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

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reflections on the demise of Personal Ancestral File

In the New York Journal of 2 June 1897, Mark Twain is reported to have said,  ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration." To some extent, any reports of the demise of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) are also exaggerations, including my own reports. First of all there are various places on the Internet where you can download a copy of Version 5.2.18, the latest and last version released. In addition, although there is probably no way to get an accurate idea of the installed base, it is likely into the hundreds of thousands if not the millions of users. I still have a viable copy of PAF on my Windows 8 computer. So PAF is unlikely to disappear by reason of unavailability. 

The announcement of FamilySearch that they were discontinuing support for the program on 15 July 2013 is more symbolic than effective in discouraging or discontinuing current users of the program. In fact, certain prominent genealogists, even those associated with FamilySearch, have expressed sympathy and support for the program quite recently. 

The persistence of PAF as a genealogical database says a lot about the genealogical software industry. I have heard comments from the software community about how the existence of a "free" program has been a drag on sales and has induced a belief among genealogists that somehow genealogical software ought to be free. In response, for many years, some of the popular programs has sold at what would be considered far below market value. But more importantly, the existence of a large consumer base of PAF users has strongly influenced the design and features of many of the programs. It is only recently that a few programs, notably those coming from the large online companies have gone well beyond the basic design of PAF. Although there are programs that "broke the mold" so to speak some time ago. 

Currently, the best selling programs are those directly associated with the big online databases and family tree programs including, and PAF predates any of these products and therefore has no direct online connection, nor does it have any possibility of developing one. But that issue has long been resolved by the Family Insight program from Ohana Software which enables PAF 5 to access, update, sync with, and print family tree. The real question, at this point, is whether or not Family Insight will be extended to work with FamilySearch Family Tree when the third-party connections to are terminated very shortly.

If connectivity with FamilySearch is an issue (a sensitive topic for another post), then Family Insight claims to have provided that connection for several popular programs.

But the issues are more complex than whether or not PAF will still operate on the latest computers. The real issues involve the broadening of the concepts of family history and the relative importance of including media files in a primary database. PAF as it exists, allows the attachment of media files but can in no way be argued to be a media-centric program. Without add-on programs such as Family Insight, PAF lacks any Web connectivity. But this lack is no deterrent to its dedicated users. Many of the people who use the program express little or no interest in learning to use anything els.

If you are interested in the development of new software in response to the introduction of's Family Tree, then the FamilySearch Product Page bears watching. On the other hand, if you are using another product altogether, such as Family Tree Maker from and Family Tree Builder from, then you probably don't particularly care one way or the other about PAF.

It seems to me that third-party development within the next few weeks will dramatically influence what ultimately happens to the PAF program. But in any event, those who are using PAF can continue to do so for the foreseeable future.


  1. As you say, there is no guarantee that it will work under future OS's. There are some people in a panic about this on FaceBook. I've suggested that they save a copy of the download file, just in case, and start exporting their files to GEDCom's kept in a separate location, also just in case their old computer dies. They will then be able to get PAF up and running (hopefully) and have backup data that can be used with either new software or PAF.

  2. Ohana Software stated in their Spring 2013 Newsletter that they will not develop FamilyInsight to sync with Family Tree.