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.


  1. Thanks for your hard work rethinking the gedcom. Like you I would like to see a transfer file that has deep content. I want my notes, my images, my to-do lists to be transferable between platforms. I want a better gedcom-dropbox type solution where a change made in one program goes across to my other programs.

    Am I asking to much? I don't think so. I believe it is possible with today's technology. Perhaps instead of revising the gedcom, we need to start fresh with the "Genealogy Transfer File", a file that can live securely in a cloud and service all of our genealogy applications.

  2. You say, "Both FamilySearch and AppleTree are going to think in terms of large databases, because that fits their business model." First off, Apple Tree isn't doing anything. Using Apple Tree and OpenGen interchangeably is simply inaccurate. Seondly, I think this is a gross mischaracterization of both FamilySearch's and OpenGen's (which is what I presume you meant) efforts.

    I too am glad to see many different efforts in regard to genealogical technology standards, but it isn't helpful for you to continuously pay the other organizations backhanded compliments and mischaracterize their organizations and their work.

    I would continue to point out the self-serving inaccuracies peppered throughout this posting but I really doubt you'll post my comments.

  3. DearGREG,
    Different points of view are what make for a better project -- whether a GEDCOM revision or something else. The resulting product will meet the needs of a broader audience.

    My blog post did not give a backhanded compliment to FamilySearch or OpenGen. I expressed my end-user point of view.

    Scott Mueller, the lead at OpenGen is also AppleTree. You, Scott, another (now former) AppleTree employee and I shared a telephone conference call circa Nov 2010, where I acknowledged that arriving at a new GEDCOM would certainly reduce uploading issues at his AppleTree website.

    I've posted your comments, trusting that in the future you'll take a more kindly approach, or confine your comments to your own blog or website.

    My real Grandma Myrtle used to say "You can attract more bees with sugar than with lemons."

  4. Thanks for the updates, efforts and information. Two thoughts: 1. Your idea of putting them all in the same room for two weeks would probably accomplish more than years of meetings and general discussions. End users must also be part of the conversation. 2. Joan has it right. We need a fresh start, using technology that is now available to create her idea of a "Genealogy Transfer File" that can be secure and cloud based so that it can be accessed anywhere by by any computer, program or application. We need "Standards!"

    A cooperative and aggressive, open source approach might accomplish much within a short time. Otherwise this could drag out for years with fragmented standards like we have now.

  5. With no disrespect to Pat at all, I would just like to clear up a few assumptions here. These are easy assumptions to make, but deserve clarification.

    "The people are also the AppleTree people." They really are 2 separate entities and great genealogists, who have nothing to do with AppleTree, are involved in OpenGen. As CEO of AppleTree, I did create the non-profit OpenGen organization and have provided funds to it. But we also created self-imposed term limits before even recruiting people to participate. So I will not be chairman of OpenGen indefinitely, successors will be determined by an election process. Our bylaws ensure OpenGen remains true to its mission and is not bound to any corporations.

    "They are apparently dealing with merging issues rather than research issues." Those issues, of course, go hand in hand. The whole idea in genealogy to get the most accurate picture of family history possible. From AppleTree's perspective, we don't want to merge 2 people if there isn't any good evidence they are in fact the same people. From OpenGen's perspective, our mission to maximize genealogy collaboration and preservation demands that we fully deal with research issues. OpenGen's vocal members wouldn't have it any other way.

    Regarding getting everyone together to come up with a really great method for people to share genealogy, I'm all for it. My open invitation to work together with BetterGEDCOM or any organization to come up with standards stands.

  6. Thanks so much for your positive feedback, Scott. I am glad you understand Ol' Myrt's intentions here. :)