What do you really know about your parents? How about your grandparents? Do you even know where your great-grandparents grew up? If learning about your family history is one of your goals, Gramps can help you.
Gramps allows you to maintain all kinds of information about your family tree, and provides many views, representations, and reports to present the information. You can see everything from a traditional family tree visualization to a map showing the birthplaces of your relatives using OpenStreetMap or Google Earth. And Gramps provides the robust source citation that genealogy mavens demand.
The application stacks up well against commercial genealogy programs. Project administrator Benny Malengier says, “The best commercial software is perhaps more visually pleasing, allows data entry via templates, and contains access to Internet resources, which Gramps, as free software, cannot offer. Paid Internet resources seems to me more important for North America and the UK than other places, and obviously, one can register for these services and still use Gramps.”
Gramps has a long history itself. It was started in 2001 by Don Allingham as a GEDCOM editor for his father’s data. Once released on SourceForge it quickly took off, as it was the only standalone genealogy software on Linux built with modern technology like Python and GTK. The Python base allows less technically inclined people to join the development, which in turn led to rapid growth in the project. “Contributors showed up, patches came in, bug submissions, translations…. Making it freely available on SourceForge had the effect many people attribute to OSS development: the project started to lead a life of its own,” says Malengier. Today its original creators have all moved on, but the project is supported by a large group of contributors.
To get the most out of Gramps you should read the manual. Malengier says, “As family gatherings show around the world, human relationships can be very complicated. Software to store this information tries to be simple, but needs to allow for all border cases (such as fathers marrying their stepdaughters, illegal children nobody knew about, and so on).” The manual can reveal hidden features in the software. “People who do not read the manual often overlook the usefulness of the clipboard. You can drag all objects there in a holder, allowing you to quickly paste recurring information (such as a source citation, or a family people are part of).”
In fact, there’s so much it can do that Malengier compares it to an advanced tool like a photo editor. “You will spend a lot of time with it if you are serious about making a family tree, so invest in learning to use the tool. Gramps is not in the market to quickly make a family tree of you, your parents, and grandparents (although it will do that of course). It is in the market of researching a large family tree for the long term, so it’s wise to learn how the software is best used, learn how to look up records on the Internet or in registry offices and libraries, and learn how to file all the information, in cabinets, on your hard disk, and in the software.”
Malengier says the project aims to make a major release each year in the spring, with bug fix releases as needed in between. For the upcoming version 3.3, developers have added the ability to link notes between stored objects, and allow users to run the command-line interface without a screen attached, in order for instance to generate reports on a server. “We also hope to have a more pluggable main interface, which was started in 3.2 and leads to some interesting new views,” Malengier says.
“What gets added now depends completely on what individual developers suggest in the way of new features. We do have a global roadmap to improve automatic merging (something Gramps is poor at at the moment), do code cleanup, and increase the border cases of GEDCOM support, but these things are less sexy and require a lot of work, so it is slow going. We are always on the lookout for graphical artists who can prettify the reports and website generation, and the interface. With Gramps’ pluggable report system, it’s really easy to jump in.”