FamilySearch Releases GEDCOM Version 5.5.1

GEDCOM is an abbreviation that stands for GEnealogy Data COMmunications. In short, GEDCOM is the language by which different genealogy software programs talk to one another.

GEDCOM was developed by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (LDS Church) to provide a flexible, uniform format for exchanging computerized genealogical data.

(See my 2014 article, GEDCOM Explained, at https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/24/gedcom-explained/ for a more detailed explanation of GEDCOM.)

GEDCOM is not a program. Instead, it is a specification of the method that different genealogy programs should use to exchange data. The purpose is to exchange data between dissimilar programs without having to manually re-enter all the data on a keyboard. A GEDCOM file is a plain text file (usually either UTF-8, ANSEL or ASCII) containing genealogical information about individuals, and meta data linking these records together.

All of today’s more popular genealogy programs will import and export GEDCOM data. However, the GEDCOM standard first adopted in 1985 did not envision today’s environment of multimedia files, such as digital pictures, video, audio, text files using non-English alphabets (Cyrillic, Bulgarian, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, and other languages), links to external data stored in the World Wide Web, and many more commonly-used standards of today.

Over the years, the GEDCOM standard has been updated several times with each update adding new functionality and significantly improving the standard. However, because of the constantly evolving improvements in genealogy programs, data transferred via GEDCOM often has not been perfect. After transferring from one program to another, manual “clean-up” has often been required to fix any data that was not transferred properly.

Now FamilySearch has released a new update: GEDCOM 5.5.1

This is the first update in ten years. The new GEDCOM 5.5.1 standard may be found at: https://edge.fscdn.org/assets/img/documents/ged551-5bac5e57fe88dd37df0e153d9c515335.pdf. The most important part of that document is listed in the section entitled Modifications in Version 5.5.1 that starts on page 6 of that document.

While there are numerous changes and clarifications, perhaps the most interesting items are the new tags added in GEDCOM 5.5.1:

EMAIL electronic mailing address
FAX FAX address
FACT A fact or characteristic.
FONE Phonetic variation of a text.
ROMN Romanized variation of a text.
WWW Web Home page address.
MAP Pertaining to maps.
LATI value of a latitudinal coordinate pertaining to the place of an event
LONG value of a longitudinal coordinate pertaining to the place of an event.

What will the impact of GEDCOM 5.5.1 mean to non-programmers?

Nothing will change immediately for most users. However, the new update does mean that the programmers who write the many genealogy programs will need to update their products and then release new updates. As these updated products become available, anyone using a newly-updated genealogy product that conforms to GEDCOM 5.5.1 can exchange data with more accuracy with anyone else who is also using a GEDCOM 5.5.1-compatible genealogy program.

 

15 Comments

This appears to be the 5.5.1 Draft specification with the front page changed to make it a formal release – at last.

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There is no new update! The only difference between the recently published version and the one from 20 years ago (!!) is the frontpage, from which the Draft designation was removed. The mentioned updates are in regard of the previous 5.5 version from 1996…

I really wonder why FamilySearch “released” this version. It’s really old and has a lot of well-known issues. By ignoring these issues FamilySearch is not doing genealogists any favor (understatement).

Is the publication a sign FamilySeach hasnt’s abandoned the development of the GEDCOM specification? Will they also publish or acknowledge more recent updates to the GEDCOM specification (like version 5.5.5)?

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    Now GEDCOM 5.5.1 is no more draft. So genealogical programs has no reasons to stay on GEDCOM 5.5 (with no UTF-8 support, and other restrictions).
    The specification 5.5.5 is no legal GEDCOM Version and brings new problems.
    Greetings from Germany, Stefan.

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There is no content related modification between the 1999 Draft release and the new 2019 Final release. Only the front page changed – Email address, “Draft” deleted and for copyright “2019” was added.

Liked by 1 person

I am wondering if older programs without updates will be able to still use the previous version. My Personal Ancestral File which I still use cannot be updated but I would like to be able to continue to create GEDCOM files there. I wish FamilySearch would create an update for that!

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    Nancy, the PAF is now as Ancestral Quest. Same folks who developed PAF are working in Ancestral Quest.

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    Thanks for the tip. I have downloaded the Basic Ancestral Quest and will give it a try.

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    I still use PAF and love it still

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    I think, PAF use GEDCOM 5.5.1.
    Most programms try to import all GEDCOM files. The “wrong” GEDCOM-version should not be a reason to reject such files.
    Greetings from Germany, Stefan.

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    My version just says 5.5. But it does have the ability to create a GEDCOM in UTF-8 which I understand is the format read by most other genealogy programs.

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    The version number may say it is 5.5, but the CHAR UTF8 is not allowed in 5.5.
    Have you check other structures. Maybe yo found more structures from 5.5.1.
    Greetings from Germany, Stefan.

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For all of its flaws, GEDCOM 5.5.1 has been the most current standard since 1999. All modern genealogy applications that read and write GEDCOM files should already be using it. As Dick pointed out, it includes tags for email addresses, fax numbers, and web addresses. It also includes UTF-8 character encoding instead of ASCII or the obsolete ANSEL. And it has a simplified way of including multimedia links, instead of embedding them as binary objects. I wrote an article about why all genealogy apps should support GEDCOM 5.5.1 here: https://genealogytools.com/why-all-genealogy-apps-should-support-gedcom-5-5-1/. Now that FamilySearch has finally officially released this version, perhaps they will continue to move forward and make much needed improvements to the standard.

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This “change” might have more to do with copyright expiration than anything else.
On January 1, 2020 a lot of written material will become available for public use due to a law that was passed by the US Congress in 1999. Even a very minor change renews an existing copyright, so the fact that many people are claiming that there is no meaningful change reinforces my suspicion.

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If removing “Draft” from the first page encourages software authors who are stuck between 5.5 and 5.5.1 to (finally) embrace 5.5.1, that’s a good thing.
Other than that, I don’t see much reason for this. I’d like to know what FamilySearch hoped to accomplish but I have been unable to find anything other than the revised (being generous) specification.

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Jean-Pierre Stroweis December 28, 2019 at 12:26 am

What was planned in the 1990s to become GEDCOM 6, a modern standard based on XML, did not succeed to get general acceptance, as it was a complete change, breaking compatibility with the former versions of the standard. No software vendor was willing to completely rewrite their new import/export tool to support the XML version, so GEDCOM 5.5.x remains the only genealogy data exchange format supported across vendors.

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