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 For example, the ANSEL character set (which was withdrawn as a NISO standard in 2013) is no longer the default and only UTF-8 is permitted, while the LANG tag now uses IETF BCP 47 language tags.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.

FHISO Update – Spring 2021

Due to disruptions caused by changing schedules and reductions in free time during the COVID-19 pandemic, FHISO mostly suspended operations from April 2020 through March 2021. As such, an annual report for 2020 was not produced and all memberships have been extended by a year. We are happy to report that FHISO is operating once again and are hopeful 2021 will prove to be a much more productive year.

Annual Report to Members for 2019

The FHISO Board of Directors have prepared a report on our activities in 2019, and our plans for this year. We have also published our accounts for 2019. If you’d like to comment on this report, feel free to email the Board or the Technical Standing Committee.

Introducing our new board

The call for nominations to the Board of Directors resulted in six nominations for six posts so, per our by-laws, per our by-laws, all six candidates were declared elected without a vote. We are pleased to welcome Joel Cannon, David Mann and Seth Taplin who are joining the board for the first time. They have been elected as Directors at Large, meaning their particular areas of responsibility will be decided at our September board meeting.

Of the previous board, Roger Moffat, Richard Smith and Luther Tychonievich have been re-elected. Luther, who took over as Chair of FHISO in May, continues in this role, while Roger remains Secretary and Treasurer, and Richard takes over from Luther as Technical Coordinator. We say goodbye to Andy Hatchett, Greg Lamberson, Brett McPhee, Tony Proctor and Drew Smith, who are leaving the board. We take this opportunity to thank them for serving on the board for many years, and wish them the best for the future.

FHISO Call for Nominations and Announcement of Annual General Meeting

The Family History Information Standards Organisation is seeking  nominations for the Board of Directors.
The election will be held online with voting being conducted from July 21, 2019 to August 3, 2019, followed by an Annual General Meeting held online on August 10, 2019.
As this is FHISO’s first board election, all positions are open for election. These are:
   Chair – the head of FHISO, with overall responsibility for the smooth running of the organisation.
   Technical Coordinator – the chair of the Technical Standing Committee, with overall responsibility for FHISO’s standardisation and specification work.
   Four Directors at Large to fill other roles on the board.
Terms of office run from the AGM on August 10, 2019 for two years.

It is expected that some board members will hold several roles, for instance, the roles of secretary and treasurer are currently held by the same individual.  The details will depend on the skills and interests of those elected.

Candidates standing for Chair or Technical Coordinator may also stand as a Director at Large, and we encourage this. The elections of Chair and Technical Coordinator are held first, and if the person elected is also standing as a Director at Large, they will be removed from that election.  Candidates may not stand as both Chair and Technical Coordinator.

If there are more than four candidates to serve as Directors at Large, a single election will be held for these four positions.  The ballot will allow members to rank candidates in preference using the single transferable vote system, and the top four will be elected to the board.

Members who wish to put themselves forward as a candidate or who wish to suggest a possible candidate for an office are invited to contact us by email at

The FHISO Board is a small working board.  Each member is expected to have their own remit which might be technical or administrative, and might involve outreach or promoting FHISO’s activities.  We are looking for candidates who can commit the time needed to pursue their remit effectively, however we understand that a board made up of volunteers will have other commitments and try to make allowances for that.  If you’d like to understand more about the work involved, contact us at

Our current board has members in many different time zones and we schedule our meetings at times to best suit board member.  The working language of the board is English, but we will endeavour to support any board members for whom English is not their first language.

FHISO was founded to develop genealogical standards in a more structured environment than the BetterGEDCOM wiki allowed.  We continue to believe there is a pressing need for new, open standards on the exchange and representation of genealogical data, and that there is no organisation better placed than FHISO to develop them.  Although it regrettable that it has taken seven years to reach this stage and some of our initial impetus has been lost in the process, but FHISO is finally starting to make a tangible contribution to genealogy technology with drafts of six technical standards now released, and several more in progress.

We are now looking to bring new members on to the board, with fresh ideas and new enthusiasm to help drive FHISO forwards in its mission. We hope you continue to believe in that mission, as we do, and ask that you consider whether you can help us achieve it by joining the board.

Even if you don’t feel able to stand for election to the board, we ask that you renew your membership and vote in the election.  FHISO’s main expenses are the costs associated with being incorporated in Arizona. For a sustainable future, we need enough members to cover these costs. A larger membership also helps us ensure our work is progressing in the direction the genealogical community want it take.

Membership renewals

Most FHISO members will have received an email on Friday about their membership expiring on 31 May 2019, and asking whether they’d like to renew. A lot of our members paid $20 to join FHISO back in 2013 when we first invited people to become members of the organisation. The $20 membership fee was described as an annual fee, but as setting up FHISO took far longer than anticipated, we felt it inappropriate to ask members to pay to renew their membership renewals while we were still establishing the organisation and started technical work in earnest. We therefore extended all memberships free of charge several times, most recently until 31 May 2019.

We now believe FHISO is now fairly well established, and with public drafts of six standard now available, technical work is well under way too. We plan to hold elections to the FHISO Board of Directors towards the end of July, to be followed by an Annual General Meeting. These will be conducted electronically so that members around the world can participate. The Board believes it is now appropriate to ask those wishing to retain their membership to pay to renew it. We encourage you to do so by 15 July to ensure you will be eligible to vote in the elections later that month.

We hope you continue to believe in FHISO’s objectives and are willing to support our on-going development of open genealogical standards by renewing your membership.

Annual Report to Members for 2018

The FHISO Board of Directors have prepared a report on our activities in 2018, and our plans and concerns for the future. This is the first time we have prepared a report of this nature, covering all aspects of the organisation, but we intend to produce a report like this annually. We have also published our accounts for 2018. If you’d like to comment on this report, feel free to email the Board or the Technical Standing Committee.

Draft of a new ELF Dates standard

FHISO’s Technical Standing Committee is pleased to announce the first public draft of a new standard, Extended Legacy Format (ELF): Date, Age and Time Microformats, or ELF Dates for short. This draft defines microformats for representing dates, ages and times in arbitrary calendars together with how they are applied to the Gregorian, Julian, French Republican and Hebrew calendars in a GEDCOM-compatible manner. It is available as an HTML web page or as a PDF for download.

We welcome comments these, preferably to the tsc-public mailing list. A longer overview of this draft can be read in the the announcement email.

Merry Christmas from all at FHISO, and we wish you an enjoyable New Year.

FHISO Board Meeting 5 June 2018

The FHISO Board met by Google Hangout on 5 June 2018 at 18:05 UTC. Subjects covered included finances, technical work, and outreach.

The minutes of this meeting are available here:

FHISO Board Meeting 24 April 2018

The FHISO Board met by Google Hangout on 24 April 2018 at 18:00 UTC. Subjects covered included finances, technical work, and outreach.

The minutes of this meeting are available here: