Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Genealogy Do-over and Genealogy Software

The Genealogy Do-Over has certainly been creating a storm of commentary.  Observing the comments has proved a shiny distraction that has lead me away from the research I had planned. 

The good stuff

Whether you are participating as a do-over, a go-over/review-over/do-better, have pressed the pause button, or are a spectator,  I think you cannot deny that the lively discussions, sharing of tips and resources, and learning something new are all good things.  I can't even begin to keep up with the volume of traffic of the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group. I am pleased to see Thomas MacEntee has created a Genealogy Do-Over Bag-the-web page  to bring together the now over 200 participant's blog posts, and Pintrest board but am not sure he has everything.

There has been some very interesting assessment and documentation of research processes going on:

An indictment on the genealogy software industry?

Have you noticed the variety of tools used by authors of the above blog posts?  There has been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with traditional genealogy software for some years now.  Back in 2009 I posted Data entombed in Family Tree Maker in which I described difficulties in transferring data from one program to another.  The outdated and unsupported GEDCOM data exchange format has still not been replaced.

As genealogical education becomes ever more widely available, it is not surprising that many researchers strive to do quality research.  Paradigms have shifted toward the Genealogical Proof Standard and source-centric methods.  Genealogical software lags behind the thinking of genealogists.

Tony Proctor's Hierarchical Sources explores how software might support research processes, which is much more than just a source citation.

Is your head spinning?  Yes - excellent, you have been thinking.  Welcome to the thinking person's pursuit - genealogy.


  1. Thanks Sue. I believe genealogical thinking -- both in software and in general -- *is* changing, but slowly and in a piecemeal fashion. There's a long way to go yet, and many attitudes that are still anchored in the naivety of early software products. This includes the tools provided by the big sites too.

  2. I must admit that this last month with all the discussion has really made me put on my thinking head and I am looking forward to some serious face to face discussion with fellow genealogists in both the US at Rootstech / FGS 2015 and WDYTYA in April.

  3. Thanks for sharing this synopsis of activity. I must follow this important genealogy process/do over discussion.

  4. Thanks Sue for a great review of the Do Over discussion and projects. Truly exciting times.

  5. I had decided to hit the pause button late last year so I could (re)learn how to do genealogy better. I was frustrated with the software I was using and wondered if there was a better way. In the end I decided to write my own software to work the way *I* think things should be done.rsearch logs, source citations and the GPS will be at the heart of my software and it will allow for exporting GEDCOM data for use in traditional "family tree" oriented software.

    The Genealogy Do-Over discussions have been interesting and I have discovered others (like Louis) who are also trying to change the genealogy software world from collecting names and dates to plug into trees, to more useful genealogical tools to assist with the research process. More discussion and more tools promoting rigorous research can only be a good thing. ;^)

    1. Hi Amos

      I found your blog through the Genealogy Do-Over. I think your approach of writing separate utilities for specific tasks has merit, but am wondering how you will transfer data between them. It strikes me that this needs some standards, which is just what FHISO is trying to develop.

      I agree more discussion leading to better tools is a good thing, which is why I attended Gaenovium in the Netherland, described in

    2. I am still trying to decide how to share data between my apps. GEDCOM will definitely be an option at the end of the toolchain, as I don't think I really want to write a "family tree" app. My apps are designed to help dissect, evaluate and interpret sources and the resulting collection of facts/assertions will be exportable as GEDCOM. As for sharing data between my apps, well one advantage of writing my own suite of tools is I can give them a shared database, which is the path I am leaning towards at the moment. ;^)

      I will of course be looking at other data interchange options - FHISO, GenTech, et al - but honestly, only GEDCOM appears to have any level of support amongst the traditional genealogy software and none of the others appears ready for prime time. The sad fact of the current state of genealogy software is that GEDCOM (a "standard" that is old enough to vote in most jurisdictions!) is still the only viable option for data interchange.

      Having said that, I will be looking closely at the work of FHISO to make sure I am capturing enough relevant data to satisfy whatever standards they eventually come up with. Then again, another approach I am considering is creating a cloud-based genealogical data store with a semi-open API, so I might just plow ahead and create my own standard and let others follow my lead. 8^P

  6. I agree with Sue that a standard representation of the data (and *not* someone's database schema) is essential for this type of endeavour. If one existed then your, and my, software developments could be undertaken in the knowledge that they wouldn't conflict with commercial or open-source products. However, one proviso is that the scope of the representation must be greater than mere lineage. That is why GEDCOM will never fit that bill, and partly why FHISO haven't already created a standard.


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