Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, November 16, 2017 Genealogical Standards are still an Issue
One of the constant background issues in the larger online genealogical community is the lack of coherent and consistent standards for sharing data between both online and desktop genealogy database programs. Over the past few years, several popular genealogy programs have been abandoned by their developers leaving their users with the prospect of moving all of their data to some other program. The only available method for transferring information from one program to another has long been FamilySearch sponsored GEDCOM program. Moving information with GEDCOM is like trying to move water with a sieve. A loss of data is inevitable.

Some members of the genealogical community have recognized the need for uniform data entry standards for genealogical programs in order to enable the complete transfer of data between programs. For example, if I have a family tree on and I wish to share the data with someone who has a family tree on any other program, the only option I have is to download a GEDCOM file and for the other person to upload the GEDCOM file. The problem is that a considerable amount of the information in my file, including any attached sources or media items, will be lost in the transfer process. Hence the analogy to moving water in a sieve.

A few years ago, I was very effectively writing about the subject. At the time, there seem to be a considerable amount of interest in creating a new standard for the transfer data. It appeared, after a very short time, that any interest in the subject had fizzled out although the problem remained. About that time a group of genealogists formed the Family History Information Standards Organization or This organization has existed since 2013. The challenge of this or any other such organization is that any recommendations made by the organization are not binding on anyone. The major commercial genealogical companies have little or no interest in establishing standards for data transfer. The reason for this is simple; they are competitors and facilitating transferring information between such competitors is against their interests.

Why should any company that creates its own database facilitate the transfer of that information to some other database? Especially, if the company makes its income from selling access to the database. The only way that any progress is going to be made towards data-transfer standards was for an independent organization to establish such standards and then attempt to lobby the genealogical community into acceptance. This is the goal of

For further information on this topic see the blog post entitled "Thither FHISO."  As the article points out, in the past, FHISO had substantial support from some of the large online genealogical programs. However, that support evaporated over time. Part of the reason was that some of the larger online programs negotiated their own data-transfer standards through the development of other information sharing avenues.

The larger genealogical online community is hardly uniform. In reality, it is composed of a vast number of individual objectives and concerns. The larger participants vary from nonprofit charitable organizations to giant corporations. As I already mentioned, very few of these participants share a common objective. Getting them to agree is like pushing a rope. In most cases, data-transfer standards must be arbitrary and presently, even the large online database companies cannot agree on any consistent standard for data entry.

I do not have a solution for this problem. As I have done in the past many times, I can only comment on the lack of a present solution.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the mention, James. It's hard to gauge the public's knowledge-of and interest-in this subject, unless they chime in. I admit that I misread your last line as "I do have a solution ...", and I was looking for another link :-)