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

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is your data obsolete?

What would happen if you spent considerable effort researching your genealogy and then, due to personal issues, you stopped working on it for a time. Let's suppose you had used the free program called Personal Ancestral File. How long could you "store" your information in that file format before your data became inaccessible? This is a real question since Personal Ancestral File or PAF has not been upgraded or changed since 2002. The latest and last version available of the program was issued in July of 2002. But PAF isn't the only problem, each of the file formats presently used by any genealogy program or other programs also, for that matter, are subject to change with or without notice.

I am not talking about all of the genealogists out there that have data on old hardware formats such as 5.25 and 3.5 inch floppy disks. I am talking about all of us that have stored data in programs that have disappeared over time or are no longer supported. I have recounted previously how my data in MacWrite was saved at the last possible moment and then the same thing happened again with old Microsoft Word files. Almost every program uses its own proprietary file format and there is no overall standard that assures users that the file format won't be changed or modified so that older files are not usable.

Very recently, I wrote about the intro of the new Apple OSX program, Mountain Lion. Every time there is a new operating system on any computer, Mac or Windows or whatever, there is a possibility that some of the existing programs may not work.

OK, so you point out that you are still using your Intel based Pentium IV computer running Windows 95 and its works very well for you, Thank you. And what's more, that is all you need and you don't need one of these fancy new expensive computers. For interest and as an example, the Intel Pentium IV computer chip was introduced in 2000 and discontinued in 2008. It is really likely that a lot of genealogists still have a computer with that chip. For further illustration, Windows 95 was introduced in 1995 and was replaced by Windows 98 in 1998 (obviously). So why change it your computer is still working?

The issue is not that your own personal computer is still chugging along, The issue is data compatibility. Who can use the files produced by your programs? You may still be able to get the data physically off of your computer storage but can anyone read it?

What is the solution? The concept here is called data migration. That means that periodically, you move your data to a newer computer, newer program and newer storage device. Moving the data does not mean that you have solved the problem, because data migration is a process not a end. You have to keep moving your data to keep it readable by new operating systems and new programs.

Is there a cost involved? Yes, you could just print out everything and keep a hard copy of all your data and all your files and all your attachments, but that just postpones the issue to another day. In my case and I realize I am not typical, one copy of one of my files would involve printing over 80,000 pages. This is simply not feasible.

More on this later.


  1. you have a propensity to always "slam" Personal Ancestral File in your examples ... Ancestral Quest can be considered a upgrade to PAF and is as fully-supported as any of the other record management programs on the market today.
    ... just a thought.

  2. A very real situation for all of us. I,ll be awaiting your next installment. Thanks

  3. Good article. It also points out that family group sheets are a good old fashioned back up as well. :-)

  4. Oh my -- lemme tell ya -- I had a wonderful program called Generations where I had entered all my "STUFF." Then we got a new computer and I wanted to transfer everything over. I couldn't. It wouldn't save to USB2 and the new computer didn't accept USB1 (or something like that -- I can't even remember now). I had to save reports in the old computer and email them to the new computer and then enter everything new into Family Tree Maker because Generations had gone out of business!!! Are you kidding me? Aaarrrggghhh!