Modern Software Experience



Documenting FTW TEXT


A vendor that either recognises FTW TEXT to provide a helpful error message or supports FTW TEXT in their GEDCOM reader must include some documentation for that feature.


Some genealogy applications that do not support FTW TEXT still make special note of FTW import problems in their documentation, simply because FTW GEDCOM is one of the most problematic GEDCOM dialects ever. As discussed in FTW GEDCOM, it is so problematic that it hardly qualifies as a dialect and that there are several tools that try to correct its shortcomings.

More often than not, such documentation does not distinguish between FTW GEDCOM and FTW TEXT issues, and continues to propagates FTW’s deliberately misleading terminology.

Family Tree Detective

For example, Family Tree Detective’s Exporting a File to GEDCOM page, the author notes that Most programs use abbreviated tags instead of long tags.

Aster Software FamViewer

Aster Software’s FamViewer Frequently Asked Questions page states that FamViewer doesn’t support long tags.


The GedHTree FAQ does not mention of Family Tree Maker by name, but it is clear why they rote this, and where their confused terminology comes form: Nearly all GEDCOMs use abbreviated tags, which GedHTree interprets. When you output your GEDCOM file, if your genealogy software has a check box for Abbreviate Tags, be sure that it has been CHECKED..


The GED-GEN home page states GEDCOM files must use abbreviated tags..

GedStar Pro FAQ

The GedStar Pro FAQ states Make sure that you use the correct settings in your genealogy program when exporting the GEDCOM file: it must be in GEDCOM 5.5 format, with ANSEL encoding and Abbreviated Tags..


The GedStar Pro instructions are wrong. It is impossible to use abbreviated tags in GEDCOM, because there is no such thing.

All the sentences cited above are wrong. There is no such thing as abbreviated tags in GEDCOM. There is no such thing as long tags either. GEDCOM has tags, period.


Now, these vendors are arguably not in the business of educating their users about file formats or correct GEDCOM terminology, they just want to explain to FTW users how to make a GEDCOM file that their software can import.

However, by using Family Tree Maker’s misleading terminology, without the smallest hint that the FTW terminology is incorrect and misleading, they lend credence to that terminology. By using the FTW terminology as if it is perfectly normal, these vendors provide silent support for Family Tree Maker’s attempt to pass FTW TEXT of as if it is GEDCOM.

They provide silent support for the suggestion - implied by the FTW terminology - that applications that do not support long tags have limited GEDCOM support. These vendors have let themselves be tricked into suggesting their own application is deficient in its GEDCOM support in their very own documentation, when the truth is that FTW’s GEDCOM is not GEDCOM at all.

It is a fairly safe assumption that these vendors never intended to paint their own applications as deficient in its GEDCOM support.

Quick Fix

A quick fix for existing text is to simply add quote marks around all misleading terminology; add quote marks around long tags, abbreviated tags and every GEDCOM that is really a reference to FTW TEXT instead of GEDCOM.

That way, existing text does not need to but rewritten; it continues to use the misleading terminology, but without lending credence to that terminology.


The GenServ manual from 1995 shows how it is done:

Note: If you use FTM, make sure to save your GEDCOM as a PAF file (version 4 or 5, using IBM PC character set), with no "indent" and with "abbreviated tags" before checking that it can be successfully imported into one of the above systems.

Note how much clearer this text is for using quotes. Note that its does not just use quotes, but also makes it clear that these particular instructions apply to Family Tree Maker (FTM) only, and thus implies that the weird terminology is specific to Family Tree Maker. This way, users of other applications understand that they need not worry about all this.

Doing it right

confusing terminology

Vendors that propagate the deliberately misleading FTW terminology are part of the problem.
The problem with the terminology used by FTW is that it deliberately does not distinguish between GEDCOM proper and the FTW GEDCOM dialect at all, but instead misrepresents FTW TEXT as if it is GEDCOM, and even does so in a way that suggests that real GEDCOM isn’t proper GEDCOM, but some inferior form of it.

Such confusing terminology tends to gets in the way of any attempt to explain what is really going on; it really does not help when you try to explain something that the terminology you are using constantly contradicts what you are saying.

do not use

Vendors should neither use nor propagate the deliberately misleading terminology introduced by Family Tree Maker. Its dishonest terminology such as long tags should always be quoted. The FTW terminology should only be mentioned to explain that it is misleading, and to allow for an index entry that leads to that explanation. Vendors that are still using the FTW terminology in their documentation should update it as soon as possible.

Use correct terminology throughout

Refer to GEDCOM files as GEDCOM files and to FTW TEXT files as FTW TEXT files. Refer to GEDCOM tags as GEDCOM tags and to FTW TEXT tags as FTW TEXT tags.

Be sure to use correct terminology throughout; in the application itself and in all related product literature. Consider the error messages, the help file, the User Manual, the Getting Started flyer, sales brochures and the web site - and do so for all supported locales.


If you give any kind of instructions on exporting from Family Tree Maker Classic, in books, manuals, blogs or courses, be sure to warn students against both FTW TEXT as an incompatible proprietary format and FTW’s deliberately misleading terminology.

application features

When you are describing the features of your own application, you may wish to state very clearly that you do support GEDCOM, and will gladly fix issues with the GEDCOM support, but do not support FTW TEXT. State clearly that FTW TEXT is not some industry standard, but merely a vendor-specific proprietary format.

You may even want to stress that you have gone out of your way already by documenting this third party issue and by making sure the application recognises FTW TEXT to reject it with an informative message.

detect FTW TEXT

The GEDCOM Magic article explains how to correctly detect GEDCOM and FTW TEXT and recommends always detecting both, whether FTW TEXT is supported or not.

The reason for that is the ability to always clearly communicate to the user what is happening. Merely documenting that some cryptic error may have been caused by an FTW TEXT file is not half as good as informing the reader that the file is not GEDCOM but FTW TEXT. Not supporting FTW TEXT is not the same as failing to import a GEDCOM file, and Importing GEDCOM and Importing FTW TEXT are not the same thing either.

dealing with FTW TEXT

An application that does everything right, and clearly informs the user that their ostensible GEDCOM file is not a GEDCOM file, but an FTW TEXT file, may still leave the user left hanging.

It may be wise to include a brief message in the user interface and a few paragraphs in the online help and manual that state the obvious, informs the user that the problem they are experiencing was caused by another application and that they should contact the vendor of that application for assistance.

Such an obvious statement hardly provides unsolicited direction. It confirms the user’s idea on what action to take next, and directs the support load that the other vendor has been causing back at that vendor. It is not a arbitrary redirection of support load to another vendor, but specifically for a problem known to have been caused by that vendor, and hands the user the terminology to describe the problem.

The help file could even include contact details for Family Tree Maker support, but it is better to simply direct users to the Family Tree Maker web site, which should always have the latest support information.