Monday, August 09, 2010

Frustrated by GEDCOM incompatabilities

How I wish the genealogy software programmers would get their act together and make things easier for us researchers. Tough statement? Well, if you had been jumping through hoops like I have today, you might be frustrated as well. If you never wish to exchange data with another genealogist, this blog entry won't interest you.

Today, Mr. DearMYRTLE needed a copy of Ol' Myrt's genealogy database (his and mine combined) for his new Windows 7 laptop. My database is more accurate and up-to-date than his recent backup. My devoted DearREADERS will remember I spent days last month cleaning up my place list.

Since I am using RootsMagic (RM) and Mr. Myrt (as he prefers to be called) is using The Master Genealogist (TMG), it necessitated a GEDCOM file import. RootsMagic was not one of the compatible databases for TMG to import directly.

From Dick Eastman's Encyclopedia of Genealogy we read:

"GEDCOM is an acronym that stands for GEnealogy Data COMmunications. In short, GEDCOM is the language by which different genealogy software programs talk to one another. The purpose is to exchange data between dissimilar programs without having to manually re-enter all the data on a keyboard."

However, TMG would not accept the GEDCOM file I created in RM. The TMG screen informed me this is because TMG is not compatible with "UTF-8" character set. Now, Ol' Myrt doesn't know what a UTF-8 character set is ~ and I shouldn't need to. I simply couldn't get a GEDCOM file created by RM to be imported by TMG. So much for a language that permits genealogy software programs to talk with one another.

Next Ol' Myrt turned to Legacy Family Tree. I easily downloaded the standard version of the program to my new Windows 7 computer. (I am still working 2 hours or so a day to get all my programs installed on this new machine.) Legacy was wonderful in recognizing my RM-created GEDCOM file. YES! When I went to create a GEDCOM file in Legacy Family Tree, I was given the default option of an ANSI character set file. Alternately, I could choose ANSEL or the dreaded UTF-8 character set. Not knowing which, I selected the default ANSI character set format.

So with flash drive and the new Legacy-Family-Tree-created GEDCOM file in hand, I moved to the opposite side of this W-shaped computer desk, to have TMG import the data. Mr. Myrt stood close by and I crossed my fingers. Finally we were delighted to see that TMG liked the ANSI character set GEDCOM file from Legacy Family Tree and the import was successful.

By the way, I looked into Family Tree Maker, but it didn't have a free download, and my registered copy is on my computer at home in Salt Lake, along with accompanying installation CD.

Now what would a novice computerized genealogist do if faced with this situation? I doubt they'd  decide to try a third genealogy program to create a file that TMG would "approve of". Heavens. It would be nice if the GEDCOM file protocol was universal.

I know that the LDS Church initially set the GEDCOM file protocol, but has spent most of the last years working on digitizing those millions of microfilm rolls, after renegotiating the contracts with archivists and churches that granted microfilm rights before the Internet was invented.

WHY can't the genealogy software programmers agree on a universally accepted GEDCOM file format? There is probably more to this story than we know at this point. But researchers are researchers, not programmers.  It's not our job to keep up with programming challenges. Why expect us to resort to all sorts of undocumented solutions to get our genealogy database to work with another genealogy program? We worked hard to type in those names, dates, places, sources, etc.

In my humble opinion, the more savvy the researcher, the more likely he is to:
  • share his database with another family researcher
  • switch his database to another program for a preferred style of report, etc. 
Genealogists mingle and mix. No man (er... um... genealogist) is an island and all that. Can you tell Ol' Myrt here is just a tad upset? Well, to end on a positive note...

THANKS to Legacy Family Tree for saving the day for Ol' Myrt!

Excuse me while I climb down from this soap box.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.