The Proposed GEDCOM 5.5.5 Standard is a Better GEDCOM

I frequently mention the acronym “GEDCOM” in this newsletter. In short, GEDCOM (GEnealogy Data COMmunications) is the language by which different genealogy software programs exchange data between dissimilar programs without having to manually re-enter all the data on a keyboard.

For background information, see my earlier “GEDCOM Explained” article at https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/24/gedcom-explained/. For a more technical explanation, go to the GEDCOM 5.5.5 web site at: https://www.gedcom.org/.

GEDCOM has been available since the mid 1980s but the GEDCOM specifications have not been able to handle all data transfer requirements. The last widely accepted update to the GEDCOM specifications was released in 1999.

Later GEDCOM alternatives have been announced but have largely been ignored by the genealogy software developers. The genealogy program you use today probably adheres to the 20-year-old GEDCOM version 5.5.1 specifications. A lot has changed in genealogy data storage requirements in the past 20 years! We certainly need an update that everyone can agree upon.

Proposed Solution:

Tamura Jones is a well-known genealogist and blogger. He has long had an interest in the GEDCOM method of transferring data between dissimilar 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 written a new proposed GEDCOM standard for the industry that he believes will alleviate most of the shortcomings in the now aging GEDCOM specifications. He writes:

“GEDCOM 5.5.5 is GEDCOM 5.5.1 cleaned up.

“This is the first new release of GEDCOM in exactly twenty years; GEDCOM 5.5.1 was released on 2 October 1999. Sure, there is the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition released last year, but however useful the corrections, commentary, clarifications, resolutions of contradictions, guidelines, best practices, links and bonus sections may be, it is still GEDCOM 5.5.1.

“Moreover, while the GEDCOM 5.5.1 specification includes support for a few new useful record types, such as those for email and web addresses, it is no more than a revision of GEDCOM 5.5, which was released on 11 Dec 1995, almost a quarter century ago.

“Nothing much has changed in a quarter century, and today’s GEDCOM 5.5.5 release does not introduce any major new features either.

“The new specification isn’t GEDCOM 6.0, a major new version. The new specification isn’t GEDCOM 5.7, a minor new version. The new specification is merely GEDCOM 5.5.5, a revision.”

If you are familiar with GEDCOM and especially if you write or maintain GEDCOM software, you need to read Tamura Jones’ explanation at https://www.tamurajones.net/GEDCOM555JustARevision.xhtml and his proposal. I also posted a PDF copy of his press release at: http://eogn.com/gedcom/PRGEDCOM555.pdf.

Do you have any comments?

29 Comments

As well as your notice about gedcom 5.5.5 I was also invited from a rootsweb letter to Family Historian. I was warned by McAfee WebAdvisor that the new gedcom 5.5.5 was risky. Have you come across similar warnings? Paddy Buckley

On Fri, 4 Oct 2019 at 16:05, Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter wrote:

> Dick Eastman posted: “I frequently mention the acronym “GEDCOM” in this > newsletter. In short, GEDCOM (GEnealogy Data COMmunications) is the > language by which different genealogy software programs exchange data > between dissimilar programs without having to manually re-enter all” >

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    —> I was warned by McAfee WebAdvisor that the new gedcom 5.5.5 was risky. Have you come across similar warnings?

    I have not received any such messages.

    It is possible that McAfee WebAdvisor has displayed a “false positive” message. All of the malware-detecting services often display warning messages when, in fact, there is no problem. Programmers have never found a way to be 100% accurate at deciding whether there is a problem or not. I wrote about that earlier in my article Virus False Positives: How Can You Be Sure? at https://blog.eogn.com/2016/07/07/virus-false-positives-how-can-you-be-sure/

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    Somehow (just because it was new?), McAfee Web Advisor decided to miscategorise gedcom.org as malicious site, high risk. I’ve been in contact with them, and gedcom.org is now categorised as technical information, minimal risk.

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GEDCOM 5.5.5 has many welcome changes. Unfortunately, it has a couple that I think will hinder adoption, such as the addition of new gender values and the change to dates to allow the year to be optional. My objection is not that those changes are unwelcome, but rather that those changes require changes in GEDCOM reader software that are non-trivial. To get developers on the bandwagon for a new, widely-adopted GEDCOM, the first instance of the new standard should be easy to adopt with few downstream changes.
I am also puzzled by the document being a downloaded ZIP file that contains a PDF. This is 2019; the standard should be an online HTML document.

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    —> I am also puzzled by the document being a downloaded ZIP file that contains a PDF.

    If you are referring to the file at http://eogn.com/gedcom/PRGEDCOM555.pdf it is a PDF file.

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    Supporting the new sex values is quite trivial and most applications already accept birthdays; on this point, GEDCOM 5.5.5 merely codifies existing behaviour.
    This first new version of GEDCOM deliberately contains simple changes only; all changes are about legal values, non require new syntax.

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    Dick, your link is to a document on your site. When I went to the author’s site, I could only find a ZIP download. Perhaps there is a direct link to the PDF on the author’s site.
    The ZIP file on the author’s site contains a single PDF file that is very slightly larger than the ZIP file itself. So, why ZIP a file that is only marginally smaller when zipped?
    More importantly, why use a print-image document format when an online HTML file (or files) would be far easier to access and use? Modern developers rarely refer to printed documents, they view the documents on monitor. Standards often contain many definitions that refer to other definitions, and it’s useful to be able to jump from one part of the document to another. That’s a key strength, and indeed one of the motivating factors for the HTML format. History has proved how shrewd that was. Technical standards documents should be online HTML pages.

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    John, thanks for the explanation. After reading your first message, I was afraid you might be referring to the file at http://eogn.com/gedcom/PRGEDCOM555.pdf

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    John, you are quite right about links being useful, but your apparent assumption that the PDFs cannot or do not contain links is mistaken. The GEDCOM 5.5.5 spec contains hundreds of links, just like the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition and FamilySearch’s GEDCOM 5.5.1 spec.
    BTW, we may or may not provide a HTML version on the site later. Meanwhile, there are plenty of tools that will convert the PDF to a HTML document on your own PC, so you can view the spec the way you like it.

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    Tamura, you wrote that I apparently made an assumption that the PDFs cannot or do not contain links. That is not correct. I know that PDFs can have both internal links, such as in a table of contents, or may include links to external HTML pages, such as in the “References” sections in your document. Those links are a small subset of what can be achieved with links in HTML pages. For example, I cannot add a link here or in an online document to the “White Space” section (or any other section) of the GEDCOM 5.5.5 PDF file. The document is not online at gedcom.org, and even if I rely on eogn.com, there’s no reliable way to use a URL to link to a section of a PDF. On the other hand, I can use a URL to refer to a section of the HTML, <a href="https://www.w3.org/TR/css-2018/&quot;, Unicode, and other standards because those standards are published online in HTML.

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The real battle is not devising the revised standard, it is getting all (or any) of the software manufacturers and online databases to adopt it.

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I wonder what we as users, can do to push the developers of new software to update to the new GEDCOM. It is very important to the genealogical community.

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    “GEDCOM 5.5.5” is not a new GEDCOM standard. It is a nice wish with many good ideas. But I miss many things I need to export data from my program.
    If I read this (https://www.gedcom.org/faq.html):
    “You can downgrade GEDCOM 5.5.5 file to 5.5.1 by changing the version number”
    That is not true. If you use some of the new stuff (1 SEX N) you don’t get a valid GEDCOM file.
    There are many other reasons to not support “GEDCOM 5.5.5” (the “Tamura Jones GEDCOM”) in my export.
    Geetings from germany, Stefan.
    (sorry for my bad english)

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Has any GEDcom been submitted to the American national standards institute ANSI or the International Standards Organization ISO?

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I switched from “familytreemaker” to MacIntosh’s “Reunion” years ago and am quite happy with it. FTM had a limit of about 125,000 persons in the database before it refused to budge. With Reunion, there are no limits (so far). I would like to have seen the limits GedCom 5.5.5 has. No reason to leave Reunion, but would be happy to see Windows is making progress.

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Typically the third digit refers to bug fixes. Given that 5.5.5 might break existing apps; shouldn’t it be at least 5.6.0 or reduce the set of changes.

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First of all, I find the creation of a modern specification more than commendable and necessary. But in my opinion, the process of creating the mentioned 5.5.5 specification is not transparent. It seems to be a one-man show by Tamura Jones. Even though there are several reviewers listed, the entire voting process seems to be rather dictatorial. Based on information available to me individual reviewers were not allowed do not coordinate with each other.
I find it presumptuous to call this one-person specification a new GEDCOM specification and give it an official touch under the well-known gedcom.org URL.
I hope this specification does not find much support among software developers.
I find the FHISO approach much more promising.
English is not my mother tongue. I ask you to take this into account in case of possible ‚funny‘ or ‚strange‘ wording.

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    See my earlier comment on standard bodies that adminster the development of a standard in a open, structured way, ANSI and ISO.

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    See my earlier comment on standards bodies, ANSI and ISO. These organizations develop standards on a consensus basis with input from all interested parties, usually manufacturers, consumer groups, etc.

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Stefan Mettenbrink / PeterJ is upset Dietrich is part of new standard and he is not, so he attack hard work of all involved by making up stuff.
I am another German vendor. I know Stefan and know why he rant against Dietrich, Tamura and the new standard: Stefan wants his program to dictate the standard…
He is so agitated to attack the people and their work, he even says FHISO more promising… FHISO! Those pompous bastards that promise everything but have not fulfilled promise in five years.
I apologize for Stefan. He does not speak for all us. I and other developers understand that you cannot involve everyone, that you need a leader to set direction and a small team to make it work.
I know Tamura and Dietrich. I know they listen if Stefan have real criticism.
I congratulate team on their job well done. We are grateful for the hard work. This is really a much better version of GEDCOM.
Dick, you can post my message but we dint think Stefan’s rantings are worthy of your blog.

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    Yes, I’m a german developer. Yes, I’m not involved in the 5.5.5 documentation.
    I don’t know you (NotPeterJ) and I am wondering who you are (I am not hiding behind a pseudonym).
    I’m not in the position to dictate anything in GEDCOM and I don’t want to rant anyone.
    I wish there where a new GEDCOM Standard with less Problems!
    The 5.5.5 document (who allows him to call it GEDCOM?) from Tamura is a nice try (realy!). But there are so many missing possibilitys, that I can’t export all my data.
    Eg:
    In 5.5.5 it is not allowed to use CONT/CONC. Why? What shold I use to Export a NOTE structure with 300 characters or some line breaks? My users can enter this in the text field. This Limitation is not nassesary..
    The actual 5.5.5 documentation is not allow me to import the file, if there is any mistake in it.
    My program try to import all possibe information of all imported files. It would not help the user to say “sorry, there is a mistake” and do nothing. That is not the way I support my users.
    Besides, I do not know why Tamura has the right to call his documentation GEDCOM.
    Anyway, I will continue to use GEDCOM 5.5.1. The limitations of 5.5.5 are too big (for my requirements).
    Greetings from Germany, Stefan.
    PS: sorry for my bad english.

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    Dear “Not Peter J”,
    I do not know who you are. And which program you are vendor of. But you are not in the group of 23 program authors in the Gedcom-L group as your comment contradicts all of our members’ opinion. However Stefan Mettenbrink and Diedrich Hesmer are in the group. I am the admin of this group.
    We have discussed the spec 5.5.5 in this group, and made our decision: We will not implement the 5.5.5 spec in our programs. No one of the group voted to implement that spec!
    We have two more agreements:
    – if there will be any 5.5.5 file to import, we will do so by converting it to 5.5.1 spec structures
    – any standard which wants us to implement it has to make shure that we can export all users’ genealogical data we have in our programs, as we are exporting and importing them so far using 5.5.1 and do not want our users to loose those data.
    The 5.5.5 spec fails to fulfill this requirement and does not allow to export a bundle of users’ data – and that is the main reason we all will not use it.
    Albert Emmerich

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@Tamura Jones, can you confirm that you purchased the rights to the GEDCOM standard/specifications from the LDS / FamilySearch? It’s important for the community to know the answer to this question.

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    Answer from FamilySearch (by asking about 5.5.5):
    “The Church of Jesus Christ has the copyright on the Gedcom Specification since 1987. There has not been a legal transfer of the rights we have to the Gedcom Specification.”
    So 5.5.5 is not a legal GEDCOM-version.

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I’m actually really interested in some additional background on this. Like who actually owns GEDCOM? And who can authorize an official new release? I mean GEDCOM is DYING for a legit update, but can any talented programmer just buy a new URL and launch a new version?

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The spec “5.5.5” ist not allowing a lot of data current programs use. So switching to 5.5.5 would result in a loss of users’ data, which can be exported by 5.5.1.
That is the main reason why I will not implement the 5.5.5 spec. New standards should more carefully respect existing users’ data…
Greetings from Germany,
Albert Emmerich

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