Mac Genealogy Software and Unicode GEDCOMs

This is a brief post (that leads to a couple of articles) covering an issue that came up in an email I received from a Chris M. He was migrating from an older version of MacFamilyTree (MacFamilyTree 4) and this caught my attention. The problem was Family Tree Maker for Mac 2 and Unicode GEDCOM files. I ended up turning it into part test and part review of importing Unicode/UTF-8 GEDCOM files into newer versions of Mac OS X genealogy software. For an explanation of Unicode and UTF-8 and why it matters, see the article at the bottom of the page.

Why would it be an issue?
Unicode supports certain Asian and Eastern European characters that may occur in family names and locations. It could be an issue for those migrating from Personal Ancestral File 5.2, which supports UTF-8 as its internal character encoding, and which can export UTF-8 GEDCOM files.

I initially thought more genealogy applications might not handle Unicode, but seeing as how Mac OS X natively handles it, as well as some supporting at least parts of GEDCOM 5.5.1, it really wasn’t an issue for most.

I can tell you that Family Tree Maker 2010 for Mac and Family Tree Maker for Mac 2 have serious problems with Unicode files.

This is not simply a problem with the Mac Family Tree Maker implementations. Tamura Jones covers this problem in an article, Family Tree Maker 2012 Fan Value that gets into some of the Unicode/UTF-8 problems that Family Tree Maker has. He is discussing it from the point of view of exporting GEDCOM files, and mentions that while Family Tree Maker 2011 has Unicode technology, it does not support UTF-8 GEDCOM exports. Family Tree Maker 2012 somewhat addresses the issue (you really should read his article for more about it), but it still doesn’t do it in a logical way. FTM 2012 doesn’t support the GEDCOM 5.5.1 draft standard, which includes UTF-8 encoding.

For a longer look at this issue, see these three articles:
Mac Genealogy Software – Unicode, UTF-8, and GEDCOMs
Unicode, UTF-8, GEDCOM 5.5.1, GEDCOMs and Macs
Conversion of Unicode GEDCOM Files on a Mac

2 thoughts on “Mac Genealogy Software and Unicode GEDCOMs”

  1. Thank you for highlighting the Unicode issues with Family Tree Maker for Mac. FTMM does not provide Unicode support but leaves it up to Mac OS X to do so, which is fine. However, FTMM produces GEDCOM files based on ANSI, which is not even legal according to the GEDCOM standard. They must be ANSEL, which is not the same, ASCII, UNICODE, or UTF-8. Fortunately, most decent websites or software will either read the ANSI tag as ANSEL or prompt you for how to read it.

    This is not the only GEDCOM issue with FTMM, however. Not all GEDCOM 5.5 or 5.5.1 tags are included in FTMM, and there is no option to add them. User defined facts are lumped into the EVEN tag, whether there is a standard GEDCOM tag for them or not. The ALIA tag is used incorrectly; it’s used in place of the NICK tag, but it should contain a link referring to another individual, who may be the same person. It allows data in description fields for facts like birth and death that should only have a “Y,” which means the event occurred. While some other genealogy programs, including Reunion, will import the contents of the description field into a memo or note field, not all will, so this information will be lost. One has to question how useful a genealogy app is if it can’t export your data to GEDCOM properly.

    By the way, Tamura Jones is a man:

    Keith Riggle

  2. I do wonder at times what is going on with FTM and FTMM development in regards to GEDCOM files. There is no reason for them not to have solid support on the GEDCOM issue, unless it’s re-written every so often and the GEDCOM support is not shored up between releases and not given a priority on the re-writes.

    As for Tamura, I totally blanked and my apologies if they see this – I know a woman named Tamora and I mentally turned the “u” into an “o”.

Comments are closed.