XY Family Tree
easy family history

How GEDCOM might be changing


GEDCOM was developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Back in the early days of GEDCOM data was simple and the church was... well, the church had some fixed ideas. GEDCOM is based on an ideology that families have a nucleus, rather than the reality that children are born of two parents, whether or not they are married and are a family. I had an enquiry from someone whose son had been incarcerated and was told by the church that he must now be recorded as the birth-parent of his grandchildren. This sort of stuff makes nonsense of honesty and obviously denies future generations knowing the truth about their ancestry.

As GEDCOM hasn't advanced since the last century many family history programs have added their own tweaks that effectively mean that the whole idea of exchange of data with other programs is invalid. Not only does GEDCOM not work very well within itself, neither does it fulfil the concept of data being being shareable. You can read Tamura Jones' article on this.

A small group of interested people took on the challenge to make something better. They set out in 2010 as BetterGEDCOM. The initial aim seemed to be to appoint a board of experienced individuals to determine the way forward - to establish a credible alternative to GEDCOM.


In 2012 they decided that a snappier title, FHISO, Family History Information Standards Organisation, would be better. This was set up in the style of a multi-national corporation with a Board and Executive Committee. In September 2017 FHISO emerged with new ideas for the way forward. Wow! they seem awfully technical. Take a look at their website. Decide for yourself. Can YOU help!? Let them know. Personally, I think they need to start from scratch and not worry about a transition from GEDCOM or through GEDCOM X. The credibility of FHISO will come from the content of its proposals and whether these will be understood by the majority of genealogists, and, more particularly, whether new software programs will be written to embrace them.

GEDCOM alternative

True parental connections are simple - a child has one mother and one father. There may or may not be marriages; there might be other relationships. Children might be by-blows or illegitimate where one or other parent is not known. Children might arrive in same-sex marriages as a result of a female giving birth or an adoption. XYFT accommodates all possibilities.

The basic data is simple. The augmenting data is far too complex to be formalised and information storage is changing at a pace that will outstrip any decisions made today. XYFT has a core data structure that allows links to other information from the metadata. XYFT is not prescriptive about file formats (Microsoft changes things without asking and conversion is usually easy). It's the family tree structure and links to sources that are important; about parents and descendants and the links to other people and information. XYFT uses a simple and honest way of holding family research data in a way that reflects how your family history happened in the past, how it is in the present and how it will be in the future.

Most people in the world do not keep records in the same way as the GEDCOM model expects: no religious occasion dates (Christening, Baptism, Blessing etc); no Marriage Banns; no Social Security Number; in fact not much at all that fits the GEDCOM model. Most of the GEDCOM tags are irrelevant to most genealogists. The things that are most important are who are the mother and father and what is the story. Also important are dates, at least for the purpose of separating generations and chronology of events; but dates are often not known, often vague, often cover a range and often wrong. This a challenge for any system. XYFT gives you two ways of storing dates, one as date text and one as a sorting order. Other things that are equally important are the physical records, things like artifacts that cannot be kept on a computer and need to be stored in the real world. XYFT can tell you what you have and where you can find it.

XYFT offers you that simple data structure and XYXchange can share that data with others. I'm not saying it's perfect but at least it's rational, complies with the normalisation rules for databases and is a good starting place for something better than GEDCOM. It's not something fancy, it's simple tables that link together and contain hyperlinks to all your other files. All the data and all the linked files can be zipped by XYXchange into a standard zip file and exchanged with anyone else or copied elsewhere for safety.

In XYFT, for any given person C, you record that the parents are A and B, some facts about C (all linked to supporting evidence and any incidental information about those facts), that C was married to D and to E (with links to supporting evidence, etc), and that C was connected somehow to F (again with links to supporting evidence). Of course it's not always as simple as that: A or B might be unknown or uncertain, but that doesn't matter because you can add caveats to your information so that future genealogists are aware. There is no need to add that C had children P, Q and R because each of those are their own versions of C with parents and spouses etc. Unless something changes in future, where the official truth is no longer the actual truth, data kept in XYFT is future-proof.

It really is easy. If you want to enquire about the source code for XYFT please ask.