Genealogy Virus Continues to Spread

I was disappointed yesterday to hear of another outbreak of the virus that’s sweeping through genealogy. A new GEDCOM (GEnealogy Data COMmunication) file sharing site sprang up. I’m disappointed because this nonsense undermines the practice of genealogy. Mostly this is because many (if not most) GEDCOMs being shared contain incorrect conclusions. Sharing incorrect conclusions is the single biggest threat to our hobby. It wastes an incredible amount of research time.

The problem has three primary causes:

  1. Many people don’t know any better. They  combine flawed conclusions they download with their own then they share that; it spreads like a virus!
  2. Services enable the exchange of unsupported conclusions. Even services that make information available in other ways like are complicit in the spread of the genealogy virus.
  3. The GEDCOM format enables sharing of conclusions, but not the exchange of the associated information, evidence, and proof arguments.

I’m all for sharing sound genealogical conclusions as long as the chains of evidence and proof statements are included. This achieves what we actually want: sharing genealogy in a way that helps recipients with their research. A well supported conclusion is valuable because it moves you a step closer to a genuine brick-wall breakthrough. An unsupported conclusion is like gossip–it may be entertaining, but it’s unlikely to be correct and so it isn’t worth your time.

Sharing genealogy research that’s just plain bad is going to continue as long as each of these three causes remain. You and I can stamp out all three if we commit to three actions:

  1. Explain the dangers to others.
  2. Encourage genealogy software vendors and service providers to work together to enhance the GEDCOM format.
  3. Share only sound conclusions and the information, chains of evidence, and proof arguments to support them.

How can I help you stamp out this genealogy virus?

P.S. You could also help by sharing this with your genealogy pals by clicking the “share” button below and choosing how you want to share.


  1. Jeff Ford says

    On Ancestry, I don’t link to trees that don’t have any sources and are nothing but dates. Most of my people are sourced. The exception being the living and those who records aren’t available.

    • says

      Hi, Jeff. Only using sourced conclusions is a good first step, but it’s not enough; you can save a bunch of work if the all of the chains of evidence were available with the respective sources and the ultimate conclusion with supporting proof statement. I’m writing a post to elaborate on my thoughts on this matter. Look for it soon.


  2. says

    Nicely put Ben!

    I hope you don’t mind but I’ve cited this page a couple of times from my STEMMA page ( I’ve just loaded up about 70 pages of research notes that I had used in its creation and found that we were saying very similar things on this subject – although I specifically like your virus analogy.

    I recognise your name from some of the BetterGEDCOM discussions. I have contributed there too, and I’m currently one of the organising members of FHISO ( I’d be interested in any feedback on this initiative.


Leave a Reply