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

Friday, March 8, 2013

Revisiting Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and the issue of local genealogy programs

I recently installed Version of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) on my Windows 8 computer. The program seems to run just fine. This is sort-of like finding a living dinosaur in your backyard with a program that was last updated in 2002. The program is also still available for download. See FamilySearch Downloads.

PAF seems like one of those old B (or C or D) movies of the living dead. But despite its venerable age, it seems to keep plugging along on people's computers.

In the past, I have been more or less either exasperated with PAF or openly hostile. But I guess in my old age, I am mellowing out, at least on that subject. Lately, I have seen more and more people who are not using a local program for storing their genealogical data. With the introduction of's Family Tree, the issue of only storing your genealogical data online gets notched up a bit. I suggest that more and more people will fail to see the utility of having (and paying for) a separate locally stored database.

This issue is even more complicated when you realize the huge numbers of people who have family trees on,, and similar websites. Now, by adding another huge online family tree program to mix, has created the impression that "your genealogy" should be online. There is nothing said in any of the online programs urging the users to have a record of their family tree information on their local computer. Of course, both and have commercially available local programs and in both cases the programs are linked to the online family tree.

When I find a person who has entered all of their genealogical data into an online family tree, I usually suggest the need for a local program. The first question that arises is whether or not the information online can be copied to the local program without keying in all the information again? The answer here is complex and depends on whether the online service has a connection to a local program and whether or not there is a way to transfer the information in the program to another similar program. In the past, we have been using GEDCOM files to move genealogical data from one computer to another or from one program to another. This still works fine for people using PAF, but if you are trying to move data and attached media, the programs start to be less cooperative.

When I say "media," I mean any digitized file of a document, photograph, audio recording or video recording.

PAF was last updated just as the Internet was gaining traction and media was becoming more and more available to attach to personal files. The program has a way to attach a media file, but the connection is automatically lost if the location of the media item is moved, even from one folder to another folder on the same computer. This issue presents an almost insurmountable barrier to the effective use of media attached to individual records. Most of the newer commercially available programs handle media much, much better than Personal Ancestral File. But to the average genealogists, this issue simply doesn't exist. I find few people have attached copies of their records to their local genealogy file. In fact, few know how to go about doing so.

Among the current commercially available genealogy programs, it would seem that those programs that have a readily available connection to an online service will move more to the forefront of the genealogical community. There would seem to be an advantage of a program that could connect to several different online family tree programs, but the competition between these different companies would seem to negate that possibility. There appears to be no way that the insular nature of the genealogy programs can be easily overcome. Commercial developers see no advantage to allowing their users easy access to data in some other competing program.

Presently, several commercial programs have varying degrees of connection to FamilySearch's old product, But, despite claims to the contrary, none of them are yet directly connected to FamilySearch Family Tree. If and when this happens, putting your data into FamilySearch Family Tree may be the closest thing to have a way to transfer all of your data between programs, since with multiple local programs looking at the same data, they will, in effect be sharing that data.

But when this happens, there will be even less of a reason for the people who put all of their data online to purchase a local program. It will be interesting to see how this issue develops.


  1. Now that Family Tree is public I am realizing the importance of preserving my own copy even more. There is no easy way to "watch" all FT entries that I helped with and therefore I cant possibly be sure to keep all my online data correct there.

    I have used so many different products for so long that the idea of getting all my relevant data from multiple trees I manage, and FamilySearch FT is a complex hope. I can buy FTM 2012 and relatively soon I should be able to use emerging FT software to collect a certain number of ancestors and their descendents from FT, but even then I will have a lot of merging to do. And even if I want to merge the lack of GEDCOMX, makes it impossible to preserve many important things in such a merge.

    oh well.

  2. I use public trees to troll for ancestors. I keep the data I post there as "clean" as I can. I have found family I would not otherwise have found by doing this.

    I "follow the leaves" with FTM for mac (almost any leaf) and keep that information separated from any other information. When I have checked it out, I add the verified information to my public trees.

    The ONLY tree which I consider to be the "real" tree is the software program on my mac. Data that goes into that program has sources attached. Using a new software program called "Evidentia", I am beginning to be able to attach proof arguments to entries in my "real" tree. This way I can store likely clues, one place, track connections in several places, and store my verified information on relatives and their "Friends, Associataes, and Neighbprs" in my "real" tree. I think having this one privat real tree is essential.

    P.S. Not related to Michael McCormick as far as I know)