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Ten Years On

Personal Ancestral File

Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a desktop genealogy application published by FamilySearch. The most recent version is PAF 5.2.18, created on 2002 Jul 17, and released on 2002 Jul 23, ten years ago today.

PAF was originally published by the Genealogical Department of the Latter Day Saints (LDS), the largest mormon cult. This department, originally operating under the name Genealogical Society of Utah, is now known as FamilySearch.


The first and last version of PAF are quite different from each other. The first version of PAF was a commercial MS-DOS application created by the Genealogical Department of the LDS, and you had to order the floppy disks through the mail.
PAF 5.2.18, the latest version isn't commercial, does not run on MS-DOS, and was, despite what its About box suggests, not really created by FamilySearch either, and can be downloaded from the FamilySarch site.

Few PAF users remember, but PAF is older than the FamilySearch website. Personal Ancestral File (PAF) was introduced in 1984. The FamilySearch website was introduced on 1999 May 24. When the FamilySearch website was introduced, FamilySearch was already selling PAF 3.0, and close to releasing PAF 4.0 for free.

Personal Ancestral File is an odd name for software; PAF isn't a file, it is a program that reads and writes files.

Personal Ancestral File

Ancestral File

Personal Ancestral File is an odd name for software; PAF isn't a file, it is a program that reads and writes files. The awkward name derives from another name: Ancestral File, a large database that the LDS started in 1979.
Ancestral File is an infamously error-ridden database of unverified data, originally created from filled-in forms, and later expanded through submission of GEDCOM files.

The Personal Ancestral File program was developed in support of Ancestral File; the initial version allowed printing out a report, later versions allowed exporting a GEDCOM file for import into Ancestral File.

Ancestral File Numbers

It is because of its support for Ancestral File that PAF has a field for a so-called Ancestral File Number (AFN).
Ancestral File Numbers do not have any genealogical significance. They are merely identifiers used within Ancestral File, and having the same identifiers in PAF makes it easier to match & merge data.

FamilySearch's original idea behind the Ancestral File Number is to give each individual an unique identifier within Ancestral File. That naive notion was soon refuted by the reality of Ancestral File itself; it contains many duplicate individuals, with separate identifiers for each duplicate, as well as many cases of different individuals having been mistaken for the same one, sharing a single unique identifier


Most PAF users aren't members of the LDS. To the many users of PAF who aren't LDS members, the fact that PAF supports Ancestral File may seem irrelevant. PAF's Preferences dialog box makes it easy enough to turn the superfluous LDS features off, and simply use it as a traditional genealogy application.
However, it is no coincidence that FamilySearch stopped maintaining PAF around the same time that it announced its New Family Search (NFS), which was only recently, after more than a decade of delays, introduced as FamilySearch Family Tree.

Pedigree Resource File

When FamilySearch introduced their FamilySearch site in 1999, they also introduced a new database, called Pedigree Resource File (PRF), as the successor to Ancestral File. The main difference with Ancestral File is that FamilySearch no longer removed notes and sources, and no longer merged the submitted data, but kept each submission as is and separate from other submission.
Before the introduction of FamilySearch site, additions to Ancestral File had to be mailed in on paper, and later on floppy disk and diskette. The FamilySearch site allowed direct upload of GEDCOM files to Pedigree Resource File.
FamilySearch produced Personal Ancestral File in support of Ancestral File, so when they decided to replace Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File with NFS, they decided to abandon PAF as a matter of course.

2008 statement

For many years, FamilySearch did not provide the slightest hint that they had abandoned PAF already. On the contrary, when, only as late as 2008, a half dozen years after the latest minor update already, FamilySearch employee Gordon Clarke finally made an official statement about PAF's future, Paul Nauta, their public relations person, made Gordon say that his statements were not official…
Moreover, several LDS Tech blog posts about this, made back then, have been deleted since.

continued PAF promotion

Although FamilySearch had already abandoned development and maintenance of PAF, they continued to actively attract new users by actively promoting it. FamilySearch continued to promote PAF on the homepage of their web site, a prime advertising position, and nothing on their site indicated that they had abandoned PAF in any way. They continued to promote PAF until 2010 Dec 21; that's the day they introduced a new site design (confusingly known as new FamilySearch too), one which no longer featured PAF on the home page.
FamilySearch continues to offer PAF for download, as they should for anyone who wants to reinstall it, but has stopped promoting it.

version history

dateversionbrief note
1984-041.0MS-DOS 1.1. BASIC program
1986-042.0Rrewritten in C. MS-DOS, Apple II, CP/M. GEDCOM 2.0.
1987-022.1CP/M dropped. MacOS. GEDCOM 2.1
1994-09-302.3.1Last MacOS release.
1997-05-103.0GEDCOM 5.5
1999-06-254.0Free, Windows 95+.
2000-12- GEDCOM 5.5.1.
2001-03- for Palm
2002-07-235.2.18Windows XP

not first

PAF is not the first genealogy application for end users. The first ever genealogy application is Genealogy: Compiling Roots and Branches, a Microsoft BASIC program for the TRS-80, created by John J. Armstrong and published in the 1979 September issue of Personal Computing Magazine.
There were already several commercial products on the market when, sometime in 1983, the Genealogical Department of the LDS decided to created their own application.

PAF 1.0

The history of PAF starts with the release of PAF 1.0 in April of 1984. The exact release date seems to be lost in time.
A news release in Ensign, an LDS publication, promoted the new application as a powerful tool, a sophisticated yet easy-to-use system for simplifying genealogical record-keeping and claimed that information retrieval is fast and easy.

The PAF 1.0 package consists of six floppy disks and a manual. PAF 1.0 is written in Microsoft BASIC for the IBM PC, and requires MS-DOS 1.1 or later. According to the 1984 LDS news release, TRS-80 III and Apple II+ versions are planned., but at the time, PAF 1.0 was only available for MS-DOS.

PAF 2.x

PAF version 2.0 isn't version 2.0 of the original PAF program, but a complete rewrite. PAF 1.0 was written in Microsoft BASIC, PAF 2.0 was rewritten in C.
The reason for the rewrite is that PAF 1.0 was, contrary to the aforementioned claims, not fast at all, but rather slow. This rewrite provided a significant speed boost.

Upon its release, PAF 2.0 was available not only for MS-DOS computers, but for CP/M and Apple II computers as well.
Although development of PAF 1.0 started on MS-DOS, one of the PAF 2.0 programmers wrote that the programmers preferred working under XENIX; they created PAF for Xenix and then ported that to MS-DOS, CP/M and Apple ProDOS. PAF for Xenix was never released.

PAF utilities

PAF 2.0 is a fairly limited application with limited functionality, but its rather simple database format was publicly known, and third parties developed utilities that provided functionality missing from PAF itself.


PAF 2.0 is the first genealogy application to support GEDCOM for data exchange. However, PAF 2.0 supports GEDCOM 2.0, an early version of GEDCOM, that few users familiar with later versions would recognise as GEDCOM.


Starting with PAF 2.1, support for CP/M was dropped, but support for MacOS was added; PAF 2.1 was available for MS-DOS, Apple ProDOS and MacOS. PAF 2.3 dropped support for Apple PRO-DOS, and the MacOS support only lasted till version 3.0; PAF 2.3.1 was the final release of PAF for MacOS, which was officially known Family Records, but widely known as MacPAF.
MacPAF does not run on OS X. Family Records 2.3.1 is a Classic Mac application that needs MacOS 8.5 or later to run. The last ever version of MacOS Classic is version 9.2.2 released on 2001 Dec 5.


There are several genealogy applications for the Mac, including Personal Ancestry Writer, which was specifically developed as a successor to Family Records.

An open-source Java project by Logan Allred, actually called MacPAF, to create an OS X successor to Family Records was started on 2004 Mar 28. The MacPAF web site on is gone. The SourceForge project currently shows the last release as Private Preview Release 2.1 dated 2006 Apr 12, and the last revision is dated 2007 Dec 9.

PAF 3.0

PAF 3.0, released on 1997 May 10 was available for MS-DOS only. Support for all other system had been dropped, and support for Windows was not being offered yet. PAF 3.0 requires MS-DOS 3.3 or later.
PAF 3.0 introduced a new database format, that broke compatibility with the many utilities that had been developed for PAF 2.x, but is also the first version of PAF to support GEDCOM 5.5, introduced in 1995.
GEDCOM 5.5 is the basis for the current de facto standard, GEDCOM 5.5.1.

PAF 3.0 and PAF 4.0 are two different applications that share the same name.

PAF 4.0

PAF 4.0 is the official successor to PAF 3.0, but is not a new version of the same application. PAF 3.0 and PAF 4.0 are two different applications that share the same name.
PAF 3.0 is an MS-DOS application, developed by the LDS. PAF 4.0 is a Windows application, developed by a third party.
PAF 3.0 is a 16-bit MS-DOS application that requires no more than MS-DOS 3.3 or a Windows DOS Box. Because it PAF 4.0 is a 32-bit Windows application, it demands a 32-bit edition of Windows. When released in 1999, that meant Windows NT 3.5, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 95 or Windows 98. At the time, many users were still using Window 3.1, a 16-bit system that cannot run PAF 4.0 or later.

Ancestral Quest

PAF 4.0 isn't based on PAF 3.0 at all. PAF 4.0 is a customised edition of Ancestral Quest 3.0, a product of Incline Software.
Ancestral Quest 1.0 was developed as PAF for Windows; a Windows application that provides excellent compatibility with PAF and by using the PAF database format. Early versions of Ancestral Quest are compatible with PAF 2.x. Ancestral Quest version 3.0 (AQ3) added database compatibility with PAF 3, and PAF 4.0 is a slightly modified edition of Ancestral Quest 3.0.

Today, Incline's PAF Compatibility page states that AQ 3.0 is compatible with PAF 3.0 and PAF 4.0. That statement may seem a bit odd, because when AQ 3.0 was released, PAF 4.0 did not exist yet.
The simple facts are that AQ 3.0 is compatible with PAF 3.0, and that PAF 4.0 essentially is AQ 3.0; sure, PAF 4.0 is a slightly modified edition of AQ 3.0, but the file format remained unchanged. Thus, PAF 3.0, AQ 3.0 and PAF 4.0 all use the same file format.

free download

PAF 4.0 was the first version of PAF to be available as a free download. A not unimportant factor in FamilySearch's decision to make PAF 4.0 available as a free download is that the creation of PAF 4.0 hardly cost them anything. Not only is PAF 4.0 based on the ready-made code for Ancestral Quest 3, FamilySearch does not even pay any license fee for that code.

The Hope Foundation

Over the years, Incline Software has made multiple marketing deals with third parties, and has allowed Ancestral Quest to be sold under different names such as Family Ties, Family Trees Quick & Easy, Family Tree Heritage and Heritage Family Tree Deluxe.
Ancestral Quest even formed the basis for's Ancestry Family Tree (AFT), which marketed until they acquired Family Tree Maker.

The story of how FamilySearch received a free license involves a third party, The Hope Foundation. Simply put, Incline Software sold Ancestral Quest to The Hope Foundation, which provided not just a code license, but a custom edition of Ancestral Quest to FamilySearch.
The intention was to sell or merge the entire company, but in the end, that endeavour failed. In 2001, Incline software reclaimed ownership of Ancestral Quest from The Hope Foundation.
FamilySearch has continued to offer PAF as a free download. Incline Software has continued to develop and market Ancestral Quest.

PAF 5.0

PAF version 5.0 was released on 2000 Dec 22.
The major improvement over 4.0 is that it is a Unicode application. PAF 4.0 was made available in several languages, but Western European languages only. PAF 5.0 was the first version to be made available in Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

PAF 5.0 requires a Unicode-based version of Windows, but because PAF 4.0 already demanded 32-bit Windows, that wasn't a real change. PAF 5.0 did drop support for Windows NT 3.5, demanding Windows NT 4.0 or later.


PAF 5.0 is a true Unicode application; it is not just the user interface that takes advantage of Unicode; its data files are Unicode-based too. PAF 5.0 introduced the PAF 5 database format, which uses Unicode internally, UTF-8 to be precise. Because the PAF 5.0 database format is different from the PAF 3.0 and 4.0 database format, upgrading from PAF 4.0 to PAF 5.0 required converting your database.
Because they are Unicode-based, PAF 5.0 and later support all characters supported by Windows.

more features

PAF 5.0 introduced several new reports, but the most important change was increased flexibility. PAF 5.0 allows users to define their own events, and includes the ability to customise the user-interface through templates.
PAF 5.0 is the first version of PAF to use a GUID for each individual, supported through the _UID tag. The GUID is invisible to users, but is used for matching & merging.

GEDCOM 5.5.1

PAF 5.0 also upgraded its GEDCOM support to GEDCOM 5.5.1, introduced in 1999, to take advantage of the new tags and the ability to export data in UTF-8. One of the new tags that PAF supports is ROMN, which allows storing a Romanised string along with a name in a non-Roman script, such as Cyrillic, Hebrew, Hanzi and Kanji. Other new tags support phonetic variants (FONE), email and web addresses (EMAIL and WWW) and geocoding of locations (LAT and LONG).

A remarkable defect introduced in PAF 5.0 that was not fixed in subsequent updates is that it writes GEDCOM headers that claim the GEDCOM file it created is a GEDCOM 5.5 file, even when that GEDCOM file uses GEDCOM 5.5.1 tags and features that are illegal in GEDCOM version 5.5.
This wilful violation of the GEDCOM specification is remarkable because FamilySearch maintained that specification themselves. The pretense of using GEDCOM 5.5, while actually using GEDCOM 5.5.1, may be related to FamilySearch's failure to make GEDCOM 5.5.1 official; perhaps they wanted to take advantage of GEDCOM 5.5.1, but did not want to admit that they were using GEDCOM 5.5.1 until they had made it official.

That FamilySearch PAF 5.0 and later actually use GEDCOM 5.5.1 matters more than their pretense of still using GEDCOM 5.5 or FamilySearch's failure to upgrade the status of GEDCOM 5.5.1 from draft to official standard; after the release of PAF 5.0, GEDCOM 5.5.1 became the de facto standard anyway. Leading genealogy software vendors switched to GEDCOM 5.5.1, to take advantage of UTF-8 and the new tags.

PAF 5.1

PAF 5.1 is a minor update released on 2001 Mar 21; it fixes some defects and adds support for a few more languages. The release of PAF 5.1 did not provide any hint that PAF 5.0 was the last major release. On the contrary, the Check for Software Updates menu item still present in PAF 5.2.18 was added in version 5.1.

PAF for Palm OS

The most interesting new feature of PAF 5.1 is the addition of PAF for Palm OS. PAF for Palm OS is a viewer that allows you to carry your database on your Palm device. PAF for Windows got an option an extra export option in support of PAF for Palm OS; if you export to Palm for Palm OS, PAF exports your data to a file in the database format used by PAF for Palm OS, and Palm HotSync then moves that database to your Palm, so you can use PAF for Palm OS to view your database.

The new website FamilySearch introduced late in 2011 does not provide a download link for PAF for Palm OS, but it is still available from the same download location. I've provided a direct download link below.


PAF for Palm OS was not developed by FamilySearch. The PAF for Palm OS About Box does not provide any hint of this, but PAF for Palm OS is actually slightly modified version of GedStar, originally known as GedPalm, developed by GHCS Software. The free PAF for Palm OS 1.0, available for PAF 5.1 and later, is essentially identical to GedPalm 3.1. PAF for Palm version 1.0 is the only version ever released. It was never updated to match any of the features of GedStar 4.0 or later versions.

GHCS Software has continued to improved GedStar, but is no longer offering GedStar for Palm OS. GHCS Software is offering GedStar Pro for Android now.
You can use GedStar Pro for Android with PAF in the same way you use other desktop applications with GedStar; by exporting to GEDCOM and then importing the GEDCOM file using GedStar's Windows utility.

PAF 5.2.18

PAF 5.2.18 was released on 2002 Jul 23. Several significant events happened between the release of PAF 5.1 and PAF 5.2:

PAF 5.2 did not provide support for FamilySearch's new GEDCOM XML. Like the PAF 5.1 update, this minor update consisted mostly of defect fixes and a few minor additions and improvements, such as an improved merge function. It did not come with an unexpected surprise such as the PAF for Palm OS companion app.
The most significant updates were that PAF 5.2 resolved several compatibility issues with Windows XP, and improved support for Input Method Editors (IMEs). Windows XP users that had experienced some problems before, found PAF 5.2.18 to be remarkable stable.

FamilySearch abandoned PAF.
PAF 5.2.18, released ten years ago, is still the latest release of PAF.


FamilySearch abandoned PAF.
PAF 5.2.18, released ten years ago, is still the latest release of PAF.
FamilySearch did not negotiate a new Ancestral Quest license with Incline Software, nor did they develop a Windows application of their own.

FamilySearch started their New Family Search (NFS) project. After a decade of delays, it finally went public on 2012 July 1 as FamilySearch Family Tree.


For years, PAF and GEDCOM were developed together, and they were abandoned together.
The release of GEDCOM XML late in 2001 suggested that FamilySearch wanted to move to a new and improved standard, but after another release of GEDCOM XML late in 2002, nothing was heard of it again.

It was only after the creation of OpenGen and the BetterGEDCOM project in 2010, that FamilySearch mentioned their new FamilySearch SORD project early in 2011, which was revealed as the GEDCOM X project late in 2011.

Ancestral Quest Lite

While PAF 4.0 and later were made are available as free downloads, Incline Software continued to develop and sell Ancestral Quest as a commercial application. Late in 2011, just several days before FamilySearch officially introduced its new website and stopped promoting PAF, Incline Software introduced Ancestral Quest Basics, a free feature-limited edition of the full Ancestral Quest application.
Although the timing is unlikely to be a coincidence, and Incline Software certainly hopes that Ancestral Quest Basics will help to attract existing PAF users, the introduction of Ancestral Quest Basics is also Incline's response to the free feature-limited editions provided by other vendors.


It is easy to see what FamilySearch did wrong. FamilySearch should have continued to develop and support PAF until its intended replacement was live. They should in fact have continued to maintain it several years beyond the introduction, to ease transition from one to the other.
FamilySearch abandoned development and maintenance of PAF long before NFS went into Alpha or Beta. Alpha testing for NFS (often misreported as Beta testing) started in 2008, and that is when Gordon Clarke made his official-but-not-official statement, but NFS did not enter Private Beta until early 2012. During an entire decade of NFS delays, PAF was already abandoned because NFS would be here Real Soon Now


2013-06-20: FamilySearch officially abandons PAF

The FamilySearch PAF page now claims that Downloads and support for PAF end JULY 15, 2013. Neither claim is true.
PAF will not stop being available for download on 2013 July 15. PAF continues to be available from many download sites.
Support does not end on 2013 July 15. Support ended about a decade ago already.


Personal Ancestral File