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I've used GEDCOM to transfer data between desktop software and websites, but it all seems a bit old hat. Is there anything better that will mangle* my data less.

* For example, GEDCOM can lose some data where the two ends of the system understand a concept which GEDCOM does not have a field for.

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Can you describe specifically what kind of 'mangling' GEDCOM is doing, or another specific problem about the format you're trying to circumvent? –  fbrereto Oct 9 '12 at 23:21
    
Interesting that this subject seems to have attracted twice as many views as most of our other good questions. –  ACProctor Dec 3 '12 at 13:06
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Here is a blogpost by GenerousGenealogists on FHISO's call for papers signaling the commencement of open standards development work. Interested parties to this Q&A (ie genealogical info exchange standards) may want to participate. –  Duncan Mar 25 '13 at 13:03
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4 Answers

Short answer: GEDCOM is the only de facto standard, supported by practically every genealogy product and service. Transfer through GEDCOM can work fine, but can also be problematic. GEDCOM is not perfect, and the quality of GEDCOM support varies greatly. Any specific problem you encountered may already have its own topic.

Additional information: FamilySearch stopped maintaining GEDCOM. Many alternatives to GEDCOM have been proposed, none have gained wide adoption. An extensive overview of GEDCOM alternatives is not hard to google.

Many products will import directly from a short list of competing products. A third-party conversion tool, called AncestorSync is likely to become commercially available late this year.

There have been several attempts to create organisations for genealogy data standards, most recently OpenGen and BetterGEDCOM. The BetterGEDCOM project led to the creation of Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO). Major genealogy software vendors have joined as founding members.

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When is it likely FHISO will commence work, take members etc –  Michael Oct 10 '12 at 17:47
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@Michael, Soon, but not next week or next month. I am among the volunteer organizers working on FHISO. Our critical mass requirement depends on representation beyond just numbers and market share--the base needs to be distributed globally and balanced, especially in terms of vendors/content providers (including open source) and genealogical organizations. We made a sixth such announcement this morning and have about as many in backlog. There is momentum (six should mean twelve and twelve, then 24), so we will get there. More volunteers are welcome. –  GeneJ Oct 11 '12 at 18:38
    
Following GeneJ's lead on this (I am a FHISO volunteer too), we want to become operational ASAP. At some early point, we hope members will be able to participate by submitting proposals and requirements that will contribute to the design process. FHISO is multi-stakeholder so this will including both genealogists and technologists. We want the design process to be conducted by - and for - the community, rather behind closed doors, so membership is something everyone who cares should be looking at. –  ACProctor Dec 3 '12 at 12:52
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GEDCOM is the defacto standard for exchanging genealogical data. There are some problems with GEDCOM.

  1. It is not rich enough to hold all the types of information that different vendor systems manage internally. So exporting GEDCOM from one system may lose information that that system actually holds. Though see point 4 below.

  2. There is enough ambiguity in the definition of GEDCOM that different vendors have interpreted a few parts of the format inconsistently. Though they support the same tags, they can't consistently share data that uses those tags.

  3. Some systems don't implement all parts of the GEDCOM format. So, when they import GEDCOM data that includes those parts, they lose that information.

  4. GEDCOM has facilities that allow different vendors to extend it by adding new tags that allow them to add new types of data to GEDCOM. Others systems that do not use the same set of extensions looe that information on import.

There have been a few attempts to create new standards and formats for exchanging genealogical data. An older one that is often mentioned is the GenTech model. Recently there have been two efforts underway, Better GEDCOM and GEDCOM-X. Better GEDCOM is now inactive. However, the currently developing FHISO effort evolved from it. GEDCOM-X is an effort of Family Search (an organ of the LDS) and is currently a work in progress.

A number of individuals have also offered up new formats for archiving and tranferring genealogical data. None of these have generated enough traction to attract critical mass of interest.

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Excellent answer. You should add links to the websites for Better GEDCOM, FHISO, and GEDCOM-X. –  JustinY Oct 10 '12 at 3:06
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Is there anything better that will mangle my data less. If you mean uploading a GEDCOM file to a site such as ancestry, my heritage etc, then the answer is NO, as there is no standard across different programs and sites for the transfer of genealogical data.

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There is a new standard being developed which better supports online and electronic sources: GedcomX.

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GEDCOM X is described as an open project to support genealogical data communications. It does not look to be directed towards being a recognized standard. –  Loan Oct 10 '12 at 3:09
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FamilySearch initially tried to push their GEDCOM X as an industry standard, but has stopped doing so: tamurajones.net/GEDCOMXNoIndustryStandard.xhtml. –  TamuraJones Oct 10 '12 at 17:33
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