The standards development process

We are pleased to announce that the FHISO Board have approved a Operations and Policy Manual which should help clarify how we envisage the standards development process proceeding. We identify three main phases in the production of a new standards: idea generation, exploratory work, and project development. The manual details how these stages will operate to ensure an open, transparent and inclusive development process.

Idea generation is where we find out from the community what areas they want to see addressed in future standards. It began with the Call for Papers we announced last spring. More recently we set up the tsc-public mailing list for more informal discussion. Even though we are ready to begin exploratory work in certain areas, we welcome new ideas from all interested parties and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Exploratory work will be carried out in a number of exploratory groups (or EGs), each exploring a particular area. We expect the first of these to commence work shortly. Each group will be issued with specific directives detailing its precise responsibilities. Typically this phase will begin with a review of current applications and standards. Third-party research and ideas submitted to FHISO will be considered, and a consensus reached on the scope of future FHISO work in the field. The EGs will then try to build consensus on the major decisions necessary to recommend the broad substance of the eventual standard.

Project development is the last stage. Project teams will pull together areas of exploratory work and develop them into a coherent standards. This is where the details will get sorted out and the inevitable inconsistencies resolved. The result will be a proposed standard that, after review by the Technical Standing Committee and the Board, may be adopted as a standard by a ballot of all FHISO members.

Technical work begins at FHISO

The Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) is pleased to announce that its Technical Standing Committee is starting the technical work on a new, open genealogical standard. We are seeking to build an active and diverse community to collaborate in this process, and we encourage FHISO members and non-members alike to participate.

Much of the initial technical work will be carried out in exploratory groups, each focusing on a specific aspect of the FHISO’s standardisation work. For each group, we are looking for members of the FHISO who are willing to commit to active participation. Once a group has enough committed participants and starts work, anyone will be able to join in with that work.

Don’t want to join one of these exploratory groups, but still want to be involved? No problem! We have created the tsc-public mailing list for the discussion of any other technical matter that you believe the FHISO should be interested in. Perhaps you disagree with our decision on how to proceed? This is the place to tell us. The FHISO is community-owned and your opinions matter to us.

Finally, we recommend that all interested parties subscribe to the tsc-announce mailing list, which is a very low-volume list that we will use for occasional announcements and updates. If you want to contact the Technical Standing Committee, we can be reached by email at

We regret taking so long to reach this stage. The hiatus has been due to a combination of unforeseen events outside our control, but these are largely resolved and we have streamlined our processes hopefully to avoid a recurrence.

Seeking Co-coordinator for FHISO Technical Standing Committee

The Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) is seeking an interested and qualified volunteer to serve as Co-coordinator of the FHISO Technical Standing Committee (TSC).  The TSC is responsible for the work to achieve FHISO’s substantial technical goals, as expressed by the Board, and it oversees all Technical Projects. The TSC determines the requirements for (scope of work, deliverables, time and resource requirements) and initiates or approves all Technical Project work; directs and/or develops and maintains requisite Project Team Directives; may appoint Coordinators and other Project Team members and assigns other roles as appropriate; it suspends or dissolves Technical Project Teams.

The TSC Co-coordinator is a voting member of the FHISO Board of Directors, and serves as Vice-chair of the TSC.  The ideal candidate for this position is an individual with expertise in the operation of standards organisations or in coordinating the efforts of multiple project teams.

Individuals interested in being considered for this position are asked to submit notice of their interest to the current FHISO Secretary, Andy Hatchett, at The email should include a brief biography indicating relevant expertise.  Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Drew Smith Appointed Chair of FHISO

Drew Smith

Drew Smith


Date: 8 June 2013

Family History Information Standards Organisation, Inc. (FHISO) is pleased to announce the appointment of Drew Smith as the first Chair of FHISO, effective 1 July 2013. Drew is currently the Organisational Member Representative to FHISO from the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS).

“I am deeply honored to have been given this opportunity by the FHISO Board,” Drew said. “As someone who has made a career in information technology and librarianship, I recognize the critical importance of information standards, and as a long-time genealogist, I understand the needs of the world’s genealogy product and service vendors, repositories, societies, and individuals to collaborate and to share family history information. I look forward to leading an international effort to support the creation of these essential information standards.”

“We are excited to have Drew join us in this leadership role, as it marks a significant milestone in transitioning the organisation from its formative state into an operating standards development body,” said Robert Burkhead, FHISO Acting Chair and Technical Standing Committee Coordinator. “Drew’s knowledge and experience in the industry will serve FHISO’s membership and the entire community well.”

Individuals from FHISO member organisations expressed their own praise and support for Drew’s appointment. “Drew brings an excellent synthesis of a genealogical librarian and an active player in the larger family history community, and I look forward to working with him in his new role,” said D. Joshua Taylor, Lead Genealogist and Business Development Manager – North America for brightsolid online publishing, the creators of

“Having worked with Drew in various organizations and committees, I believe he is the perfect choice to chair FHISO at this formative time,” said Bruce Buzbee, President of RootsMagic, Inc. “I have seen firsthand his organizational skills and leadership qualities in groups where members may have very different opinions or somewhat different goals.”

Loretto (Lou) Szucs, Vice President of Community Relations for, had this to say: “Having known and worked with Drew for more than fifteen years, I can’t think of anyone who is better qualified to serve as the first Chair of this important new organization. Drew has consistently shown his outstanding leadership skills in working with family history organizations, libraries, and other historical and technology organizations. As the world’s largest online family history resource, with more than 2.5 million subscribers and more than 11 billion records online, is proud to be a founding member of FHISO.”

“The appointment of Drew Smith as Chair of FHISO sends a strong signal to all wait-and-see organisations,” said Bob Coret, founder of Coret Genealogie. “FHISO is becoming a strong organisation which, with the recent Call for Papers, is leading the way in developing genealogy and family history information standards. As a Founding Member of FHISO from the Netherlands I’m pleased to hear that Drew Smith also embraces the non-English part of the genealogical community, which reflects the international character of FHISO.”

Drew Smith is an Assistant Librarian with the Academic Services unit of the University of South Florida (USF) Tampa Library, and serves as the liaison librarian to the USF School of Information. He has taught graduate-level courses in genealogical librarianship and indexing/abstracting, and undergraduate-level courses in web design. Drew earlier worked for academic computing departments at USF and at Clemson University (South Carolina).

Drew is a Director of FGS (2008-2013), chair of its Technology Committee, and “Rootsmithing with Technology” columnist for its FORUM magazine. He is past Secretary of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). Drew is President of the Florida Genealogical Society of Tampa and has served on the board of the Florida State Genealogical Society. He administers the GENEALIB electronic mailing list with over 1200 genealogy librarians as subscribers, a list he founded in 1996.

Drew has been the co-host of The Genealogy Guys Podcast since September 2005, and together with George G. Morgan has produced over 250 one-hour episodes. Drew is author of the book Social Networking for Genealogists, published in 2009 by Genealogical Publishing Company, and with George is co-author of the upcoming book Advanced Genealogy Research Skills, to be published in September 2013 by McGraw-Hill. Drew has written extensively for NGS NewsMagazine (now NGS Magazine), Genealogical Computing, and Digital Genealogist.

Drew holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Master of Science in Industrial Management from Clemson University, and a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science from USF.


FHISO is a standards-developing organisation bringing the international family history and genealogical community together in a transparent, self-governing forum for the purpose of developing information standards to solve today’s interoperability issues. To learn more about FHISO, visit To become a member, visit
FHISO General Enquiries,
FHISO Membership enquiries,
FHISO Media Relations, Anthony C. Proctor,

Eneclann Joins FHISO Founding Members







Date: 8th May 2013

Eneclann ( and Family History Information Standards Organisation, Inc. (FHISO) announced today that Eneclann has finalised its plans to become a founding member of the organisation.  Brian Donovan, Eneclann’s CEO, said of the partnership “Digitising, indexing and publishing family history records online is fraught with problems. Genealogy needs FHISO to help navigate a collaborative solution to shared problems, and to set meaningful standards, and we in Eneclann are delighted to be partners in this”.  The company will participate with other FHISO members from the global genealogical community in the development of standards for the digital representation and sharing of family history and genealogical information. As an organisation involved in the management, digitisation of, and research with archives, they bring a unique perspective on the work of FHISO. Fiona Fitzsimons, Research Director, commented ‘Digitisation of records has transformed the way we do genealogy, but we need standards so we can be sure of the quality of the electronic records we use. FHISO is a welcome development to achieve this goal.’

“FHISO is proud to welcome Eneclann as a Founding Member. Recognised for its innovation, Eneclann has been involved in major digitisation projects. Its experts bring to FHISO professional services experience in the mixed-language and rich cultural heritage that is associated with Irish genealogy. Brian Donovan, himself an expert in digitisation techniques, also brings project management and business development skills to FHISO. Eneclann’s experience contributes to a unique perspective in the genealogy marketplace”, said FHISO Organiser, Tony Proctor (UK and Ireland).

About Eneclann Ltd.

Eneclann Ltd., incorporated in 1998, is the largest genealogical company in Ireland.  Well known internationally for its research for the hit T.V. series Who Do You Think You Are? worldwide, as well as the U.S. T.V. series Faces of America (2010), and Finding Your Roots (2012),  Eneclann has also traced the Irish roots of President Barack Obama and several celebrities, most recently Tom Cruise.

Eneclann has developed significant skills in archival management, and expertise in digital technology. The company was instrumental in the founding of the online service in 2003, and more recently in 2011 launched the web service with their Scottish joint-venture partner brightsolid.

To date the company has brought over 65 million genealogical records online, and has acted as a trusted partner of several archives, libraries and other Irish public institutions in making their historic records available to a wide audience.  Find out more at:


FHISO is a standards-developing organisation bringing the international family history and genealogical community together in a transparent, self-governing forum for the purpose of developing information standards to solve today’s interoperability issues. To learn more about FHISO, visit To become an enquiring member, visit


Eneclann,, +353 1 671 0338.

FHISO General Enquiries,; Membership enquiries,; FHISO Media Relations, Anthony C. Proctor,


It’s on its way!

Work on FHISO’s web-based collaboration platform is nearing completion. This tool will support our members in the development of a data and information standard intended to benefit the international genealogy and family history community. Making these tools available will be an important milestone along the road of achieving the organisation’s primary mission. Both the collaboration platform, as well as enhancements to this web site, should be available shortly.

A new tool or platform, however, is no substitute for community participation. While we’re putting the finishing touches on the new tools and site, I’m renewing our invitation made during RootsTech 2013 to participate in the community Open Call for Papers. This initiative is truly an opportunity for you to have your say, your way. If you have questions or would like assistance submitting a paper, you can contact us.

Robert Burkhead
Technical Standing Committee Coordinator

Open Source vs. Open Standard

I’ve been an active FHISO volunteer for a little over a month and it has been a marvellous journey in every way. When I first visited last autumn it had looked to me to be both dead and exclusive, but a random comment during a rootsdev hangout led to my attending a FHISO organizers meeting and I realized that that initial impression could not have been more wrong. The amount of energy, thought, and time that the other FHISO volunteers bring to the behind-the-scenes work of getting something as monumental as FHISO running is impressive, and their willingness to let me join them has been delightful.

I hope to write several posts here over time describing my perspective on the goals, process, and vision of FHISO. In this post I offer my perspective on the word open and what open standards are (and are not). In particular, how are open source and open standard related?

For clarity, this post represents my opinion and my opinion only. I appreciate FHISO allowing me to post it on their blog but take personal responsibility for any inaccuracies it contains.

A standard is neither software nor source code. The equivalent of this observation in other fields is obvious: for example, a FIFA standard association football is spherical and 71 cm in circumference‒that’s (part of) the FIFA standard; the standard isn’t a particular ball, nor a particular tool that creates balls. A standards organisation might create a prototype for illustrative purposes, such as the World Wide Web Consortium’s Amaya web browser, but it’s generally just that: a prototype, not intended for major use. To reiterate, standards describe characteristics that products need to meet to be interoperable with other products; source code is one particular product.

Open standards also differ from (the common version of) open source both legally and culturally.

Legally, most (though not all) open source code is based on some contagious license: anyone can use the program and anyone can change it, but any change must be released under the same license. For standards that’s not generally an acceptable model. Most companies want to add a few elements to the standard to support their tool’s unique features and they generally don’t want to have to publish those extensions for all their competitors to see. You may or may not believe that companies should publish their extensions, but either way requiring them to do so will cause some of them to shy away from the standard.

Culturally, open source projects are often (though not always) part of some kind of open-ended open-participation development process. Larger projects have some kind of release cycle and a limited set of committers, but the product is still in more-or-less continual flux, often with fairly ad-hoc direction. This culture enables the rapid addition of new features, an asset in developing code but unacceptable in working with standards. Standards must be stable to be useful, with each release’s lifetime measured in years or even decades. They should also be subject to broad consensus before they are published, having been reviewed by a diverse set of impacted parties and not just one or two committers.

Standards can be both open and community-owned. Standards can be developed by the community, where community means some mix of volunteers (like myself) and industry leaders—i.e., the people and corporations whose tools impact the most users. The development process can also be open to the public, in that the general process is made visible to, and may be commented on by, anyone. This publicity does not reach the level of every meeting being streamed live nor every email being a matter of public record: that level of visibility can reduce every conversation into meaningless publicity soundbites. But it does mean that all participants are committed to making their work as public as they reasonably can, using principles such as those outlined by OpenStand to ensure that the process remains open, transparent, balanced, and subject to broad consensus.

As a testament to its open and community-owned vision, FHISO is very open to people. The call for papers is open to anyone who has an idea about what should be standardised or how such a standard might work. Other involvement is also welcome in myriad ways, although responses to queries might not always be immediate given how many things the existing organisers and volunteers are juggling. Don’t believe me? Send me an email (ltychonievich at fhiso) and I’ll do my best to help you discover how you can be part of this open, community effort.

—Luther Tychonievich, FHISO volunteer.

Patrick L. Jones, remarks prepared for the FHISO Panel

On Friday, I had to leave RootsTech early and unfortunately missed the FHISO panel during the Developer Day track. These are the remarks I would have made.

My name is Patrick Jones, I am Senior Director of Security at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, ICANN is a global organization that coordinates the Internet’s unique identifier system (domain names, such as .com, .info and .us; Internet protocol addresses and numbers; and protocol port and parameter numbers). We do this for worldwide public benefit, enabling a single interoperable Internet. ICANN works through a multistakeholder model, facilitating participation by all interested parties, to foster a healthy, stable and resilient Internet ecosystem through coordination and collaboration.

I make these remarks now in my personal capacity, from the perspective of someone who has worked in a multistakeholder environment for the past 13 years and from the perspective of an individual family historian.

Last summer I read the FHISO introductory paper, describing the need for a community-driven effort to develop information standards in the family history space. The premise sounded a lot like the multistakeholder environment in Internet coordination, so I reached out to the organizers, asked some questions and made some suggestions for strengthening the concept. They took those suggestions on board and have continued to grow support for collaborative standards development in the family history environment. It has been great to see some of the largest commercial entities in the space come together with a growing number of genealogical societies. 

Between the members of this panel (Ancestry, brightsolid, FGS and RootsMagic), they host billions of images and records, important historical data that is valuable on its own. But once users add context and connections to that data, it becomes even more valuable – not just to these entities, but for users, who want to be confident the information is secure and stable, and for the greater community who may look for this knowledge in the future. Having an open, collaborative environment for family history information standards strengthens that data, and makes it easier for users to transfer it among operators. This effort may help increase accuracy, stability and interoperability for the larger family history community.

There are two developments in the international arena that make it a good time for FHISO to launch its efforts to a broad audience.

First, in August 2012, the Open Stand initiative ( was announced. This is a joint effort by the Internet Society, Internet Architecture Board, IEEE, Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), supported by hundreds of individuals worldwide. Open Stand promotes a set of principles for modern standards development:

  1. Cooperation
  2. Adherence to principles (due process, broad consensus, transparency, balance, openness)
  3. Collective empowerment
  4. Availability (standards specifications that are accessible to all)
  5. Voluntary Adoption

The Open Stand principles align with the mission of FHISO to bring together stakeholders from the genealogy and family history communities to develop open, international technology standards, and provide an example for the family history community to follow.

The second major development occurred in January 2013. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its Vancouver Declaration (see PDF at, providing a set of recommendations for a multistakeholder approach to the digital preservation of cultural heritage and historical information and encouraging closer collaboration among international professional associations, regional organizations and commercial enterprises to ensure that recorded information in all its forms is preserved.

FHISO is kicking off at the right time to build from Open Stand, UNESCO’s Vancouver Declaration and other efforts in the greater Internet community as a collaboration point for information standards in the family history space. I look forward to where it is headed next, and I encourage the RootsTech community to look closely at FHISO as an opportunity to work together.

Thank you.

[Thank you from all of us, Patrick.]

FHISO Album – RootsTech 2013
















FHISO-RootsTech Panel – two hours and counting down


Don’t miss our panel discussion today at RootsTech 2013. You’ll hear more about Open Standards from some of the FHISO Founding Members.

In the photograph below some of the panelists, Patrick L. Jones, Joshua Harman (Ancestry) and Robert Burkhead (FHISO) are chatting about FHISO and the panel discussion with FamilySearch’s Gordon Clarke.