Gedcom (Genealogical Data Communications) is a file format that allows genealogical data to be shared between software programs. Gedcom was implemented many years ago by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to facilitate genealogical information exchange. It was subsequently adopted as a standard and virtually all genealogical software and sites support Gedcom for data exchange.
Gedcom supports sharing information about events in individual’s lives as well as relationships of the individual. The more recent versions of Gedcom support multimedia attachments. Gedcom has a sourcing system built into it that allows source data to be attached to events. Gedcom has been the workhorse of sharing family history for many years.
Gedcom, however, has many limitations. If you have ever tried to share information with a family member you will have quickly realized this limitations. Many years ago I had taken a copy of my families pedigree information from my father. He gave me the information in Gedcom format. I imported it into the genealogical record manager I used at the time and began adding information. After about a year I had made changes and my father had also made changes so I decided to get an update from him. I merged his file with mine. About an hour later I knew I had made a mistake. My file was a complete mess and as I worked over the next two hours to fix it I realized that it would take me weeks to fix.
Despairing of ever making sense of the mess I had created I finally went to my last back up and restored it. I printed out the information from my Dad and began to update the file manually. It was a long process, but in the end I had all the information updated.
While Gedcom has been a great tool, it does not support sharing well. The limitations of Gedcom have made genealogy record keeping by nature divergent. There are more copies of the information than ever, and rather than helping to bring consensus to different facts, the file sharing has perpetuated differences.
A new version of Gedcom is now being explored and it is long overdue. The discussions around the new version are about making it more compatible with the growing number of sites that support collaboration. Whether it is Ancestry’s trees, new FamilySearch, One Great Family, or Geni, the web has changed tree collaboration forever. Not everyone likes this change. Many I work with believe that it creates junk. Personally I see collaboration as the future. A new Gedcom standard that supports collaboration will be a great addition.
I look forward to a new standard for sharing information that supports permanent links to online sources. I am excited about a new standard that supports links to multiple versions of individuals and helps to foster dialog about the differences to resolve them, where possible. I also look forward to standards that encourage researchers to add sources linked to original documents and enable discussions and documentation on why conclusions were reached. Whether it is a new version of Gedcom, or some other standard I will be happy to see a new process of sharing that allows my information to be portable between various software solutions and retains collaboration, sources, and documentation. The future looks bright for a solution to sharing that supports and Internet enabled world.