Family History Information Standards Organisation, Inc. (FHISO) was incorporated earlier this year to act as the community-owned standards organization serving genealogists, world wide.

Standards organizations depend on broad support — that includes support across some of the entrenched territorial lines we find in our community.

Most other sectors have figured out how to bridge those territorial lines — they are already reaping the benefits of open, transparent and democratically developed standards. If we work together as a community, we too can build bridges.

So, let’s get started. The position paper/comment draft, “Why FHISO?” being released today, should help get the dialog going. Click to download the PDF file.

Why FHISO v01-04

Whether you agree with it, dispute it or want to add to it, we want to hear from you. Help us pass it around. We’d like comments from innovators and users alike. And around the globe, too, so please share it with those you know and with those you wouldlike to know better.

One community, one standard. We are stronger and better together. Let’s sort out the issues and start making things happen.

(1) Don’t be shy! Comments about “Why FHISO?” are welcome on this blog post, but if you prefer, comments via e-mail are welcome, too. fhiso@fhiso.org.

(2) We’ve opened up a page on the BetterGEDCOM wiki about this position paper.


It’s a wiki, so if you are not already a member, join up and comment.

(3) FHISO representatives attend the open BetterGEDCOM meeting held Monday mornings (1:00 EDT/US). A part of each meeting is set aside for questions, answers and discussion about FHISO.

(4) Join the FHISO organizing effort. We are now a nine member* international group; usually on five different continents, though today we are on six. Most of our work is done asynchronously (e-mail or common workspace). We hold a GoToMeeting session weekly (Wednesday at 1:30 EDT/US); attendance is encouraged, but optional. Those interested should email fhiso@fhiso.org.

(5) Speak out and let us know about it. If you blog or develop a posting about FHISO, send a notice to us at fhiso@fhiso.org

*The current FHISO Board Members are: Robert Burkhead (USA); Geir Thorud (Norway); Andrew Hatchett (USA). The nine “FHISO organizers” are all volunteers: Robert Burkhead (USA); Geir Thorud (Norway); Greg Lamberson (Egypt); Tony Proctor (Ireland and UK); Neil Parker (Canada); GeneJ (USA); Andrew Hatchett (USA); Roger Moffat (USA); Brett McPhee (Australia).

Updated 510 pm
Updated 1:50 pm 2010-07-28 to add board member and organizers names


9 comments to Why FHISO?

  • Margaret Rutledge

    I support a standard data structure that allows easy transferance between genealogy programs used in all parts of the world. That is a real challenge given the variety of languages, naming structures and date/calendar differences.
    It should not be designed to fit any one software of church protocol, because they can be changed to pluck fields from the new data structure.
    I would ask the structure permit the transfer of unlimited notes, as mine are extensive because I document my sources with both the source fields in Reunion and the notes. While both are in the gedcom created by Reunion, sources are often stripped off when a gedcom is transported. If the info is in the notes it isn’t lost.
    Best of luck with the new structure. I’d help if I could, but i’m only a user.

    • GeneJ

      Hi Margaret,

      Thank you for your interest in FHISO.

      Your input counts!! Indeed, FHISO was created to become a forum in which users, vendors, service providers and genealogical organizations would gather for the purpose of developing international standards for the digital representation of genealogical information.

      Diverse user needs/requirements are a driving force behind the development of standards. This means that while you (and I) might not have the technical experience to devise the best solutions, the organization wants users engaged throughout the process.

      One community, one standard. We are stronger and better together. The nine organizers are diverse group–standards professionals, independent developers and technologists and yet–end users, too. Don’t hesitate to join us, there is much to do.

      Thank you again for your interest in FHISO. –GeneJ

  • Evelyn W. Wallace

    How about prevailing upon Ancestry.com to delete shipping *gatewayed* messages over to rootweb.com? What a waste of time for experienced genealogists. Most of the time, there is no date to the event which some inexperienced person wants.

    • GeneJ

      Hi Evelyn,

      Family History Information Standards Organization (FHISO) was created to become a forum in which users, vendors, service providers and genealogical organizations would gather for the purpose of developing international standards for the digital representation of genealogical information. More than a decade has passed since the release of GEDCOM 5.5 (5.5.1), the industry’s current de facto standard(s). A new standard is needed to solve today’s interoperability problems and help vendors deliver better value and functionality to users.

      From the message you posted, it sounds as though you are unhappy with the RootsWeb messaging system, something beyond the scope of FHISO’s mission. I would encourage you to communicate directly with RootsWeb and Ancestry.com about your frustrations.

      Thank you for your interest in FHISO and for posting your message. –GeneJ

  • MaryLu Metz

    Like Margaret Rutledge I use Reunion and also have that source stripping problem whenI transfer GED.com files. When I transfer from Reunion to Family Tree Maker the sources and media are stripped. Keeping everything together would be a good idea.

  • I, too, am a Reunion user, but I also have experience with MacFamilyTree, PAF, AncestralQuest, RootsMagic, and Legacy. I have moved GEDCOMS back and forth between them all, just to see the results. For the most part, everything transfers well, except source data. I think the focus needs to be on the source templates in each of the programs. If they were simplified and mostly uniform, that problem would be solved. (Yes, I have suggestions.)

    Being a source fanatic, I have made a study of the source templates in genealogy data management programs. My conclusion is that, except for Reunion, they are too complex for the average user, hence the average user doesn’t use them. Instead, the source information goes into the notes. Many family historians do not seem to understand the difference between notes and sources in family history, and why we need both. It will be a matter of first teaching the software developers and insisting on a usable source template, and then teaching the family historians.

  • John Evans

    I only recently came across this website, but thought I would toss out a couple of ideas since data transformation is one of my professional strengths.

    First my background: I have been a genealogy buff since I was old enough to read my mother’s records, which were filled out on a manual typewriter, if you were lucky. My first gig as a professional programmer was writing utilities to convert data between various formats, along side some of the founders of My Family/Ancestry a few years before they went on to found those organizations. That was a long time ago, but now I am up to my neck in B2B project management, so data transformation is still my thing, 23 years later. As far as software goes, I haven’t replaced PAF, but only because I haven’t decided what to choose while I’m still working on some pet family history programming projects of my own.

    So based on that background, here are three thoughts:

    1. Whatever standards are developed, stay away from the name GEDCOM. Not because it’s bad. It was okay for its time. However, de facto or not, the name is owned by the LDS Church. The official specification is copyrighted. Also, I think traditional GEDCOM is dead (or should be) as far as “standard” goes and ought to be buried. The common standard refers to itself as the “lineage-linked” form. While there could be other GEDCOM forms, Lineage-Linked is the form most suitable to the church’s religious-based needs.

    2. My current occupation leads me to my second thought: in this era of Internet communication, sharing and standards, a new Family History data standards would best be served by deriving it from XML. I say this mainly as a programmer. XML and its many special derivatives are based on well-defined grammars and infrastructure. The volume of software available that already supports XML and can be validated against an XML grammar is huge. Not just applications, but XML libraries are available for all major programming languages, and most common database systems have native XML support built in. Many of these XML derivatives, such as the cXML standards I use most often, also support the use of “extrinsics,” or XML tags that are currently outside the standard, but are either under consideration or have, by agreement, between mutiple entities. And even the extrinsics have a defined format.

    In GEDCOM on the other hand, while the specifications included grammars, they have always been rather loosely followed, and the official grammars are not really well designed nor formatted for use by a parser. Yes, they could be rewritten in BNF. But with the many “extensions” to GEDCOM out there, the result from such an effort would not likely make too many developers happy. To many “official” tags are used in unofficial ways, and many “user-defined” tags do not start with an underscore as required. Because of this mess developed over the last 20 years, I willing to bet that most products’ GEDCOM parsers based on a large amount of spaghetti-coding, even if they started with a formal grammar.

    Creating a decent, formally-defined set of standards almost demands starting over from scratch, albeit with current standards in mind. I honestly don’t know how palatable this would be to end users, but all but a small percentage ever look at the data files. If application developers can stick to accepted standards, end users wouldn’t have to worry so much about problems.

    3. How do you encourage developers to develop to standards? Perhaps the easiest way would be to create a sister org or sub-org to FHISO: a marketing consortium. An example of this is the Wi-Fi Alliance. Yes, the common term “Wi-Fi” is a registered trademark. In order for a product to use the term “Wi-Fi,” it must meet the certification requirements of the Alliance, which was created to promote standards.

    FHISO could use its name (or another trademarked name) to promote the standard, and at the same time invite application developers to submit their interchange data for certification, which would allow them to use the name in their own promotional materials. If such an arrangement begins to work, it will snowball due to self-marketing, bringing all parties under the standards.

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