Genealogy Research: Best Practice Part 1

I have been working my family history on and off for a number of years. As my older relatives age, the time left to get their stories is restricted. Sadly dementia claimed the memories of more than one before I’ve had a chance to interview them.

I’m using the brilliant GenealogyJ to catalog the information. It’s a standards based, cross-platform, open-source genealogy data viewer/editor (whew!). That means it reads and writes GEDCOM standard 5.5 or draft 5.5.1 data files for easy data sharing with software and other family researchers. Many other programs out there have quirks when it comes to sharing data with others. Modern genealogy research requires data portability.

There are other free and paid options available and I’ll list some I’ve tried at a later date. Comment below if you can’t wait for that post.

In the meanwhile I’d like to note a best practice method for genealogy research: Document sources as you go. Even if the source is personal memory. Include that in every individual record so you know where you stand. When a cousin provides birthday information, make a note of the source alongside the birthday entry. When the National Archives offers evidence of an ancestor’s birthday – note the source.

As you gather more and more evidence of an event, you can weigh the quality of the sources and the data. This is especially useful to researchers who build on your work. One day some cousins kid will ask for a copy as a basis of their work. Give them a break and note your sources. Also it’s a reminder down the track of why you thought your great-great-grandmother was four years younger than her mother.

The rest of this post gets technical and is for researchers and my personal notes. Let’s say you want to save the audio interview with your Grandmother as supporting evidence for a number of people and events.

The GEDCOM standard 5.5 allows you to link an INDIvidual or EVENt record to an embedded binary file as a? Level 0 Multimedia OBJEct in a BLOB item. This is a text-encoded form of the picture/recording/pdf/whatever your file is. So wherever you use Nanna’s recording you might be tempted to link to that original recording so that you can access it immediately.

Two problems. 1) My experience is that text-encoding binary data is very bad. 180 lines of text in a Word document will become nearly 1,000 lines once it’s text-encoded. It is not efficient. JPG’s and Audio files are much worse. So you want to keep the recording as a MP3 (or whatever format) in a media subdirectory outside your main genealogy program. But 2) the GEDCOM standard does not allow a Level 0 multimedia OBJEct to have a FILE attribute. You can force it but you will no longer comply with the standard and so you don’t know how your data will interchange with others.

The correct way to do this under GEDCOM 5.5? is to create a SOURce record for Granny’s interview and then add a Level 1 multimedia OBJEct to that SOURce record (so the OBJEct is contained in the SOURce). Then you can add a FILE item and point to the external .\media\ subdirectory. Now your data should interchange well with other researchers if you also give them your .\media\ subdirectory

GEDCOM 5.5.1 was a draft and never ratified to a standard. However you can add an external FILE item to a Level 0 multimedia OBJE. However 5.5.1 is not supported by as many programs, so you run into the data portability problem again.

So GEDCOM 5.5 would look like this:

  0 INDI @I001@
   1 BIRT
    2 OBJE
     3 FILE                (recommended)
    2 OBJE @O001
  0 OBJE @O001@
   1 BLOB                  (not recommended)

And GEDCOM 5.5.1 can do this

  0 INDI @I001@
   1 BIRT
    2 OBJE
     3 FILE                (possible)
    2 OBJE @O001@
  ...
  0 OBJE @O001@
    1 FILE                 (possible as well)

Comment below if you have questions.

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