Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whither FHISO and GEDCOM X? Observations and Commentary

The unveiling of FHISO (Family History International Standards Organisation, at RootsTech 2012 in February was a highlight of the conference, as was the announcement of GEDCOM X by FamilySearch as a replacement for GEDCOM.  

I posted about these topics in:

*  Family History Information Standards Organization (FHISO) Formed

*  Day 4 in SLC - RootsTech Day 2 Afternoon/Evening

*  Glimpses of GEDCOM X

Other geneabloggers in attendance wrote about these topics also, for example:

*    The Ancestry Insider summarized Ryan Heaton: A New GEDCOM. 

*  RootsTech Learning #3 - GEDCOM X and/or BetterGEDCOM and/or FHISO by Bart Brenner on the Stardust 'n' Roots blog.

*  RootsTech Day 2 and Final Thoughts and Random Notes from RootsTech on Louis Kessler's Behold Blog.

Since RootsTech 2012, there were some announcements and blog posts about GEDCOM X and FHISO.

*  GEDCOM X 2012-06-05: Thanks for your feedbackSpecs, Diagrams, and Illustrations and The GEDCOM 5.5 to GEDCOM X Conversion Tool on the FamilySearch Github GEDCOM X blog.  There are many more posts on this page!

*  You can read the FHISO announcements at  I note that is the ONLY Founding Member to date.

*  Tamura Jones wrote GEDCOM X Origin and GEDCOM X Converter on his Modern Software Experiences blog.

*  Louis Kessler wrote Whither GEDCOM X on the Louis Kessler's Behold Blog. 

And now things are nice and quiet... too quiet to my liking.  Did everything stop for the summer?  Shouldn't there be more announcements, progress reports, blog posts, discussions, etc?  Perhaps they are happening behind closed doors.  I have no information beyond what I've read above.

I'm curious, because this subject will significantly affect every genealogist who wants to build a family tree, whether in genealogy software or in an online family tree, attach records and sources from historical record collections to their trees, or all of the above.

I know what I want as a genealogist, a family tree builder and user, and for the genealogy community at large.  My "wants" for GEDCOM X, or whatever it's eventually called, include:

*  I want standards for entering genealogy data into software programs or online trees.

*  I want those standards to be broadly adopted - meaning that every software provider, historical records provider and online family tree provider accepts the standards and utilizes them.

*  I want something like FHISO, as laid out on the web site, to develop and approve the new standard with openness, lack of dominance by any one entity, balance between interests, and consensus and agreement as the goal.

*  My main want is that I want it to work well, right out of the box, and I want it to be a significant improvement over the current GEDCOM.

*  I want genealogy software to be able to interact with online family trees and historical record collections, without the glitches and problems that currently plague many programs and sites.

*  I want source citation standards to incorporate modern models, such as the Evidence! Explained models.   I want source citations to be easily created and passed cleanly between historical record collections, online trees and genealogy software. 

*  I want an impartial group of users to test it and compare results with current programs and online trees.  I want those tests reported while they occur rather than a "stamp of approval" from an unknown group of testers.

*  I want it to be transparent so that I can figure out what it's doing...I really, really, really don't want a "black box" piece of software that I need customer support for. I really, really, really don't want a proprietary system from any entity that says "just trust us, and you all have to do it our way."

*  I want more information, not less, from all of the parties involved.

Yo, FamilySearch, FHISO, BetterGEDCOM, OpenGen, Tamura, Louis, Ancestry Insider, other interested parties -- what more do you know, what are you doing, and what can we do to move this project to fruition and completion???

I have some questions too:

*  Has FHISO progressed - has it obtained more members and sponsors?  Is it working with ALL of the genealogy software providers, online family tree sites and historical record collection providers?  Does it have end user (genealogists) input?  

*  Has FHISO created a broader framework to create genealogy and family history standards?  Does it have models in work?

*  Is FamilySearch participating in FHISO?  I recall at RootsTech they said that they supported it. Is the FHISO governance discussed at RootsTech being applied in GEDCOM X?

* Is the FamilySearch GEDCOM X going to be a "black box" or an "open source" feature?

*  Is there an open repository for GEDCOM X comment documents? Can I read the input from all of the participants, including FamilySearch, about GEDCOM X?

*  Will other historical record sites and online family trees adopt the FHISO standard, or  FamilySearch's GEDCOM X, or any other new GEDCOM standard as a standard? 

*  What will happen if no other entity, or only some entities, adopts a standard proposed or implemented by another entity?  If that occurs, will the software and website providers adopt all the standards of these entities if they release separate, and different, standards?

*  How long will it take software providers to adopt and implement any new GEDCOM standard?

*  Will the current GEDCOM standard be available forever?

I know that it's been only six months since RootsTech 2012, and just over a month since FamilySearch released the GEDCOM X papers noted above.

But...inquiring minds want to know!!  I look forward to a significant discussion about these issues on the blogs and at upcoming conferences.  

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Cousin Russ said...


All that you said is true. Your requirements are good for me.

< on soapbox >

What is very interesting is that the activity on the BetterGEDCOM Wiki has picked up.

As you may remember, our friend, Bruce, will have Roots Magic in compliance within 29 days of the issuance of "the standard", what ever the standard is.

GEDCOM-X continues to go, in what ever direction that may be.

BetterGEDCOM is being dominated by developers of "end products" and NOT the transport between applications, and they don't want to hear from 'lowly' End Users.

FHISO has been too quiet. came on board, and I think that was the last we heard about it.

The Message Board that I try to work with, is for Family Tree Maker (as you know), and it is very, very clear, that WE MUST have the ability to share our research.

AncestrySync (I think that's the name of the other product that was at RootsTech 2012) has only been heard from as "its coming".

It's a shame that these other efforts don't get behind ONE and get to work. FHISO was supposed to have a place, not "owned by anyone" where people (companies) could come to ONE Table, and develop a STANDARD that each of the End Products / Applications could exchange data, withOUT loss of information. That Application might be PC / Mac or Web based.

There are a lot of great people, working some good stuff out "there", but really need to get to the same table and work together.

< / off of soap box >


Craig Manson said...

Bravo, Randy. You've captured a most reasonable set of "wants" that should technically feasible. Let's see if the commercial (including not-for-profit) sector has the gumption to do it!

Louis Kessler said...


I'm surprised you think all the activity you talked about that happened since RootsTech (only 5 months ago) has quietened down.

I guarantee that if you go to BetterGEDCOM or go to GEDCOMX and post a comment, you will get a number of responses quite quickly. GEDCOM X's coming out with its conversion tool only 6 weeks ago was very significant, and they are assessing and incorporating all the feedback as we speak.

As far a FHISO goes, there is an excellent dedicated international group of people involved in that, and there are rumblings that they are working diligently behind the scenes to get the major players on board with them. They can use support from respected genealogical community members such as yourself. If you'd like to get involved, I'm sure they'll accept you with open arms.

I do disagree with one comment that Russ made. He said "BetterGEDCOM is being dominated by developers of "end products" and NOT the transport between applications, and they don't want to hear from 'lowly' End Users." As far as I know, that is not true. There are only two active developers at BetterGEDCOM right now. All the others are end users and it is the end users that are the driving force.


DearMYRTLE said...


Ol' Myrt here couldn't agree more with your simple request for genealogy file transfer upgrades and adherence by all genealogy technology com. See my response to your post, too lengthy for this space in


Cousin Russ said...


Don't YOU and Tom have products?

The only EndUser, actively posting is GeneJ.

Who are the other EndUsers on BetterGEDCOM?

I am glad that there is activity going on, but it certainly is not coordinated. FHISO has been quiet.


Louis Kessler said...


Yes, Tom and I are the "two active developers" I was referring to.

Current active users include GeneJ, Geir Thorud, Tony Proctor, Andy Hatchett, Adrian Bruce, Wesley Johnston, Alex-Anders, Brett McPhee and others, and they represent all parts of the world.

In recent weeks, they've had Gordon Clarke and Bruce Buzbee attend the Developer meetings.

I'm not sure what you're expecting when you say "quiet". An announcement every month? They are dotting the i's and crossing the t's and doing the necessary groundwork to make something happen. I'm sure they'll gladly accept volunteers who want to help.

And Randy, in your post, you've given an incorrect link to my "Whither GEDCOM X?" posting. It should be:


Alex said...

I am an end user who monitors BetterGEDCOM via RSS. I usually cannot make comment as the details is way too technichal for me. When I do post, most go without answer or comment, I assume because they have been asked before, they have no interest to others or are below their knowledge.

Alex said...

I have asked the majority product contacts similar questions over the past 6 months. Most have said they would support any new standard, but none indicated they would support FHISO and few were involved in GEDCOM-X.

GeneJ said...

The need to organize FHISO was expressed from within FamilySearch by Gordon Clark. He followed up by creating a BetterGEDCOM wiki page, "Developing the Organization." (Link follows.) An international group of volunteers worked on the project and delivered the governance framework for an international community standards organization at RootsTech 2012. Those involved in the project believed FHISO would be the platform by which FamilySearch's GEDCOM X made history, becoming the first standard developed by the community, for the community, serving genealogists, worldwide.

It was not to be.

In the months since RootsTech, the FHISO organizers have worked to devise opportunities for and communicate with FamilySearch, but they have opted to continue developing GedcomX in a proprietary fashion. If widely adopted, it will become what is known as a de facto standard.

In its own right, FamilySearch makes decisions that are in its best interest. While we may continue to hope for better outcomes, accepting and respecting the decisions of others is a golden rule in community standards development.

What does this mean for Randy and others?
In a community standards organization, everyone's needs are considered, and the democratic process rules. This is not required when the work is proprietary. In the case of GEDCOM X, FamilySearch decides which needs are met and which are not.

What does this mean for FHISO?
We can assume that GEDCOM X satisfies the requirements of its author, FamilySearch. So, ironically enough, the organization from which the need for FHISO was expressed is unlikely to have need for, nor reason to support, FHISO.

No one likes complications, but without the support of FamilySearch, things for FHISO become complicated by rules and guidelines. For example, because FamilySearch engages in developing proprietary standards, it is possible FHISO will not be able to establish itself as a community standards organization.

The organizers have opened a dialog about the complications with American National Standards Institute (, and we are communicating with vendors as part of this process.

We thank you, Randy, for your blog article. It will help FHISO widen the public comment about developing community standards and the organization.

One community, one standard. We are stronger and better together. Let's sort out the issues and start making things happen.

Here's how your readers can find more information or get involved.

(1) Comments are always welcome on the FHISO blog or on the FHISO Open Discussion page at the BetterGEDCOM wiki.

(2) FHISO representatives attend the open BetterGEDCOM meeting held Monday mornings (1:00 EDT/US). A part of each meeting is set aside for questions, answers and discussion about FHISO.

(3) Join the organizing effort. We are now a nine member international group; usually on five different continents, though today we are on six. Most of our work is done asynchronously (e-mail or common workspace). We hold a GoToMeeting session weekly (Wednesday at 1:30 EDT/US); attendance is encouraged, but optional. Those interested should email

(4) Speak out and let us know about it. If you blog or develop a posting about FHISO, send a notice to us at .

If you are interested in learning more about standards and conformity assessment, check out

Alex said...

* Has FHISO progressed - has it obtained more members and sponsors?

From a user perspective, it appears the answer would have to be NO. There does not appear even any way to become a member.

* Is it working with ALL of the genealogy software providers, online family tree sites and historical record collection providers?

Actually, is it working with ny of the providers?

GeneJ said...



Thank you for your comment.

The organization has great support and supporters, representing depth in all subsectors of the market (desktop and cloud vendors and service providers, genealogists, genealogy organizations, genealogy and standard setting professionals, writers and editors, independent technologists).

FHISO was created to be the community owned standards developing organization serving genealogy and family history world wide. This means the framework of governance, etc. was designed to support all significant community oriented standards activity.

Community standards organizations ordinarily do not form unless the community leaders agree there is a need. This means that FHISO is unlikely to engage in operations until it has the standing to operate in its intended capacity. The only obvious impediment to such a transition at this time are the issues with FamilySearch that have been outlined.

The organizers have opened a dialog with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) about the FamilySearch complications. We will be communicating with vendors and engaging the community as part of this process.

Thank you again. --GeneJ

Tony Proctor said...

To clarify a phrase from Louis, just for the record:-

"only two active developers"

I am a participant in both BetterGEDCOM and FHISO, but I am also a long-standing developer.

I have now moved into genealogy full-time and that development is therefore of software related to genealogy.

However, my development is currently of a research nature ( rather than a commercial one.

I know what Louis meant, and that it wasn't intended to diminish any other contributions, but I felt the inaccuracy needed a comment.


diday said...
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