Modern Software Experience



  1. The FTW TEXT Problem

Family Tree Maker for Windows


There are a few entries on the Genealogy Jargon page that deserve more than a brief entry. The FTW TEXT entry is one of those.


FTW TEXT is a feature, or rather misfeature, of Family Tree Maker Classic. Now that New Family Tree Maker is out, it should have become a historic one, but with many users opting to continue to use version 16 or its predecessors over FTM 2008 and its successors, it remains a current issue.


The FTW GEDCOM article discussed some problems and solutions with Family Tree Maker Classic’s less than stellar GEDCOM support.
To briefly summarise, FTW GEDCOM is a GEDCOM dialect of GEDCOM that suffers from both common GEDCOM issues as well as some unique FTW-specific issues. FTW GEDCOM is in fact so different from GEDCOM, that many FTW GEDCOM files do not really qualify as GEDCOM files. The various quality issues can make dealing with FTW GEDCOM files problematic, but there are several solutions for dealing with FTW GEDCOM problems.

GEDCOM dialect

two text formats

It is a surprisingly little-known fact that Family Tree Maker Classic actually supports two text-based formats; FTW GEDCOM and FTW TEXT. It is not really a secret, but it is a fact that the FTM makers camouflaged with inaccurate and confusing terminology.


FTW GEDCOM is a GEDCOM dialect; it is the FTW-specific variation of GEDCOM, and it is a problematic variation, but many GEDCOM readers will still read most of the data in an FTW GEDCOM file.


Family Tree Maker Classic additionally supports FTW TEXT. FTW TEXT is quite clearly an unoriginal format based on GEDCOM, yet it is not a GEDCOM dialect at all.


The difference between FTW GEDCOM and FTW TEXT is perhaps best explained by example.


Here are two fragments of an FTW GEDCOM. Apart from the use of indentation (and some stuff I left out), it looks like an ordinary GEDCOM file.

    2 VERS Family Tree Maker (16.0.350)
    2 NAME Family Tree Maker for Windows
    2 CORP, Inc.
      3 ADDR 360 W 4800 N
        4 CONT Provo, UT 84604
      3 PHON (801) 705-7000
0 @I01@ INDI
  1 NAME Husband /LastName/
  1 SEX M
  1 FAMS @F1@
0 @I02@ INDI
  1 NAME Wife /MaidenName/
  1 SEX F
  1 FAMS @F1@
0 @F1@ FAM
  1 HUSB @I01@
  1 WIFE @I02@


Here are the same two fragments again, but in FTW TEXT instead of FTW GEDCOM. The FTW TEXT file clearly has the same structure as the FTW GEDCOM file, but uses full words instead of GEDCOM tags.

    2 VERSION Family Tree Maker (16.0.350)
    2 NAME Family Tree Maker for Windows
    2 CORPORATE, Inc.
      3 ADDRESS 360 W 4800 N
        4 CONTINUED Provo, UT 84604
      3 PHONE (801) 705-7000
  1 NAME Husband /LastName/
  1 SEX M
  1 NAME Wife /MaidenName/
  1 SEX F
  1 HUSBAND @I01@
  1 WIFE @I02@


The big difference between FTW TEXT and FTW GEDCOM is that FTW GEDCOM uses GEDCOM tags, and that FTW TEXT does not. That’s why FTW GEDCOM is a GEDCOM dialect, but FTW TEXT is not.


This surface change may seem fairly innocent to some; surely it is obvious to which GEDCOM tag each FTW TEXT tag corresponds? Alas, that is an anthropomorphic thought; as humans we are able to recognise the correspondence and then treat the two files as if they were identical, but you cannot expect all applications that support GEDCOM files to automagically recognise the FTW TEXT tags.


The easiest way to understand why FTW GEDCOM and FTW TEXT, although they have the same structure, are different languages, is by comparison with human language; what makes one language really different from another is the use of different words for the same thing. Never mind syntax or idiom; until you know what the words mean, you are lost.


The GEDCOM specification does allow vendors to define their own tags, but demands that such implementation-specific tags start with an underscore; adding tags that do not start with an underscore is illegal. Thus, a good GEDCOM reader will not just fail to recognise the FTW TEXT, but even report them as illegal.

Even more fundamental is that each GEDCOM file must start with a HEAD tag and end with TRLR tag. The first few lines must contain a valid GEDCOM header to be recognised as GEDCOM at all. Thus, it is perfectly reasonable for GEDCOM readers to not even try to read the FTW TEXT, but simply reject it because it isn’t a GEDCOM file.

practical test

These considerations may seem a bit theoretical to some. There is a very simple practical test to determine how GEDCOM compatible any format in any way derived from or based on GEDCOM is; try loading such files into a few other genealogy applications that read GEDCOM files (and have not deliberately been extended to read the format under consideration).

Try that with FTW GEDCOM, and the other program is likely to produce some errors, yet still import most of it correctly. That shows FTW GEDCOM to be a poor GEDCOM dialect; a poor dialect, but a dialect.

Try it with FTW TEXT, and the other program is practically sure to produce nothing but errors, and import nothing. That makes it very clear that FTW TEXT is not even a poor GEDCOM dialect, but another language.

GEDCOM reader

Although FTW TEXT is clearly based on GEDCOM, FTW TEXT is so crucially different from proper GEDCOM that many of the GEDCOM readers that have been tweaked to read FTW GEDCOM files just fine still cannot make sense of FTW TEXT files.

A GEDCOM reader understand the GEDCOM language. You need an FTW TEXT reader to understand the FTW TEXT language.

FTW TEXT is structurally identical to FTW GEDCOM, but the tags are different. That makes it another language for the same things.


The situation is quite simple; FTW TEXT is structurally identical to FTW GEDCOM, but the tags are different. That makes it another language for the same things.
FTW GEDCOM is a GEDCOM dialect, and FTW TEXT is not. FTW TEXT is different from GEDCOM.

Confusion surrounding FTW TEXT stems from the fact that the Family Tree Maker makers have not exactly been open and honest about the situation. They have never simply admitted the existence of FTW TEXT as different from FTW GEDCOM. They have not even named it, I had to give it a name so it can be discussed.

The makers of FTW have never admitted to the existence of FTW TEXT as an additional FTW-specific format, nor clearly stated that it is incompatible with GEDCOM.
Quite the contrary, they have actively tried to pass their FTW TEXT of as if it is GEDCOM. Their FTW software even does so in a way that suggests that FTW TEXT is the real GEDCOM, and that real GEDCOM is a lesser variation of it. No kidding.

The FTW user interface misleads users into exporting data to FTW TEXT instead of GEDCOM. Users who want to make a GEDCOM get an FTW TEXT file instead, and then have a hard time finding another application that will read their GEDCOM file.

Family Tree Maker

Export to GEDCOM dialog box

If you export data from Family Tree Maker you must choose to either export to the file format of a specific FTM version or to GEDCOM. If you choose to export to GEDCOM you get to see the following dialog.

FTM 16 Export to GEDCOM dialog box

Notice the two settings below the text Do not change these options if you are exporting this file for use in another program. As shown here, Indent records unchecked, Abbreviate tags checked, that advice is correct. However, some experimentation suggest that these options settings are not true defaults; if you export with different settings and try again, it will show whatever settings you last used, yet still show that text, and thus dispense erroneous advice.


There are various options on the dialog box, but only two really interest us here, Indent records and Abbreviate tags.

Indent Records

That even Family Tree Maker version 16 still provides the option to indent GEDCOM files while there is no reason to do so, and good reason not do so, is baffling. It simply makes no sense to present the user with an option they should never check. It is the proverbial Do Not Push This Button button.

That files using indentation are a lot larger because of all the superfluous spaces they contain is a minor issue. The big issue is that it violates the GEDCOM specification, and violating the specification for no reason whatsoever is inviting compatibility issues.

Abbreviate tags

The Abbreviate tags option is completely dishonest. There is no such thing as abbreviated GEDCOM tags, yet the FTM 16 help file claims that you should Check this to use abbreviations for the GEDCOM tags, instead of full names.

The tags that FTW TEXT uses are referred to as GEDCOM tags, while the real GEDCOM tags are referred to as abbreviated tags. The dialog is worded to make you think that FTW TEXT is the real GEDCOM, and that its tags are the real GEDCOM tags. It and the help file are worded to make you think of real GEDCOM tags as some abbreviated form of the real tags (full names), as a not-really-real lesser form of GEDCOM.


GEDCOM does not have abbreviated tags or long tags. GEDCOM has tags, period.


GEDCOM does not have abbreviated tags or long tags. GEDCOM has tags, period.

Any mention of so-called abbreviated tags must be understood as a incorrectly worded reference to GEDCOM tags. Any mention of so-called long tags must be understood as an incorrectly worded reference to FTW TEXT tags.

There are no GEDCOM files with abbreviated tags, there are only GEDCOM files with tags. There are no GEDCOM files with long tags, there are only FTW TEXT files.


That Family Tree Maker supports FTW TEXT in addition to FTW GEDCOM is not a problem. That it is structurally identical to FTW GEDCOM, and thus completely superfluous is not a problem either.

The problem is that its dishonest dialog box misleads users into creating a FTW TEXT file when they want to create a GEDCOM file. These users then have a hard time understanding why they experience so many problems trying to load that ostensible GEDCOM file into other applications.