Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Genealogy: Out of a test tube!


I have many reservations about prescriptive answers to genealogy presentations, much preferring them to reflect the rich tapestry of life. However with relationships I am less than certain. This question is not an ethical question, as many types of relationship exist in the real world, as we well know.

At present there is much discussion on how modern relationships, such as same sex partnerships, a surrogate parent and test tube children should be recorded by genealogy software, and much of this discussion has revolved around the differences between "true" genealogy and family history. I would ask are we asking the right question to the right people?

Let us consider the question of web browsers. Until recently (if now) browsers were designed in accordance with the ideas of the company designers. As a consequence web designers have for years suffered in trying to design sites which look the same in all varieties of browser, notwithstanding the existence of world wide web standards. Similarly, are we not in danger of genealogy software companies deciding for us what, in their varied opinions, is the best solution as to how the many types of relationships should be handled? I would suggest that this is not the way forward.

The laws regarding varying relationships differ from country to country, and  it would be wrong, therefore, for any standard to be based on what is legal in any one country, but the laws in most, if not all countries, should be considered. These days genealogy software is international, and surely the time has now arrived for a new approach to be made.

I would suggest that a cooperative venture between the national genealogy societies and the software companies be initiated to develop a format acceptable to most, but preferably all, participants. And who should pay for this? Why not the software companies by releasing their staff to attend meetings and providing the administrative back up, and perhaps supporting the attendance of the voluntary officials of the genealogy societies.

What I would like to see now is a proper international debate on this subject by genealogists and software companies, rather than comments, complaints and suggestions made by users of specific software to their supplier. As we saw from browser development, a standard may not resolve all the problems, but it would, I believe, be a big improvement on the ad-hoc arrangement we have today.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

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