Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Standard Naming & Date Conventions?

The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from. - Andrew Stuart "Andy" Tanenbaum 

Recently, Randy Seaver of the  Genea-Musings blog asked the question:

Are there standards for names in family trees?

It's a great question!  It seems like every genealogist or family historian has their own way of recording data, and every genealogy software has its own convention for entering and storing such data.  That would be complex enough even if we all used the same language and calendar.  Thrown in confusion from Hebrew, Julian and other non-Gregorian calendars (Gregorian is the one we all use in daily life now) and you get an impossible tangle of incompatible dates.

So how are we to choose?  Has anyone published a standard way of recording genealogical data?  Who has authority to devise and publish such a standard?  Why should we trust THEM?  One of the comments on Randy's post lead me to The INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE for JEWISH GENEALOGY and PAUL JACOBI CENTER where a man named Gary Mokotoff has created a proposed standard, and has run it by a number of specialists in the field to try and get some consensus on workable standards and ways to resolve the outliers that inevitably fall afoul of these kinds of rules.  You can read the proposed standard here (PDF file).  I have read the proposed standard, and while I didn't agree with every piece of it, it looks like a well thought-out set of standards to deal with everything from calendar differences to language issues to geographic name changes, etc.  I would be willing to put up with the few items I wasn't real happy about if everyone were to get onboard with these standards as it would go very far in cleaning up all of our data, making it much easier to share!

I encourage you to take a look at this if you have not already (I know a lot more people read Randy's blog than mine) and see what you think.  Would you be willing to tweak your data to conform with the standards proposed?  If not, why not?  Is your software of choice up to the task of meeting the proposed standards?  Would you be willing to change to one that could?  Should we be insisting our software vendors update their offerings to deal with this issue?  Share your thoughts in the comments!