image_thumb[4]When we buy 1 liter of milk we expect 1 liter of milk, because there are clear agreements about what 1 liter is. It’s a well documented standard. This way a producer knows how much to put in and a consumer knows how much he/she gets, no confusion. If you go abroad, a liter stays a liter. There are instruments we can use to measure the volume. If there’s less then 1 liter in a 1 liter carton/bottle of milk we protest and are angry with the producer.

If we export our genealogical data to a GEDCOM file we expect that when we import the file in another program all data is complete en correctly imported, because there are clear agreements about how to form and read a GEDCOM file. It’s a well documented standard. When we receive a GEDCOM file from abroad the same GEDCOM rules apply. If we loose information during a GEDCOM export/import, we usually don’t protest, at most we blame GEDCOM and call it insufficient.

Do you see the inconsistency? This is not only strange, it is wrong!

Not adhering to the GEDCOM standard leads to data loss

Users of family tree programs (and websites) have to demand from their software supplier that, if they say their software writes GEDCOM, this file has to adhere to the GEDCOM standard. Because, when a software supplier doesn’t work according to the GEDCOM standard, it’s pretty sure that you will lose data when you import the file in another program or website! If produced GEDCOM files don’t comply with the GEDCOM standard, then the claim by a product that GEDCOM export is possible, is deceptive. The same applies to import.

I say: GEDCOM files which don’t adhere to the GEDCOM standard shouldn’t be allowed to be called GEDCOM!

To prevent data loss software suppliers should maybe delete their incomplete/incorrect GEDCOM export function. But a good family tree program should have a GEDCOM export (and import), otherwise you won’t be able to move your data to another program or service. Developers should be encouraged to adhere to the GEDCOM standard and to clearly communicate about the GEDCOM compliancy.

Developers who don’t think the GEDCOM standard is any good: don’t support it! That’s much better than a mediocre support of GEDCOM and thereby creating false expectations about interchange ability. When certain GEDCOM tags aren’t supported: communicate is. Are invalid GEDCOM tags encountered: report this to the user. Developers who use GEDCOM extensions (which is valid within GEDCOM) should document and communicate and even promote the meaning of these extensions, otherwise programs and websites won’t be able to read these GEDCOM tags or just won’t or can’t support them and information is lost again!

An example

Say you have found a death certificate and insert this data in your family tree program. The data is exported to GEDCOM and the aforementioned source looks in GEDCOM format like this:

0 @S23@ SOUR
1 TITL Death Hendrika Jägers
2 TYPE WieWasWie
3 REF 21
1 REFN WIE30422548
2 TYPE WieWasWie
2 NOTE Archive name: Het Utrechts Archief
2 NOTE Archive: 1221-1
2 NOTE Part/Record: 240
2 NOTE Inventorynr.: 1992
2 NOTE Source type: BS Death

In the text above the red marked parts do not adhere to the GEDCOM standard. When you import this file in another program or website the red marked parts will probably be lost. The example not only has an incorrect syntax, the contents (semantics) are incorrect too.


Be careful with your genealogical data: demand that that exported GEDCOM files adhere to the GEDCOM standard, demand that valid GEDCOM files are imported complete and correctly.

Genealogical organisations which make, review or recommend genealogical software should be clear about the GEDCOM compliance of the software. If they don’t provide this insight they are causing their members/users harm! Because this means users will probably lose some of their painstakingly collected data when the transfer their data to another program or website.

Monitoring compliance with the standard GEDCOM

There are institution which check if 1 liter of milk is what it is supposed to be. Unfortunately there are no institutions which check the GEDCOM compliance and certify family tree programs. This could be a nice job for genealogical societies/federations!

You could check for yourself to see if your family tree program (or website) exports a valid GEDCOM file: upload the exported GEDCOM file to GED-inline. When errors are reported by GED-inline about the GEDCOM file report this to the supplier of the software, report it on this or your own blog, make comments about is one genealogical forums.

If the GEDCOM file is complete (is all you data present) is something the GED-inline tool can’t tell you. Also, you don’t know yet if a valid GEDCOM file is imported correctly by you program (or website). If you run into problems which are caused by not adhering to the GEDCOM standard: report it, blog about is, protest.

Protect your genealogical data!