Thursday, August 1, 2013

Standards, GEDCOM, FHISO, and my Genea-Fantasy

It last wrote about genealogical standards and GEDCOM data transfers and the Family History International Standards Organization (FHISO) in FHISO and GEDCOM Musings back on 27 March 2013.

1)  In the past week, we've seen these developments:

*  James Tanner wrote Sharing Data or What Happened to GEDCOM? today on his Genealogy's Star blog.

*  Pat Richley-Erickson posted Genealogy Data Sharing REVISITED today on her DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Blog.

*  Philip Trauring posted Asynchronous Collaboration: A Proposal on his Lexigenealogy blog.  This included a link to a PDF for his White Paper proposal in response to the FHISO Call for Papers issued in March 2013.  This is worth reading although I admit to the details being well over my head.

*  John Yates posted The Genealogical GEDCOM Data Solution on the Transitional Genealogists forum message board.  He provided a link to his proposal about standardizing place names in

2)  Over the past few months, a number of White Papers have been submitted to FHISO for consideration.  You can see the list, and read each submission, at  If you are interested in what FHISO is considering, I urge you to read the proposals that may interest you.

3)  Since my last post on FHISO and GEDCOM X, FamilySearch has released their API for genealogy software programs to interface with the FamilySearch Family Tree.  Several genealogy programs, including RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest, have successfully used the API to facilitate data transfer and synchronization between the software database and the FamilySearch Family Tree connected tree.  Other software programs will undoubtedly add this interface capability in the near future.

4)  Other genealogy software programs can transfer information from the software to an online family tree (one example is Family Tree Builder software with a MyHeritage Family Tree), and this has been a goal for several years by several developers (one example is AncestorSync) but hasn't happened yet.

However, there is no universal genealogy data transfer mechanism at present other than the GEDCOM standard that BetterGEDCOM, FHISO and GEDCOM X seek to replace.

5)  Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if all or most of the genealogy software companies, and all or most of the online family tree providers, adopt (and perhaps modify and improve over time) the FamilySearch API to transfer data between their products and FamilySearch Family Trees.  That would make the FamilySearch API a de facto standard.

I think that it would be very useful to be able to add data (names, relationships, dates, places, events, sources, notes, media, etc.) to or from my MyHeritage tree, or my Ancestry tree, or my Geni tree, or my RootsMagic database, to and from each other, and FamilySearch Family Tree. That would require a uniform vehicle (a "program") to accomplish, and perhaps something like the FamilySearch API is that vehicle.

That may be a genea-fantasy, but it's one of mine!

Is it unrealistic?  Your comments are welcomed.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver

P.S.  I have no "inside information" on any of this, so this all off the top of my head (and my friends know there's not much there any more!).


Cousin Russ said...


Things are finally happening in the area of discussion. Thank you for the summary of "current events".

My only comment is that I HOPE that we don't see the PC / Mac based program to a specific Web based program start to line up. Like FTM2012 to

I clearly see that one, but one would hope that would encourage an API to their Ancestry Member Trees.

Or that Family Tree Maker (only using that as an example) would develop to the API so that FTM20XX would sync to Family Search Family Trees, without using a generic GEDCOM file.

I also hope that FHISO is able to get ALL of our Genealogy Database Management program developers and Web site developers to the Same TABLE to develop an International Standard so that we can share, transparently, between the various platforms.

Again, thank you for another Awesome Blog post.


Tamura Jones said...

You write: "Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if all or most of the genealogy software companies, and all or most of the online family tree providers, adopt (and perhaps modify and improve over time) the FamilySearch API."

Riddle me this: wouldn't it make much more sense for FamilySearch to adopt the Geni API then for MyHeritage/Geni give to adopt the FSFT API?

"That would make the FamilySearch API a de facto standard.".
"That may be a genea-fantasy, but it's one of mine!"

What a dark, gloomy, distopian fantasy you have.
Having FamilySearch in charge of a de facto genealogy technology standard has been tried already.
The current mess is the result of that...

DearMYRTLE said...

I think the MyHeritage .api has had a lot more experience/testing.

Philip Trauring said...


Thanks for posting a link to my paper. I hope Russ, Tamura and Pat who all commented on this post will take a look. I would certainly welcome their comments.

I personally have no preference on whose format is used as the basis of future genealogical standards, I would just hope that no single company has control over them. I think in order to innovate, there need to be many companies and individuals contributing to the process.

To give an example, FamilySearch could decide one day that their API is enough, and that GEDCOM X as a file format isn't needed. This, in fact, was their original stance before they announced GEDCOM X. If FamilySearch is the sole owner of the standard, then innovation ends, and we get a situation where companies start implementing drafts (like GEDCOM 5.5.1) and not supporting things in the same way. That has to be prevented this time around. The only way to insure that is to get buy-in from many different stakeholders. Even if every major genealogy company supports GEDCOM X, it doesn't really matter because they have no real say in its development.

It would be great in my opinion if FamilySearch and FHISO could find a way to work together. Short of that happening, we need to encourage the creation of an open standard supporting by as many companies as possible.

One of the aspects of my proposal, and not something I'm sure I put enough emphasis into in the document itself, but I'll outline here, is the disconnecting of formats from functions. In web/software development this is a major trend - keeping the functionality of the application separate from the visual display of the application. In the same way, the functionality of my proposal (in short - to use cloud storage to exchange files with other researchers that describe changes to one's tree) looks to separate the functionality from the file formats and data sources. For example, applications could use the basic functionality with any number of initial exchange formats (GEDCOM, GEDCOM X, GedXML, etc.), and could use any number of external databases for information (for places, I personally like This flexibility means for example that companies could start implementing the features using GEDCOM at first, and add other standards as they see the need. Externalizing things like place name databases is also useful, since it does not place the onus on updating such a large database on a single company.

In the end, I think we all have the same goal - to improve the ability of genealogists to share data about their families with fellow researchers. Whatever path gets us there is welcome.


Alexandra S. said...

Why would Ancestry want anyone to PROPERLY AND COMPLETELY export their data out of Family Tree Maker?

I have been using FTM since its first iteration in the 1990s. I would LOVE to leave and try Roots Magic or something else. However, I AM CHAINED to FTM because I can't get my data out intact.

Think you not this lock-in might be INTENTIONAL? I would pay $500+ today to anyone that could write a middleware program to guarantee a full port of my data and source citations. I’m not even asking for media links. Just the damn text data.

Cousin Russ said...

Alexandra S,

I have exported from Family Tree Maker to both Legacy Family Tree and to Roots Magic.

The point of FHISO is to make the transfer much CLEANER. It works now, but there will be clean up the imported GEDCOM no matter which program generates the GEDCOM and which program Imports that GEDCOM