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

Friday, July 27, 2012

Am I slamming Personal Ancestral File?

Some comments and some history seem to be in order about the genealogical database program Personal Ancestral File (PAF). The following is entirely my opinion. I do not usually review software programs for genealogy. The reason is simple. I like almost all of them and do not want to be in a position of comparing programs when I really like them all.

First, I used PAF for years, both the PC and Mac versions. Second, it was, for the time, an outstanding program. I am perfectly aware that there are commercial updates to PAF such as Ancestral Quest, a very good program and originally the basis for PAF and several free or shareware spin-off programs based on PAF. There is also an extensive add-on commercial programs from Ohana Software such as FamilyInsight that add functionality. Please feel free to make other programs known through comments to this post.

Because it was and is free, PAF had a huge influence on the genealogical community. All changes or updates to the program ceased in 2002. You can see an extensive history of the program on Wikipedia:Personal Ancestral File. Unfortunately, because it was free, it made it harder for other software developers to market their products. Also, because it was free, there is a huge segment of the genealogical community that rejects any software program that is not free. As a result, most of the popular genealogy database programs offer a "free" version. In my opinion, the "free" issue has been a huge drag on the development of genealogical software. Many of the genealogy programs are under $100. As a simple comparison, check out the prices for Adobe software products. I have had genealogists blanch at the price of a software program for $29.95! Try and match the quality of the genealogy software programs in any other area of software for that low price.

Yes, as users we benefit from "free" or nearly free software. But in the long run, low prices are not sustainable. We need good, solid, programs that function in our online, cloud world, not a 10 year old dinosaur.  (OK, was that a slam?).

Given today's advances in technology, it is only a matter of time until PAF will not run on some new operating systems. The Mac version died years ago. It is only because of Microsoft's fixation with MSDOS and support for older programs that PAF can run at all on the latest operating systems.

If the still huge PAF customer base would move on to newer and much better programs, then the entire genealogy software community would benefit. It is time for that to happen. Those who think I am slamming PAF should spend the time I have spent resurrecting old PAF data files off of floppy disks and old computers. It is time to move on.


  1. James Star,

    Wikipedia has more errors than FamilySearch Tree...
    For a thoroughly researched and accurate history of PAF, look no further than the modestly titled 'A Brief History of Personal File' by none other than acclaimed genealogy technologist Tamura Jones!

    - Peter

  2. I was a long time PAF user myself and still have it installed on my current system. However, although it worked well for handling the BMD information, I wanted to capture much more and at least make it easier to cite where I found the information. I switched to another, let us say "more mature" product, that cost maybe $30. Now, I could have imported the PAF tree easily but instead I forced myself to review everything I thought I knew about the various branches of the tree and reenter the data (huge task and still ongoing!). But by doing the switch and subsequent comprehensive review I've found interesting errors, located missing cousins and am now recording who the people were and what they did, not just where they were born/baptized, married and died/buried.

    PAF did the task I initially set out to do. But now, as I've matured in doing my genealogy and family history research, I needed a program that was also a bit more mature. Thank you FamilySearch for PAF but I agree that it is time for many of those using PAF to look at what has come out since 2002.