Beginning July 15, 2013, PAF will be retired and will no longer be available for download or support. For full details and for information on alternative products, please visit http://familysearch.org/PAF.It has now been well over a year since this announcement and I am still talking to people who rely on PAF as their primary genealogical database. I have written about this phenomena several times over the last few years and the persistence of this program continues to surprise, no, better said, astonish me.
Since PAF was first released, we have now entered an entirely new level of family history software, with an emphasis on online programs and connections between these online programs. This is a genealogical world that from which, PAF users are almost completely isolated. The only tenuous links are the ability to copy and paste information and the now-outdated GEDCOM file transfer program. The tragedy of the situation is that those who are deprived of the latest innovations in computerized genealogy, for the most part, are perfectly happy with the situation. We could postulate that they do not know what they are missing. But the issues go way beyond that sort of simplistic evaluation.
PAF is more than a genealogy program. It is the epitomization of a whole culture. Its persistence demonstrates how well the program was originally promoted and supported, but the fact that there are so many people who still use the program illustrates that the promotion of PAF imposed a dampening effect on the entire development of genealogy in that segment of the overall genealogical society by discouraging innovation and acceptance of newer technology. No, PAF is not the cause of the stagnation of its users, but it is a heavy contributor to that stagnation.
Now, you can come back and ask, how does the use of a simple genealogy program affect the entire genealogy community? PAF appeared at a crucial point in the development of genealogical computing. It was heavily promoted simply because many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were unaware of the existence of any other program. I have even heard prominent genealogists state, in the past, that they will stop using PAF when they pry it from their cold, dead hands.
Why am I back on a tirade about PAF? Because I just spent some hours helping someone copy their data from PAF onto the FamilySearch Family Tree. Never mind that there are programs that make that transition easier and error free. Never mind that the programs are free or have free copies. Never mind that the program is now twenty-year-old technology. This person was one of the fortunate ones. He was not losing his file, he was migrating it to a newer technology. At the same time, he was totally opposed to the idea of substituting a program that could copy his entire file and accomplish the same procedure with out the need to copy each entry over into Family Tree.
I am convinced that the solution to the PAF problem lies at the heart of the entire issue of the greater acceptance of genealogy or family history. Why are all these people still using a old computer program? Why aren't they accepting newer technology? If we can answer that question, I think we have the key to answering many other sticky genealogy questions like involving the youth and broadening genealogy's appeal to a wider audience.