I'm a new user to Gramps genealogical software.

I absolutely don't understand how Gramps manages data. I have a .gramps file I think stores all the data, but when I launch the app, I have to select a family tree. What is it? Sometimes I click on the .gramps file and Gramps opens it but I see some modifications I made earlier don't appear.

Can't I just put everything in a single file and when I modify something just save it to this file? What's your advice about this?

I use Fedora 33.

2 Answers 2


I have a .gramps file

That's a backup created by Gramps.

I think stores all the data


but when I launch the app, I have to select a family tree. What is it?

Exactly what it says: a family tree. You can have multiple trees in Gramps.

Can't I just put everything in a single file and when I modify something just save it to this file?

No. That's not how Gramps works.

Historically, Gramps has stored each tree's data in many files which you should never touch. If you use Windows, they all live under the AppData\Roaming folder. This has changed somewhat in more recent versions, but they still live in AppData\Roaming.

As mentioned in the beginning, the .gramps file you see is a backup into one file of all the data from a tree.

That .gramps file is "just" a zipped text file, so you could unzip it and then edit the text file. However, you would not see those changes in your tree, because you're not editing the tree.

  • So, if I want to send all the family data to a member of my family, how should I do? Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 15:58
  • 2
    @Contestosis start Gramps, open the relevant tree, make an "exclude media" backup of that tree (with a meaningful name), and then mail that .gramps file to the family member.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 16:41
  • 2
    @Contestosis naturally they'll also have to have Gramps installed on their machine.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 16:42
  • How can I prevent it to make anarchic backups in my home folder? Can't I set a parameter to make it save them elsewhere? Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 21:14
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    Go to Edit->Preferences then look in the Family Tree tab for the "Backup path:" field.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 21:28

A .gramps XML file can be compressed or not. (Compressed by default, uncompressed is an option.) It includes all the tree data except Media objects. Like a GEDCOM 5.5.1 file, it just has pointers to where those files are stored. (The .gpkg or "Gramps package" files are ALWAYS compressed and you can choose to include the Media objects too.) None of the backup file formats include Gramps preferences, report configurations, custom filters or several other convenience settings.

.gramps and .gpkg files are used for backup or data exchange.

On the other hand, the native working format is a database file. (Before Gramps 5.0, this was normally a BSDDB database backend. After that, the application moved to SQLite as the default database backend.) Those files are stored by default in a sub-directory of the Gramps User Directory. (The location differs based upon which OS your machine uses. See https://gramps-project.org/wiki/index.php/Gramps_Glossary#user_directory ) The database directory can be changed in the Edit -> Preferences dialog.

Databases are, by their very nature, highly changeable and fragile. That is why backup to .gramps or .gpkg file is so pervasively recommended. There are automated/timed backup and backup upon exit preference option in addition to the manual backup features.

When you open a .gramps file from the desktop (where the Gramps application is set as the default for that file type), then Gramps will launch and import that backup file into a new tree. You create a parallel Tree with old data!! Worse, if you have Gramps open and try to open a .gramps file, it will IMPORT that old data into your open Tree... creating DUPLICATE records!!!

Do NOT open a .gramps file this way!

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