Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Thoughts on updating old files and old programs

During the past two days at the Arizona Family History Expo, I was reminded more times than I thought necessary of the issue of upgrading computer programs. In one instance, a file I was going to use for a presentation was out-of-date. I had updated the screens, but hadn't copied the updated file to the folder I was using so I had to give the presentation with an out-of-date file. In addition, I had several people ask me about their genealogical data and mention that they had all of the data in Personal Ancestral File (PAF).

Both of these related issues made me stop and think. So today, I opened my new Toshiba laptop with Windows 8 and downloaded a copy of Personal Ancestral File 5.2. As expected, this venerable program still installs and operates on the newest Microsoft Operating System computers. This is possibly due to the basic nature of the PAF program but is more likely due to the fact, that for all the hype, Windows 8 is still an MSDOS operating system. But since PAF has been abandoned now for more than ten years, there will come a day when the program will not work on the newer computers.

Obviously, since I use Apple products predominantly, I haven't been able to run PAF on any of my Macintosh computers for years except through using a PC simulation program such as Parallels Desktop or other similar programs.

But the issue here is being able to use your information when you move to a different computer and further in the case of storing all you genealogical data in PAF files, there are issues with compatibility with current programs and operating systems, not to mention the issue of storage media. Most of the currently available commercial programs still recognize PAF files or at least can import a GEDCOM file and bring in all of the information from PAF. But this may not always be the case.

Over the past few years, I have been very outspoken in my opinion that people ought to move on from using PAF to newer programs. This same issue exists, sometimes in even a more serious vein, with old versions of other genealogical database programs. Unfortunately, some of the programs other than PAF do not have the same robust code that allows versions of the program that can read the data files to run on newer operating systems. So the old data in these old programs may be lost unless a copy of the program on an old computer can be found to open and transfer the data files.

GEDCOM was supposed to help with this issue, but unless the original data was transferred into a GEDCOM file, you will still need the original program to open the data file and retrieve the information.

So why not use an online family tree? Well, that is a possibility. But up until now I was not convinced that using an online tree was a substitute for having your own genealogy database program. But after two days of talking and hearing about's Family Tree, I think I am modifying my position dramatically. I now think that rather than try to convince the hundreds of thousands of PAF users to either update to a new program or whatever, the best solution for these people is for them to at least make sure the information they have in their PAF program is on Family Tree. If all of their data is preserved on Family Tree we avoid all the obsolesce issues and at the same time make it available to the larger families. So rather than try to convince all these PAF users to abandon PAF and buy a new program, I am going to start encouraging them to make sure everything they have in their file is on Family Tree. I will say that they owe it to themselves and their families to put their data up on Family Tree, notes and all.


  1. How curious. I was just talking to the lady in the local Family History Center today about this issue, but the example I used was my husband's great-aunt who has rooms full of boxes of genealogical information she's accumulated over the years, but it isn't doing anyone any good sitting in the boxes, and what's going to happen to it when she's gone?

    I think besides preserving your information on an online tree (which deals with the obsolescence as you said) you do need to preserve your personal collection and original research separately. I've been dealing with this by trying to put my collection online as fast as I can (blogging) but then you find new things and make contacts with distant cousins and the collection expands, and just adds to the original problem. : )

  2. I have struggled with many of these issues over the past year trying to preserve my PAF database and begin using a new genealogy program. I have found that Ancestral Quest is a great way to upgrade from PAF. Since it is essentially built on the same platform, data transfer is excellent with few errors. Some of the other programs had difficulty with PAF's source data, but the transfer was smooth with AQ. I really did not want to have to re-enter all of those source citations!

  3. What do you suggest to people who want to keep track of living individuals that we are not supposed to add to Family Tree?

  4. Have I misunderstood? Does this on-line Family Tree allow us to store photos or scans of documents? Can we specify sources so that others may look for their line also? I thought all these were limited to our home family tree program and the on-line program was for names and dates only.

    1. Yes, you do not have all of the information. Family Tree Photos allows you to store photos and stories online, not yet documents. There is no "your line" or "my line." All of the entries on Family Tree are fully viewable, editable and deletable by all users.