Friday, August 26, 2011

GEDCOM, Software, Online Trees and Syncing

DearMYRTLE has an interesting blog post about the BetterGEDCOM effort that some interested persons participated in (I bowed out after awhile) - see BetterGEDCOM Update.  She notes the history of GEDCOM development, the BetterGEDCOM history, and the trend toward synchronizing software.

My observations:

*  Synchronization (to me) means making two different files the same - for example, an Ancestry Member Tree and a Family Tree Maker software file with identical data.

Family Tree Maker 2012 has their new TreeSync feature in beta testing as we speak that should accomplish syncing between one Family Tree Maker file and one Ancestry Member Tree.  The sync can be either automatic or manual (from within FTM 2012), and works both ways - to and from Family Tree Maker. 

MyHeritage has a sync feature in place between one Family Tree Builder 5.1 software file and their MyHeritage online tree.  The sync works only from FTB to MyHeritage, not vice versa (I think).

* new FamilySearch Tree (nFST) syncs information, on a person-by-person and fact-by-fact basis, with several software programs, including RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, FamilyInsight and several others. The programs do not sync entire files to nFST, only specific persons and facts.  The sync can go both ways - to and from nFST. 

AncestorSync is working on a sync program between software programs (AncestralQuest, Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, Mac Family Tree, Personal Ancestral File, RootsMagic, The Master Genealogist, GEDCOM) and online family trees (new FamilySearch,, ourFamily*ology).  My understanding is that AncestorSync reads the native format of the first file and creates a file in the native format of the second file.  I've used a beta version of this to download a file to GEDCOM or RootsMagic with success.  The program is still in beta, and has not been updated recently (watch, they'll have a new one tonight!).

*  The sync features that I've seen so far work fairly well for names, dates, places and images, but leave something to be desired for sources.  I showed in The Seaver Source Citation Saga Compendium series that there are significant differences in how software programs and online trees handle source citations using GEDCOM.  My conclusion was that the only rational way to transfer source citations between programs and online trees was to use "free-form" source citations in one SOURce tag, because of the way all of them put sources into GEDCOM files.  Will AncestorSync (or a similar program) find all of the right information in one of the software program databases and put it in the right place in another program database or online tree?  I don't know.  I sincerely hope so.  I think it will be difficult to do.

*  Syncing is easiest done between isolated online trees (which are not interconnected with other submitter's contributions, so that I control my contributions to some extent) and my software program database.  That's what the FTM 2012/Ancestry sync and the Family Tree Builder/MyHeritage sync functions do.  The key is to have one software tree and one online tree.

*  Syncing with an online interconnected family tree (like new FamilySearch Tree, or WikiTree) seems like a more complicated problem.  My "tree" on those sites are limited - I have only hundreds or thousands of profiles, while my database has over 41,000 persons.  How can I sync my "fresh" data with those online trees?  The new FamilySearch Tree does it one person and one fact at a time from within my software program, and it tells me what has been synced and what has not been synced. 

These are all wonderful technology advances, but they are not yet optimum.  I have the feeling that we are in the infancy of family tree synchronization.  The solution that I want is:

*  I use RootsMagic software for my family tree database - and I do all of my adding and editing of family tree information in RootsMagic in order to avoid duplication of effort.  I create a GEDCOM file every month or so, and read that into Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Builder and Family Tree Maker so that I can use their functions and help my colleagues and readers.  In my ideal world, I want the other programs to update themselves (either manually or automatically) whenever I make a change in my "master" program.  However, every time I rename a FTM or FTB file, I cannot sync it to an existing online family tree.

*  I have family trees (complete or partial) on,, MyHeritage, WikiTree, WeRelate, Family Pursuit, GeneTree, GeneaNet, AppleTree, GenesReunited, FindMyPast, and others that I cannot recall off the top of my head.  In my ideal world, I want all of these sites to update themselves (either manually or automatically) whenever I make a change in my "master" program or file - a "master" could be an online tree or a software program. 

* I don't have time in my schedule to update all of my software databases and online trees manually to agree with my "master" family tree database, wherever it is. A solution is to have it automatically done from within the software or website. Genealogy software and online trees could have lists of file names of other software programs or other online trees the user wants to sync files with.

This may not be as important to many researchers as it is to me, because they may use only one software program and have one or two online trees.  That would be manageable for most persons using GEDCOM, FTM's TreeSync, or a program like AncestorSync.

Updated:  Tamura Jones commented that he described a similar system in AncestorSync Ultimate on his Modern Software Experience blog back on 30 May 2011. 


Louis Kessler said...


Sounds like what you really want is to do all your adding and editing of your familytree data in one program (in your case, RootsMagic).

Then in an ideal world, you'd like that one program to do all the functionality needed so that you do not have to load it into other programs. (In your case, you are helping others, but if one program did everything - remember this is an "ideal" world), then you'd simply recommend to others to use this ideal program.

Finally, the ideal program would have one button synching to the one ideal all-inclusive online database that (and this is important) keeps everybody's data separate - noone but the author can update the author's data!!! What this ideal online system has is another database of linkages, which allows people to "conclude" that a person in their tree is the same as a person in another tree. Then this online database will "virtually merge" the data for the same people together when displaying it for you (maybe showing your data in one color and other people's data in another).

Sadly, I don't see the industry going this way ... yet.

Celtic Tree said...

It's about time Ancestry is syncing up with Family Tree Maker! YEA! Although wouldn't it be great if it would sync with FTM 16? :-) Yes, I still use FTM 16 for my custom reports and graphs. I do use FTM 2011 as a back up to my Ancestry tree.

Thanks, Randy, for all this info!

Tamura Jones said...

What you want is AncestorSync Ultimate :-)

They have no plans to produce that yet, but if more genealogists tell them you they want it, who knows...