Monday, June 22, 2015

Tackling genealogy on your home PC in the late 1980s

This is the cover of a 1989 brochure from The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. It pitches the benefits and ease of use of their Personal Ancestral File software package for home computers.

"Personal Ancestral File is a system designed to simplify your genealogical record keeping."

Long before and full-time access to the Internet, PAF was designed to help ease individuals into the world of documenting their family histories with keyboards, monochrome monitors, floppy disks and dot-matrix printers.

These were some of the benefits touted by the brochure:
  • "Personal Ancestral File allows you to enter historical information or source reference notes for each individual — valuable background information every genealogist wants to keep."
  • "The Family Records program can sort and print lists — for example, names of individuals ordered alphabetically, by Record Identification Number, or by user-assigned ID number."
  • "Because you store your information on diskettes other than the program diskette, you can record information about an unlimited number of people. You are limited only by the number of diskettes you want to buy."
  • "Convert all or part of your Family Records data to a transmission data format that you can send to another Personal Ancestral File user."

To be fair, the brochure makes clear what the software can and cannot do, and doesn't sell the product (or the PC) as an easy solution for every fledgling or unorganized genealogist:
  • "The Research Data Filer does not teach you research principles or strategies. But it does help organize research data so that you can analyze it more effectively."
  • "Personal Ancestral File operates only on your personal computer. It does not give you access to any of the computer files in the Family History Department."
  • "This genealogical software was developed as an aid for those who own or have access to a personal computer. The Family History Department does not encourage you to purchase a personal computer simply to use this software."

The software was available for MS-DOS, Apple II and Macintosh computers. No price was listed in the brochure, but a 1989 Church News article indicates that the package cost $35 (reasonable for the time) and that there were already about 100,000 users, only about half of whom were Mormons.

Personal Ancestral File stood the test of time, through many upgrades and new versions, especially given how quickly software becomes defunct in the computing era. It was launched in 1983 and was not discontinued until 2013.

Related posts