Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Plethora of GEDCOM revisionists - YES!

For good genealogists, it's all about the sources.

Both FamilySearch and AppleTree are going to think in terms of large databases,
because that fits their business model. They are apparently dealing with merging issues rather than research issues. Any large database website will think along those lines.

End-users like Ol' Myrt here will think evidence, because we are called upon to share our genealogy databases with newly discovered cousins. The first thing those other researchers ask for is copies of our source documentation, sometimes called proof documents. We've learned not to trust assertions about an ancestor's life without sources. So a database that comes to us without pointers to those sources (better yet, actual digital images) is just another bunch of what my real Grandma Myrtle called "hooey." At the very least, source citations should come to us in notes for each ancestor. See DearMYRTLE's previous posting Committed to seamless genealogy file sharing that includes a brief summary of problems encountered by researchers with GEDCOM file imports.

GREAT genealogy programmers who actually DO genealogy research get it. Such multi-functional people are a rare breed. They understand that numbers don't count, but depth of content does.

My DearREADERS may recall I've been active with BetterGEDCOM, a grassroots effort to come up with a GEDCOM alternative that reflects changes in research and technology that have occurred since the last GEDCOM update some 14 years ago.

Also on the horizon is, a top-down hierarchy attempting to solve the same problem. The people are also the AppleTree people, so their bias concerning large databases will be hard to overcome.

Since the RootsTech 2011 Conference, things have been buzzing now that FamilySearch is apparently weighing in with a GEDCOM improvement yet to be described officially.  BetterGEDCOM has invited Tom Creighton and Gordon Clarke to our usual Monday developer meeting specifically to elaborate on the so-called "SoRD" initiative. 

At the very least, we should be pleased that genealogy programmers are talking about the GEDCOM file problem that has vexed researchers for over a decade. We've got to be careful those programmers don't forget to solve the "sharing sources" problem, and that they don't permit things like "auto-merging" of seemingly duplicate individuals. 

We've all got examples of families where there are two children with the same given name, born within something like two years of each other. It's easy to understand if the first one died, but the two individuals look really problematic if they end up both living to adulthood. One database website's "duplicate" can be another researcher's step-child or unofficially adopted child, etc.

Nothing will replace human judgment in compiling our lineages. I'd like to see programmers and geneticists clone a combination of Thomas Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills. Then we might find a perfect combination of an inferential genealogist who understands the importance of source citations. Merge that with a multi-platform software program, and you might have something. 

But you'd still be missing Craig Scott's US military records expertise, or Claire Bettag's understanding of US government docs. For local flavor, you'd need to throw in Mark Lowe if you have Tennessee roots. Venturing out in one's research, the scientists would have to clone foreign research experts like Audrey Collins for understanding British records research. If you have eastern European roots, you'd need to add Stephen Morse's understanding of language and computers to help you find that elusive ancestor regardless of spelling challenges. And then there are folks like Pam and Rick Sayre who really get that Google Earth technology has a place in our genealogy research. 

With these candidates for cloning, we have only begun to scratch the surface in providing a multi-talented single resource for genealogy research.

Our quest to discover "Who are the parents?" has enough challenges without software issues adding to the mix. I am thankful there is now a plethora of GEDCOM revisionists out there. Getting them all into the same room for about two weeks might just cause them to come up with a really great method for us end-users who just want to share our compiled genealogy with tour cousins without losing data.

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