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When we’re kids, we learn stories of the past from our grandparents, often involving their parents and grandparents. How many of you remember those stories? What about the names of the people involved? Those of you with your hands up, are you into genealogy?

I’ve been working on it for a couple of years now, and I just love this program, GRAMPS. GRAMPS stands for “Genealogical Research & Analysis Management Programming System.” That’s a mouthful, though, so it’s GRAMPS. GRAMPS is available for Linux, Windows, OSX, BSD, and Solaris, but the Linux versions are generally the most up-to-date. If you’re using one of the other operating systems, there is a live CD How to Build Your Own Bootable Linux Live CD How to Build Your Own Bootable Linux Live CD It's easy to create a DIY bootable live CD in Linux, using third-party tools or official Linux operating systems. Need help? Follow these steps to create a Linux Live CD in minutes. Read More available.

If you’re a genealogy enthusiast and you’ve used software to track your records before, you’re probably familiar with the GEDCOM format. The thing I loved about GRAMPS to begin with was that it worked directly with the GEDCOM. Nowadays it does have its own format available, but it can still use the GEDCOM directly. It also automatically backs up the file when you save, so if you screw up royally, you have a checkpoint.

As with any genealogy program, you can enter names, dates, places, etc. One of the features I like is that you can set the quality of the dates to regular, estimated, or calculated and also include that it was before, after, or about a certain time. I find this useful when I’m going through census records and figuring out “So she was 20 in May 1873, meaning she was either born in early 1853 or late 1852” since I can’t really be properly accurate without something like a birth certificate. You can also create an event, like a ship arriving at port, just once and link multiple people to it. The list of events you can choose is extensive. There are definitely more options than what I recall Personal Ancestry File having and if you find yourself thinking, “Wow James and Joseph sure named their kids a lot of similar na — oh, they’re the same person.” There’s a tool to merge people as well.

Of course, GRAMPS allows you to store media attached to the people and events. By “media,” I do not simply mean photos. Videos, audio clips, and scanned documents are all options. So, even if you do spend a lot of time transcribing some old form, you can have the original there. Many people take issue with using just transcriptions because of the possibility for error in transcribing. If a scan of the original document is attached, however, you have a verifiable record available and yes, one photo of many people can be attached to all of them.

Speaking of verifiability, it is extremely important to cite your sources when doing genealogical research. GRAMPS provides for this, as well. There are two tabs on the left marked ‘Sources’ and ‘Repositories’. These two are meant to work together. Everything you reference goes into a source. The sources then go in a repository. If you looked at a bunch of old newspaper clippings and records in the library, the library would be your data repository. A church’s collection of family records would be another repository, with each baptism certificate they’ve got on hand being a source. Since headstones are great sources for birth and death dates, cemeteries also qualify as repositories.


Henry VIII Relationship view

Shown above is part of Henry VIII’s relationship view. As you can see, one generation backwards and forwards is displayed for the person in focus (Henry VIII). The person can be removed from any of the families listed by clicking the minus sign, and the families can be edited with the pencil and paper button. Clicking any of the people brings them into focus in that view. Each person’s birth date and location, death date and location, and gender is shown with their name if it is available.

full list of available reports

There is a vast array of reports available to be generated by GRAMPS. By far my favorite is the fan chart. I once showed one of my family to a professional genealogist friend, and she said she’d need to check out Linux again. This was before I knew about GRAMPS for Windows, if it even existed at the time. Ahnentafel reports are highly-detailed reports of a person and his or her descendants. Large, multi-page charts are possible as well. The option to create a full book out of the data is a nice one, for example as something to give out at a family reunion. Plus as we are in a web-based world, I figure I ought to mention that it can generate websites.

Example fan chart

It’d be impossible to cover all of the features found in GRAMPS, or show examples of the many charts it can generate, so just give it a try yourself. If you’ve used GRAMPS before, what did you think? Got any other open source genealogy apps to recommend?

GEDCOM for Tudor family found here.

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  1. Family Trees
    August 25, 2009 at 3:17 am

    Attach photos to names and TribalPages will add them to your charts of Family Tree.

  2. Stu G.
    July 7, 2008 at 11:55 am

    This seems like a great tool!! But what about the future? I know a bit about my family history, but what about my grandkids? Will they get to know my mother? I've seen pictures that my aunt has dug up out of I don't know where, but I want to know what these people were like.

    • Mackenzie
      July 7, 2008 at 3:00 pm

      Each person (even too, maybe? not sure) has a notes section in which you can add stories about the people, so others can read them and find how those people were when they were alive.

  3. Adrian
    July 7, 2008 at 1:35 am

    Nice article Mackenzie, I wrote a review in the Ubuntu magazine Full Circle about a year ago;
    Original article I did on GRAMPS (starts p29)
    follow up with questions to the original developer

    Recently, version 3 has been released and updated with a number of additional features including Gramplets that cat really help your productivity. I found the GRAMPS community very open an willing to listen to suggestions an developing the software, something little heard of in proprietary software.

    You asked about other open source genealogical programs. most are listed on the Genealogy CD, including web based program phpgedview that allows online collaboration. In GRAMPS multiple users are not yet available but it is being developed.

    Thank you for your article,


  4. Dave Le Huray
    July 6, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I have used GRAMPS for the last few years, slowly building up our family tree. However, in order to allow as many relatives as possible to combine their efforts on the tree I have recently switched to the online service provided by ItsOurTree (

    You can upload a gedcom file - which GRAMPS can export, and then you can invite family members to join.


    Dave Le Huray

    • Mackenzie
      July 6, 2008 at 6:46 pm

      Since I really like GRAMPS's interface, I wouldn't really want to give it up, but this does leave me wondering, with a sufficiently tech-savvy family, couldn't you use a distributed version control system, like git or bazaar, to handle all working on the same tree?

  5. Tina
    July 6, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Fantastic review Mackenzie!
    I'm not into genealogy yet, but our family is pretty large and it's sad how quickly you forget about relatively or physically distant members of the family. With a tool like this I am tempted to start a project, which could be the best family gift ever for my mother. She's been talking about writing a novel about her side of the family for years. This might be the perfect starter.
    Thank you so much for bringing this tool to my attention!