Thinking About @Ancestrydotcom ‘s GEDCOM — #Genealogy, #GEDCOM

by C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon

GorillaFamilyTreeAncestry.com (Twitter: @Ancestrydotcom ) is the proverbial 800 lb (362.87 kg) gorilla in the genealogical archive. You cannot miss him — mostly he’s lovable. So today after you read this blog post, Stanczyk wants you to tweet at him (see Twitter link above). I am hoping the big ape will make some improvements to their software. Hint .. Hint !

A couple of days ago (25-Feb-2013), I ran my PERL program against the GEDCOM file I exported from my family tree on Ancestry.com ‘s  website. That tree, the RootsWeb tree, and this blog are Stanczyk’s main tools for collaboration with near and distant cousin-genealogists (2nd cousins, 3rd, 4th, 5th cousins — all are welcome).

Quick Facts —

  1. No invalid tags  – Good
  2. Five custom tags – Also Good
  3. CHAR tag misused – ANSI [not good]
  4. My Ancestry Family Tree uses diacriticals: ą ć ę ł ń ó ś ź ż   in proper nouns [not good]
  5. Phantom Notes ??? [really not good]

So, Mr. Ancestry (sir) can you please fix #’s 3, 4, and 5, please?

CHAR -  I think Ancestry should use what is in the standards: ANSEL | UTF-8 | UNICODE | ASCII . I think this is easily do-able (even if all you do is just substitute ASCII).

This is not a picayune, nit-picky, persnickety, or snarky complaint. In fact, it leads right into the next problem (#4 above). Not only does Ancestry export the GEDCOM file as “ANSI”, it strips out my diacriticals too (as a result?). So now I have potentially lost valuable information from my research. For Slavic researchers, these diacriticals can be vital to finding an ancestor as they guide how original name was pronounced and how it might have been misspelled or mistranscribed in the many databases. Without the diacriticals that vital link is lost.

The last criticism is an insidious problem. Every time I exported the GEDCOM, I would get a note on one person in the tree. I would carefully craft the note on Ancestry, but what I received in the GEDCOM file downloaded would be different ???

I reported the problem to no avail and no response. This is not very good for an 800 lb gorilla.

Digging Deeper

I have since gone on to do some experiments and the results may astound you (or not). I copied the NOTE I was getting in my GEDCOM and saved it off to a text file, perplexed as to where it came from, since it was not the NOTE I was editing on Ancestry??? Now I did something bold. I deleted the note from that person on Ancestry and then downloaded the GEDCOM file again. Do you what I got? Wrong! I did not get my carefully crafted NOTE, I got yet another NOTE. I copied that note’s text and repeated my process of deleting the note and downloading the GEDCOM file a 3rd time. This time when I edited my GEDCOM file, I found MY note!!! But where/how did the other two notes come about? Why were there three notes? Why could I see and edit the 3rd note, but only get the first note when I downloaded the GEDCOM file? How did notes 2 & 3 get there? Why did I not get all three notes when I downloaded the GEDCOM? All good questions that I have no answer to. My suspicion is that Ancestry should not allow more than one EDITOR on a tree, other contributors should only be allowed to comment or maybe provide an ability to leave sticky-notes on a person [that does not go into a GEDCOM file]. I do not think the notes were created by their mobile app since I always saw my NOTE (and not the other two notes). I am chalking this up to an Ancestry.com bug and urging others who see strange things in their notes to take deliberate steps to unravel their notes. I hope Ancestry will fix this and let people know. I hope they fix all of items #’s: 3, 4, and 5.

So, my dear readers, I am asking you to tweet to Ancestry (as I will too) and  ask them for bug fixes. Perhaps if enough people tweet at @Ancestrydotcom, they will respond and not give us the cold  gorilla shoulder.

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