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

Friday, February 11, 2011

PAF is really, really, really dead. Long live PAF

PAF is like one of those late night movies filled with zombies. No matter what you do to try to kill them, they keep coming. Even though development of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) has now been officially abandoned for over the statutory seven years, it defies all notices of its death and keeps on coming. OK, so I am not being overly serious here. But from my perspective, there is a problem.

First of all, PAF is only still an adequate program if you ignore most of the technological advances made in the last ten years. As a note, at the recent RootsTech conference, a panel discussion on the future of genealogy in the cloud, the desktop or on mobile devices had conclusions that would seem to be totally irrelevant if you are one of those still using PAF. In other words, technology is totally passing by the PAF user.

One of the major concerns of may of the volunteers and patrons at the Mesa Family History Center, at the time of the release of the updated website, was the fact that a link to downloading PAF had disappeared from the site. It was most interesting that much of the concern was expressed by people who already had their computer data in PAF. Its not like they were expecting an upgrade to the program.

One of the major issues is the severe limitations on PAF files when sharing data with the other new programs.  The pathway is one way, at best. Most of the more common genealogical database programs will still either open PAF files directly or import a GEDCOM from PAF. However, if you try to import data from any one of the newer software programs into PAF, significant amounts of data will be lost in the process. But as a side note, this is also mostly the case between the newer programs, if you try to transfer information directly or through GEDCOMs in almost every case data will be lost or scrambled. So, it could be argued that this lack of communication ability is not fatal to PAF.

Another issue is the limitation on technology imposed by using an older program. One common feature of newer programs is the ability to communicate directly with the Internet, either to do direct research in websites or to share data with online family trees like or Almost every newer genealogy program has a path to either sharing information online with others, uploading files directly to online family trees without creating a GEDCOM file or doing research directly online from within the program. None of these features are directly possible with PAF.

As I see the issue, it is not so much which program is being used to store genealogical information, it is more of an attitude towards newer technology. PAF is adequate but it is not innovative, neither does it reflect an acceptance of new technology or a willingness to move on with the progress made in providing online records. Using PAF also makes proper documentation difficult though not impossible.

I could go on and on with my comments on the advisability of using a newer program with capabilities that reflect the advances made in technology, but the point would be the same. If PAF were just one of the many free and relatively little used programs available on the Internet, it would not be my concern or anyone else's concern. Then why the issue with PAF? That is the question. Why does this program seem to continue its hold on so many people. Even professionals with years of experience still keep their PAF file.

Here is the fundamental reason I care. I care for the same reason that we try to help the poor. Knowing that there is a better way, I feel sad that so many people do not take advantage of the new technology and doggedly stick to PAF for the simple reasons that it is familiar, free and allows you to ignore reality. None of these reasons have real validity in the technological climate of genealogy today. (Except maybe free. Free is sometimes nice. Sometimes free is just free and not useful or good for you at all).


  1. I really like the title of this post. We have to smile when occasionally we hear people comment that they really need to get around to putting their genealogy into PAF. Even in my Family History class at BYU a few years ago (2007) we were required to download PAF and do a couple of assignments with it.

  2. Amen! PAF is one of those things that I feel that genealogists need to forget. Sure it was a great program in its time, but isn't one of the reasons the Church stopped supporting PAF was so other 3rd-party developers could make their software work with the Church's databases?

    I took a couple classes from the Salt Lake Community College on genealogy last semester and both of the teachers told us in the first lesson to go to and download PAF. I refused to use PAF in the class because of two reasons, first being that I have a Mac and the second because it is so out-dated compared to the software available today, some of which have free versions themselves taking the free factor out of PAF.

  3. What is wrong with it if all you want is a holding program for your information. I don't need programs to write my story. I don't need programs to do my research and in fact I prefer to control what I connect with. Seems to me it must have been a slow day at the news desk that resulted in this column.

  4. @James: What's wrong with it is that it's ONLY good for holding your data. It's not good for SHARING your data, or for connecting with NEW data from new sources. If that's all you need, then by all means keep using it. I'll choose something else.

    @James Tanner: I feel the same way about people who still insist on using Internet Explorer.

  5. I can't Preview or Publish from PAF/Companion on my new WIN 7 PC. That's the final nail in PAF's coffin for me. What new program should I get that will best import my PAF data and present a doable learning curve?