What open format-based genealogy software do exist?

I am making a research about available genealogy programs and I am a bit disappointed with the results. I am seeking tools which are feature-rich, agile and extendable at the same time. The main requirement for me is format in which app stores genealogy records. It should be open, extendable (e.g. XML-based) and have high-performance (for handling 100 000+ records). Having reviewed genealogy market I didn't find worthy alternatives. The main candidates which meet my requirements are:

  1. GRAMPS (Berkeley DB)
  2. RootsMagic (SQLite 3)
  3. GeneWeb (text)

Actually, GeneWeb is not fully complies with my requirements as its format is plain text. And the prime cause of my GEDCOM abandonment and drifting towards openness is that GEDCOM, as other text formats are often ambiguous and could be inconsistent, which means different apps interpret it in a different ways. Nevertheless, let it be for the sake of completeness.

In spite of embedded DB (SQLite) in RootsMagic, there is no explicit advantages in it. Moreover, I was completely discouraged by the RootsMagic feature lack, it even have no out-of-the-box export capability except GEDCOM!

Actually, I was overwhelmed with the range of available open-format software, it is inexcusably small! What are the alternatives to the above 3 apps? Web-based engines (like Webtrees) are also appreciated.

  • 1
    Database backends (WIP) gramps.1791082.n4.nabble.com/Database-backends-td4670512.html
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 5:56
  • ... allow me to connect to discussion . Does anyone know whats GeneWeb's has DB technology? MySQL/SQLite/MSSQGL/PostgreSQL/? It tries to open it in a different way than a standard GeneWeb client. And knowledge of technology would give me a lot. Although I looked at the github source, I still haven't found anything that would help me.
    – CisSasGot
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


I don't quite understand why your main requirement is the format in which the program stores its genealogy records.

I can see the format being a requirement if you want direct access to the data and want to be able to manipulate yourself in programs that you build. In that case, a program like RootsMagic holds its data in an SQLite database that any database tool should be able to access. Other programs use other database formats that are often easy to breach. But this just doesn't seem like a time-effective way to manage your genealogy. If the tool itself is not good enough for you, then you're going through a lot of work for limited gain.

If you are looking for tools that are "feature-rich, agile and extendible", then you are saying that you want a powerful tool that is extendible, and in that case the data format should hardly be a concern. For this, any tool with plug-in capability or an ability to extend itself might be suitable.

You mentioned Gramps, and if you're the hacker type, you might best spend your time getting involved in that. They have a big community, and rather than just writing code for yourself, you can help everyone.

Some programs have plugins. Family Historian, for example, has a public plugin repository. People can contribute and use other people's plugins.

But maybe, in your case, what might be best for you is any website-based software, that loads your data up to your website. Most use PHP with MySQL databases and you get complete access to all the code and database and you can enhance it, extend it, and get it to do whatever you'd like, including extending the MySQL data structure if you so desire.

Some programs you might choose for this might include:

  • The Next Generation, by Darrin Lythgoes, which will build your site from a GEDCOM file. It does require you start with a GEDCOM, but you can then take it from there.

  • PhpGedView, which takes it a step further and allows you to edit your data on your online site. It is also Open Source and you can help with its development (which has slowed down in the last few years). There are other systems like PhpGedView, and some based on it if you look around.

  • Gigatrees - by Tim Forsythe is a really well thought out website builder and editor which has more capabilities built in than most. If anything might suit your needs, this one might.

  • WikiTree - You might want to try a wiki format, which may provide you with the open, extendible type of data structure you're looking for.

If none of the above are good enough for you, and you want the ultimate in programmability and complete access to the GEDCOM database which you can extend in many ways, then I'd recommend the Lifelines program, originally by Tom Wetmore, which has since been made Open Source and has a community maintaining it.

  • Thanks for the extended answer. Yes, as you astutely noticed, my need of open format arose from the need of direct access to data. I've observed the whole bunch of gene-software and wasn't satisfied with them. So the only way to adapt the reports to my needs is to write them myself, which is only possible when you can query the DB directly. Other workaround is writing plugins but it's more demanding and cumbersome way.
    – Suncatcher
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 6:25
  • You have stated that you want to write your own reports. If this is you main reason then take a look at Family Historian, it uses gedcom as its file storage medium BUT it has configurable report templates that can be further enhanced by custom sentences created programatically so the template applies to all records.
    – Colin
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 6:35
  • LIfelines is perfectly fits my needs but unfortunately it hasn't normal GUI and has own scripting language which is drawback for me. BTW, I couldn't find what DB it uses. I knew about PhpGedView but it was discontinued 4 years ago which is unappropriate to me. I consider only the active products with live community. Wikitree is not actually a web-engine but rather genealogy social network. Gigatrees seems a dark horse to me. What DB it uses? Does it allow building custom reports. I cannot answer this questions.
    – Suncatcher
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 6:35
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    The reliability of your data transfer has got nothing to do with the format, and everything to do with how well (and consistently) the recipient software processes that data. The only mechanism that Ancestry provides to load data is GEDCOM. The only mechanism that FS provides to load data is its own set of APIs. Those are probably more sophisticated in the complexity of the data format than GEDCOM but at the proverbial end of the day you are utterly dependent on the competence of the FS programmers.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 12:58
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    webtrees (webtrees.net) is an active fork of PhpGedView, by one of the original developers. Open source (php) and data is stored in mysql, but the structure is based on the standard GEDCOM format to ensure import/export compatibility with other systems. Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 7:39

I can't answer your direct question. But I think you are asking the wrong question.

How a program stores its data should be an implementation detail that users don't know about. We tend to care a lot, because we are cursed with using GEDCOM as an exchange format. GEDCOM leaves a huge amount to be desired, the details are well covered in other places, including Wikipedia.

I think the much more important question is: How can I know that my valuable data has a longer life time than the particular application package (FTM, Generations, etc.) or website (ancestry.com)?

For example, my own data covers close to 500 years and has taken me over 20 years building on top of decades of work by my mother, aunt, and cousins.

The answer is that the user community has to insist that data be fully and completely and unambiguously able to export and import to any package we use. GEDCOM is not going to be it. GEDCOM-2 seems to be dead, as is BetterGEDCOM.

From a technical view, it is much more than an "open database format" as you need to know the meaning of terms. What is an "event"? Is a census document an "event" or a "source"?

  • 1
    Persistance of genealogical data independently of lifecycle of different software packages was exactly the point I kept in mind asking this question. I don't long for openness as is, but rather as a guarantee that I would be able to export my data in the form I WANT anytime I WANT. Proprietary formats usually don't allow this.
    – Suncatcher
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 7:06

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