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Louis Kessler’s Behold Blog

Gaenovium Final Thoughts - Sun, 12 Oct 2014

I had a whirlwind 3 days in Leiden Netherlands to attend the one day Gaenovium genealogy technology conference.

Gaenovium 2014 was the first time this conference was put on. It was intended to be small with a highly technical audience interested in getting together to discuss aspects of genealogy programming and future genealogy data exchange standards. There were 25 people in attendance and that was really a wonderful size because it gave a chance for every person to talk at some time with every other person.


I gave a presentation called “Reading Wrong GEDCOM Right”, and I thought there would be people who really wouldn’t care that much about this topic. I asked at the beginning of my presentation how many people were familiar with GEDCOM and 90% of the people put up their hand. I then asked how many had actually had programmed GEDCOM input and/or output themself, and half the people kept their hand up. I was quite encouraged by this. After talking for about 20 minutes, I paused and just looked at everyone. They were all silent and looking at me intently. No one seemed disinterested. And so I continued. My presentation was very well received.

My presentation and all the other presentations are now posted at the Gaenovium site.

All the presentations were interesting to me, but meeting the people there was the most enjoyable and worthwhile venture. I’m purposely avoiding naming anyone because I don’t want to leave someone out.

The conference was sponsored primarily by MyHeritage, and secondly by RootsMagic. I was happy to see two people from MyHeritage in attendance. One was the one employee they have in the Netherlands, and the second was the Chief Architect (I love that title, maybe I should call myself the Chief Architect of Behold) who was in from Israel for this. They were both interested in everything said at Gaenovium and were very friendly with the people who were there. I had some worthwhile discussions with both of them about Behold and maybe future connections between Behold and the MyHeritage online family tree. I was a bit disappointed that nobody from RootsMagic had come. It would have been nice to hook up with them as well.

One of the very thoughtful things about the planning of Gaenovium was that they chose the date as the day before a Family History trade show was taking place in the city. This was done on purpose, because some of the attendees also had booths at the trade show and this made it convenient for them to also attend Gaenovium. For me it was the other way around, and it made it convenient for me to visit the trade show. The show was called Famillement, and had over 70 exhibitors with the French company Geneanet being the sponsor. The show was well attended and at times it was impossible to move through the crowd.

WP_20141008_212 WP_20141008_209
      Above:  Timo Kracke at Famillement

      Left:  Bob Coret at Famillement

For me, it was also worthwhile to visit Leiden and get to spend time with Tamura Jones, who I’ve been communicating with for many years. He was a wonderful host, and the personal tours he gave to me of the city were much appreciated.

Some of the participants were already talking of a Gaenovium 2015 a year from now, possibly somewhere in Germany. If you heard about this year’s Gaenovium too late to make arrangements to attend, then stay tuned to see if something gets announced for 2015.

#Gaenovium and #Famillement in Tweets - Sat, 11 Oct 2014

I had a wonderful couple of days in Leiden, Netherlands. I live tweeted the two events I attended and included pictures of some of the people I had the pleasure to meet.

Here are the highlights of Gaenovium on Tuesday through some of my tweets and tweets of others:

The first talk was Bob Coret: Open Genealogy Data in The Netherlands.

The second talk was Marijn Schraagen: Algorithms for Historical Record Linkage

The third talk was: Michel Brinckman: The A2A Data Model and its application in WieWasWie.

The fourth talk was: Timo Kracke: GOV: The Genealogical Gazetteer API.

The last talk was mine: Louis Kessler: Reading wrong GEDCOM right.

Then was the panel discussion: Panel Discussion: Current & Future Genealogical Exchange Standards.

And the after-conference meal.

Some final comments.

The next day, Wednesday, there was a family history trade show called Famillement, and many of the Gaenovium participants were there.

A Bit of History as GEDCOM Approaches Its 30th Year - Thu, 18 Sep 2014

I was looking for the early GEDCOM specifications prior to GEDCOM 5.3 from 1993, so I thought I’d contact some people I knew who I thought might have some of the early GEDCOM material laying around. One of those I contacted was Bill Harten, sometimes referred to as “the father of GEDCOM”, who I met and had some nice conversations with at RootsTech 2014 in February.

imageIn our correspondence, Bill told me a story I had never heard that only he would know and it was regarding the genesis of GEDCOM. Bill gave me permission to publish this. Here is what he said:

“GEDCOM’s tag-hierarchy technology was re-purposed from a database technology named AIM that I invented in 1984 to provide both high flexibility and high performance for complex ‘big data."  AIM’s serialized representation was perfect for a data transfer format and GEDCOM needed to handle complex data in a flexible way. FamilySearch used the AIM database technology to distribute their products on compact disc readers and personal computers from 1985 until FamilySearch.org was deployed fifteen years later. You would recognize this technology today as an XML-based DBMS, although AIM includes advanced indexing, search and compression concepts that are still unavailable in commercial DBMS products now 30 years later.

GEDCOM 1.0 was published and delivered to about 30 attendees of the first GEDCOM Developers’ Conference in 1985 in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I sent out invitations to developers, media, and genealogical community representatives, who responded enthusiastically. GEDCOM 1.0 was a draft prepared for their review. We incorporated their feedback into GEDCOM 2 which became the first official release. GEDCOM 2 was first implemented by Personal Ancestral File and by Roots, a popular software produced by Howard Nurse. The original publisher of Genealogical Computing magazine took a strong stand in favor of GEDCOM and recommended that readers demand GEDCOM compatibility of any product they purchase. The combination of two initial implementations and favorable media coverage was by design. Their cooperation was secured in advance of the conference. Other vendors were supportive and eventually implemented 2.0 as well, and GEDCOM eventually rose to achieve critical mass.

At this conference I initially proposed that the developers join together under an ISO committee that we would form for the purpose of establishing GEDCOM as a formal international standard. I told them the cost in committee-time and money. They all expressed that the cost was too high given their small size. I anticipated this and had prepared an alternative that I described as a ‘de facto standard’ approach. In this approach the Family History department would commit to implement GEDCOM in PAF and Ancestral File, and share data with whoever would support the format. If others liked it they could follow suit. This approach was adopted unanimously. The list of GEDCOM-compatible products grew rapidly. In the first year a feedback-driven process was established for adding tags and evolving GEDCOM, and I managed this process through several releases, the last being GEDCOM 5. In 1991 I visited software developers in France, Germany, Great Britain and Russia to help them understand and adopt GEDCOM.

We learned that some developers were challenged by GEDCOM’s hierarchical data structure because it did not yield very well to traditional flat-record programming methods. Our AIM database was based on a powerful tree-based data structure and accompanying algorithms for representing, parsing, and traversing hierarchical data internally in memory, so we cloned this code and created the GEDCOM library, and made this available to the GEDCOM community in the public domain. Not all developers used it, but those who did seemed to have a better experience and fewer problems than those who used more traditional approaches. We see this same data structure today in the Document Object Model (DOM) trees that form the backbone of the modern web browser, and many of the names of the DOM structures and methods in browsers and DOM libraries today are the same as we used in the GEDCOM library a decade earlier.”

Let me also refer you to a few posts long ago by Bill Harten on the GEDCOM-L mailing list that explain more of the early thinking about GEDCOM. Very interesting reads:

Bill’s first post on the GEDCOM-L list:
LDS GEDCOM Report, 22 Oct 1994

Although database technology has since improved, the ideas at the time about the database model were both innovative and necessary:
Database: GEDCOM’s Genesis. 28 Oct 1994

Why wasn’t GEDCOM developed through a formal standards organization?
GEDCOM and Formal Standards Organizations. 24 Jan 1996

You have to conclude that there was a lot of thinking and effort put into the development of GEDCOM.

I think this material is a must read for the FHISO people, because to create a new standard today, they’ll have to rehash many of the same problems that Bill & Company had to address.

And if anyone still has any of the early GEDCOM specs prior to 5.3, Bill and I would love to see them.