FamilySearch GEDCOM 7

I’m sure many of you will have seen the announcement from FamilySearch of a new version of GEDCOM, the first new version that they have released for over 21 years.

Since then we’ve had a number of enquiries about FHISO’s involvement in its development, our opinion of this new standard, and how it affects our future plans, particularly with regards to ELF (or Extended Legacy Format, designed to be backwards compatible with GEDCOM 5.5 and 5.5.1). I’d like to take this opportunity to answer these questions publicly on behalf of FHISO.

FamilySearch GEDCOM™ version 7 was developed on behalf of FamilySearch (which is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) by a team of contributors from a wide range of stakeholders. FHISO’s Chair, Luther Tychonievich, was invited to represent FHISO during the development of FamilySearch GEDCOM 7, as were multiple other FHISO members, though the confidentiality agreements during the development prevented us from disclosing the details of this involvement to FHISO members. Luther served as drafting editor of the standard with his time being funded by his employer, the University of Virginia.

However we would stress that it is a FamilySearch standard, not a FHISO standard, for the simple reason that it has not been ratified as a FHISO standard by a vote of our members.

This new standard is closely based on GEDCOM 5.5.1, though it is not entirely backwards-compatible due to the removal of certain constructs which complicated the proper parsing of GEDCOM. For example, the ANSEL character set (which was withdrawn as a NISO standard in 2013) is no longer the default and only UTF-8 is permitted, while the LANG tag now uses IETF BCP 47 language tags. The text of the standard has been largely rewritten in a clearer, more modern style with far more examples, and with many ambiguities cleared up.

Changes to the data model are relatively minor. A few that particularly caught my attention were a new NO tag to record the absence of an event, for example to say someone was unmarried; a new SDATE tag to record an indicative date for sorting purposes; the ability to attach sources to inline NOTEs and include HTML in them; a new CREA tag for the record creation date; and a new EXID to attach URLs and other IDs to records. This is not an exhaustive list of changes.

Arguably the most important change is the new SCHMA tag, which serves as a point for documenting extensions to GEDCOM. This tag may be familiar if you had been following our work on ELF, as it formed a key element of that. GEDCOM’s SCHMA tag is less developed than ELF’s, but this should not be a problem as, like any other GEDCOM structure, it is extensible.

I know from the correspondence I’ve seen that some people are disappointed that there are not more new facilities in FamilySearch GEDCOM 7, but that is not the point of this standard. As we planned for ELF 1.0, its main accomplishment is in providing a suitable platform for future development, whether by FamilySearch, FHISO or third parties. Perhaps most importantly, it shows a welcome renewed commitment to and investment in GEDCOM by FamilySearch. This FHISO Board of Directors welcome this effort and would like to congratulate FamilySearch on the
release of FamilySearch GEDCOM 7.

Where does this leave our work on ELF? Portions of our work, like the ELF data model, are no longer needed as they have been incorporated into FamilySearch GEDCOM 7, but several items remain:

  • We are in the process of defining a generic syntax for GEDCOM irrespective of specification version, and using that to define a GEDCOM media type and register it with the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority).
  • Continuing to refine the schema idea that FHISO contributed to FamilySearch GEDCOM 7, showing how to back-port it to GEDCOM 5.5.1 and developing a way to add more information, such as payload types, cardinality and the like.
  • Developing standards for discovery mechanisms with content negotiation for the URIs registered in the schemas.

We congratulate FamilySearch on this new version of their standard! We plan to discuss the above items about ELF and other topics related to GEDCOM in our next annual general meeting of the FHISO membership.

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