Not everyone is happy with the continued domination of the desktop computer market by Microsoft Windows. Some of us "malcontents" prefer to use either Macintosh or Linux systems for any number of reasons. The reasons for turning one's back on Windows has been discussed time and again in this newsletter as well as thousands of other newsletters, magazines and online discussion forums. I won't repeat it all here. Suffice it to say that, if you are looking at making a switch, there are alternative genealogy programs for the better operating systems.
I have been using the Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Programming System (better known as GRAMPS) on my Xandros Linux system and am pleased with it. I note that it also works on some UNIX systems and on Macintosh OS X systems. After all, OS X is simply Unix with a Macintosh user interface in front of it. More information about the Macintosh implementation may be found at http://fink.sourceforge.net/pdb/package.php/gramps.
As the program's web site states, "GRAMPS is a genealogical application, the name being an acronym for Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Programming System. It allows you to store, edit, and research genealogical data, with similar functionality to other genealogical programs."
I use a number of computers, incluyding Windows, Macintosh and Linux. However, my favorite operating system is Xandros, a derivative of Debian Linux. Therefore, I was able to use Debian's super-simple "apt-get" program to automatically locate GRAMPS on the Internet, download it, and then install it. I opened an administrator command window, typed "apt-get install gramps," and then sat back and watched. About one minute later, GRAMPS was installed and operational. What could be simpler? The process was easier than doing similar tasks on a Windows system.
I was using a broadband connection for this download. Use of dial-up would obviously require more time but the process still be equally simple.
GRAMPS should work on almost all modern Linux, UNIX, and Macintosh OS X systems. It is available as a Debian package as well as in Red Hat/Fedora RPM, SuSE, and Mandrake binary formats. If that still does not match your system, you can always download the source code and then compile and install it on any Linux, Solaris or OS X system.
Next, I opened a command window and typed: gramps. The program started right up. Later, I used Xandros' Menu Editor to add the program to the system's menus and to even place a shortcut icon on the desktop.
The first time I ran GRAMPS, a wizard window guided me through the initial setup. I was asked for name, address, date format, calendar options, and whether or not I wished to use LDS-specific extensions. I was then asked if I wanted to use an existing database or make a new one. I elected to make a new database in a new subdirectory under my home directory.
GRAMPS' main screen has six icons along the left-hand side: People, Family, Pedigree, Sources, Places, and Media. Each icon changes the main part of the screen to a different view of the database. I would suggest that first-time users start with the People view.
Ten icons appear across the top of the screen: Open, Save, Back, Forward, Home, Reports, Tools, Add, Remove and Edit. The use of Open, Save, Back, Forward and Home sounds a lot like a web browser. Indeed, anyone who is used to surfing the web will find this program to be very familiar. Similar to a browser's Home button, you designate one person as the "Home person." I designated myself as the home person. Clicking on Home at any time will display my information, including ancestors and descendants.
I clicked on Add and was prompted to enter the first person in the database, including information about that person's name, gender, date and places of birth and death, events in that person's life, attributes (description, Social Security Number, national origin and even "caste"). The program has many, many data entry spaces for optional information, including full source citations, text notes, a gallery of images, web sites where information may be found, and more.
I entered information about a handful of people, including my parents, my siblings, and my children. I found it quick and easy to add people to GRAMPS.
I soon grew weary of the data entry task, however, and decided to import a GEDCOM file of some 3,000+ people that I already had available. Once I used GRAMPS' menus to locate the GEDCOM file, the import process required 8 seconds to import all 3,000+ individuals and their families, complete with text notes and source citations.
With a larger database available, use of GRAMPS as a research tool is much easier. The ten-tabbed window allows the user to navigate quickly through the database. I clicked on People, and tabs with the first letter of each surname I had entered appeared under the window panel. I selected the appropriate tab, and a list of all the individuals with matching last names appeared in the window. After selecting a person's name from the list with a single click, I found that I could click on the Family icon on the left of the screen to display all the information about that person's family.
In the Family View, there are other panels for Active Person's Parents, Relationships, Spouse's Parents, and Children. I clicked on an icon -- their function is revealed as you roll the mouse over them -- to the right of the Relationships panel to add someone from the existing database as a relationship/spouse of my grandmother. All the likely males in the database appeared in a new window. Then I selected the appropriate grandfather from the list and clicked OK. The default relationship type is Married, but you can also select Partner, Other, Unmarried, or Unknown.
I found the Events tab to be particularly useful. When I clicked on it, a new window popped up and allowed for entering additional information about any of 35 different topics -- selected from a drop down menu -- for the active person, from Adoption to Military Service to Occupation. Once you've selected the topic, you can enter a date, place, cause, and description as appropriate. You can also flag the item as being Private.
The next tab is Attributes. The Attributes window is similar to events, except the number of topics is smaller. Here you can enter Caste, Description, Identification Number, National origin, or Social Security number. The Sources tab allows you to identify your source of information, whether that be the 1880 U.S. Census, the Dawes Commission Final Report, or a death certificate from Penobscot County, Maine.
The Gallery tab allows you to add digital images to the database. It can handle all the common multimedia file types, including: JPEG and GIF images; MP3, OGG, and WAV sound files; QuickTime, MPEG, and AVI movie files; and more.
GRAMPS is capable of producing a number of different types of reports, including a Book Report, seven different kinds of graphical reports, ten different text reports, two different views, and an option to generate a website. The graphical reports can be created in OpenOffice.org Draw format, PDF, Postscript, or SVG format. You also have the option of opening the report in OpenOffice.org as it is created or simply printing it.
I was very impressed with the wall charts. A 130-page report was generated as a PDF file in a fraction of a second. Very impressive! I didn't actually print all the pages and tape them together, however. That would have been tedious. GRAMPS will allow you to create a chart as one big page, saving it to disk. You can later copy that file to floppy or CD-ROM and have it printed on a large-format plotter at Kinko's or some other office supply store that offers such a service.
The Tools option on the toolbar has many options and utilities. One that I found valuable was Database Verify. This searches for any entries that might be errors, such as someone's date of marriage being before their date of birth or after their date of death, girls giving birth before the age of twelve or after the age of fifty, and so on. The user can adjust almost all the parameters.
When I ran the utility the first time using default parameters, the report listed many cases of young girls getting married and/or giving birth. Anyone with French-Canadian ancestry undoubtedly will find the same. I adjusted those parameters to say "before the age of eleven" and ran the report again. This time the results were a bit better.
There are other selections for database repair, data extraction, duplicate searching, and the renaming of items. One utility builds Soundex Codes for names in the database. Eastman, for example, has a Soundex code of E235.
GRAMPS will import and export GEDCOM files as well as files in GRAMPS own format. One unusual feature is the capability to export data directly to a CD Burner, using the GNOME file manager (Nautilus) for burning to CD. This makes backups and data sharing projects easy.
GRAMPS will also create complete web sites based upon the data you enter. The Web Family Tree (WFT) allows you to display your family tree online with only a single file, instead of many html files. You can find more information about this feature at http://sward.users.netlink.co.uk/family/tree/.
GRAMPS stores its database in XML format, a very flexible, industry-standard method. Use of XML allows other programmers to write add-on utilities to analyze and use the same data. However, I do not know of any such GRAMPS utilities available today.
One disappointment I had is that GRAMPS does not handle conflicting information very well. It has database fields for the date and place of exactly one birth and one death date and location. If you have contradictory information, you can only supply that data via the source citations and via explanatory text fields. To be sure, the program does allow for multiple sources, and it will easily store the fact that different sources contradict each other. However, only one date and one location can be displayed in reports.
With my great-great-grandfather, I have found many records that refer to his birth. The problem is that they do not all agree! I now have three different dates and four different locations of claimed birth. With GRAMPS, I can enter information about each source properly, but which date and location do I use in the one field that shows on printed and on-screen reports? I elected to use a date of "circa 1811" (meaning approximately that year) and left the location field blank.
Another item to consider is the database size. GRAMPS will handle thousands of people in its database. However, all data is loaded into memory during operation. This makes for lightning-fast operation for databases of up to a few thousand people on most modern systems. However, GRAMPS reportedly starts slowing down on databases of 10,000 people or more. This is scheduled to be changed in the next major release. For most people, a "limitation" of this sort will not be an issue.
I have only scratched the surface of describing this program's many features. You can learn a lot more at http://gramps.sourceforge.net/about.html.
All in all, I would say that GRAMPS is a very impressive genealogy program. Did I mention the price? It is free. Zero. ZIP. NADA. It does not ask for donations or beg for money in any other way. GRAMPS is released under the GNU General Public License. You can even obtain the source code of the program and make modifications, should you wish to do so.
Now you have one more reason to switch to Linux: a very good genealogy program is available at no charge.
For more information about GRAMPS for Linux, UNIX, and OS X systems, go to http://gramps.sourceforge.net
NOTE: This report was written using OpenOffice.org's word processor on a Xandros 3.0 Linux system.