly this is partly because "family history" is easier to spell. Seriously, for most of us, if there is a real difference, genealogists were once concerned with the passage of land, titles and coats of arms. "Family history" began with the idea that the study could apply to everybody, not just aristocracy or landed gentry, but also that it was worth covering all aspects of what affected family lives - their working conditions, the social lives they lead, etc. I'm sure most genealogists consider exactly those aspects today, but it does perhaps explain why I'm keen to facilitate recording of organisations, businesses and places within BetterGEDCOM.

While possibly our foremost family history society is the Society of Genealogists, based in London, neither this nor any other group in the UK, has anything like the same emphasis on "professional standards" as I think I see (as an outsider) in the US. Yes, we have plenty of family history societies - a reasonably thriving scene across the country, albeit one faced with "But you can do it off the internet can't you?" Typical meetings cover things like "Dundee during the 1745 Jacobite rising" (one example from my own FHS), rather than the processes of FH, while certification is generally a non-starter.

We have nothing like (say) the DAR - our equivalent might have been people who came over in the Norman Conquest (1066) but unless you can trace your ancestry to royalty (not that unusual, actually), no-one gets that far back.

In terms of our typical sources of data in England (let's leave aside Ireland, which I've had almost no dealing with, and Scotland, which is slightly different because it has a different legal system) we have:

The point of this is that we have a fairly limited number of key document types, all available in "obvious" places that (note) are geared up for researchers, and the name of one of those sources will pretty much enable the reader to find where it is - e.g. "Baptismal record: Bateman, Mary, 1791, Haslington", with a Repository of Chester Record Office, (to take one of my sources) will pretty much define all one needs to know to locate that record again (plus or minus a few frames of film). (In any case, me giving the order number for the microfilm at Chester won't help you if you go to Manchester Central Library for it).

As a result, we generally have nothing like the same emphasis that some American genealogists have on citations and the format of footnotes. I'm even sorry to say that some of us haven't heard of Elizabeth Shown Mills. On the other hand, while formats of footnotes tend to be very much dependent on the author, articles for "serious" journals can spend some time on the analysis of how someone knows that (say) John Bruce, merchant of Dundee in the 1840s, is the same John Bruce who married Elizabeth Low, and the same one who married Janet Constable (yes, that's my 3G grandfather). I think this is why asking whether Chicago Style Manual requires an italicised title leaves me cold, while preserving a trail of evidence, and the explanatory logic, is much more to my taste. But I have to confess that the only major write-up I've done so far was for my parents' respective 80th birthdays and knowing their reading abilities, I didn't dare add footnotes! (See

Swapping and publishing data - this tends to be done on a very ad hoc basis. I only rarely swap a GEDCOM file, partly because I know that the chance of the recipient being able to totally read my file (produced in Family Historian by Calico Pie) is about zero. More usually, people will run off a report in some format, with footnotes in whatever format the software and user allow and decide. Another alternative is loading data to a web-site. This might be static HTML pages created from a GEDCOM file, again to a format decided by software, or dynamic data from a GEDCOM loaded into something like TNG or (a major player in UK) GenesReunited. TNG has, I believe, excellent abilities to read GEDCOM (even coping with Family Historian's user defined Person attributes) but GenesReunited has quite a limited GEDCOM vocabulary - e.g. if I recall correctly I have to hack all my complex dates to be "ABT". As a result, I think the comments from most UK family historians about GEDCOM would not be about the standard itself but the dismal way in which most applications support it, based on the most elementary reading of the Standard.

Places - the classic format of placename is "town, county, country", or occasionally, "suburb, town, county, country". (For "town", read "city" as apprpraite). There are exceptions - most of us will just refer to "London, England" as London spread across two counties but it makes no sense to distinguish "London, Middlesex, England" from "London, Surrey, England". The "elephant in the room" relating to this practice is that in 1974, the UK carried out a massive reorganisation of its counties, eliminating some, creating others, and generally shifting the boundaries of all. Practice in UK family history is to refer to the pre-1974 counties for consistency - thus Manchester generally remains in Lancashire, even for post-1974 events, allowing the selection of all events in "Manchester, Lancashire, England", rather than needing to combine that lot with "Manchester, Greater Manchester, England". I refer to this as an "elephant in the room" (something that's there but we all studiously pretend not to see) because sooner or later the next generation of family historians is going to start looking at "Manchester, Lancashire, England" as the odd name. In fact, in the UK, there are 3 basic sorts of county - (1) the historic area, based on pre-1974 boundaries, (2) the administrative (and most administrative counties have been replaced by smaller unitary authorities) and (3) the ceremonial, used for Her Majesty's Lords Lieutenant, altered to match the 1974 counties but then frozen. So, at the very least, a future ability to equate "Manchester, Lancashire, England" with "Manchester, Greater Manchester, England" has its attractions.


greglamberson 2010-12-03T15:40:45-08:00
WOW - Thanks!

I want to thank you for this writeup. You've given an incredibly valuable survey of information about your experiences in UK Family History encompassing genealogy vs. family history, genealogy standards, general experiences, records, software, examples of troublesome situations, experiences with GEDCOM, and I'm sure some things I've forgotten.

We should encourage lots of people to do write-ups of this sort. I'm going to figure out how to incorporate a place for such pages right now.