Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Details of Sharing Data Across Family Tree Programs -- Part Two

The main idea of this series is to explore all of the possible methods of moving data from one family tree program to another. My emphasis is on the ability to share source data along with the details of both individuals and families.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have free access to, and, all of which have automated or semi-automated record hinting search procedures in conjunction with a family tree on each program. If a member is to take advantage all of three program's record hints, the member would have to have a separate copy of all or part of their family tree on each program. If the member also has a copy of his or her family tree on a separate desktop genealogy database program, then there could be five copies of their family tree, including the one always present on the Family Tree. All members of the Church have a share in the family tree on the Family Tree by virtue of being members of the Church.

As I mentioned in the first installment, I consider the Family Tree to be the "master unified copy" in its current state of the entire human family tree. This is no reflection on the utility of the other family tree programs, or even of other online unified family tree programs. It is just my opinion that the Family Tree has the best overall chance of being preserved. So my idea is that it should act as the recipient of all of the accumulation of data from all the other family trees.

You might need to refer to the diagrams in the first installment to understand the continuity of what I am saying. The main reason for this series is to explain the process of moving digital family history data from one program to another, i.e. from to Family Tree etc. including all of the iterations of that process.

Today's post focuses on the desktop programs that connect directly to the Family Tree such as, Ancestral Quest, and Legacy Family Tree. Both RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest have programs for Windows and Mac based operating systems. All three of these programs have a "free" version available for download. There are a few other programs that also share data with the Family Tree. They include Mac Family Tree, MagiTree Deluxe, and a German program, FamilienBuch. I cannot determine the data movement capabilities of these other three programs. But you should be aware that they are FamilySearch Certified. I will focus on the three programs that claim data synchronization with the Family Tree including sources.

Here is a simple diagram of the operation of the three main programs that claim full synchronization of data:
The process of exchanging data between the three programs and the Family Tree is not automatic. In most cases, the user must move individuals or even individual data items, one-by-one, from the desktop programs to and from the Family Tree. Each of the programs provide a way to download more information from the Family Tree, but in doing a bulk download, there is no way to be assured that the information from the Family Tree is either accurate or complete.

From my own standpoint, adding more than a very small amount of information either into or down from the Family Tree is very inadvisable. The main reason for maintaining a separate desktop database program is to try to maintain the integrity of your own data. If you begin moving information, especially unverified information, down from the Family Tree, you run a serious risk of corrupting your own data with the existing unreliable data in the Family Tree. Even though these and other programs provide a method to more easily transfer data between the programs and the online Family Tree, does not mean that moving the information is a good idea per se. The main benefit is simply reducing the amount of re-typing of the information in either the Family Tree or your own program.

There are, of course, dozens of other genealogical database programs. Many of which are very sophisticated and available in a variety of languages that do not synchronize directly with the Family Tree. However, there are ways to share information back and forth with these other programs indirectly. I will get to that information in future posts.

The GEDCOM Alternative

Beginning back in 1984, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, released the very first version of the GEDCOM program, a method to exchange data between genealogical database programs. A historical summary of the released versions of the program is available on Wikipedia: GEDCOM. Most of the currently available genealogical database programs have some sort of GEDCOM file exchange capability. In addition, many of the large online database programs allow users to download a GEDCOM copy of the data in their family tree. The last generally available and latest version of the GEDCOM standard was released clear back in 1999. Exporting a GEDCOM file can be a complicated process, especially if you are trying to export the data from less than all the individuals in your family tree. In addition, because of the changes in the structure of the genealogy programs since the last version of GEDCOM was released, it is not uncommon that portions of the files of any given exported program will be ignored by the target program trying to import the data.

I am frequently asked if there is a way to export a GEDCOM file from the Family Tree. No, there is no direct way to do that. But you could create a GEDCOM file from any one of the three synchronization programs after downloading information from the Family Tree. You might want to beware of the size of a downloaded file. Even downloading a few generations of ancestors from the Family Tree can involve a huge number of individuals.

I realize I am giving short shrift to GEDCOM, but the issues involved in its use as a method of transferring data are very complex and its utility is marginal. Exporting a GEDCOM file will almost certainly result in a loss of some data and importing the file into another program will almost always result in further loss of data.

Unfortunately, I cannot give explicit instructions about specific method of transferring data between any one of the programs and the Family Tree. I would refer you to the websites for each of the programs, linked above, for that kind of specific information. I would also suggest that you look at the online tutorials for each of the programs for further information. Here are some helpful links to the and videos I could find on each of the programs:

The previous post in this series is as follows:


  1. I believe at RootsTech 2014 someone announced a new version of GEDCOM called GEDCOM X, but I have not seen or heard about it since. James, you are nice and hopeful enough to assume that folks who want to move data have really great, sourced pedigrees they've verified, like yourself. But, it has been my experience that most people who want to move data do so because they want what others have posted, so that they don't have to work on those lines themselves. Unfortunately, this has led to wholesale copying and transferring of incorrect data from one place to another, including into Family Tree. I would discourage GEDCOMing because of this naive attitude, and urge folks to go slowly, source everything, and not trust other people's data, especially coming from other unsourced online databases.

    1. I don't agree completely that most people want data that others have posted. The thrust of my posts is in moving sources and data researched into Family Tree. I do agree about GEDCOMs. Here is a link to the GEDCOM X website: