Introduction to Gramps

About a decade ago I resumed my genealogy research. I started using the program Gramps since there were not a lot of options available for Linux users. Gramps is a powerful, full-featured program, available for Windows and Mac, in addition to Linux. But it can take some getting used to. In this essay, I’ll offer some hints and walk you through the process of adding some information to your Gramps database.

One of the first things to do after installing Gramps is to set the base path for your media files. Gramps does not save image files in its own database. Instead, it saves the filenames to the image files on your computer. By default, Gramps will save the filename to an image as a full path. However, it’s better to save the file name as a relative path. But first, you’ll need to set the base path in the Gramps Preferences. On the main toolbar, click on “Edit”, then “Preferences…”. Then set the path in the entry field “Base path for relative media paths”. In my case, it’s “/home/hans/family/gramps-media”.

The first thing I always do when starting up Gramps is to open the clipboard window. This is where you can drag and drop any item, such as a person, source, citation, or place.

My screen then looks like this:

In this picture, the clipboard is already populated with a couple of places, a source, and a citation. The relationship view is where you do most of your work. And at the left is a gramplet pane showing a gramplet that I’m currently programming. A gramplet is an extension to the program adding some functionality. (Programming gramplets is a topic better left to brave souls with experience in programming.)

Let’s look at the relationship view in more detail. The buttons can be a bit confusing, but moving the mouse over an icon shows what it does. If in doubt, check that help text before continuing.

The icons are consistent throughout the program. The plus-sign always indicates creating a new item. The pencil icon indicates editing an item. And the finger-pointing icon always indicates adding some existing item to some other item. (I’ll let you figure out what the minus-sign icon is for.)

To illustrate my usual workflow, let’s update an event for an existing person, in this case, Hendrik Krasenberg. Click on the edit icon for the person, and we get this:

In the events, double click on the birth record. Or alternatively, right-click, then click on “Edit”.

Note that we already know that Hendrik Krasenberg was born around 1848. Using WieWasWie, we look up the birth record in the Dutch civil registration. In, we find this document, which I’ve edited and saved on my computer as “1848 Hendrij Krasenberg birth.jpg” in folder “family/gramps-media/records13”:

So in the Event Reference Editor, I enter the new date of “1848-03-13”, which I immediately select and copy (ctrl-A, ctrl-C). I’ll need to paste that date a few times during the next few steps. We then drag and drop the place name, Rheden in this case, from the Clipboard to the Place.

The next step is to create a new citation for this birth record. We already have a source in the clipboard.  Click on the “Source Citations” tab, and then drag and drop the “Netherlands, Gelderland Civil Registration” item from the Clipboard to the Source Citations window. We then get the “New Citation” window with the Source already filled in. Note that a citation always requires a source.

Click on the date field and press ctrl-V to paste in the date. For Volume/Page, enter “Rheden 1848 #34”. It can be whatever you want, but best to adopt a consistent standard throughout your work. Then click on the “Gallery” tab, then on the plus icon to create a new media record: You’ll then get this dialog:

One important hint on this dialog. Make sure the “Convert to a relative path” box is checked. Otherwise, the full path will be saved. (Remember, the first thing we did after installing Gramps was to set the base path.) After selecting the right file, press OK to continue. In my case, I view the files in reversed modified order, and so the file I normally want is usually the one at the top of the list. You then get the Media Reference Editor dialog. Expand the “Shared Information” and we see:

Note that the title is automatically filled in from the filename. I usually paste in the date before pressing OK. I then press OK on the New Citation dialog, and the citation gets added to the event. Then, I drag and drop the newly created citation to the clipboard since I’ll need it for adding additional information to other people. Press OK, and we’re then back to the Person dialog for Hendrik Krasenberg, and we see the updated birth record.

Where do we go from here? Before we press OK on this person, we check the birth record again. If we want to add this event to another person’s events, we can drag and drop the event to the clipboard. For example, perhaps a witness to the event is already in our database. We can drag and drop the Birth event into that person’s events, and give them a role of “witness” to the event. The Dutch birth records usually include the age and occupation of the witnesses, and so we can add those facts as well, using the citation we just created and saved in the clipboard. Actually, the information we started off with for Hendrik Krasenberg was based on the fact that he was a witness to the wedding of his sister.

Normally, Dutch birth records in the civil registration include some additional facts about the father and mother. In this case, we know that the father, “Jan Derk Krasenberg” had occupation Timmerman, or carpenter, and that he was 44 years old at the time of his son’s birth. In addition, the mother, Everdina Hermina Hupkes, was 30 years old. We can update the records for both of those people, again, using the citation we just created.

Note that when adding events to a person, the events are not sorted by default. If you want the events in order, you’ll have to manually move the event to its proper place. You can either use the up and down arrow buttons, or you can drag the event to another location in the list.

There’s a lot more to Gramps than this. I’ve already written a thousand words on the subject, and I could easily write a thousand more and still only scratch the surface. But hopefully, this will help you get started on the right path with Gramps.

Cheers! Hans




One Reply to “Introduction to Gramps”

  1. Hans,

    As you may now Open Archives is the biggest resource in the Netherlands of genealogical records from archives and societies. There’s also an API available, see This API which could be used from a program like Gramps to give suggestions for records. Does such functionality already exists in Gramps? How would developing such a functionality work? Can anybody make “plugins”?

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