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.


  1. I have patrons at a FHC that express your feelings frequently. Glad you are letting your voice be heard. Hear! Hear!

  2. UTF8 really has nothing to do with GEDCOM. It is a new character set that allows international characters that came into use after GEDCOM was developed. Old programs like TMG that haven't "modernized" haven't moved to it yet. Yell at the TMG folks and tell them it's needed.

  3. Dear Myrtle,

    I have run into GEDCOM issues many times over the years, helping users of one Genealogy Program.

    One of the issues of a GEDCOM is how the creating program handles specific / unique features of the program and how the receiving program handles the incoming GEDCOM, with unique features, to it's own unique features.

    Each Genealogy Program that I have used or have heard about, on this issue, has unique ways of handling different "common" features and unique features of that program. The creating program my not send unique feature information or it may send those unique features.

    What is he talking about ....

    Example: Most Genealogy Programs have the capability to include images. Now, we know that a GEDCOM file will NOT include any images. However, some genealogy program, with images, WILL include a Link to an Image. Others will not include links. At the same time, if the transfer were reversed (between the two programs) one would not include links to the Images, while the other is looking for the link. Or at least the use is expecting the link.

    I agree that the GEDCOM "Standards" need to be revisited. I think that Mr. Eastman has commented over the years that folks have been working on a new / updated standard, but not sure where it stands.

    As our favorite past time continues to grow, one would hope that the development organizations would read your Blog and update the standards.

    Thanks for bringing this up and hope that you were able to successfully combine your files. I'll guess, that you will have some more cleaning up to do.

    Thank you,


  4. I'm telling you that TMG gave me that error message. Ol' Myrt here wouldn't dream up the UTF-8 character set incompatibility.

  5. Sorry to hear about your problems Myrt, and glad you got it sorted out in the end!

    Sounds like you could have done with Professor Phineas Ahnentafel's GEDCOMulator :)

  6. My TMG 7 review from 2½ years ago warned against this serious TMG limitation, and I am not aware of any indication that TMG 8 will offer better GEDCOM support.
    Downgrading from UTF-8 to Windows ANSI is a bad idea, as you are practically sure to damage your data. It is best for Mr Myrt to upgrade to a modern, Unicode-based application such as RootsMagic 4.

  7. Myrt, you are absolutely right- you shouldn't need to know what a UTF-8 character set is. But since you have such an inquisitive nature, I'll tell you anyway ;) The simple answer is that UTF-8 = Unicode, or the ability to store and display most any character be it Latin, Cyrillic, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, etc. UTF-8 is part of the official GEDCOM specification along with other character sets (ANSI, ANSEL, etc.) The UTF-8 is the only one which supports all of those languages. Since RootsMagic also supports all of those languages, it must use UTF-8 instead of ANSI when creating a GEDCOM or it risks messing up data in the process.

    Bottom line, RootsMagic writes a UTF-8 GEDCOM file to remain compatible with the official GEDCOM standard and to avoid any data-loss. If TMG cannot import a GEDCOM file with UTF-8 encoding, it is the one that is not compatible with the GEDCOM standard. We've toyed with the idea of adding an option to choose which character set you want to use when you export a GEDCOM file, similar to what you did with Legacy. The problem is that anything other than UTF-8 could cause the user to potentially lose data and, like you, most users don't know what a character set is- and they shouldn't need to.

  8. Thank-you, Michael for your detailed response.

    I love my RootsMagic, believe me.

    Thanks for explaining things for Ol' Myrt.

  9. Thank you for a very useful site... I have you bookmarked, and will keep my fingers crossed that I may generate traffic to my site!
    Nice list. I will use it in future. Thanks for the efforts to make this list!Nice list. I will use it in future. Thanks for the efforts to make this list!

  10. And this is still a problem with TMG 8 Public Beta. So sad...

  11. TMG 8 final version still has this problem.