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Ordering Events by Date - Mon, 28 Nov 2011

I received an email from Andy Hatchett, one of the expert users deeply involved in the BetterGEDCOM initiative. He had downloaded and tried Behold and then asked me, “How does one get the events within individuals and families to show in chronological order?”.

Currently, I display all the events in the order they come in the GEDCOM. That order is at the whim of the program that writes the GEDCOM. Generally, the order is acceptable, but I do see good reason why, in a report like Behold’s Everything Report, that it may be preferential to order the events chronologically.

But there was one concern I had in doing so. GEDCOM says:

“The occurrence of equal level numbers and equal tags within the same context imply that multiple opinions or multiple values of the data exist. The significance of the order in these cases is interpreted as the submitter’s preference. The most preferred value being the first with the least preferred data listed in subsequent lines by order of decreasing preference. For example, a researcher who discovers conflicting evidence about a person’s birth event would list the most credible information first and the least credible or least preferred items last.”

What this means is that for some events, which should only occur once, e,g, if I have two birth events:

1 BIRT
2 DATE 1880
1 BIRT
2 DATE 1870

then the preferred one should be the first. If I sort it by date, then the preferred one is listed 2nd, which is something I don’t want to do.

But for other events which can occur multiple times, e.g.:

1 RESI
2 DATE 1940
1 RESI
2 DATE 1930

These may be different information for the same Residence event, or it may be information for two different Residence events. In the first case, they should not be sorted. In the second, they should. I guess you might be able to infer if the place is the same, but that is no guarantee, especially because the place on the two records might be different as well.

There doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution. You either lose date order, or you lose significance. I could mark the most significant ones some way (e.g. bold or a ***Preferred*** tag - which would also end up on the residence which is not wanted), or I could give an option to display it either way (adds an extra complication - options aren’t always good and often cause more confusion. especially for something as difficult to explain and understand as this.

Andy suggested that GEDCOM is making a wrong assumption. He found that based on discussions on both the TMG List and the Ancestry FTM message boards over the years, users prefer to see data in a chronological order - particularly in narrative reports.

I told Andy that think I agree with him that date order is best. I have some data structure changes that I’ll need to make to save the Behold database to a file, so that will be the right time to implement a reordering of the events by date within individuals and families.

I am still concerned about how to handle those “more preferred” and “less preferred” data items. By showing things chronologically, we lose their significance. Maybe the way people will have to identify their preference might have to be through the QUAY (Quality) value. Or maybe by putting the less preferred one on a NOTE of the preferred one so that it will not show up as an event unto its own.

I’ll have to think about this a bit as I finalize the data structures.

Meanwhile, I had a similar suggestion from esd on the Behold User Forum, who asked if the events in the Place Details could be ordered chronologically.

I wasn’t very polite to esd in my answer. Maybe it was because my Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team lost the Grey Cup Championship Game last night, but I hope I’m forgiven. In the end, there is every reason to allow that option in the Place Details and maybe the Source Details as well. It will take another change to the data structure, and might be a fair bit of work. But we’ll see if I can squeeze it in.

… And now that I look, it seems that some of the dates and places are missing from some of the Source Details. Aaargghh! That’s got to be fixed. Point release will be coming out soon.

9 Comments           comments Leave a Comment

1. Robert Burkhead (rmburkhead)
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Joined: Mon, 28 Nov 2011
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Posted: Mon, 28 Nov 2011  Permalink

Over on twitter I suggested that you might group those tags that could only happen once, and then date-order the remaining ones. I also confirmed that Family Historian 4.1.3, when reordering by date, makes birth the first event, then all dated events, then undated events, then death, and then events that happen after death (burial, cremation, etc.).

I took a quick look through the list of GEDCOM tags (nothing in-depth, just a quick pass over them), and the only events that might truly happen only once are birth and death (assuming folks don’t document near-death experiences with the DEAT tag). :-) Cremation might also happen only once–but then again….maybe not? Burial certainly happens more than once, especially when a cemetery is moved. Other things that don’t commonly happen more than once (e.g., naturalization, bar mitzvah, baptism), could happen more than once. John Doe could have two christenings for some esoteric reason. He could immigrate to and get naturalized in more than one country over the course of his life.

In the end, birth and death might be the only two you could treat as singular events. Of course, I might have missed one or two others in my quick once-over of the list.

2. Robert Burkhead (rmburkhead)
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Joined: Mon, 28 Nov 2011
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Posted: Mon, 28 Nov 2011  Permalink

One more thing about date ordering in FH 4.1.3… It respects the dates, if the are provided. So if someone was born in 1900, but had a census event in 1898, died in 1910, but a buried event in 1908, and immigrated in 1912, then the order would be census, birth, burial, death, immigration.

3. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
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Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
150 blog comments, 210 forum posts
Posted: Tue, 29 Nov 2011  Permalink

Thanks, Robert. That makes sense and it’s quite doable that way.

Now I’m thinking that maybe I’ll not bother at all with grouping the events in the Source Details section and just go by date there as well. It is expensive (time and memory) for Behold to maintain the sorting both ways, and it seems to me that the events would be easy to pick off because they’re always first on the line.

4. agh3rd (agh3rd)
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Joined: Sun, 4 Dec 2011
9 blog comments, 1 forum post
Posted: Sun, 4 Dec 2011  Permalink

Louis,

You said “. But that is wrong for multiple specifications of a single event, e.g. birth, where GEDCOM says the order of the listing of the event is significant.”

The ordering of the listing of the event can only be significant in comparison to another like event and both events were entered at the same time. Take this scenario…

1). I find a 1900 census where it shows John Doe’s age as 5 (Birth would be 1895)
2). Six months later I find a transcription of a bible page that says john was born in 1899
3). A year after that I finally find the original bible page and it actually says born 1894.

Just because I happened to find the census first and entered it first (due to lack of any other information) doesn’t, imho, give it more significance than the other two events.

My firm belief is that *all* genealogy programs should totally disregard the order of event entry into the GEDCOM and deal only with the actual dates of the events and not the date or order they were keyed into the GEDCOM. Anything else is, as Dr. Spock would say, illogical.

5. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
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Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
150 blog comments, 210 forum posts
Posted: Mon, 5 Dec 2011  Permalink

Illogical or not, it is what GEDCOM says. But probably the best way to do is by strict date order, with a QUAY or something that indicates your surety. Then the date with the highest surety could be used as the “best” birth date when a single date is required.

However, there is a difference between your example, which is talking about the order that you find and enter your data into the program, and the order in which the program outputs the data. GEDCOM implies that the program should provide assistance to allow the user to order the events, and thus order them so that the most sure event is listed first when exporting to the GEDCOM. That need not be the order in which they were found or entered.

Louis

6. genej (genej)
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Joined: Wed, 5 Jan 2011
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Posted: Tue, 6 Dec 2011  Permalink

Hi Louis,

At least in part, I see this as the classic “combined” (record data) vs “conclusion” (person) issue.

One conducts research and gathers various records that relate to their person of interest. These records contain incomplete and sometimes inaccurate information, and so frequently, conflicting information related to the same event.

Selecting a “preferred” record from a host of records when each is only partly correct doesn’t resolve the conflictes. Not only that, but in traditional genealogical reporting then results in those “lesser” records will frequently go unreported … so the evidence gods gave us the proof argument.

Short of solving the proof puzzle (which I think BetterGEDCOM hopes to do), my desire to preserve all the evidence (direct, indirect, negative, conflicting) and still generate a genealogy, Rather than create the alt event tags/pfacts, I create a single pfact and report the various evidence in a series of citations that point to the single pfact.

7. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
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Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
150 blog comments, 210 forum posts
Posted: Tue, 6 Dec 2011  Permalink

GeneJ:

I don’t mind (and maybe even like) giving a single event, e.g. Birth with the “preferred” place and date attached to it, then including all the evidence and alternative dates within the notes or subtags of the event.

But the GEDCOM standard strongly recommends including conflicting events separately. I think their reasoning is that each of the dates and places can then be indexed and found, whereas that would not be possible if they are embedded in custom notes.

Both methods work and is really a user preference. The GEDCOM standard tells programmers what to write to the GEDCOM file. That need not be the same as what the programs allow their users to enter. Behold will easily allow either preference, and then just make sure it outputs the data to GEDCOM (or BetterGEDCOM) in a compliant way.

Louis

8. Tony Proctor (acproctor)
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Joined: Wed, 8 Aug 2012
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Posted: Wed, 8 Aug 2012  Permalink

I know this thread is a little old now but ordering Events by date alone is not the only option. STEMMA supports optional constraints between Events that force a given order, even when the dates themselves are so vague or suspect that they do not imply that same ordering, e.g. forcing a baptism to be ordered after a birth.

Tony

9. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
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Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
150 blog comments, 210 forum posts
Posted: Wed, 8 Aug 2012  Permalink

Tony:

Behold does some of that already. If there are no dates, then births will come first, then living events, then the death, and then a few post-death events (burial, cremation).

But in the long run, I think all dates (for at least births and marriages) should be estimated as best as possible and indicated as estimated. I hope to allow an option in the future for Behold to do the estimation for you. This would be very valuable, because it will point out inconsistencies and possible problems in your research.

Louis

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