Archive for ‘Software’

March 1, 2013

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.

February 25, 2013

Thinking About Gedcom — #Meme, #Genealogy, #RootsTech

by C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon

Stanczyk has been thinking about GEDCOM a lot these days. As you may know, GEDCOM is the de facto standard format for a genealogical family tree file, in order for it to be shared amongst the many genealogical software programs / websites / apps. Most genealogy programs still use their own proprietary format for storing data but will import / export the data in the GEDCOM standard for you to exchange data with another program or genealogist.

Did you catch the phrase ‘de facto standard’ ? OK it is NOT an open standard maintained by ISO or ANSI standards organizations. But it is widely supported and in fact you should NOT buy or use software that does not support the export and import of GEDCOM files!

Well we are coming up on RootsTech 2013 and my mind is turning back to the technical part of genealogy again!

Today’s blog is about the GEDCOM used by Ancestry.com. Were you aware that you can export your family tree from Ancestry.com? You can by selecting/clicking on ‘Tree Settings‘ under the ‘Tree pages‘ drop down menu (Tree Settings will be the second from the bottom in the menu list). If you click on ‘Tree Settings’ you will see a screen similar to:

ANCESTRY_TreeSettings

Notice that after you click on the ‘Export tree‘ button, that you get a new button named, ‘Download your GEDCOM file‘  in that same place.

In all likelihood if you click on the  ‘Download your GEDCOM file‘ button you will get a file in your Downloads directory on your local hard drive. It will have a name of:

<your-family-tree-name>.GED

Now the phrase ‘<your-family-tree-name>’  will actually be something like ‘Eliasz Family Tree.GED’ . So your Downloads directory will have a similar named file (complete with blanks in the file name). The size of the file will be dependent on how many individuals, families, sources, etc. that you have recorded in your family tree. Figure on a file size of 2MB for about 1,100 people.

Now this file you just downloaded from Ancestry.com is really just a plain text file with a set of standardized ‘tags’ defined by the GEDCOM standard. Software vendors are free to define their own custom tags too. Although CUSTOM tags must begin with an underscore (‘_’). I was curious as to how well Ancestry.com implements/adheres to the GEDCOM standard, so I wrote a little program (in PERL for you programmer types) to analyze my GEDCOM file that I just downloaded.

ReadGedcom_ANCESTRY

My program, read_gedcom.pl, spits out a slew stats about the GEDCOM including the tags used. As you may be able to see from the screenshot, there sorted at the end were 5 custom tags:

_APID,  _FREL,  _MILT,  _MREL,  _ORIG

These names do not have any meaning except to Ancestry.com and their website’s program(s). What you also see are that in 48,538 lines (in the GEDCOM file downloaded), that 5,158 lines have one of these five custom tags. Normally, I will just ignore these tags and import the GEDCOM file into my laptop’s genealogy software (REUNION, RootsMagic, PAF, etc.) and let that software ignore these non-understandable tags and within seconds I have my Ancestry.com family tree imported in to my computer’s genealogy software. That is fine  – no problems.

But what do you think happens you if turn right around and upload that GEDCOM file into your RootsWeb family tree? If you use RootsWeb, then you know you get a LOT of _APID notes across all of your ancestors and sometimes, if you have many facts/citations for any ancestor, then the RootsWeb page for him/her will be horribly marred by all of these _APID tags!

TIP

Remember I said the GEDCOM file is a TEXT file. As such it can be edited by whatever your favorite text editor that you use. If your editor does global search/replace, then you can easily remove these CUSTOM tags (_APID, etc.). That will make your RootsWeb family tree individual pages look MUCH better.

Now I know what you are thinking. Do NOT go editing your GEDCOM file!  I agree.  Make a copy of your GEDCOM file and edit the copy of the downloaded GEDCOM file to remove the lines with ‘_APID’ on them. You can remove all custom tags, but I just bother with the _APID which are so irksome. If your editor can remove the lines with ‘_APID’ then that is what you should do. But if all your editor can do is replace the lines that have _APID on them with a blank line then that is OK too. Make those edits and save the edited (copy) file.  The blank lines seem to be ignored by RootsWeb – thank goodness.

Now you can upload the edited file, with the _APID custom tags removed to RootsWeb and your family tree will again look the way it used to before,  without these irksome custom tags.

Next time I will tell you what I found when I looked closely at what ANCESTRY.com was putting into the downloaded GEDCOM file.

January 26, 2013

RootsMagic iPhone/iPad App — #Genealogy #Software #Review, #RootsTech

by C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon

RootsMagicAppThis jester has been a big proponent of Ubiquitous Genealogy – i.e. genealogy is portable and everywhere. I have used the Ancestry App for a long while and am well satisfied. They use a concept of synching the App with  your tree and their website. Now that the kinks are worked out, I am well satisfied. There are also MyHeritage and Heredis  Apps too. These do not synch over the “air”. You need to use your iTunes application on your desktop/laptop to move files into the App’s “sandbox” via synching your iPhone/iPad with the laptop/desktop over the iPhone/iPad cable. Tethered synching is ok but a hindrance.

Ok so the new App on the block is an offering called RootsMagic.   Stanczyk likes the Roots Magic laptop application as a full blown offering for working on your genealogy and documenting the tree and finding data on the Internet and keeping track of to-do lists, publishing your tree on CD/Web and all sorts of work that you do when your research spans years (or decades) – does anyone ever finish their genealogy? Its modern and uses Universal Character sets (so us Slavic Researchers can use our slashed Ł’s  or Cyrillic  Я’s) and other features that the Internet Genealogists have grown up with.  So I was hopeful when I received an email from Roots Magic touting their iOS offerings – Its free!

The App starts with the familiar Roots Magic splash screen that you may have grown accustomed to from the laptop application. You are then presented with a list of files from their sandbox (ugh, tethered synching). Once you select a file to work with, your family tree is presented in a Pedigree form (with three generations visible on iPhone/ four generations on iPad). At the top left is a green/white button with three lines (see image)  that will allow you to pick a particular person with whom you wish to work upon. At the bottom of the screen are four buttons:

Files,   Views,   Lists,   Tools

Files – Lets you select the family tree file you want to on from your Device or from DropBox (a cloud-based file storage service). It also has HELP (files??) which tell you how to use your Device or DropBox to get a file loaded into the App. Sadly,  the RootsMagic app does not read standard gedcom (ged)  files. It only reads files with rmgc extension (i.e. created by Roots Magic laptop application). However, it does load their database extremely fast from those rmgc files.

Views – Lets you choose to view the data in a PEDIGREE tree  or a FAMILY tree or in a DESCENDENTS outline  or in the detailed FACTS (events), NOTE, direct family members of the current INDIVIDUAL. I prefer working in FAMILY (as seen in image) view mode, then switching to INDIVIDUAL view mode for any details on that person. Clicking on NOTE really gives you access to NOTE(S), SOURCE(S), and MEDIA for that individual (and a BACK button at the top to return to INDIVIDUAL view mode).

Lists – This just gives a list of your: Sources, To-Dos, Research, Media, Addresses, Repositories, Correspondences, and PLACES. I liked places (which showed that this jester really needs to make his Places (Locations) conform to some kind of standard).

Tools – Date Calculator, Relationship Calculator, Soundex Calculator, and Calendar. Unimpressive to say the least. Lest you get your hope up, the Calendar tool only displays the Calendar for a Month/Year of your choice [I did not verify the Julian/Gregorian boundary to see if it calculates a proper month calendar for dates before 1582]. It was not worth the effort as I did not see why I would want to see what day  June 3rd, 1700 would fall on (Thursday) if you are eyes are young or your glasses are a good prescription to read the day name. Otherwise, you not notice the day names on an iPhone  [perhaps a black font, instead of gray, would give better contrast]. The Soundex is only American Soundex – why not Daitsch-Mokotoff or Bieder-Morse codes too? Really, we Slavic researchers get short shrift in the software world.  Never fear, just create a desktop icon of Steve Morse’s Soundex page to see all three Soundex/Pattern Matching methods for your family names.

iPad vs iPhone

For some reason the iPad interface treats the buttons (Files, Views, Lists, Tools) differently on the iPad. That was a bit confusing until I got used to the difference. Rotating the iPad to landscape, also brings the Surnames/Search view along side whatever view you are in. The Calendar is a bit easier to see on the iPad, but I’d still like to see the day name text in black (or at least a MUCH darker gray).

UbiquitousGenealogyThe app is strictly for viewing your family tree (et. al.). There are no tools for modifying the tree for re-import into the desktop application. Shortcomings aside, it is still a very good first effort by Roots Magic. If you have the Roots Magic laptop application, then download the free app for your smartphone or tablet and go Ubiquitous. If you do not have the Roots Magic laptop application and do not have a way to get your ged converted to Roots Magic format (rmgc) then do NOT bother to download the app – you will not be able to use it.

P.S.  Do you spell  “DESCENDENT”  – as  D-E-S-C-E-N-D-E-N-T   or    D-E-S-C-E-N-D-A-N-T ?  Both spellings are correct, but I guess I use “DESCENDANT” all of the time and so the Roots Magic use startled me.

I also would love to see the REUNION app (the Mac Software vendor) make their iOS App free or low-cost – then I’d review it here too. I am a BIG Apple eco-system fan and as such have used REUNION Mac software for a very LONG time. I would be remiss not to mention that REUNION App does exist, but its cost is a bit steep relative to the other iPhone genealogy APPs in this article.

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