Monday, 22 September 2014

FHISO is back in action. User input needed.

In the few weeks since the beginning of August, the Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) has burst back into life after an apparent slumber.  This is good news for all genealogists.

The Prize

We live in a world where many things we take for granted have been made possible by technical standards.  For example, the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) standards underpin the technology behind this blog.

  • online records that come with the citation and provenance data embedded in a format that is understood by any genealogy database you choose
  • sharing your family history with other researchers, confident that no information has been lost or corrupted
  • new tools that are compatible with existing software

FHISO’s goals are:
FHISO shall work transparently and collaboratively to identify, develop, disseminate, and maintain voluntary, open, consensus-based technical standards, including necessary supporting documentation and services. The standards shall be publicly available at no or nominal cost on a non-discriminatory basis. Anyone may implement the standards for any purpose, without royalty or license fees. These rights, granted to users or implementers, may not be revoked by FHISO.
The open nature of FHISO is important because no company or organization holds a monopoly or undue influence on technical developments.

Have a listen to the interview on FGS radio with Roger Moffat and GeneJ in December 2012 for a flavour of the possibilities.

A Short History of FHISO

FHISO was established in February 2012. Many genealogists had been frustrated with the shortcomings of GEDCOM for many years. Things came to a head in 2010, when DearMyrtle and Russ Worthington demonstrated that family history data did not transfer between programs properly, which resulted in the formation of BetterGEDCOM. Different programs interpret the current de-facto GEDCOM standard inconsistently, and implementations vary in the degree of compliance. GEDCOM was developed in the 1980s and the last widely implemented update (version 5.5.1) was in 1999, so a replacement that can handle modern research methods and cope with newly available tools is long overdue.  BetterGEDCOM lead to the establishment of FHISO.

Between May 2012 and May 2013 the following vendors announced support for FHISO:
RootsMagic, Inc.
ourFamily•ology, Inc
Calico Pie Limited (produces Family Historian)
Coret Genealogie
brightsolid (now D C Thompson family history)
Mocavo (since purchased by D C Thompson)

In addition genealogy and family history society bodies on both sides of the Atlantic also announced their support:
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) of the United States
Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) of the United Kingdom

An open call for papers issued in March 2013 remains in force.  To date over 50 papers have been submitted.  An initial flurry in the first 3 months was followed by a steady trickle.

In June 2013 Drew Smith’s appointment as chair was announced.  And then things went quiet. It has taken a long while to fill other positions. On 5 August 2014, the Technical Standing Committee (TSC) was announced and the board was announced on 15 September 2014. The TSC has proposed four initial exploratory groups that will start the process.

Two email forums for the Technical Standing Committee were launched on 12 August 2014.  The low volume read only list, tsc-announce is for announcements.  Much more interesting is the tsc-public for discussion.  This list has been active with lively discussion exceeding 500 messages in just over a month.

How users can contribute

Whether or not you are of a technical inclination, please do take a look at the papers and discussions. If you find the papers too technical or the forum discussions too lengthy, don’t despair. The discussions have already spawned 3 blog posts on sources and citations:

A balance of contributions from genealogist users (that’s YOU) and technologists is needed for success. Please let them know about the many ways you do research in reality and how you use many kinds of programs and services that are not designed for genealogy. Tell them what is useful and what is not. Give them frequent reality checks and ask for explanations of anything in the proposals that is not clear to you.

Vendors and service providers also stand to gain from FHISO standards through meeting their customers’ needs.

Are YOU ready to join the collaboration?


  1. Are you saying the software companies will be changing their "gedcom" formats for people to share their information to each other? You have older people that don't like new formats and updating software that have awesome data to share. Will their old gedcoms work with the new? Just wondering after working with some Family Associations.

    1. GEDCOM has been dead for over a decade. Software companies who claim to support it do so inconsistently. Software companies and data providers use a variety of formats that are not GEDCOM. That is why a technical standard is needed.

      GEDCOM was designed for the transfer of conclusion data, and does not properly support a source based approach to research. People with awesome data to share would be better served by a standard that can cope with many different kinds of data. If you have insights into the Family Associations data and needs, perhaps you would consider sharing those insights.

      You do make a very good point about transfer from GEDCOM to a new format. It is clear that is a facility that will be needed, and the FHISO discussion forums have noted the requirement.

      I do not speak for any software company or data provider, so I cannot predict what they will choose to do. I hope those who have announced support, collaborate as they promised.


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