Diacritical Redux – Ancestry GEDCOM — #Genealogy, #Technology

by C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon

As Stanczyk, was writing about the GEDCOM standard since #RootsTech 2012, I began to pick apart my own GEDCOM file (*.ged). I did this as I was engaged with Tamura Jones (a favorite foil to debate Genealog Technology with). During our tête-á-tête, I noticed that my GEDCOM lacked diacriticals???

What happened? At first I thought it was the software that Tamura had recommended I use, but it was not the problem of that software (PAF). So I looked at the gedcom file that I had imported and the diacriticals were missing from there meaning, my export software was the culprit.

I looked at the GEDCOM’s  HEAD tag and the CHAR sub-tag, and it said “ANSI” [no quotes] was the value. That is not even a valid possible value! According to the GEDCOM 5.5.1 standard [on page 44 of the FamilySearch PDF document]:

CHARACTER_SET:= {Size=1:8}
[ ANSEL |UTF-8 | UNICODE | ASCII ]

Who is this dastardly purveyor of substandard GEDCOM that strips out your diacriticals (that I assumed you have been working so hard to add since my aritcle on Tuesday,  “Dying For Diacriticals“)? I’ll give you a HINT, it is the #1 Genealogy Website  — Yes,  it is ANCESTRY.COM !

Now what makes this error even more dastardly is that the website shows you the diacriticals in the User Interface (UI), but when you go to export/download the diacriticals are not there in the gedcom and unless you study things closely, you may be oblivious (as Stanczyk was for a long time) that these errors have crept into your research. I also found a spurious NOTE that I cannot find anywhere on anyone in my tree — which gets attributed to my home person (uh, me). This is very alarming to me too !!!

Tim Sullivan (CEO of Ancestry.com), I expected better of you and your website. I entrusted my family tree to you and that is what you did with my gedcom? Now I did some more investigating and I found that Ancestry does not strip ALL diacriticals. My gedcom had diacriticals in the PLAC tags and in NOTE tags. But NOT (I repeat NOT) in the NAME tags.

So Tim [pretend there is a shaky leaf here] , if you or a reputation defender or some other minion skims the Internet (for your name) here is what  I hope You/Ancestry.com will do:

  1. Do NOT strip diacriticals from the NAME tag !!!
  2.  Fix the Export GEDCOM to create a gedcom file with diacriticals in NAME tags
  3. Fix the Export GEDCOM to create a valid CHAR tag value: UNICODE, UTF-8, ASCII, ANSEL. I put them in my prioritized/preferred order [from left-to-right]. I hope you will not use ASCII or ANSEL.
  4. Run a GEDCOM validator against the gedcom file your Export GEDCOM software creates to download and fix the other “little things” too  (Mystery NOTEs ???).
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