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.