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Frequently Asked Questions & Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Personal Ancestral File?

Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a desktop genealogy application for Windows that used to be published by FamilySearch. PAF 1.0 was introduced in April of 1984. FamilySearch abandoned development of PAF in 2002, and has fixed any defects since either. The last version is PAF 5.2.18, released on 2002 Jul 13.
FamilySearch continued to promote PAF on the FamilySearch home page until 2010 Dec 21. FamilySearch officially acknowledged that they have abandoned PAF on 2013 June 21. FamilySearch continued to make the latest version available for download until 2013 Jul 15.

PAF was originally a BASIC program for MS-DOS. There have been releases for CP/M, Apple ProDOS (Apple II) and MacOS. PAF for Windows was published by FamilySearch, but not originally developed by FamilySearch. PAF is a customised edition of Ancestral Quest 3, developed by Incline Software.

Why is PAF important?

Every genealogy application with a large user base is important, and PAF is one of the most popular genealogy applications ever, but there is something else.
FamilySearch used to maintain the GEDCOM specification, and PAF releases are strongly associated with GEDCOM releases. PAF's GEDCOM support is not perfect, but PAF is the closest the industry has to a GEDCOM reference implementation.

Why should I use PAF?

There are many good reasons to use PAF. The user-interface is dated, but functional and easy to use. PAF is an efficient application with modest requirements; you do not need a very powerful CPU or lots of memory. PAF can be run from portable media such as an USB stick. PAF 5.2.18 is very stable, can handle large databases, and is pretty fast. PAF even has a Palm OS app that allows you to carry your database in your pocket.

PAF's GEDCOM export is not perfect, but many third-party applications will handle it idiosyncrasies. In fact, many third-party applications will import PAF databases directly.

Why shouldn't I use PAF?

FamilySearch is part of the LDS, the largest mormon cult, and PAF has a serious limitation that reflect this; PAF does not support same-sex marriage. That PAF does include features in support of LDS rites need not bother you; you can turn LDS support off.

PAF's multimedia support is rudimentary, and PAF lacks support for modern features such as geocoding, and citation templates. PAF has just a few consistency checks, not the extensive consistency checks offered by leading genealogy applications. PAF has a Palm OS app, but lacks an app for more current platforms like Apple iOS and Google Android.

Switching away from PAF because it is dated makes sense, downgrading to a even more dated application does not.

What should I use instead of PAF?

Most genealogy software has trial or lite editions. Read reviews and try a few products to find out which one suits you best. Download links for a few genealogy applications that seem a good choice for PAF users are listed below.

It is worth mentioning that Ancestral Quest will not only look and feel quite familiar, but can even read and write PAF databases directly, so you can continue to use PAF while you try out Ancestral Quest.

It is also important to know that many genealogy software vendors are still peddling pre-Unicode software, and that such software is generally unable to import your PAF database without mangling some names or notes; it can only succeed if you never used anything but Windows ANSI characters, which is unlikely.
Besides, even if it could import your data correctly, switching from a Unicode application to code-page application would be major step backwards. Switching away from PAF because it is dated makes sense, downgrading to a even more dated application does not.

FamilySearch suggests three products, and that list includes Legacy Family Tree 7.5, a code-page application. FamilySearch is not recommending Legacy because it is a good choice for PAF users, but because it is good choice for them; Legacy can directly upload your data to FamilySearch Family Tree while uploading to competitors like OneGreatFamily, WeRelate, and WikiTree requires a GEDCOM file. You follow their ostensible advice at your data's risk.
Legacy 7.5 is worth getting for its extensive consistency checks, and because it includes Legacy Charting, but as a PAF user you should not downgrade to a code-page application as your main application.


More about PAF

A Brief History of Personal Ancestral File provides a modestly detailed overview of PAF history.
Why PAF is still popular discusses how software that hasn't been updated in a decade s still so popular.

PAF tags

Also Known As discusses problems caused by PAF's non-standard _AKA tag, an unnecessary deviation from the GEDCOM specification.
The _UID tag is about the _UID tag, a common GEDCOM extension that PAF supports.

download PAF 5.2.18

FamilySearch does not offer PAF for download anymore, but you can still download it from several download sites. An overview of several download locations is provided below.

PAF Companion

PAF Companion is a charting program that reads PAF databases directly. FamilySearch used to provide downloads of PAF Companion Basic.
PAF Companion is a product of Progeny Genealogy and is also known as Progeny Charting Companion for Personal Ancestral File. The last version offered by FamilySearch was PAF Companion 5.7.11.
PAF Companion 5.7.11 is available from several downloads sites and from Progeny Genealogy themselves. Progeny Genealogy offers PAF Companion 6 Basic for download. The download page for PAF Companion 6 includes a download link for PAF Companion 5.7 Basic.


This text is likely to be updated with more resources.

2013-06-24: PAF Companion, fora, message boards & discussion lists

Added information and links for PAF Companion.
Added PAF fora, message boards & discussion lists.

2013-06-24: Switching from PAF

Added link to new Switching from PAF article. Detailed information and instructions for transfering your PAF database into another product. Provides solutions for several problems you may encounter.


Personal Ancestral File

other products mentioned

download PAF 5.2.18

download a PAF alternative

PAF Companion

PAF fora, message boards & discussion lists