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One major concern when using my genealogy software program is that I can later export all the data that I entered to GEDCOM. This could be for the purpose of backup, giving to someone else who uses a different program, or possibly transferring from one program to another.

I do understand that GEDCOM does not transfer perfectly because some programs don't write it correctly and others do not read it correctly. But my concern here is whether or not all the data I enter into my program will be exported by my program into GEDCOM. If the data does not export in the first place, then it will be impossible to transfer it.

The test would be to use the program's data entry forms to put dummy data into every possible input field (maybe use the name of the input field so you can identify it again in the GEDCOM) and then see what does not make it into the GEDCOM. It would be necessary to locate every single input form, tab and window in the program where data can be entered.

I think it is very important to know what fields do not get exported to GEDCOM in the program I use. Knowing the fields that do not export will allow me to avoid bothering to enter any data into the fields.

If I decide to switch programs, I would like to see a comparison of how complete the GEDCOM exports are of those programs before I move to them.

Have there been any data "coverage" tests done on genealogy programs? Are there any vendors who have done this test on their own program and have shown that 100% of what is can be entered into it will be exported to GEDCOM?


Follow-up Dec 3: ColeValleyGirl pointed out in her comment on Arnold's answer that Family Historian stores all its data in a GEDCOM file. I checked and in fact there are no auxiliary files used. So FH is a case where 100% of its data is in the GEDCOM and it is safe to enter any information into Family Historian and not worry that you won't be able to get it out again.

The same would hold true for any program that solely uses GEDCOM for its file format. One other program I can think of that does this is Tom Wetmore's program Lifelines.

Of course, a program using GEDCOM as a database would have to either:

  1. Export the data for non-standard features using many user-defined tags and non-GEDCOM standard structures,
  2. Not include many non-standard features, or
  3. Do the bad thing and allow users to input the data for those features, but save them outside the GEDCOM.

1 and 2 are okay. 3 would be bad. Family Historian tends to do the number 2 thing excluding many of the useful features other programs have, such as Place-level data or citation templates.

So Family Historian and Lifelines and other such programs that use GEDCOM as their entire database would be good programs to use without the worry of entering data that will not export again.

Now that we know this, I'm still interested in knowing if anyone has done this coverage test on programs that store their data in their own proprietary database format.

  • 1
    You may also want to look at a related question genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/2041/… – Dijkgraaf Dec 2 '14 at 6:39
  • @Dijkgraaf - Ha ha. Yes. I answered that question stating that you want a program that only allows you to enter data that can be exported. Now all we need is to find which programs do that, which is what I'm now asking. – lkessler Dec 2 '14 at 17:57
  • I've not seen any genealogy software maker who have published results like that. I think it will be up to the users community to devise the test criteria and then apply it to the various programs available. I'm willing to get involved in such a project (although maybe not until mid next year as I'm currently busy on editing a book). – Dijkgraaf Dec 2 '14 at 19:43
  • For completists' sake, I am including a link to Tamura Jones' scathing writeup from late 2008 where he listed all the deficiencies in Family Historian's GEDCOM. 2008-11-22 Family Historian 3.1.2. Note that Family Historian 6 is due to be released in a few days. I have not tried to see how many of these issues have been addressed since Nov 2008 -- I simply want to remind everyone that both the version of Family Historian referenced here AND the GEDCOM coverage test results on the Calico Pie site are from three versions ago. – Jan Murphy Dec 4 '14 at 1:35
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    @JanMurphy - I did a quick check with Behold of the GEDCOM from Family Historian 5 with the sample file it supplies, and no problems were detected. The problems that Tamura refers to in his article are not GEDCOM structure issues, but have to do with character encodings, its use of GEDCOM 5.5 rather than 5.5.1, issuing errors for GEDCOMs of other programs and user interface matters. I do notice in Version 5 that FH does now handle ANSEL and UTF-8, so at least some of the issues Tamura referred to in his article from 6 years ago have since been addressed in the program. – lkessler Dec 4 '14 at 3:12
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Yes, such a test does exist, see Calico Pie's GEDCOM Coverage Test

However he only ran it against Family Historian 3, Roots Magic 3.0.3, and Family Tree Maker 2006. So maybe now is the time for this to be re-run.

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  • Well that's a good find and it's close. They make a GEDCOM file with all possible GEDCOM fields, and then see what happens if the program reads the GEDCOM into an empty dataset and then outputs it back to GEDCOM. Are all the fields there? I'm looking for something more than just GEDCOM fields. I think its important to know what fields the program allows you to enter through its user interface, that won't get exported to GEDCOM. This is "orphan data" that you waste time entering because you can never get it out again. – lkessler Dec 2 '14 at 3:55
  • I made a few edits to the question to clarify what I was really asking, so please don't downvote Dijkgraaf's answer because the way the question was earlier written, he thought he was answering it. – lkessler Dec 2 '14 at 4:12
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IMO, Calico Pie's test is probably as good as you can expect - though it would be nice if they had a version which checks against 5.5.1. From this, I would infer - haven't taken the time to verify it, though - that Family Historian sticks to the 5.5 version of the standard.

Any custom tags would - almost by definition - be not portable in any case and by 5.5 criteria, all 5.5.1 tags would be treated as 'custom' tags :-)

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  • 1
    There's a big difference between CP's GEDCOM import/export test and a data entry/export test. Take a look at: family-historian.co.uk/wp-content/gallery/cache/… - I would ask if the fields a user would enter in Family Historian to describe the picture, i.e. Title, Date, Note and Keywords, are all exported to GEDCOM, either under the OBJE record or a FH-define record of it's choosing. If so, excellent. Even if exported in a non-standard way, the data can be recreated and is not lost. But if it's not, then you're entering data you can never get out again. – lkessler Dec 2 '14 at 17:48
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    @lkessler, Family Historian uses a GEDcom file as its native data format, so by definition all the data you can enter is stored in that GEDcom file. – user104 Dec 3 '14 at 9:10
  • @ColeValleyGirl - Yes you are correct. See the follow-up I added to my question. – lkessler Dec 4 '14 at 1:09
  • @ColeValleyGirl whether the GEDCom is well-formed or not was debatable back in 2008 (as I noted in my comment on the question just now). However (as you know) since the data is not locked away in a proprietary format, the power user can always edit the file to fix any deficiencies. – Jan Murphy Dec 4 '14 at 1:39
  • @Arnold, welcome to FH&G.SE! Your answer isn't really an answer as it is written. Unless you have more information and want to edit your post to be more like an answer, it may be converted to a comment. – Jan Murphy Dec 5 '14 at 21:25
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I use Brothers Keeper and have found that certain "private" type entries do not transfer to GEDCOM. If I have marked a note or a picture file as "NEVER PRINT", then those files are ignored by GEDCOM.

And secure website links that require a password and begin with HTTPS:// are also ignored. These include all Facebook pages and some FamilySearch images. To get around that, I do a "Global Search and Replace" and replace HTTPS:// with HTTP://. The weblinks still work fine without the security designation "S" and GEDCOM copies them as ordinary public pages.

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  • 2
    I am not really asking about data that you don't want exported, such as private data. I'm more interested in the data that you expect to get exported. None-the-less, if you decide to back up your data or convert to another program, i.e. when the export is for yourself and not being sent to others, then you will have to go through and unmark all your private data to do so, unless there is an output option to also export private data. – lkessler Nov 29 '14 at 18:21

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