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How GEDCOM might be changing


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. GEDCOM is not really what people expect it to be - the COM part, meaning Communication, doesn't work as a standard protocol.

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.

I'm not surprised that the endeavour to make a better Gedcom seems to have faltered (writing this in July 2016). When it set out in 2010 as BetterGEDCOM it obviously had a good idea: a realisation that GEDCOM is limited and no longer moving forward and desire to make something better. A small group of interested people took on the challenge. The initial aim seemed to be to appoint grandly-titled individuals to determine the way forward - to establish credibility against the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) which had developed the GEDCOM standard in the first place.


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. As of June 2016 they don't seem to have shown much progress (at least this clip from fhiso.org website doesn't show much progress). They're still struggling with their own identity - which is pity.

Take a look at their website. Decide for yourself. Can YOU help!?

I may be wrong of course - it's just the way I see it after some cursory Googling in July 2016 and having been more interested 4 or 5 years ago when I thought common sense might prevail.

GEDCOM alternative

So what can I offer as an alternative to GEDCOM? Well, family connections are simple - a child has one mother and one father (in most cases, and other cases are best not determined by religious dogma). There may or may not be marriages; there might be other relationships. 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. Settle on a core data structure and allow links to other information from the metadata. Don't be too 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; not really about family but more about parents and descendants and the links to other people and information. My offer is not a BetterGEDCOM - that would suggest that GEDCOM could be improved - but a completely 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 really 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. XY Family Tree 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. XY Family Tree can tell you what you have and where you can find it.

XY Family Tree 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 CSV tables that link together and contain hyperlinks to all your other files. All the CSV tables and all the linked files can be zipped by XYXchange and exchanged with anyone else. You can read the tables in Excel.

It really is easy. If you want to enquire about the source code for XY Family Tree please contact me.

You can get your free copy from the download page.