Currently, this group does not allow questions on "Developing genealogy software".

For a programmer (and the Stack Exchange audience is quite technical), that is tricky as it has a big overlap with "Using technology to support your research".

An example (made up) question:

There are modules in PHP, Ruby, and so on (link to them) that attempt to capitalize last names correctly, which is useful when taking all-caps data and making it readable in a genealogy program/website. The rules they use are not formal or documented, really just a series of empirical fixes as new exceptions become known. Although it's never possible to be 100% accurate as the same spellings may capitalise differently in different countries (and years), are there any documented best-practices and algorithms? Has this been tackled by any internationalisation group?

That question is clearly about software development, yet is considered off-topic in Stack Overflow: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2466706/capitalization-of-person-names-in-programming

That's just an example. Other questions could include where to get the geocoding data for UK BMD registration districts (for example for mapping of surnames), how best to parse and store GEDCOM, name matching and placename matching algorithms, best practice and what problems to look out for with fuzzy date matching, sources for genealogy test data, standard routines for calculating the various number reference systems used in genealogy, and so on.

If these are not appropriate for a Genealogy Q&A that covers "using techology to support your research", why not? Is there somewhere more suitable?

Questions about using a particular programming language or database do obviously fit elsewhere (and are not appropriate here). Any questions on genealogy software and website development should be language-independent, as far as possible. What approach to take, what data to use, rather than the specifics of how.

I do understand that overly technical questions could put some users off, although providing a resource for those developing for genealogy could equally attract other users.

  • 2
    Clearly if This site was created to become THE world's foremost authority on genealogy (see meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/1732) then the topics you suggest must be included. If, on the other hand, the community of users has more modest (some might say, realistic) goals, there can be an argument about the type of questions likely to appeal to its particular audience.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 23:51
  • 1
    I think they should be on-topic here as long as they directly pertain to genealogy and are not overlapping onto SO's question-space.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 0:41

6 Answers 6


There's a class of questions about developing a genealogy app or website that would be squarely on-topic for SO and wouldn't belong here: "I'm writing a genealogy program. How do I do this programming thing?" (Ok -- with a lot more supporting detail of the problem and what you've tried -- at least if you don't want to get shot down in flames). The focus is squarely on the programming problem/technique and the fact that it's a genealogy programme is irrelevant -- it belongs on SO and not here.

There's also a class of questions about finding or interfacing to genealogy-specific APIs, data structures or data resources. On a very quick sample, GEDcom parsing seems a perennial topic on SO; so does geocoding. Names, places and dates aren't data that's specific to genealogy programmes, so any interrogation or manipulation techniques or datasets aren't specific to it either but have a wider programming use.

Although I initially thought I'd find a class of questions that wasn't covered elsewhere and might belong here, I haven't... Maybe programming to the new FamilySearch API?

So I'm not convinced we should change our scope statement. (Much as I'd like to ask about the algorithm for parsing a GEDcom into an Access database using VBA with people who actually understand the GEDcom standard and its idiosyncracies, rather than people who are just coming at it from a general programming perspective).

  • OK, if that's the general opinion here I'll avoid asking my questions. Pity, as I really think that manipulation of open data is going to be a key part of (technical) genealogy, very soon. As your last paragraph mentions (and as the question on capitalisation shows), asking genealogy-specific questions elsewhere isn't likely to lead to meaningful answers. Questions about matching historical place names for a specific state or country for geocoding probably falls within the GIS Q&A forum, but the chances that somebody there has the expertise to answer is much lower than here.
    – Rob Hoare
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 18:23
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    @RobHoare I'd wait for others to weigh in -- I don't think we can say it's the general opinion here yet.
    – user104
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 19:18

I have previously posted questions that might be considered to be in this category. However, they were not really programming questions but rather looking at approaches to dealing with genealogy data that might be used in subsequent products.

I would welcome some tags for allowing such questions but would strongly recommend you avoid any association with the term 'programming'. The ones I'm thinking of are certainly data-centric though.

  • The data-centric ones seem to have the most 'mileage' to me...
    – user104
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 15:14

That question was off topic in Stackoverflow because it wasn't a programming question. It was simply a question on capitalization rules.

That question should have and could have been asked in english.stackexchange.com. They have a tag for capitalization which has been assigned to 255 questions.

I don't think it's appropriate here.

  • That was just an example question (see the "other questions" paragraph also), to give an idea of the type of questions that arise during the development of genealogy software (especially when, as will become more common, dealing with open data sources in many formats). Since it's specifically about how to ensure the algorithm tries to consider different languages and cultures, it's unlikely to be appropriate in an English language forum either. More of an internationalisation question, but the extra genealogy twist would be to consider how this has changed over time and with emigration.
    – Rob Hoare
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 4:57
  • Yes, but that example question was off topic. Other programming questions wouldn't be off topic at Stack Overflow if they truly were about programming. Ours should not be the forum for programming questions.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 6:04
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    Different people have different levels of "using technology to support your research". Some are end-users, and consumers of commercial sites. Some want to combine data they have with public sources and/or automate some of their genealogy research. Automation can involve programming or scripting (even if it's just a spreadsheet macro). It also requires access to and often manipulation of data from various sources. To me, asking about the availability of data, and asking about the best ways to use that data (such as name matching, geocoding), are part of "using technology for genealogy".
    – Rob Hoare
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 6:30

I would definitely welcome questions related to "Developing genealogy software" as long as they do not relate to "Developing software" generically which is the province of StackOverflow.

On my main StackExchange site (GIS) I often see Python questions that apply equally well to non-GIS software and have no hesitation voting to close them as being off-topic and better suited to StackOverflow. On the other hand I welcome Python questions that apply specifically to GIS software.

I would like to see a similar "rule of thumb" used for Genealogy and Family History.

I think we could widen our audience by allowing people to try their genealogy software questions here but I suspect the bulk of questions we see can and should remain non-programming.


Re: the recent question I plan to create an iOS App called Draw Family Tree, is it worth? [on hold].

I'm having difficulty understanding the question because of the user's English, but I think he's talking about how he might be able to access data from the various online trees via APIs. Here's what he said:

Where am I able to reach public global / local databases / records to show available person relationship info? Is there any available global distribution system I could use?

Maybe pulling data from FamilySearch's FamilyTree etc. isn't his question. Now that I look at it again, perhaps he's wanting to re-invent something like Justin's Find a Record.

Assuming we had a technical question like that, which was of higher value, one that might be a good candidate for migration -- where does it belong? On Stack Overflow?

On the other hand, if the thrust of his question is to do market research -- "Is it worth it to me to develop this app?" -- then I don't see the value. We're not here to be a focus group. If that's what he wants, I agree that it doesn't belong here.

  • Thanks for posting this - I agree that precisely what the asker is after is not clear but when I put it on hold I thought it was mainly "Is it worth it to me to develop this app?" but you are right about the other question on accessing online trees via API seeming to be present too. Perhaps we should re-open it from being off-topic, re-close it as unclear or too broad, and say that a question around APIs available may be answerable if he can provide more details about what is being looked for?
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 21:59
  • @PolyGeo it was my understanding that the API question is still off-topic, which is why I wanted to get feedback here on Meta.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 22:06
  • I'm not certain - I was reading this Meta Q&A as the jury still being out - and that perhaps "Is there an API to genealogy data?" is just OK whereas "How do I use this API to access genealogy data?" would not be.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 22:14
  • @PolyGeo he wants a "global distribution system" for stuff in public databases of records. If that's not an API for things like the FamilySearch environment then I don't know what he means. But I Am Not a Developer so what do I know?
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 22:18
  • Me neither - but I think you are right - I vote we await more details in case it's just a drive by
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 22:28
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    The correct site for the particular question you mention here Jan is either programmers.stackexchange.com or startups.stackexchange.com, but not our site.
    – lkessler
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 7:06

I have been and still am to a degree a programmer and would welcome questions oriented towards building tools for the use in genealogy information as long as they do not go into source code in their question and answers. I highly emphasize 'understanding of genealogy information' as someone well versed in programming may come to this forum wanting to write a program and we shouldn't drive them away. As PolyGeo noted, StackExchange's roots are oriented toward technical people.

I would think it would be completely appropriate though for the forum to support discussions of people trying to better understand the process and the data involved with genealogy so they can write software for it, as would a statical Phd or a medical doctor researching a disease coming to the forum asking for assistance in data collection if phrased properly to collect information from the user base or locating information that we may have encountered in our research.

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