Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Are you still using Personal Ancestral File?

Personal Ancestral File or PAF is a program first released in 1984 for DOS (Microsoft) operating system computers. In 1986, Apple and CPM operating systems were released. A Macintosh version was released in 1994 and the first Windows version was released in 1999. All of the versions of the program except the Windows version were abandoned by 2002 and that year saw the last Windows version update. The latest version of this program available is Version 5.2.18 released on 23 July 2002.

There have been no updates to PAF since 2002. In 2013, FamilySearch formally abandoned any further support for the program. Because the program was essentially free (a disk-based version cost $6), there were likely millions of copies of the program downloaded.

There have always been alternative programs available. PAF is presently the only program I am aware of that will still run on my current computers that is 12 years old. All of the other programs on all the other operating systems have long since ceased to operate. Why does PAF keep on running? The answer is complex and involves the fact that despite all the hype about new versions of Microsoft Windows, the company has carefully preserved their core relationship to the original DOS Operating System. Will that support continue for ever? Not likely. Recently, Microsoft discontinued support of Windows XP. But think about it, the last version of PAF was developed for Windows NT, the version prior to XP.

If you are running PAF on your computer and using the program to enter valuable genealogical research, you are running an ever increasing risk that you or those who come after you will someday be spending a great deal of time trying to recover that lost information. Over the past few years, I have spent hundreds of hours retrieving old genealogy files off of abandoned media, such as 5.25 inch floppy disks, and old programs such as previous versions of PAF. This sort of retrieval process has grown more and more difficult over the years and may not be possible at some point. This occurs because of the constant changes in computer technology.

I realize that there are many people who "love" PAF and are very passionate about their dedication to the program. But it is time to move on. Within the past two days, I talked to a genealogist who still had all of her data in PAF, so this is a real and currently active issue. Surprisingly, there are several "free" genealogy programs available so migrating to a new version of a program on the most current operating systems can be done for free. Here are several currently supported and available programs with free versions or that are free altogether:

Family Tree Builder (Windows)
RootsMagic (Windows)
Ancestral Quest (Windows)
Legacy Family Tree (Windows)

Unfortunately, if you computer system is as old as your PAF version, you are likely out of luck. It is probable that these newer programs will not run on your computer.

Think about.


  1. Well, I'm one of those who just haven't found a replacement I like for PAF. I don't see the problem as long as: 1. The program still runs on your computer. 2. You back up your data to .ged files. and 3. Future software continues to accept those .ged files. I run my PAF on a fairly new Dell laptop in Linux using Wine. I also have it available on my other older machines and on virtual machines running XP (offline) and Vista. I sometimes use other programs if I want some particular report that they may do but for general ease of use I just enjoy using PAF. It just flat does what I want and how I want. It was and still is a gem!

  2. I'm still running PAF. My data is backed up as .ged files, & on the web. Backups are on USB sticks & external hard drives. Everything I used to have on floppy discs etc. was copied to newer formats before disposing of the computers that supported the old ones, & everything is still accessible.

    Like Unknown in 2015, I find it does what I want & is easy to use. The alternatives all seem less user-friendly.