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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Beyond PAF -- lineage linked database programs

Because of the backing by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) Personal Ancestral File (PAF) has become the dominant platform for storing genealogical data. The utility of PAF has been guaranteed by the implementation of the Genealogical Data Communications Standard or GEDCOM. GEDCOM is an Extensible Markup Language or XML. If you would like to see what kind of information is stored in a PAF GEDCOM file, try opening a file with a word processor or text editor. For example, a .ged file will readily open in Microsoft Word or most any other word processing program. PAF normally stores its file in a .paf format, a file format specific to PAF, howver, any file in PAF can be exported into the GEDCOM format through the export function in the program.

Because the information stored in the PAF program can be exported to a GEDCOM or .ged file, that information can be shared with any other program using the same standard file format. Many other third party programs use the GEDCOM standard. To name a few, RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, Legacy, Family Tree Maker, Reunion for the Macintosh, Family Origins, MacFamilyTree and many more.

As the GEDCOM standard was developed, the standard was designed to recognize a large number of data types. However, not all of these data types were used by PAF. Other programs used more or less of the data types in their particular implementation of the GEDCOM standard. As a result, transferring data between programs may or may not include all of the fields in any particular program. For example a Legacy file exported to a GEDCOM and then imported into PAF will contain only the data that the two programs recognize in common.

Some programs avoid this problem with importing PAF files by allowing the user to import a PAF file directly without converting it to a GEDCOM file. For example, Legacy Family Tree will import files directly from PAF and from Ancestral Quest.

The purpose for this discussion is to illustrate that nearly all of the currently available genealogical database programs will import the information from PAF, either directly or through a GEDCOM file. If you chose to move your information from your existing PAF file to some other program, you can likely do so without losing any of your PAF data. However, once you begin to enter new information into the new program, it may be that some of that data would be lost if you again try to transfer the information back into PAF format.

PAF has not been updated since version 5.2.18 as of August 2002. There are currently no plans to update the program. You may wish to begin looking at using an alternative before the current PAF program no longer works with the current operating systems of the computer. This has already happened with the Macintosh version of the program. The old program of Personal Ancestral File for the Macintosh version 2.3.1 will no longer run on the newer Macintosh computers.

1 comment:

  1. One point of clarification, GEDCOM is not implemented in XML. Here is a technical article that shows how a mapping between GEDCOM and XML could be accomplished:

    http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/cc188730.aspx

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