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

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Looking at PAF Reviews -- The Program that Refuses to Die

I get an updated list of all the new reviews on and I was fascinated to see a currenly posted review of the Personal Ancestral File or PAF program. Here is a copy of the notice you can see above in the screenshot:
Personal Ancestral File (PAF)
by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Personal Ancestral File has been available free for many years and has a large following. The LDS stopped offering PAF downloads or support on July 15, 2013. The final version is (2005) and is still available at Parowan Software.
The program has its own Wikipedia page. See Wikipedia: Personal Ancestral File. I do like old cars and some antique furniture, but I really have no time in my schedule for old computer programs. The PAF programs was first released in 1984 and was written in BASIC and ran only on the DOS operating system. The last revised version of the program was released in 2002 for Windows NT. I think I stopped using the program when the Macintosh version was discontinued in about 1994. Yes, you read all that correctly, this is a 32 year old program that hasn't been updated for 14 years and it still is being reviewed and has a 4.71 overall star rating out of 5.00 possible.

Now, I could conclude from this that since the initial release of PAF software for the program has gone into suspended animation and it only wakes up periodically, sort of like Brigadoon, to dance around for a while and then go back to sleep. But the reality is that the program is still being used by a huge number of people everyday to keep all their genealogical data on whatever computer they happen to have as long as it uses a Windows operating system.

The most recent review has awarded PAF five stars. The most recent reviewer seems very impressed by the fact that the program is free. Its age, is no longer supported and has some serious limitations are of no concern. I do not intend to write my own review of PAF, but I would note that the most recent reviewer summarized his or her review as follows:
Biggest Pro: Intuitive GUI, flexible data handling, full featured, real help, free. 
Biggest Con: Unsupported, no advanced internet support, a few awkward but livable limitations.
Now, if PAF were the only "free" program out there, perhaps there would be some sort of perverse logic in keeping alive a thirty+ year old program with no current updates. But there are more than a few free genealogy programs available such as the Family Tree Builder program and free versions of several other propular programs. By the way, the main reason why PAF has no advanced Internet support is because the features of the Internet and the devices to use those features did not exist when PAF was introduced. For example, the first iPhone was released in 2007, five years after the last PAF update.

What worries me is that some day the program will fail to work on a particular Windows upgrade and a huge amount of user data will be on its way to being lost. Presently, it is getting harder and harder to find the programs and the electronic devices to resurrect PAF data files.

But I do think that the fact that PAF is still being used demonstrates a simple fact: no one has come up with a replacement that convinces the users to pay a few dollars for a better program. I really can't believe that all those PAF users are still driving 14 year old cars and wearing the same clothes and buying the same products they used up to thirty years ago. But for whatever reason, they have not seen a reason to upgrade their software.

The large online genealogy companies have to realize that they are trying to sell their services to people who are using a decades old computer program that cannot even see the Internet.


  1. A few years ago there was a guy who was talking about family history in sacrament meeting and he was hemming and hawing about how he hadn't done family history in years, and then he said, "I guess one of these days I'll have to dust of my copy of PAF and take a look at my family history." I would guess there are a lot of people like that who used PAF a few times at mutual activities 20 years ago and assume that's still what people use. They don't realize we've moved on. For that situation it's a matter of spreading the word.

    For others it might be kind of like getting a new email address--you know you would probably like a different email provider better and you're tired of the spam and immature name of your email address, but you put it off because you know it will be a pain to switch over all your contacts and change your email address on all your accounts. Of course once you make the switch it's better, but making the switch is a little daunting. And for switching from PAF it probably gets more daunting with time since it's getting harder to transfer the data and if you have a lot of information you might have to copy it all out by hand.

    The argument for using PAF because it's free is kind of silly because Roots Magic's free version is quite good and probably has at least as many features as PAF.

  2. I admit it, I am a luddite. I have used PAF since 1988 and still love it. I have tried Family Tree Maker (absolutely hate it), Brother's Keeper, Ancestral Quest, Roots Magic, and a couple more. They just don't measure up. I have everything backed up on Ancestral Quest, just in case...Before I forget I am driving a 17 year old Jeep Grand Cherokee.

  3. I think PAF deserves high reviews and still compares well to other programs for most users' needs. PAF is fast (I dread to boot up Family Tree Maker, it's so slow) and easy to use and it has an uncluttered screen (unlike just about all popular genealogy software now). You can easily export a GEDCOM file from PAF or import it directly into other software, so if it ever stops working with Windows, people can always transfer their data to another program.

  4. I think that Tamura Jones got it right here:

    Personal experience also says that my girlfriend and mother both prefer for its simplicity, even though I've shown them free alternatives like Ancestral Quest, Gramps, and RootsMagic.

    PAF is safe, because it's close to the GEDCOM standard, so any database created in PAF can be imported in other programs quite well via GEDCOM. The other programs mentioned here are all more complicated, and can't read each others GEDCOM files without loss of data, sometimes quite considerable, and sometimes even without notifying users about what's imported, and what's not.

    Moreover, two out of three, can read PAF files right away, so even when you find that PAF doesn't run on your new hardware or OS, AQ or RM will still be able to open your PAF database.

  5. I think that beginners have to learn so many confusing things about terminology, types of records, where records are available, the many ways that records can mislead them. One virtue of PAF is that a beginner doesn't need much tutoring to understand how to use it. Another is that its Gedcom output adheres so well to the standard that almost any other program can import it faithfully. Thus, it's easy to recommend it to a beginner with a clear conscience, and many people never find it necessary to move to that other program.

    Support? What kind of software support does any company provide these days? Probably answering questions, but probably not quite acknowledging that a bug is a bug, let alone fixing it.

    The fact that PAF continues to run on so many new major releases of Windows software gives us an indication of how much support it needs. PAF users don't need to have user group meetings to get hints and tricks about how to make it run under Windows 10, do they?

  6. My favorite feature about PAF is its simplicity. I can shrink the screen and put it in the corner of one monitor while I have FamilySearch Family Tree and Ancestry and / or My Heritage open. I can copy and paste my data to any of these programs without switching from one program to another. I have Roots Magic, but it takes up the entire screen with a lot of extraneous information. The drawback is keeping the data in both programs current.

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