Thursday, July 19, 2012

Whose sandbox is it anyway?

FamilySearch, the genealogy component of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, does well at preserving church and archive records in major countries throughout the world and is not limited to LDS Church-related material. Indeed genealogists the world over cannot imagine doing family history research without using the it's resources. FamilySearch has an army of staff and volunteers working to:
  • digitize and index records
  • present large numbers of record groups available for free online
  • provide end-user technical support at
  • develop the Wiki and Learning Center for "how-to" research assistance
  • Maintain a network of over 4,000 FamilySearch Centers throughout the world providing training and access to genealogy microfilm, fiche and websites. 
GEDCOM was originally developed by the LDS Church (commonly known as Mormons) for data file transfers of membership records between local wards and branches and administrative offices in Salt Lake City, Utah. Church membership records include info on folks who move, marry, add children to the family or die.  

The fields and protocols in the church data file sharing evolved into GEDCOM as it worked well for sharing data between genealogists with common ancestors. At the time, PAF (Personal Ancestral File) was essentially the only game in town for individuals to organize their compiled data. As other genealogy programs came along, they elected to comply with GEDCOM to make their software capable of importing data originally typed into PAF. This made it easy for PAF users to begin using those other genealogy programs.

Other posts in this series include:

In deciding not to update PAF Personal Ancestral File desktop genealogy management software, it would appear FamilySearch began to recognize other developers have great products. This frees up time for FamilySearch developers to concentrate on what FamilySearch does well.

In the "genealogy sandbox" developers should play nicely together, without forcing one developer's will on another developer's project.

I suspect FamilySearch plans to insist that all FamilySearch Certified software comply with GEDCOM X.

FamilySearch has elected to develop a product AND develop standards.  This doesn't work for me for the simple reason that FamilySearch neglected the current GEDCOM these last 15 years, and therefore does not have a good track record in maintaining a product and a standards system for genealogy data transfer.
You cannot have a single developer create a product AND set a standard for the entire industry. It's like the fox guarding the hen house.
Looking through the window at a project isn't the same as sitting together as equals around table in neutral territory.
From GEDCOM X today we read: "The official GEDCOM X repository is established by FamilySearch at FamilySearch/gedcomx. "

That FamilySearch placed aspects of the GEDCOM X work on Github may  be considered "transparency" but there is no official cooperation with FHISO or any external genealogy standards organization. Though the website invites developers to join the effort, there is no real "joining" for outside groups in the critical development stage. The needs of genealogy researchers aren't considered without their participation, and the GEDCOM X site is so technical as to "put off" any participation from responsible end users from the get-go.

Unfortunately, the laudable "Genealogical Proof Standard" espoused by US genealogists and discussed at FamilySearch's GEDCOM X doesn't reflect the thinking among well-regarded, non-English speaking genealogy developers and tens of thousands of their end-users. Cooperation is essential to arrive at a workable standard for all parties.  I learned this from participation in BetterGEDCOM.  
As an end-user, once my research coincides with someone from another country, a universally (read that 'globally') accepted 'genealogy data transfer' standard becomes essential.
Yet, FamilySearch is still requiring everyone to play in the FamilySearch sandbox. 

It is my understanding that FHISO (Family History Information Standards Organisation) seeks to set standards for genealogy data sharing that takes into account:
  • multiple languages
  • multiple platforms
  • diverse cultural approaches to family history practices
  • varied citation principles established by archives and libraries in non-English speaking countries
From FHISO's homepage accessed today we read "The standards will solve today’s interoperability issues independently of technology platforms, genealogy products or services. They will provide opportunities for innovation and will address robust user requirements such as search, capture and research administration."

"Our work includes publishing the standards, relevant documentation, and providing further services to encourage acceptance and adoption of the published standards."  

How about each developer sending a knight to participate?
Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont


  1. I'm enjoying this series of yours, Myrt. Thanks for all you do!

  2. "How about each developer sending a knight to participate?"

    The knight can only hop around and usually takes forever to get to any particular point. Need a bunch of queens who can move quickly in any direction without discrimination, as practical, problem-solving need requires.

  3. @Geolover, The framework for governance and procedure that was delivered by the FHISO organizers at RootsTech 2012 is based on established practices that work--worldwide.

    The organizers have been led by those with standardization (ISO and HL7) experience.

    Any effective program has to be able to keep the process moving. By design, the program should not get bogged down. Needs needs to be expressed; solutions devised; standards need to be voted upon, then published and maintained ... and the cycle then begins again.

  4. P.S. Geolover

    For several reasons, it is probably true that a large, representative body will be able to move things more quickly than a small group. (In concept, you can call for a vote to move beyond issues that might otherwise bog down the project work.)

  5. Nice summary Myrt.

    I would like to comment on the polarisation of the industry as consisting of 'developers' and 'genealogists', though, since I feel this is inaccurate and could hinder future collaboration. The situation is really a grey-scale (or gray-scale in your part of the world). For my own part, I achieved a very prominent position in the software development industry and then made the transition to genealogy, and I know of several others in a similar position. This doesn't make us expert genealogists, of course, but it does mean people like myself have a valuable perspective on our collective needs, and the future.

    Of course, everyone on that grey-scale has a valuable perspective, in addition to the people who truly belong to those 'diverse cultures' that we so want to embrace, and this is why a single representative body is important.

    Family History research, as a superset of genealogy, has matured over the years and it now needs a representation that is far in excess of what the old GEDCOM can deliver. That is only going to happen by getting around that round table and looking at our collective requirements rather than just the requirements of one organisation.


  6. You have made some really good points and I hope that developers will read your post and head on over to, and start to get involved.