Friday, December 7, 2012

We All Want Seamless Genealogy Data Transfers

In her blog post Who Wants Seamless Genealogy Data Transfers? on 5 December, DearMYRTLE noted:

"Genealogists the world over recognize the problem with a 15-year-old GEDCOM file exchange protocol that hasn't kept pace with the type of genealogy data we're compiling. For instance, when I share my genealogy data with my cousin Russ, the photos and scanned images of documents don't transfer using the current GEDCOM (genealogy data communications) protocol."

Please read all of DearMYRTLE's post, and the links within her post.  She has been a tireless advocate and organizer for this concept, including founding BetterGEDCOM and FHISO.

I'm sure that there are many other issues for genealogists who want a seamless genealogy data transfer using whatever method or program that the industry comes up with.  My issue is that source citations created by many genealogy software programs, online family trees and online record collection services, do not transfer well using GEDCOM because some programs and websites use non-standard data fields and GEDCOM tags (which drove me, and others, to use free-form source citations rather than the helpful source citation templates).

The FHISO organization is committed to make this happen, and needs the support of ALL of the genealogy software program developers, online family tree providers, and genealogy record collection providers.

Why, you might ask, is this so important?  The simple answer is:  Technology has passed the old (25-years!) GEDCOM standard by.  Fixes have been added to GEDCOM to permit the inclusion of links to web pages and data files on a person's computer.  However, those data files on a person's computer (think of images, documents, reports, etc.) do not transfer using the current GEDCOM - from my computer to yours, or from my desktop computer to my laptop computer, or from my computer to some online family tree systems.  We cannot truly SHARE our genealogy databases with another researcher.

What DearMYRTLE is talking about is that she cannot send her complete genealogy database to her cousin that includes the files of the attached media residing on her computer.  The links to the files transfer, but they are useless without the media files themselves.  Granted, she can create a file folder with all of the links, put the file folder in a cloud service like Dropbox, and have her cousin access them, then have his genealogy program deal with the links to the transferred media.  But that is a time consuming and difficult process (especially for persons who are not computer savvy).  And if her cousin adds content to the database, including his own media files, the process has to be done again so that DearMYRTLE can access the updated database.

Yes, DearMYRTLE can create an Ancestry Member Tree with her GEDCOM file, and the media will attach to the persons and events in the Ancestry Member Tree.  She can invite her cousin to share the tree as an Editor or Contributor or as a Gust.  Her cousin can see the images, and can download them one at a time.  But her cousin cannot download the GEDCOM file and the media because he is not the Owner of the Tree.

It would be great if, and other online family tree sites, would allow more than one person to be able to download a GEDCOM file, or Sync a specific tree using Family Tree Maker.  The problem there, as I understand it, is that multiple persons might be working on the online tree at the same time and the download or sync would get messed up.

But some persons don't have an membership, or don't want to put their tree on

What's the solution?  The simple solution is that ALL of the software creators, online family tree and record collection companies should sign up to be Founding Members of FHISO.  Then they should actively work TOGETHER to develop rigorous standard methods to transfer genealogy data seamlessly between persons, websites.  The list of Founding Members of FHISO is relatively short at this time:

Why aren't FamilySearch, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, Ancestral Quest, GeneaNet, and other companies on the list of Founding Members yet?  

If your favorite genealogy software company, favorite online family tree, or favorite record collection company is not on that list, please encourage them to join FHISO and contribute to the next data transfer standard so that genealogy users - their customers! - can seamlessly transfer all of their data with their family, friends, colleagues and other researchers.

It's going to take EVERYONE in the genealogy community to make this work well - and the sooner the better!

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Tamura Jones said...


You ask "Why aren't FamilySearch, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, Ancestral Quest, GeneaNet, and other companies on the list of Founding Members yet?".

Some on that list are in talks with FHISO, and announcements will follow in due course.
The announcement for, the maker of Family Tree Maker, was the very first.

John said...

FHISO wants individual genealogists to join as well as organizations and companies. I believe individuals will be able to contribute to the process.
John Carruthers
Victoria BC Canada

Cousin Russ said...


Thank you for posting this. It is an important project AND I think serious genealogist need to be involved.

I think as our genealogy database management applications, on a PC, Mac, or Online continue to offer the ability to Share our information, those developers should be involved.

There is another group that should be involved. (an expansion on "serious genealogist") Those genealogy educators who help us learn about our hobby.

Early in the BetterGEDCOM project, we attempted to get more of our "leaders" to help with our research process. Those who help us understand WHAT to collect, HOW to record what we collect, HOW we should analyze what we collect, and how to Document what we collect.

I could, but won't, suggest any names, but I think you know who I might be thinking about. "Power Users", like yourself, need to be at the "table" when these discussion take place.

As John suggested, Individuals are encouraged to Join the ORGINZATION (FHISO).

Its the SHARING and Collaboration with other researchers that FHISO is attempting to enhance and now have so many work arounds to accomplish that.

Thanks again for your Blog post on this topic.


WyoSpring said...

Thank you Randy for posting this article--this is a BIG CONCERN to me. The reason why I want to give an accurate GEDCOM to family members or persons trying to copy my research that I have posted on ANCESTRY is so they won't have to retype it. Every time something is retyped many mistakes are made in spellings, dates, connections and dates. I have had to add families to connect, and grab all the photos and docs one at time. This is so time consuming!!! Being able to download pics and GEDCOMS for a family would be WONDERFUL!!!

Andrew Hatchett said...

"The reason why I want to give an accurate GEDCOM to family members or persons trying to copy my research that I have posted on ANCESTRY is so they won't have to retype it."

Accurate according to...?

1). The exporting program/website/database?
2). The Importing program/website database?

Until ALL endusers start demanding a single standard from programmers/websites/ content-vendorts, etc. there will NEVER be such a thing as 'an accurate GEDCOM'.

And yes- when all is said and done it really is a war between the genealogical enduser vs. the programmers/websites/content-providers and, imho, the sooner this is recognized the better.

Alex said...

FHISO wants individual genealogists to join

I am sorry, but this does not seem currently correct. There is no way established for individuals to join FHSIO.

verybigkid said...

Hi Randy, all,

While there is more good news in the works, as Tamura commented, some probably need to see the modern FHISO platform in action to be convinced.

It's time to make that happen!

The Federation of Genealogical Societies has been good enough to feature FHISO on it's radio show next Saturday. I can't think of a better way to widen the dialog and prepare to welcome in a new day.

Hope you'll join us.

FGS Website:
FGS Radio:

Tony Proctor said...

Re: Why aren't FamilySearch, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, Ancestral Quest, GeneaNet, and other companies on the list of Founding Members yet?

I don't profess know the answer to this Randy but I can take a stab at some possibilities.

As Tamura said, there are ongoing talks with some of these organisations, and we're very proud that Ancestry was our very first founding member.

Some vendors and content providers may fear that this is somehow anti-competitive, and that it may take away their edge in the marketplace. This view is easily dispelled if we manage to get the corresponding people in a conference with FHISO. The data model standard would enable sharing - without bias towards products, hardware, or locale - and data sharing is a fundamental tenet of genealogy.

We have definitely encountered companies who thought we were advocating a replacement data model for their existing products, and hence some massive amount of work for them.The fact that the data model is primarily for sharing means it is external to their products, and a superset of what they use now. If that standard data model is good then there is no reason why it cannot be internalised by a product, but that should not be mandatory.

There may still be folks who view FHISO as small-fry, and that we will fail as other initiative have failed in their ultimate goal. This could be a self-fulfilling prophecy if those folks just sit on the fence waiting, and don't support FHISO. The existing FHISO volunteers are small in number, and some never seem to sleep, but if you truly believe in their goal then come and help them. FHISO has aspirations beyond a standard for data exchange, and they absolutely must happen for all our sakes.

Maybe some people feel that they don't want their futures legislated by some new start-up group. I can dispel that now. FHISO is not some separate body attempting to regulate the field or dictate what everyone does. FHISO is made up of the stakeholders in this field, i.e. FHISO is the community. We're therefore multi-disciplinary and multinational.

Then there may be those who want complete control of this field themselves, and who believe the world will follow their lead. Is that in their interests, or all our collective interests?