Friday, November 25, 2011

The Strange "Y" in a Death Description Field in a RootsMagic 4 GEDCOM File

One of the "strange" things that came up while Russ Worthington and I were comparing the results in our study of my William Knapp database (see File Sharing and Brick Walls - Russ Examines My Database) was that many Death Fields in Family Tree Maker 2012 were showing up with just a "Y" in them.  We went exploring to determine why that happened, and how to fix it.

It can best be explained by reviewing this series of actions:

1)  On RootsMagic 4, here are the Person screens for Joseph C. Knapp (1805-????) and his wife Elizabeth --?-- (????-????). I don't have a death date for either one of them, but they will serve to illustrate the problem:

As you can see, there is no Death Fact for either one of them.

2)  When I create a GEDCOM file in RootsMagic 4 that includes these two people, and then import that file into Family Tree Maker 2012, the "People" workspace screen looks like this with the two persons highlighted:

In the screen above, note that over in the right-hand panel, the Death date and Place are empty fields, but the field below Place has a "Y" in it.

Check Elizabeth's screen:

In the screen above, there is no entry for her Death Date, Place or Description.  There is no "Y" in the Description field.

3)  If I double-click on Joseph c. Knapp, I see his Person screen:

It has the "Y" in the Death Description field.

4)  Why did this "Y" show up in the Death Description field?  We checked the GEDCOM file, created by RootsMagic 4, for the lines for Joseph C. Knapp:

0 @I18273@ INDI
1 NAME Joseph C. /Knapp/
2 GIVN Joseph C.
2 SURN Knapp
1 _UID 60EFFEB72789456FA1C17F0503504BB4A028
2 DATE 25 JAN 2011
2 DATE ABT 1805
2 PLAC probably Woodbridge, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States
1 REFN 2645
1 FAMS @F3256@
1 FAMC @F9091@

And the GEDCOM lines for Elizabeth --?--:

0 @I5189@ INDI
1 NAME  /Elizabeth/
2 SURN Elizabeth
1 _UID CD6E65E658B24E4CB589A5C234CF507D9F5D
2 DATE 25 JAN 2011
1 REFN 14668
1 FAMS @F3256@

In the GEDCOM lines, for Joseph C. Knapp, you can clearly see that for the Death Fact (DEAT tag) that there is a "Y" in the line "1 DEAT Y".

For Elizabeth --?--, there is no DEATh tag and therefore no "Y" in that tag.

Consequently, when this GEDCOM file is imported to Family Tree Maker 2012, Joseph gets a Y in his Death Description field, and Elizabeth does not.  Strange (to me, at least).

The only thing that I can think of is this:  If there is a Birth Fact for a person in RootsMagic 4 with a Date, but no Death Date, then the "Y" is put in the Death Description field.  If there is no Birth Fact nor Death Fact for a person, then no "Y" is put in the Death Description field.  There must be an algorithm inside of the RootsMagic program that makes a judgement if a Person is dead or not (but it requires a Birth Date to calculate from) and adds the "Y" to the DEATh tag in a GEDCOM file.  Without a Birth Date, the program cannot make a judgement, and does not create a DEATh tag.  I checked many persons in my database and saw that this was the case. 

5)  I also experimented a bit by adding a Death Fact to some persons in my database.  Here is the RootsMagic 4 screen for Joseph C. Knapp with a Death Fact entered but no data in any of the fields:

The resulting lines in a new GEDCOM file for Joseph C. Knapp are:

0 @I18273@ INDI
1 NAME Joseph C. /Knapp/
2 GIVN Joseph C.
2 SURN Knapp
1 _UID 60EFFEB72789456FA1C17F0503504BB4A028
2 DATE 25 NOV 2011
2 DATE ABT 1805
2 PLAC probably Woodbridge, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States
1 REFN 2645
1 FAMC @F9091@

There is a DEATh fact, but the line is empty.

The FTM 2012 screen for Joseph c. Knapp from this new GEDCOM file is:

As you can see, it has no Death Fact at all.

In the RootsMagic 4 Person screen, there is a "Living" check box in the right-hand panel.  If I check that for Joseph C. Knapp, and create a GEDCOM file, then no DEATh tag (either with a "Y" or empty) gets placed in a GEDCOM file.  However, that makes no sense, since he would be 206 years old now.  It's not logical that I should have to put a check in a "Living" box for a person born in 1805 in order to make the "Y" go away.

Some questions I have about this "Y" phenomenon:

*  Is this a flaw in RootsMagic 4?

*  Am I correct about the algorithm that places a "Y" in a DEATh Fact in a GEDCOM file when there is a birth date provided and the person must be deceased? 

*  Why do I have to use the "Living" check box, or add an "empty" Death Fact, to make the "Y" disappear?

*  Do other software programs create a GEDCOM file with a "Y" in them for some persons without a Death Fact?

*  Does the "Y" Death Description entry get transferred to an Ancestry Member Tree?

It's amazing what you can find when you look in a GEDCOM file!!


Kay Haden said...

I think "Y" stands for Yes they are dead. That's why when a person is marked as Living it does not appear.

Kathleen Moore said...

I've had the Y come up before I ever had Roots Magic installed on my computer! It happened when I had privatized living people for an export I think. Then I had to create a file from a backup and that was in the description of the death field. It's actually still in there because I haven't been through to delete them all yet in my original database.

RootsMagic said...

No, this is not a flaw in RootsMagic (but apparently *is* one in FTM).

This is from the GEDCOM spec...

"All GEDCOM lines have either a value or a pointer unless the line contains subordinate GEDCOM lines. In other words the presence of a level number and a tag alone should not be used to assert data (i.e. 1 DEAT Y should be used to imply a death known to have happened but
date and place are unknown, not 1 DEAT )."

So if you know there was a death but have no date or place (which you would in RootsMagic if the Living flag was unchecked but there was no death fact entered), then GEDCOM says to use:


Cousin Russ said...

RootsMagic a question.

Bruce, which GEDCOM Spec is that in? Just curious.

Randy: I just ran a Custom Report in FTM2012. What I was able to confirm is that IF there is a Birth Date and No Death Date, a "Y" will appear in the Description Field. If there is a Death Date, there will be no "Y".

There are 86 people in the file, and looking for people with a "Y", there are 49 people. When I look at the Report that Includes Death information, the is no "Y".

I think we have a better understanding of where the "Y" came from. For me, this isn't a finger pointing contest, but to understand the data.

Thanks to Roots Magic for your input.


Louis Kessler said...

Russ: You'll find that in GEDCOM 5.5.1 on page 21, used as an example that all lines must have a value or a pointer (so you can't just say: 1 DEAT without the Y).

The key thing is that the program should NOT change or set the value of DEAT for you. This should be set deliberately by the user because they know the person has died, but does not know the date or place. The program should never use any algorithm to impute it. The person must be the one to set it.

All the program may do (not required) is to not include the 1 DEAT Y if there is any other death information entered, e.g. date or place.

Louis Kessler said...

... and RootsMagic does it backwards. They should not use a Living flag. They should use a Death flag.

Once a person is dead, they stay dead. That's why GEDCOM did it that way.

Sue Adams said...

This is an example of the inadequate data model GEDCOM uses. There are four different pieces of information here:
death date
death place
inputed death

Each of these should be stored and handled separately, and have an associated source.

Gedcom handles death data and place by expecting two bits of data for each DEAT tag. It does not allow separate sources for data and place, so you can't cite a grave marker for the date and a burial record for the place.

It is sometimes useful to inpute whether someone is dead based on data stored in the database at a particular time (e.g. to produce a calender with birthdays and anniversaries of living people, to check data validity). However, this has problems associated with it. If a birth date is changed, the inputed death value must be updated. How this is handled depends on whether the value is stored or calculated 'on the fly'. The user should have a choice whether or not to use this flag. It should have a 'source' that tells us when it was calculated and from what data and the criteria used (e.g. born over 120 years ago).

The living tag serves a different purpose. I suspect the RootsMagic introduced it because users wanted to be able to exclude particular people (usually living) from charts and reports intended for distribution. It is really a on/off switch for displaying data.

So, Rootsmagic, or for that matter any other program vendor could improve thier product and better serve genealogists as follows:
1. ensure that these four data items are stored separately within Rootsmagic
2. ensure that these data items are exported correctly and comply exactly with the Gedcom standard, since we do not yet have a viable alternative
3. ensure that all the functions of Rootsmagic continue to work properly
4. repeat 1-3 for each and every piece of data Rootsmagic currently stores
5. repeat 1-3 for any other data items that customers want and add fuctionality
6. develop a data model that works properly

In short: Please don't feed the Gedcom zombie

RootsMagic said...


RootsMagic has a Living flag for each person that is checked by default. When the person dies the user can uncheck the box, or when the user adds a death type fact (death, burial, cremation, etc), RM will uncheck the box for them.

So RM is *not* doing it backwards.

- Bruce

Sue Adams said...


Do I detect some grumpiness?

I do not think Louis deserves to have his constructive contribution dismissed in such an off-hand manner.

The "Living" flag is checked by default?! That makes no sense to me as in reality the vast majority of people in genealogy databases are dead.

Given that the "living" flag is really a means of the user choosing to whether or not to include individuals in GEDCOM files, reports, calendars or website, for privacy reasons it is mis-named. It is a different kind of information than the flag GEDCOM stores in the DEAT tag, so the two should not be confused.