Apr 20, 2013

Family History and Standards - a Necessary Evil - ASQ Blogger Kerrie Christian

There's big business in tracing Family History or doing Genealogy - and there are a number of commercial players who dominate the market supplying software to family history enthusiasts. And of course there are conferences held across America and in Australia, UK etc etc. Truly big business.

Often these family enthusiasts  may have compiled huge volumes of information covering thousands of family members. And it is not so easy to move from one software to another - effectively creating walled gardens. However that position seems to be up for a challenge as there are moves afoot to set up standards for Family History Software.

My Great Great Uncle George Hicks- a Boer War  and WWI  hero  - shown  here with his wife Lou.
Recently ASQ's Paul Borawski asked the ASQ Influential Bloggers to explore finding Quality Tools in Unusual Places as their theme for blogging. Family History is one of those seemingly unusual places. But on reflection is it so surprising? Well it's all based on records and of course records management is a key "must" in the quality world. Although sometimes the quality of records can be challenging - as you'd expect really with 100's of years of them from the handwritten-paper era.

Three generations of my family shown here circa 1950 - in our home town Thirroul, 50 miles south of Sydney
Nearly six months ago I inherited the family history archives following the passing of my mother. There photographs and other items dating back to the 1880's, along with so many other items. My husband had been collaborating with my mother using the Brothers Keeper software over the last 15 years so I wasn't starting from a zero base. In a previous post I wrote of using social media tools for quality, so it wasn't a great stretch to extrapolate this approach to our family history. I set up a few Wordpress sites to share the information and photographs with my wider family. Some all it Genealogy 2.0 - Wikis, Google +, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook applications etc etc. The TV series Who Do You Think You Are ? tapped into push for people to uncover their roots.

In particular I used Google Reader and RSS feeds to monitor trends and ideas in Family History internationally. And so the questions emerged of which software package to use going forward - to stick with what we had to use one of the newer on-line packages ?

Some of the gurus had carefully analysed some of the four big guns of the Genealogy Software world, FindMyPast, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch and MyHeritage. There are also Mundia, WikiTree, Rootsweb, WorldVitalRecords, Geni.com, Mocavo, Legacy and more.  And the old off-line standby Brothers Keeper - so there's the question of On-Line vs Local Software. Some of the gurus pointed that their data didn't always map across properly on moving to another software platform. Hmmm. And with the evolution of mobile web technology on Smartphones and Tablets there are Apps emerging for Genealogy on the Go !

A small family get together in February 2013 where I shared some of our families stories of the last 175 years - using information form Brothers Keeper Family Tree software and our Wordpress Family History sites.
Out of that has emerged the Family History Information Standards Organisation, FHISO, formed in 2012. They acknowledge that GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunications) has been the "Industry Standard" over the last decade. seem to be drawing on ISO, NISO,  ANSI and the European Union for inspiration in the creation of a standard for Family History data systems.

Quoting their web site ...

"The Family History Information Standards Organisation (http://fhiso.org/) was created to develop international standards based on the principles of diversity and due process. Standards developed by the organization will better meet the different and competitive needs of all service providers, program developers and users--globally.
Genealogists and technologists will work side by side to define needs and develop solutions. This will provide for a standard that more closely matches universal community requirements.
 Users will enjoy greater functionality and be in the best position to exchange information with other users and between programs. They will be able to connect with information services of their choosing.
 Developers will be able to adopt a single standard with the confidence that their product meets expressed community requirements.
 Service providers benefit because more programs and customers will be able to conveniently access their services."

They are aiming for a system which is :

  • Open
  • Multi-stakeholder
  • International
  • Self-governing
  • Balanced
Clearly this is an emergent area for a quality focused approach !