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Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Basics of FamilySearch Family Tree: File Formats

Anyone beginning to use a computer for any time period, will very soon find out that there are many, many different types of files. Almost every program generates a file type specific to that program. But in addition, certain file types have's Family Tree program now allows certain types of files to be uploaded and/or attached to individuals and events in the program. The classes of items that can be attached or uploaded include photos, text files, and document files. The types of files that can be uploaded and attached include the following:

  • text files
  • jpg files
  • png files
  • PDF files

In addition, most of the areas that accept text files will also allow you to copy and paste any text created in a word processing program or text from an online file, including one from a document online created in an HTML file.

I thought it would be a good idea to review all of these file types in order to understand what they are and the types of programs that can create these file types and then specifically discuss the types that can be used with FamilySearch Family Tree. Much of what I will cover here, I wrote about back in 2011 for a FamilySearch Tech Tips blog entitled, "File Formats and Sharing Files." These old Tech Tip blogs are still mostly online in the the FamilySearch Blog archives. You can see the posts on the FamilySearch Blog page. Here is a screenshot showing the link to Tech Tips:

I haven't been asked to contribute for some time and as I view the category, I see that the FamilySearch contributors haven't been posting recently. Many of the articles are still perfectly valid, but some need to be updated. I decided to review this topic because of the new contribution features in Family Tree.

TXT or text files
You can't really "upload" a text file to Family Tree but all of the text fields in the program allow you to copy and paste in text from almost any other file created by almost any program. Technically, a text file is one that is created using seven-bit ASCII characters. Most word processing programs have the ability to save a document created using the program into ASCII Text format. From a practical standpoint all of the "formatting" is stripped out of a plain text file. What this means that other than standard punctuation, text files used in the Family Tree Stories program can have no further formatting. Which by the way, suits me just fine. Mind you, I am not against formatting, but most of what I see as formatting gives me the dry heaves, as they say. I am a plain vanilla type of person that thinks using bold is quite innovative. Anything more than what is in the FamilySearch Research Wiki is too much for me.

Don't get me wrong. I love fonts and font styles. But when I am trying to read something I like a good old SchoolBook or Garamond rather than any other font type. Times Roman is my favorite, if you haven't guessed. 

JPG or JPEG files
This brings us to the image file formats. Of course, there are hundreds (thousands) of these formats that have been created over the years. The acronym stands for Joint Photographic Expert Group. This is a common lossy file format meaning that the files are compress and information is lost or thrown away to make a smaller file size. Repeated saving of the file format after altering the files will result in a degradation of the image just as making photocopies of photocopies will result in loss of quality although not for the same reason. You can read about this file format in depth in the article on Wikipedia: JPEG. It is interesting that Family Search has chosen to allow JPEG images as the basis for an "archive" of images. There are a number of JPEG image standards and was updated in the form of JPEG 2000. As an editorial comment, it looks like FamilySearch went for a popular type of file format over an accepted archive standard TIFF file that would be lossless. 

PNG files
These are Portable Network Graphics files with a lossless data compression. PNGs were developed as a replacement for GIF files. PNG files are some of the most common files formats used on the Internet. I might mention, for what it is worth, that Adobe Photoshop will save images in any of a number of file formats including TIFF, PNG and JPEG. I usually save my photographic images in RAW format and then convert them to TIFFs or JPEGs depending on the further use. See Wikipedia: Portable Network Graphics.

PDF files
Strictly speaking, PDF or Portable Document Format is not a file type, but a file format developed by Adobe Systems. PDF files are independent of any application software, hardware or operating system. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout flat document, including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it. See Wikipedia: Portable Document Format. It is widely used and accepted as a way to distribute and view all types of documents.

Most of the digital cameras sold today produce a JPEG file automatically. Some of the higher end prosumer or professional level cameras have the ability to produce RAW images. It is possible to scan RAW images from a scanner, but you need special software. One program that will produce RAW images from most scanners is VueScan, a commercial program. VueScan has both Mac and PC Windows versions.

Many programs will change images from one file type to another. You can use Google's free Picasa program's export function for this purpose. You can also use IrfanView, a free Windows program for the same purpose.

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