GEDCOM X suffers from a lack of clearly specified requirements. The problem surfaces occasionally when people wonder whether what a potential feature or enhancement will conflict with the project’s requirements. So I thought I’d put some effort into clarifying this issue. Hopefully, clarifying requirements will also help diffuse some uncertainty as to FamilySearch’s intentions with the project.

Part of the problem is that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the project’s goals and the project’s requirements. I think a good way to distinguish between the two is that the project’s goals define when we’re successful. The project’s requirements define the rules we have to live by in order to get there.

I think all of the requirements for the project can be summarized into a single statement:

GEDCOM X must be able to accommodate FamilySearch’s Platform API.

That’s it. Is that too hard a thing to swallow?

Before you answer that, let me point out a few things.

FamilySearch is excited to sponsor the development of the GEDCOM X project, and the team is dedicated to actively identifying and accommodating the needs and feedback of the community. We believe that the success of FamilySearch’s platform is dependent on how well we can reach out and incorporate the ideas of the community. Hopefully, it’s no secret that FamilySearch intends to make GEDCOM X a core part of their Web service APIs, so it should come as no surprise that GEDCOM X must be able to support that.


But let’s talk about the practical implications of that requirement, because I think it’s easy to assume that it imposes more constraints than it really does.

First of all, GEDCOM X must define a serialization format and an associated media type. That means that GEDCOM X has to define more than just an abstract model, it has to define how the data can be written to disk or transferred over the Internet. No surprises there, right? Enough said.

Next, GEDCOM X should be extensible. Like all organizations, FamilySearch has their own ideas about what their clients want and how to give it to them. Sometimes those ideas align with the mainstream community and sometimes they don’t. Regardless of how well FamilySearch is meeting the needs of their customers, it needs to be able to implement those ideas even when the rest of the community doesn’t need/want to adopt them. Examples of these things include Discussions, Watches, Notifications, Hypermedia Links, and LDS Ordinances. GEDCOM X needs to be extensible so FamilySearch can add these kinds of features without imposing their proprietary decisions on the community.


Just because FamilySearch needs to use GEDCOM X as part of their platform API doesn’t mean that the goals of GEDCOM X are limited to what FamilySearch intends to initially provide as part of their platform. GEDCOM X may define concepts that FamilySearch doesn’t intend to initially include in their platform API. I would hope that’s obvious, but it’s probably nice to have that explicitly stated.

GEDCOM X already defines concepts that FamilySearch doesn’t intend to support yet. These concepts include shared events, citation templates, and a good chunk of known fact types. GEDCOM X defines these concepts not because they’re important to FamilySearch, but because they’re important to you. So even if you don’t think FamilySearch will implement postnoms or dates on names or whatever other feature you think is important, doesn’t mean that it’s outside the scope of GEDCOM X. Open up an issue! Let’s discuss!

The RDF Anecdote

One issue in particular needs to be cleared up. There seems to be an assumption that GEDCOM X includes all the RDF and other noise because it’s somehow needed to meet the project requirements. This is not the case.

The only reason RDF and the other XML noise was included was because we thought that it would be a good way to get the job done. (Okay, it was pretty much just me. I’ll stick first person here so I don’t have to implicate my team.) On one side of the coin are folks who just want a way to exchange genealogical data in the simplest, most straighforward manner. On the other side of the coin are folks that are genuinely sold on formal semantics and typing. I guess I thought that by integrating some of the RDF constructs into the serialization format, I could please both audiences, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that I was wrong. Instead of pleasing both audiences, it ended up upsetting both audiences.

So we’ll be cleaning up the RDF mess presently, but what I hope you get out of this anecdote is that you needn’t be anxious about the requirements of the GEDCOM X project. They’re not as constraining as you might think. We all want to see a good, solid, useful way to exchange genealogical data. So jump on in, the water’s fine.