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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Can we rely on the internet?

I received the following comment to a recent blog post.
While not disagreeing with the point of your posting I would question the wisdom of the way the computer industry is going. 
On a much more disturbing note than whether a single program will work on a modern system is the dangerous reliance on cloud storage and on line programs.
Many might see this as progress but really it is a regression to a time when only huge companies controlled computers. 
The problems with Rootsweb and indeed Ancestry’s frequent other problems highlight the dangers of relying on the internet and such problems are going to get worse.
Yes people who use old computers and old programs may have a few minor problems as you have described but those are nothing compared to the enormous problem caused when online provision fails. 
The local problems can normally be quickly solved, even if this means resorting to a saved back-up but when the on line program or storage fails even the back-up may be inaccessible. 
Perhaps someone will explain to me what protection is in place for when the next Carrington Event hits. Most people using old fashioned computers will be safe as it is likely their computers could be switched of at the time, but on line servers may be subject to a disastrous failure. 
Don’t misunderstand me I am not saying do not embrace the new technology and online services but rather do not rely on the internet to store what you think important.
Ensure you are responsible for that by having the equipment and storage of your data under your control locally.
This longer comment includes references to several modern issues including the reliability of online data storage, catastrophic world events and the viability of the internet. Taken to its extreme, the position taken by this comment reflects the rather extensive "prepper movement" currently very active in our society today. I am certainly not saying that the commentator is a "prepper" but the idea that vast networks including food distribution, power grids, and other such failures require us to be "self-sufficient" is not just an idea limited to backing up our data on our computers. Here is a short definition of the trend from a Wikipedia article entitled, "Survivalism."
Survivalism is a primarily American movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or preppers) who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient, and build structures (e.g., survival retreats or underground shelters) that may help them survive a catastrophe.
Hmm. Given that definition, I have been a survivalist for a very long time. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am an active member, has long urged its members to store a supply of food and essentials in the case of a disaster or other problem. During my own life, our family has always had some long-term storage and during times of limited income, have benefited from always having sufficient food and other essentials. The Church uses the term "self-reliance" and includes basics of education and social and emotional strength.

As the comment points out, it is not a good idea to rely on one form of backup for any computer related data. The people who rely on an old program such as Personal Ancestral File either to store their data or for current work are counter-survivalists. They are ignoring the very real danger that they will lose valuable data. Worrying about the viability of the internet and then telling people to continue to use an abandoned software program makes no sense at all.

There is an interesting reference to the Carrington Event. Here is a Wikipedia quote from an article entitled, "Solar storm of 1859," explaining what happened.
The solar storm of 1859 (also known as the Carrington Event)[1] was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm during solar cycle 10 (1855–1867). A solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, September 1–2, 1859. The associated "white light flare" in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by British astronomers Richard C. Carrington (1826–1875) and Richard Hodgson (1804–1872). The now-standard unique IAU identifier for this flare is SOL1859-09-01.
Why would "old-fashioned computers" be exempt from the damage from such a storm. The accounts of the storm indicate that some telegraph traffic was interrupted. The question is what would have to your computer if there were a world-wide catastrophic disaster? Well, there would be a lot of damage and running PAF on a Windows XP machine is not a solution.

I do rely on the internet to store what I think is important. But I also store all my data locally on three independent 8 TB hard drives. I also rely on programs such as and other online databases with their own backup programs to protect my data. I the parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand applies to this situation. Using PAF is definitely building on the sand.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Personal Ancestral File is only mostly dead, long live PAF!

As Mad Max says, there is a big difference between being dead and being mostly dead. Apparently, Personal Ancestral File is only mostly dead. I had several people point out to me that Personal Ancestral File was still available at some Family History Centers, on websites, and on CDs for download. When I get time, I will download a copy, which I could not find on my first go around and write about using the program with Microsoft Windows 10 or whatever.

One thing I thought that was interesting is the fact that people indicated to me that the program was available on CD. Only some of the newer computers come with a CD drive by the way. None of the new Apple computers or devices now come with a CD or DVD drive. You might not have noticed, but that technology is also dying rapidly in competition from online streaming and flash drives. I do have a CD drive hooked up to my iMac, but I had to buy it separately. You might also try to load a program from a CD onto your tablet or iPad if you want to see what is really happening.

By the way, Apple is merging both their Mac OS X operating system and their iOS operating systems. Google is merging its mobile Android system with Chrome on its Chromebooks. Microsoft has so far failed to make any headway into the mobile operating system market. But Windows is still the dominant operating system worldwide for desktop and laptop computers. See "Operating System Market Share." But the huge mobile market is dominated by Google Android and Apple iOS. See for example, "Global mobile OS market share in sales to end users from 1st quarter 2009 to 2nd quarter 2017."

This is a situation where Microsoft is winning the battle but losing the war. The real war is in mobile computing. Both Apple and Google recognize this and that is one reason why they are moving to merge their operating systems. The issue with Personal Ancestral File is much more fundamental than merely whether or not it will operate on a Windows machine. The real issue is that future operating systems will not be Windows-like, they will be Android or iOS like. Can you run PAF on your iPad or tablet running Android? Try it.

Yes, you can probably pick up a copy of PAF in a Deseret Industries store around the U.S. But is that a viable outlet for the software you want to use to archive your days, months and years of genealogical research effort?

However, the PAF issue goes much deeper than just that one program. It is symptomatic of a deeper issue with genealogists and technology. I just recently spent almost an hour with two different people trying to retrieve their logins and passwords to You can guess that both of these people are not young. You might not realize it if you are reading this blog post, but most of the younger people I know would not even realize that desktop computer programs for genealogy even exist, much less be interested in using a program that was discontinued before they were born.

For me, PAF is the genealogical symbol the digital divide; the outward and obvious indication that huge segment of the genealogical community as simply out of touch with technology. That is the main reason this subject comes up periodically and will continue to be a subject for comment until the program really dies.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Does Personal Ancestral File Still Function?

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post entitled, "Why does Personal Ancestral File (PAF) refuse to die?" I think a quote from the earlier blog post is needed to start the process of bringing us up to 2018 and Personal Ancestral File. Here is me quoting me.
In a sense, PAF has moved into the category of legend and myth. It has become the part of the pantheon of genealogical gods. It is now the immortal program and is fast becoming part of the "origin myth" of genealogy. From this standpoint, I really appreciated the comment in the email at the beginning of this post that says, 
PAF has a place for everything most genealogists want to record and the exceptions can go into the notes. Its all the program most need or want.
Hmm. Now here is the question. Is Personal Ancestral File (PAF) all the program most need and want? My question is a little bit different: does PAF still work on a new computer?

I just happen to have a PC running Windows 10 which was updated during the time I was writing this blog post. So I began the task of finding a downloadable version of PAF to see how it works on a relatively new computer running the latest Windows upgrade (until tomorrow when another upgrade comes out). As you can probably guess, I am reasonably familiar with searching online. However, after spending a considerable time looking, I was unable to find a reasonable website that had a PAF download. So I couldn't verify for myself whether or not the program will still run on the latest version of Microsoft Windows 10.

However, the fact that I had no success in finding a copy online indicated that when all the old copies are gone, the program will quietly die a real death. But then, I had a thought. What about

It is still for sale!! But not only is it for sale, the asking price is more than both the brand new, fully-supported, up-to-date, programs that support all the old PAF files: and AncestralQuest ( Now using an old, abandoned, pernicious program seems even more illogical.

If you want to read recent reviews of PAF please see Here is a five star rating from January 3, 2018, that points out the inconsistencies in the defense of PAF but still lauds the program.
I have been using PAF since its beginning and have and will continue to use it until no computer will any longer support it. I just finished copying PAF5 to my new computer running the newest version of Windows10 and it runs beautifully and even faster than on my old computer. 
The important thing is you must continuely make new gedcom files as you update your genealogy data. Then often upload the latest PAF gedcom file into a commercial software program of your choice. Some like RootsMagic and Legacy are 2 programs that even allow you to import your PAF file into their programs. There may be others. 
If the time comes then that PAF can no longer be supported, you still have your complete database to point of the last GEDCOM upload into your commercial paid for software. It is more than worth the money and these extra steps to be able to have the simplicity and ease of use of PAF and not be concerned about losing all the research and effort you’ve expended. 
Biggest Pro: Ease of Use
Biggest Con: None
Unfortunately, this reviewer wants you to buy the real commercial program to make sure you don't lose all your data. Why not just use the commercial program? By the way, the program is no longer supported. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Using HeritageQuest Online

HeritageQuest is one of the family of websites in conjunction with It is available through local public libraries where the library has a subscription. I gain access by having a library card through the Maricopa County (Arizona) Library System. We pay an annual fee for our Library Card because we now live outside of Maricopa County. There are a number of county and city libraries that will allow non-residents to have a library card upon the payment of a fee. With my Library Card, I can use all of the Library's online resources except those requiring the use of an in-library computer.

Some time ago, the website was partnered with and converted into a watered-down version of the website with connections to certain pages for searching on the regular website. It does give access to many records that otherwise would require you to be physically in a library using the Library Edition of, but it also lost some of the really valuable assets previously provided by

Notwithstanding this limitation, there are still some valuable resources on the website not easily obtainable elsewhere. For example,  there is a comprehensive Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. This resource is apparently not available on the website.

If you are serious about research, you need to visit your local public library and even the libraries where your ancestors lived or might have lived. These local resources can be helpful in learning and research.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Highlights from 2017 from FamilySearch

FamilySearch published a series of five infographics detailing statistics for the year 2017. Each of these infographics addresses a different aspect of FamilySearch activity during the year. Here are the details for the image above about the Family Tree.
FamilySearch’s Family Tree encourages family collaboration. In 2017, more than 27 million new ancestors were added, 3.7 million through mobile devices. Over 1.2 billion people are now in the FamilySearch Family Tree. An updated user-to-user messaging feature simplifies collaboration with others doing research on common ancestors. System upgrades now enable users to merge duplicate records of large or highly common family lines.
Here are the rest of the infographics with their individual explanations.

FamilySearch support volunteers donated 3.4 million hours of service in 2017, resolving over 1 million patron inquiries. More than 320,000 online volunteer indexers contributed another staggering 8.3 million hours to make 283 million new historical records freely accessible. 
Dozens of free video courses were added to the FamilySearch Learning Center. Almost 100,000 helpful how-to articles are also now available through the FamilySearch Wiki.
I was privileged to contribute a few hours as a volunteer this past year. This year, both my wife and I are working full-time as missionaries digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives.

Sometimes these numbers are so large as to be almost meaningless. The real meaning comes when you use the website to find one of your ancestors.

The annual # RootsTech 2018 conference will be held from February 28 to March 3, 2018. Registration is still open.

 During the year 2018, my wife and I will be serving as full-time FamilySearch missionaries digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland. We are proud to be part of the FamilySearch effort to preserve our family heritage.

Natalia Lafourcade Speaking at #RootsTech 2018

#RootsTech 2018 is ramping up. Although I will be watching from Annapolis, Maryland, my heart will be in the Salt Palace along with 20,000 or so thousand of my closest friends. FamilySearch has announced a number of really interesting and impressive Keynote Speakers. The latest is Natalia Lafourcade. Here is a little bit about this celebrity.
Natalia Lafourcade is a Mexican pop-rock singer and songwriter who, since her debut in 2003, has been one of the most successful singers in the pop rock scene in Latin America. Natalia was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to musician parents. Her father is the Chilean musician Gastón Lafourcade, and her uncle is writer Enrique Lafourcade. She grew up in Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, where she studied music with her mother, María del Carmen Silva Contreras.  
In 2003, she was nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Best New Artist category for her debut album. Natalia has captured hearts all over Mexico and in countries across the world—Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Canada, Japan, the United States, Venezuela, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Denmark. Throughout her career, Natalia has received numerous honors and awards, including Grammy Awards and MTV Latino awards. Her undeniable talent and success are recognized from the Americas to Europe to Asia. She is an artist with charisma, a creator of contemporary music with immense appeal, and loyal to her musical heritage. Her audiences in all corners of the globe appreciate the simplicity and beauty of her interpretation. She is without a doubt an outstanding representative of the music of Mexico.

#RootsTech 2018 will be held on February 28th through March 3rd, 2018 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Salt Palace. You can still register to attend but you might have to look a little harder to find hotel accommodations. I might suggest that one way to get a good hotel and still attend the Conference is to look for one along the TRAX light rail line that runs south from downtown Salt Lake City to the south end of the valley. You can avoid traffic and have a free place to park at any one of the TRAX stations. Here is a link to the TRAX information.

New FOI Lawsuit filed by Reclaim the Records for New York Marriage Records

I am always very interested in the actions of Reclaim the Records. So far, they have reclaimed for the public more than twenty million records. As a former attorney, I am amazed that any government agency would resist an FOI request to the point where a lawsuit would be necessary. The government officials must either not be listening to their legal counsel or they have incompetent legal counsel.

Here is an explanation of Reclaim the Records' most recent action from their current newsletter. You can go to their website to read a lot more about what is going on.
Happy New Year from Reclaim The Records! We're kicking off 2018 in style, by launching a new freedom of information lawsuit, our fourth one to date, against a government agency that is refusing to provide genealogical records to the public, in violation of state law. 
We're going after the 1996-2016 section of the New York City marriage license database, which is several million records. These aren't actual marriage licenses or certificates, which have privacy protections, but it's the text-searchable database index to all of them and to the basic data within. Under New York State law, basic marriage "log" or index data is supposed to be open to the public. 
As you might remember from previous newsletters, we sued for the 1908-1929 part of this same record set in mid-2015 (newsletter #1 and #2), and we sued for the 1930-1995 section of these records in mid-2016 (newsletter #10 and #11). We won millions and millions of records in our settlements from the city in both cases, and we even won our attorneys fees and court fees in the second case. That was pretty awesome. 
We posted all the records we won online at the Internet Archive, but also at a new standalone website we developed ourselves called And several major genealogy websites, both for-profit companies and non-profit organizations, have now added that marriage license data to their own websites. If we win this case too, then this missing 1996-2016 piece of the data will complete the availability of New York marriage records up to almost the present day. And this time around, the data we're seeking is already in a text database, so we won't need an indexing project and researchers will be able to search it right away. 
This new freedom of information lawsuit -- which, if you want to be pedantic, is really an "Article 78 Legal Petition" -- was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, in the county of New York, two days ago. It's not listed in the online eCourts case tracking system just yet, but it will be shortly; its Index Number is 150250/2018, in case you want to follow along from home. Our superlawyer Dave Rankin is handling the case for us once again, although now he's a partner at a swanky new law firm. 
As always, we at Reclaim The Records have posted our legal paperwork online, everything from our initial FOIL records request (September 22, 2017) to our FOIL Appeal (November 17, 2017) to our actual Article 78 Legal Petition (filed two days ago). We do this both to demonstrate transparency in our work and to try to inspire other genealogists and researchers that yes, you really can fight city hall (or the city clerk, as the case may be).
You can also sign up for their newsletter on their website.

On a personal note, I thought I might do my own small part in liberating some records by volunteering to digitize those in the Maryland State Archives. I realize it is a drop in the bucket, but we are getting better at our job and scanned nearly 8000 records this week. We will probably do better as time goes on.