Family Trees with GRAMPS

Who’s in your family tree? GRAMPS, a great piece of Linux software — and a model web site — can help you discover who you are.

Who’s in your family tree? A famous novelist? A movie star of the 1920s? A king or a queen? A soldier in the Civil War? A pioneer who crossed the plains in a covered wagon? A prospector? A beet farmer? A Finnish programmer and operating system inventor?

Tracing your family’s history is fun, informative, and a great way to understand more about yourself. Fortunately for Penguinheads, there’s a great genealogy program that makes the entire process easy: GRAMPS (supposedly an acronym for Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Programming System, but it smells suspiciously like a backronym; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backronym).

You can download the software from the GRAMPS web site, at http://gramps-project.org. Unfortunately, the only options available are RPM, Slackware, and source packages, but finding a Debian package isn’t too hard, especially since GRAMPS is included with most distributions nowadays.

When you start GRAMPS for the first time, you’ll want to create a new database to store all of your family’s data. Or, if you’re making a move from Family Tree Maker or another Windows- based genealogy programs, GRAMPS can import data stored in the GEDCOM format, which is supported by virtually every genealogy application. Now you’re ready to start adding people and other information into GRAMPS. If you’ve never worked on your family tree, it’s a very good idea to first read “Genealogy Basics,” located on the GRAMPS web site, as it contains many great ideas and some warnings.

GRAMPS is simple to use, yet comprehensive in its scope. For each individual, you can track name, birth and death information, a huge range of personal event milestones (baptism, bar mitzvah, cause of death, military service, religion, retirement), personal attributes (number of children, Social Security Number, even caste), addresses, notes, images, and other multimedia, and the all-important sources. Yes, it’s vitally important that you keep track of how you know what you know about an individual. Without the sources of your data, your family tree becomes mere conjecture instead of fact.

Once you’ve entered enough relatives into GRAMPS, then the fun can really begin. Choose an individual, and click on the Pedigree button to see a dynamic family tree stretching back as many generations as you have data. It’s easy to jump back in time, selecting individuals that interest you.

That’s cool, but GRAMPS offers far more. The “Tools” menu offers several interesting ways to work with your data. Select an individual from the “Pedigree” list, or from the list that appears when you click the People button, and then select “Tools& gt; Utilties& gt; Relationship Calculator.” Select another person from the list, and GRAMPS instantly performs the sort of calculation that would make most folk’s head spin: “Esther Penneywit is the second cousin three times removed of Ralph Scott Granneman. Their common ancestors are John Puntenney and Arminta Damaris Wright.” Wow!

Reports, however, are where GRAMPS really shines. Want to create a wall chart showing all of your ancestors? How many generations would you like that chart to show? What format would you like it in: PDF, PostScript, SVG, or OpenOffice.org Text? Want to print it instead? None of this is any problem for GRAMPS. And that’s just getting started. You can create graphical reports showing the lifespan of all of your ancestors on a timeline, a very cool fan chart, or a mind-bending array of charts and graphs revealing everything from the months in which people were born, to the ages at which people died.

That’s just scratching the surface, however, as GRAMPS also allows you to create ten different kinds of text-based reports, graph relationships in GraphViz, and combine reports into a nice book that you can print. If you want to live digitally, or make the results of your research easily available to other family members, then be sure to check out “Reports& gt; Web Page& gt; Generate Web Site.” In just a few seconds, you’ll have a web site, with a web page for each individual in your family that contains information about each person (you can filter out things that wouldn’t be appropriate, for reasons of security or angering Aunt Petunia at Thanksgiving) and a clickable family tree showing his or her pedigree. It’s pretty dang awesome.

Speaking of web sites, the one that the developers of GRAMPS have created is excellent. In fact, it’s a model of what an open source project’s web site should be. Communication with users is plentiful, with a developer’s blog, a developer’s wiki, forums (including a few in German and French), and full documentation. Virtually every aspect of the program is covered somewhere on the web site, including the basics of genealogy. In an excellent touch, users of GRAMPS can generate an entire set of web pages detailing every member of their family and then upload this bounty of information to http://library.gramps-project.org.

GRAMPS is one of best genealogy programs available on any operating system, and the fact that it runs on Linux is a testament to the skill and inventiveness of open source developers. If you’re interested in tracking your family tree, give GRAMPS a try today.

Scott Granneman teaches at Washington University in St. Louis, consults for WebSanity, and writes for SecurityFocus and Linux Magazine. His latest book, Don’t Click on the Blue E!:Switching to Firefox, has just been published. You can reach him at class="emailaddress">scott@granneman.com.

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