PRESS RELEASE – GEDCOM 5.5.5 IS A BETTER GEDCOM
LEIDEN – 2 October 2019
GEDCOM version 5.5.5 is the first new version of GEDCOM in twenty years.
GEDCOM 5.5.1 was introduced on 2 October 1999. Today, exactly twenty years later,
GEDCOM 5.5.5 is available from gedcom.org; the GEDCOM site is back.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 isn’t just another new version of GEDCOM. Previous versions of GEDCOM were
feature releases; new versions that introduced new features. GEDCOM 5.5.5 is a maintenance
release; it addresses issues with GEDCOM itself, both long-standing issues as well as those that
result from the twenty year hiatus.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 does not introduce any major new features. On the contrary, GEDCOM 5.5.5
removes dated, obsolete, deprecated and duplicate features to create a leaner and meaner GEDCOM
no longer burdened by features nobody needs.
High Quality GEDCOM
The introduction of the first GEDCOM version in twenty years is a major event, yet the version
number of the new version, merely 5.5.5 instead of 5.6 or 6.0, indicates a minor revision.
The best way to understand GEDCOM 5.5.5 is to think of GEDCOM 5.5.5 files as high quality
GEDCOM 5.5.1 files. GEDCOM 5.5.5 files are so compatible with GEDCOM 5.5.1 files, that many
existing genealogy applications will read GEDCOM 5.5.5 files without any problem.
It even is a deliberate feature of GEDCOM 5.5.5 (and GEDCOM 5.5.5 only) than you can manually
change the version number from 5.5.5 to 5.5.1 to have it imported by applications that do not
support GEDCOM 5.5.5 yet.
That manual version number change only works in that direction; you can downgrade a GEDCOM
5.5.5 file to a GEDCOM 5.5.1 file that way, but you cannot upgrade a GEDCOM 5.5.1 file to a
GEDCOM 5.5.5 file that way; most GEDCOM 5.5.1 files simply do not meet the higher quality
standards of GEDCOM 5.5.5.
Easier to Import
Developers will welcome technical changes that it make it easier to import GEDCOM files, such as
• Simplified GEDCOM grammar
• Clarification that tags are case-sensitive
• A well-defined version number format
• All GEDCOM identifiers must be alphanumerical now
• The LF/CR combination is no longer a legal line terminator
• no CONC or CONT in GEDCOM header
• The Byte Order Mark (BOM) is mandatory
• Clear & simple rules for dealing with white space
Simple CONC & CONT rules
• and many other simplifications
Despite not introducing any major features, the What’s New section of the GEDCOM 5.5.5
specification is about twenty pages long. GEDCOM 5.5.5 features such things as more accurate,
consistent and current terminology, new sections, and more bonus chapters, but the key change that
makes GEDCOM 5.5.5 a better GEDCOM is significant simplification.
One File per GEDCOM File
GEDCOM 5.5.1 allows a GEDCOM file to be split among multiple files, called volumes,
GEDCOM 5.5.5 demands the simplicity of a single file.
One GEDCOM Version per File
GEDCOM 5.5.1 demands supports for some GEDCOM 5.5 record in GEDCOM 5.5.1 files.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 does not allow such oddities. GEDCOM 5.5.5 demands that all records be
GEDCOM 5.5.5 records.
One Line Terminator per File
The GEDCOM 5.5.1 grammar allows each GEDCOM line to have a different line terminator. The
GEDCOM 5.5.5 grammar explicitly demands one line terminator per file.
One Encoding per GEDCOM File
GEDCOM 5.5.1 demands use of ANSEL in the GEDCOM header, even if that header specifies the
use of another encoding. GEDCOM 5.5.5 demands use of the specified encoding for the entire file.
One Character Set for GEDCOM
GEDCOM 5.5.5 no longer allows characters sets that may lose information. GEDCOM 5.5.5 is
One Submitter per GEDCOM File
GEDCOM 5.5.1 allows each individual and each family group to have its own submitter. This is a
complication that remains widely unsupported. GEDCOM 5.5.5 simplifies GEDCOM by codifying
existing practice, and demanding exactly one submitter per GEDCOM file.
One Place Name Format
GEDCOM 5.5.1 has a feature that allows a GEDCOM file to define its own place name format, and
even use multiple, different place name formats in the same file. It remains widely unsupported; the
one application that tried to support it makes it mess of your place names.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 simplifies GEDCOM an increases compatibility between applications by removing
this feature, and simply supporting the one place name format all users know; jurisdictional levels,
ordered small to large, separated by a comma and a space.
One Way of Doing Things: One Record per Thing
GEDCOM 5.5.1 has various records that duplicate functionality already provided by other records.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 gets rid of the duplicates. The What’s New section has a table showing which
record to use instead.
One Way of Doing Things: One Record Format
Some records have both an old, deprecated unstructured format and a newer, preferred structured
format. GEDCOM 5.5.5 finishes the transitions started in GEDCOM 5.5.1 and earlier by
demanding the preferred structured format.
Improved Data Transfer
One Multimedia Record Per File, One File Per Multimedia Record
GEDCOM 5.5.1 allows a single multimedia record to link to multiple files, but only a few
application support that. So, if you export from one of these applications to another, links may be
lost. GEDCOM 5.5.5 simplifies GEDCOM and ends this data loss by demanding one multimedia
record per file, one file per multimedia record.
One Set of Religious Records-Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
GEDCOM used to have one set of Church of Jesus Christ records until FamilySearch introduced separate records for The Church of Jesus Christ events; they added a Baptism record, while GEDCOM already had a baptism record. Some genealogy applications support these duplicate events, most do not, so if you transfer your data from one to the other, you are practically sure to lose that data. GEDCOM 5.5.5 simplifies GEDCOM and makes sure these religious events aren’t lost by returning to one set of religious records for all religions.
One Character Set: Unicode
GEDCOM 5.5.1 allows ASCII, ANSEL and Unicode. What’s more, in practice many vendors still
use code pages such as Windows ANSI, while they’ve never been legal.
During the past two decades, the genealogy industry has switched to Unicode, and allowing export
to anything but Unicode is allowing loss of characters. GEDCOM 5.5.5 prevents such loss by
Simple CONC & CONT rules
One aspect of GEDCOM that has presented problems for users is the use of CONC & CONT
records, because some applications do not handle these correctly. The GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated
Edition provided simple guidelines for handling CONC & CONT correctly.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 provides the simplest CONC & CONT rules ever, making it near impossible to
A Faster GEDCOM
A welcome benefit of all the simplifications and tightened rules is that import of GEDCOM 5.5.5
files should be noticeably faster than import of GEDCOM 5.5.1 files.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 is mostly an improved and simplified GEDCOM 5.5.1, but the creators did sneak
in a few new features that did not require any new syntax.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 explicitly supports same-sex marriage. On a first reading of GEDCOM 5.5.1, the
specification seems to prohibit same-sex marriage, but many vendors already figured out that
GEDCOM 5.5.1 actually supports same-sex marriage without any GEDCOM extensions. The
GEDCOM 5.5.5 specification clarifies that what they are doing conforms to the existing
GEDCOM 5.5.5 explicitly explains how to support relationships other than marriage, and provides
a list of relationships to use. This significantly increases cross-product compatibility.
Intersex and Not Recorded
GEDCOM 5.5.5 adds two new sex values: X for Intersex, and N for Not Recorded.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 explicitly allows what many applications were already allowing: a date without a
GEDCOM 5.5.1 allows recording someone’s age at an event, but its AGE_AT_EVENT definition
restricts the number of years to only two digits. GEDCOM 5.5.5 allows three digits.
GEDCOM 5.5.5 has been created by an international group of industry experts, many of whom also
contributed to the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition released last year, which effectively replaced
the original GEDCOM 5.5.1 specification.
The GEDCOM 5.5.5 specification was edited by renowned genealogy technologist Tamura Jones,
working together with GEDCOM experts Bob Coret (Genealogy Online, Open Archives), Diedrich
Hesmer (Our Family Book, GEDCOM Service Programs), Andrew Hoyle (Chronoplex My Family
Tree, Chronoplex GEDCOM Validator), Kari Kujansuu (Genealogy Society of Finland’s
isotammi.net), Louis Kessler (Behold, GEDCOM File Finder, Double Match Triangulator), Stanley
Mitchell (ezGED Viewer) and Nigel Munro Parker (GED-inline GEDCOM validator).
MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet bought and donated the gedcom.org domain.
A Better GEDCOM with Annotations
GEDCOM 5.5.5 is a much better GEDCOM than GEDCOM 5.5.1, but does not fix two decades of
overdue maintenance with a single release. The GEDCOM 5.5.5 specification is based on the
GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition, and keeps the annotations for issues not addressed by this
The GEDCOM 5.5.5 specification is available today from gedcom.org. The gedcom.org website
offers a GEDCOM FAQ for end users, but is largely aimed at developers. It offers GEDCOM 5.5.5,
the current specification, as well as GEDCOM 5.5.1, the previous specification, and the Second
Revision of the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition. These specifications are complemented by an
overview of GEDCOM validators, and a few GEDCOM 5.5.5 sample files to help developers get
started with the new standard.