Announcing the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition

Tamura Jones is a well-known genealogist and blogger. He has long had an interest in the GEDCOM method of transferring data between genealogy programs. He, like many of us, has been frustrated by the numerous shortcomings of GEDCOM but, unlike the rest of us, he decided to do something about it. Tamura has now released a new FamilySearch GEDCOM 5.5.1 Specification Annotated Edition. You can read more and download the new specification at https://www.tamurajones.net/GEDCOM551AnnotatedEdition.xhtml.

Comments by Dick Eastman:

GEDCOM was created by and is still supported by FamilySearch. It remains a product of FamilySearch, not of Tamura Jones. As Tamura writes in his specification, “This is not a new GEDCOM version. This is an enhanced edition of the current GEDCOM version. The Annotated Edition is the full FamilySearch GEDCOM 5.5.1 Specification, improved with corrections and enhanced with annotations.”

Later in the Annotated Edition, Tamura wrote, “This is not a new version of GEDCOM. Some errors have been corrected, and some contradictions have been resolved, helpful notes have added, etcetera, but this is still GEDCOM 5.5.1.”

In short, this new Annotated Edition will not require any changes to the genealogy software you are presently using. Instead, it is hoped that it will help software producers improve their future GEDCOM products. As Tamura wrote, “The Annotated Edition benefits developers of genealogy software. The observations, additions, corrections, resolution of contradictions, inclusion of solutions and best practices helps them improve their GEDCOM support. Improved GEDCOM support benefits users.”

Again, you can read the announcement at https://www.tamurajones.net/GEDCOM551AnnotatedEdition.xhtml. The actual specifications are expected to become available within a few days.

22 Comments

The page referred to above states that it is still being reviewed and not available for download yet.

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As a developer of genealogy software, including GEDCOM-focused tools like GedSite, I am in the target audience for this new publication. I already rely on articles by Tamura Jones, and I respect his well-considered opinions and recommendations. It will be very convenient to have those recommendations intermixed with the 5.5.1. specification.

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Please ‘translate’ this technological jargon for us old folks. How will this new version of gedcom help us be able to get info from familysearch to our own genealogy databases (like rootsmagic) and vice versa?

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    —> How will this new version of gedcom help us be able to get info from familysearch to our own genealogy databases (like rootsmagic) and vice versa?

    The immediate impact will be zero. No change.

    This is a proposed standard for use by software developers to help them refine and improve the GEDCOM conversion routine in the future genealogy programs they produce. Within a few years, this new standard could greatly improve the accuracy of GEDCOM data transfers. However, don’t look for any software improvements within the next few months.

    The changes are suggested, not mandatory. The software developers are free to use the new proposals or to ignore them, as they wish.

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    Excellent question Pat. Thanks for the answer Dick.

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    “How will this new version of gedcom help us be able to get info from familysearch to our own genealogy databases (like rootsmagic) and vice versa?”

    “Later in the Annotated Edition, Tamura wrote, “This is not a new version of GEDCOM. Some errors have been corrected, and some contradictions have been resolved, helpful notes have added, etcetera, but this is still GEDCOM 5.5.1.””

    Pat Lowe please consider those two quotes. The first is your comment. The second is from Dick’s post. Can you see what the problem with the first one when compared to the second one is?

    “… Tamura wrote, “THIS IS NOT A NEW VERSION OF GEDCOM.” The caps have been added for emphasis by me. Your comment directly contradicts Dick’s article and the quote from Tamura Jones in Dick’s article.

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Years ago I heard that an organisation was looking at this but nothing seems to have come from that. Well done to Tamura for doing this.

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I am writing a program to process GEDCOM files to my own data standards and I am appalled at how different implementations have missed the message. Please let us know when this annotated version of the standard is ready for download. It’s always an interesting read.

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    —> Please let us know when this annotated version of the standard is ready for download.

    It should be available within the next few days. It is out for review amongst a number of software developers right now and they will probably sign off on it within the next few days.

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Although FHISO (http://fhiso.org) hasn’t been approached over this, our experts would be happy to make helpful comments when it is available, and to consider Tamura’s inputs in the design of their forthcoming draft ELF standard.

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Dick,
I don’t think it is true that FamilySearch still supports GEDCOM. FamilySearch abandoned it after version 5.5.1, to never update it again 😦
That lack of updates is what Tamura Jones and the experts working with him are addressing. I applaud them for not trying make yet another shiny new standard no one is going to use (we have enough of those already,) but doing something practical instead.
I hope they don’t stop at annotating this version, but go on to make a new and better version. We need it. Maybe FamilySearch can give them some of their billions to help them do it 🙂

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    —> I don’t think it is true that FamilySearch still supports GEDCOM.

    That depends upon the level of “support” you are referring to. My understanding is that FamilySearch still works with software developers who write interfaces to exchange data in the GEDCOM format. A developer can call or email FamilySearch for support. That is one level of support.

    However, FamilySearch stopped developing any NEW additions or improvements to GEDCOM years ago. In effect, GEDCOM is frozen in time.

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    Re: “In effect, GEDCOM is frozen in time.”, it’s also deliberately lineage-based (avoiding other aspects of family history), predominantly Anglo-Saxon, and using technology that’s incompatible with Web2 and modern ontologies. There’s a world of unaddressed differences of locale, culture, and life-style (see D. Joshua Taylor’s RootsTech speech on ‘Diversity in Technology’), This effort, while worthwhile and welcome, can only be a stop-gap. What the industry ‘needs’ (rather than ‘wants’) is a “shiny new format” that is compatible with GEDCOM 5.5.1. FHISO’s ELF is one such initiative.

    Liked by 1 person

    What the world needs is for genealogists to realise that things have moved on since GEDCOM. GEDCOM is an information exchange format to move information between databases. The way things are now heading the desktop genealogy program is becoming less and less and less relevant. That means the need to move information between those desktop genealogy programs is similarly becoming less and less relevant. You may not like that change, but it is a fact.
    The reality is that online family trees are now the primary databases for an awful lot of people. The need is not nearly so much to move information between different desktop genealogy programs but to have desktop genealogy programs talk to those online family trees. That is not being done by GEDCOM nor will it ever primarily be done by GEDCOM. It is being done via API access to the websites for genealogy programs. Familysearch are the biggest advocates of this with their online tree. Ancestry have also got sync with two programs and My Heritage also have sync with some desktop software.
    Do research online or offline, and record it in an online tree. Have the local tree in a genealogy database as a backup for the online tree. That’s how things are heading, and I don’t see any serious chance of stopping that direction of movement. That said an awful lot of genealogists insist on using massively out of date software like PAF and stick their heads in the sand over changes in technology. Efforts to document GEDCOM and remove inconsistencies are valuable and have their place. Efforts to produce an entirely new version of the standard are tilting at windmills and wasting valuable time and resources I’m afraid. GEDCOM’s day has come and gone. Leave the format in the state it was 22 years ago (apart from the minor removals of inconsistencies etc) and move on.

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    Lots of things to comment on there, David. “File formats” are not what standards now talk about; modern design means you begin with a “data model”, which is the logical structure of the data. A “serialisation format” is one particular concrete representation of that structure, and would apply as much to data of disk as data transmitted over networks or via APIs. Regarding desktop genealogy, there are pros-and-cons to both worlds. For offline: longevity (i.e. being able to leave something behind in a standard format that’s not dependent on your subscription to a commercial site), being able to share with relatives who do not have ancestry/fmp/familysearch/etc accounts, not being reliant on an Internet connection (if you saw where I lived then this would make sense), and also that trees (whether online or offline) do not capture real family history, or research details, for many genealogists (me included). For online: there’s collaboration in the form of hints and automatic comparison, and DNA matches.

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We all have an opinion. We need GEDCOM, we don’t need it, it need to be replaced, my shiny future standard is the best 🙄
Guys, this is just a news item: there’s an annotated edition of the GEDCOM standard. Surely we agree that’s good news 🙂
And all of you already signed up to review the pre-release, right?

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    I understand your point @Jeanne. Neither Tamura’s work nor FHISO’s work (which is also available for reviews by experts BTW) are the only shows in town. We all want some improvement in genealogical sharing — we can certainly agree on that. Although FHISO’s work and Tamura’s work are quite different approaches, they are complementary and could benefit each other.

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Took the words out of my mouth, Tony.
Whether a program’s interface is via (serial) files or via APIs doesn’t matter. Both still need an underlying understanding of what the data is that needs to be passed. This is where GEDCOM can still contribute – it’s not the dirty physical bits about looking like 80 column cards or when to use CONCatenate and when CONTinue. It’s what things to record, what the relationships are between those things and what information to keep about both. (The “Data Model”).
Without such a common understanding (bearing in mind that the online systems and the PC systems are virtually never done by the same people) then our data will be held to (figurative) ransom inside one single system or corrupted going between them.
GEDCOM’s Data Model lies at the base of most software – if we can agree changes to that Data Model, then we might just agree new features to go into genealogy software across the board.
“GEDCOM is dead. Long live GEDCOM”.

Liked by 1 person

First Release of GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition available for download now.
There probably are more issues with the specification that deserve annotating, errors in the annotations that no reviewer caught yet, and recommendations that not everyone agrees with, but I have no doubt that this document is an improvement on the specification that FamilySearch left us with. Feedback to further improve it remains welcome.

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