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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Genealogical Night of the Living Dead just published their annual Users Choice Awards. Quoting from the website; "Awards are presented to all programs achieving a 4.00 or more star rating based on 10 or more total user reviews with at least one review in the qualifying year." Guess what program showed up in the #4 spot for the most popular programs? You guessed it; Personal Ancestral File. I made a comment about this to my family in a recent gathering and the defenders of the program far outnumbered the detractors.

Personal Ancestral File has 29 reviews on and almost uniformly is given 5 Stars. There are six reviews from 2013. I do not want to seem like a grinch, but what is going on here? I see this being, in part, a tremendous failing on the part of the present genealogy software developers and their marketing departments. They seem to be entirely incapable of communicating with the "real" genealogy market. It would be way too easy to simply dismiss the results from this one website as being an anomaly and not representative of the "larger more educated and sophisticated genealogical community," but guess what, it is my experience that this list likely reflects the opinions of the bulk of the community. I would also note that five of the listed programs either have Apple Macintosh versions or run on the network.

I do have to admit that I was totally unfamiliar with a few of the programs on the list. But I found almost all of the ones, other than Personal Ancestral File, to be viable, active and maintained.

If you examine the list of programs and the glowing reviews, you will see 17 programs. Look at what is missing. Think about it.

Personal Ancestral File has been dead for many years. The fact of its death seems to have little or no effect on its popularity. Why is this the case? I can think of some very good reasons. Here is my list of reasons why Personal Ancestral File still shows up on a list of favorite programs:

1. The program was and is free. Interestingly, almost half of the 17 programs listed (8 out of 17) are free. It is hard to compete with free when there are some really complex and sophisticated programs that are free.

2. The program does almost all that most genealogists expect a genealogy program to do. It is hard uphill battle to convince a long-time Personal Ancestral File user that any of the "features" of the newer programs are superior to what they already have. Some of the most feature filled programs on the market today get very low reviews on If you read the reviews of some of the "best selling" commercial programs you will see similar comments that the programs have "too much stuff."

3. Personal Ancestral File is relatively easy to use. The basic features of all of the genealogy programs are essentially the same. Because they are do similar things, it is hard for people who use free programs to see the advantage of paying money for a few more features they do not understand and do not need.

4. Personal Ancestral File continues to run perfectly well on Windows 8.1 and on Parallels Desktop for the Mac running Maverick. There are only some very minor things that do not work as expected in Personal Ancestral File even after more than 12 years of abandonment. This is in sharp contrast to some of the older versions of the more commercially available programs that will not work on newer operating systems requiring constant and costly upgrades.

5. There are no upgrades. You would think this was a huge problem. Actually, this is an important fact considered by users. One of the first questions I get from the people I talk to about genealogy software is whether or not their will be a charge to "upgrade" the program. This is likely one of the major reasons for the popularity of free programs. You may write this off again as being a reflection of the lack of computer sophistication of the greater genealogy community, but it is a reality that the developers have to deal with. This past year, I probably spent over $300 upgrading genealogy software.

6. Personal Ancestral File is closely associated by genealogists with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of the larger and more popular genealogy programs only begrudgingly accommodate members of the Church and their genealogical needs and some are absolutely antagonistic. By taking a neutral or even antagonistic attitude towards the LDS population, they alienate a huge potential market for genealogy software.

7. Moving to a new program after using Personal Ancestral File can be very difficult. It is no coincidence that the number one program on the list is Ancestral Quest, which is virtually the same program as Personal Ancestral File. Ancestral Quest is the derivative of Personal Ancestral File. The original Personal Ancestral File program was developed by Gaylon Findlay, the developer of Ancestral Quest. Ancestral Quest makes it easy to either stay with Personal Ancestral File or migrate to a program that has the same look and feel. What is more important, if you import a file from Personal Ancestral File into Ancestral Quest, everything is preserved and everything goes to the same places in the program. Try this on any other program and you will see what a mess importing Personal Ancestral File can make.

 Maybe instead of dismissing as a backwater website with no real access to the genealogy community, the genealogy software developers should think more seriously about addressing some or all of the reasons people stay with Personal Ancestral File. Maybe they think because they are selling programs that there is no problem? Maybe they think that, in time, Personal Ancestral File will just go away and they don't want to address the issues raised by the program? Maybe they should also look at why people rated so many free programs so much higher than the high selling popular commercial ones?


  1. Well--the analysis is good. Is MyHeritage better on German or Italian records. seems to be more US oriented. I like youir web page--I book marked it. Jan Charles Gray---I, like most Americans have German and Italian roots. I'd like to find those roots.

  2. I have tried several other programs over the past 8 years and none have persuaded me to abandon PAF - love it - and happy to see it is compatible with Windows 8.1.