Trace Your Roots With GRAMPS

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 13, 2008

The season is nigh where many cultures across the globe observe some type of holiday that aims, in part, to reunite friends and family. If someone in the family is interested in genealogy, these gatherings are usually a prime opportunity to pull out any research, and coax some almost forgotten stories out of relatives.

Genealogists are always researching. Having had a tour of duty as a local history librarian, I've seen my share of dedicated, well-organized researchers. Most file away their information in spreadsheets or "lightweight" database programs. A few used programs specific to genealogical work, but I found they were few and far between, thanks to the high cost of applications that didn't necessarily offer more than a well organized spreadsheet.

I often wish I'd had the opportunity to show them GRAMPS, the open, cross platform, genealogical research software.

GRAMPS (the Genealogical Research and Management Programming System) is an impressive application. Though I spent more time on the "mainstream" systems aspects of librarianship (or at least clearing printer queues), I worked with enough archival software to vouch that GRAMPS, though geared towards end-users with an interest in genealogy, is powerful and flexible enough that family trees can take on a whole new dimension, in essence becoming an historical archive on your desktop.

The beauty of GRAMPS over a simple spreadsheet or basic database is the three dimensional aspect of it. There are, of course, straight lists of people, branches of each family tree, and the ability to view the family tree and relationships of any given person. Significant locations, events, notes and media files associated with a family member or family branch also add depth to the genealogical record (and media files are often hard to work with in applications not geared for collecting research). The added dimensions -- such as Gramplets, and the ability to output research formatted for the web -- makes family history come to life.

GRAMPS also has utilities for dealing with some of common issues that arise in genealogy. It is able to generate SoundEx codes, an algorithm by which names that are spelled differently but pronounced the same (Johnson vs. Jonson) can be identified and grouped. It can calculate the number of estimated dates in a tree (and give the ages of a subset of the family tree at any given point in history).

Though displaying your family history on the web might be appealing (and GRAMPS offers the ability to mark records private so that they are not included in the resulting code, unless desired), sometimes paper reports are preferable. GRAMPS can handle a variety of graphical and text reports specific to any ancestors, branch of the family tree, and amount or level of detail desired. For the real genealogical buffs (or those that can't make up their minds), there is a "book report" mode, allowing for any number and combination of graphical and textual reports, the addition of titles and chapter headings, and the inclusion of media.

For those moving to and from different genealogical applications (or file formats), there are a number of database formats supported for import, including older GRAMPS files (.grdb, .gramps, .gpkg), GEDCOM, GeneWeb and comma separated value (.csv) files. GRAMPS' export function is currently being overhauled, but is able to export the same formats it imports, along with a few additional formats (Web Family Tree and vCalendar, for instance). The GRAMPS project warns that there have been some issues with data loss when importing GEDCOM and GeneWeb databases into the GRAMPS database format, so it's good to take care and verify that all database tables associated with the genealogical record were successfully imported.

GRAMPS runs natively on Linux, and offers a Windows installer. Instructions for getting the software running on OS X, BSD, and Solaris are also available. For those just wanting to test the waters before installing on their operating system of choice, a GRAMPS Linux Genealogy LiveCD (based on Ubuntu) is a best bet.