Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 32
In this episode we tackle a few small geeky tech questions about artificial intelligence, better known as AI, that may have a pretty big impact on your genealogy life. Questions like:
- Is artificial intelligence the same thing as machine learning?
And if not how are they related?
- And am I using AI, maybe without even being aware of it?
- And what impact is AI really having on our lives? Is it all good, or are there some pitfalls we need to know about?
We’re going to approach these with a focus on family history, but pretty quickly I think we’ll discover it’s a much more far-reaching subject. And that means this episode is for everyone.
While I’ve done my own homework on this subject and written about it in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m smart enough to call in an expert in the field. So, my special guest is Benjamin Lee. He is the developer of the Newspaper Navigator, the new free tool that uses artificial intelligence to help you find and extract images from the free historical newspaper collection at The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America. I covered Newspaper Navigator extensively in Elevenses with Lisa episode 26.
Ben is a 2020 Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress, as well as a third year Ph.D. Student in the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where he studies human-AI interaction with his advisor, Professor Daniel Weld.
He graduated from Harvard College in 2017 and has served as the inaugural Digital Humanities Associate Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as a Visiting Fellow in Harvard’s History Department. And currently he’s a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.
Thank you so much to Ben Lee for a really interesting discussion and for making Newspaper Navigator available to researchers. I am really looking forward to hearing from him about his future updates and improvements.
Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy
Covering technology and its application to genealogy is always a bit of a double-edged sword. It can be exciting and helpful, and also problematic in its invasiveness.
Tools like family tree hints, the Newspaper Navigator and Google Lens (learn more about that in Elevenses with Lisa episode 27) all have a lot to offer our genealogy research. But on a personal level, you may be concerned about the long reaching effects of artificial intelligence on the future, and most importantly your descendants. In today’s deeply concerning cancel culture and online censorship, AI can seriously impact our privacy, security and even our freedom.
As I did my research for this episode I discovered a few things. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is having the same kind of massive and disrupting impact that DNA has had on genealogy, with almost none of the same publicity. (For background on DNA data usage, listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 217. That episode covers the use of DNA in criminal cases and how our data potentially has wide-reaching appeal to many other entities and industries.)
A quick search of artificial intelligence ancestry.com in Google Patents reveals that work continues on ways to apply AI to DNA and genealogy. (See image below)
AI now makes our genealogical research and family tree data just as valuable to others outside of genealogy.
This begs the question, who else might be interested in our family tree research and data?
Who Is Interested in Your Genealogy Data
One answer to this question is academic researchers. During my research on this subject The Record Linking Lab at Brigham Young University surfaced as just one example. It’s run by a BYU Economics Professor who published a research paper on their work called Combining Family History and Machine Learning to Link Historical Records. The paper was co-authored with a Notre Dame Economics and Women’s Studies professor.
In this example, their goals are driven by economic, social, and political issues rather than genealogy. Their published paper does offer an eye-opening look at the value that those outside the genealogy community place on all of the personal data we’re collecting and the genealogical records we are linking. Our work is about our ancestors, and therefore it is about ourselves. Even if living people are not named on our tree, they are named in the records we are linking to it. We are making it all publicly available.
In the past, historical records like birth and death, military and the census have been available to these researchers, but on an individual basis. This made them difficult to work with. Academic (and industry) researchers couldn’t easily follow these records for individual people, families, and generations of families through time in order to draw meaningful conclusions. But for the first-time machine learning is being applied to online genealogy research data making it possible to link these records to living and deceased individuals and their families.
It’s a lot to think about, but it’s important because it is our family history data. We need to understand how our data is being used inside and outside the genealogy sandbox.
Answers to Your Live Chat Questions About AI
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Linda J: What about all the “people search” sites (not genealogy) that have all, or a lot of, our personal date?
Lisa’s Answer: My understanding is that much of the information provided on many of the “people search” websites comes from public information. So while the information is much easier to access these days, it’s been publicly available for years. That information isn’t as accessible to projects like the one discussed in this episode because those websites don’t make their Application Programming Interface (known as API) publicly available like FamilySearch does.
From Doug H: Wouldn’t that potentially find errors in our trees?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes.
From Sheryl T: Do these academic researchers have access to the living people on the trees? Or are those protected from them as it is to the public?
Lisa’s Answer: They have access to all information attached to people marked as “Living Person.” Therefore, if the attached record names them, their identity would then be known. Click a hint on your tree at Ancestry for example, and the found records clearly spell out the name of the person they believe is your “Living” person.
From Nancy M: How long do the show notes stay available? am looking for Google Books two weeks ago and last week’s Allen Co Library.
Lisa’s Answer: The show notes remain available until the episode is archived in Premium Membership. You can find all of the currently available free Elevenses with Lisa episodes on our website in the menu under VIDEOS click Elevenses with Lisa.
Nannie A: I heard a rumor that Ancestry .com has been sold. Do you know if that’s true?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, they were sold again this year. Read:
Private equity firm Blackstone Group Inc. buying Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion
Private equity wants to own your DNA by CBS News.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 43 Show Notes
Do you like finding new stuff about your family history? Well, then you’re in the right place because today that’s exactly what we’re going to do in this episode of Elevenses with Lisa.
If you’re looking for new information about your family history, an important website to add to your research list is the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a free website that attempts to archive the web, and that includes online genealogy!
One of the best ways to approach your search at the Internet Archive is by focusing on a particular type of record. Here are 10 genealogy records that every genealogist needs that can be found at this free website.
Watch the Internet Archive episode:
Getting Started with the Internet Archive
You are free to search for and access records without an account, but there’s so much more you can do with a free account. Here are just a few advantages of having an Internet Archive account:
- Borrowing ebooks
- Saving Favorites
- Uploading content
- Recommending websites to be archived.
Getting a free account is easy. Simply click on the Sign Up link in the upper right corner of the home page.
Types of Content at the Internet Archive
There’s a surprisingly wide variety of content available on the website including:
10 Awesome Finds at the Internet Archive
A great way to discover all that the Internet Archive has to offer is to think in terms of categories of records. I’m going to share with you ten genealogy record categories that include several specific types of records.
Start your search for each category using just a few keywords such as:
- a location (town, county, etc.)
- the type of record,
- a family surname, etc.
Next try applying some of the filters found in the column on the left side of the screen. I try several combinations of searches to ensure that I’ve found all that the Internet Archive has to offer. Let’s get started:
Genealogy Records Category #1: Church Records
In Elevenses with Lisa episode 41 we discussed how to find and use church records for your family history. Here are just a few of the specific types of church records you can find at the Internet Archive:
- Meeting Minutes
- Church Histories
- Quaker Records
Genealogy Records Category #2: Family Records
- Compiled Family Histories
- Family History (general)
- Family Bibles
Learn more about finding and using family bibles for genealogy in Elevenses with Lisa episode 29.
Genealogy Records Category #3: Location-Based Records
- Location History (Example: Randolph County Indiana History)
- City and Rural Directories
- Plat Maps
Genealogy Records Category #4: School Records
- Student Newspapers
- High School, College, etc.
Genealogy Records Type #5: Work Records
- Trade journals
- Corporate histories
- Works Progress Administration (WPA)
- Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC)
Genealogy Records Category #6: Military Records
- Military Radio Shows
- Military histories
- Photographic reports
- Veterans Administration Payment Records
- WWI County Honor Books
Elevenses with Lisa episode 31 features the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library which hosts much of their content on the Internet Archive. Tip: If you find a collection difficult to navigate, visit the website of the sponsoring organization (such as the Allen County Public Library) which may have a better user interface for searching the records.
Genealogy Records Category #7: Patent Records
From the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Keep in mind that your ancestor may be mentioned in a patent even though they did not file it.
Genealogy Records Category #8: Probate Records
Although there doesn’t currently appear to be a large number of probate records, the Internet Archive does have some. Try searching by location to see if it includes a probate record for others from the same community. For example, a prominent shopkeeper might list many in the town who owed them money.
Genealogy Records Category #9: Audio and Video Records
Audio records include:
- Oral interviews
- Old radio shows
- Music from days gone by (78s, cylinders, etc.)
Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Listen to episode 176 of the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast for more on the Great 78 Project at the Internet Archive. (Learn more about joining us as a Premium Member.)
Video records can include:
- Old home movies
- Local shows and news
- Newsreels shown in movie theaters
- History Documentaries
I searched for the small town where my husband’s ancestors lived for several generations and found a great video from 1954. It featured a parade float sponsored by his great grandfather’s business and several faces I recognized! Watch Winthrop Days.
Genealogy Records Category #10: Collections!
A collection is a group of records submitted by a user. Often times these will be organizations, libraries and archives.
Here are just a few examples of collections that may be of interest to you as a genealogist:
- American Libraries
- Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center-microfilm
- Genealogy (a collection of over 160,000 items)
- Canadian Libraries
- British Libraries
- Australian libraries
- Reclaim the Records
Borrowing Books from the Internet Archive
Visit the Books to Borrow collection. You will need to be logged into your free Internet Archive account in order to borrow books. You can borrow the book in 1 hour increments. In some cases, you can choose a 14-day loan. If there is only one copy of the book available, the 1 hour load will be the only option. If there are no copies available you can join a waitlist. No waitlist is necessary for one hour loan ebooks.
Learn more about creating your own collection at the Internet Archive.
Tips for Using the Internet Archive
Tip: Find More at the Internet Archive
Scroll down below the individual item for:
- Download options
- “In Collections” (which can lead you to more content from the same collection)
- Similar items
Also, when you find an Item of interest, click the Contributor link to see all of the items uploaded by the user. It’s very likely they will have additional similar items.
Tip: Use the Internet Archive Advanced Search and Search Help
One advantage to using the Advanced Search is when you are searching for items from a specific timeframe. It’s much more efficient than clicking the box for very year in the range in the filter.
Tip: Downloading from the Internet Archive
Download the full cover version of the PDF when available. Images will likely be clearer and more accurate.
More Interesting Content at the Internet Archive:
- Video Game Oregon Trail
- Old Radio Programs
- bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872
- Veteran’s Administration Pension Payment Collection
- Oaths of Allegiance and Naturalization Index
- Genealogical publications
Answers to Live Chat Questions
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
Question from Sue: What does metadata mean?
Lisa’s Answer: Metadata is data that describes other data. For example, the date of upload is metadata for a digital file that you find online. Metadata is often added by the person or institution doing the uploading to the Internet Archive. I like to search both “Metadata” and “text contents”.
Question from CA: Date filter really applies to date posted not date of item u r looking for….correct?
Lisa’s Answer: In the case of genealogical documents, the date typically refers to the date of original publication rather than the date posted. You will find dates back into the 19th century in the filters.
Question from Mary: is there a print icon? I don’t see it.
Lisa’s Answer: Instead of printing, look for the download options. Once downloaded to your computer, then you can print.
Question from Susie: Would this site have membership of Rotary clubs and such type groups?
Lisa’s Answer: Absolutely! Search for “rotary club” and perhaps the name of the town or locality.
Question from Sally: Is broadest search METADATA? Does it catch everything?
Lisa’s Answer: No. Metadata is the default. I would strongly advise running both Metadata and text context searches for your search terms.
Question from Amy: Lisa, do you know of a way to correct records that are incorrectly or in sufficiently tagged?
Lisa’s Answer: To the best of my knowledge, you can only do that if you were the one who uploaded the item. If anyone else reading this has found a way to edit or tag other user’s items, please leave a comment below.
Question from John: You may have mentioned this but what is the difference between searching metadata or searching text?
Lisa’s Answer: Searching metadata is only searching the data (like tags) that were added to provide more information about the item. A text context search will search all the text that was typed including the title and description. I recommend searching both ways. Keep in mind that not all user’s include detailed descriptions, which is why metadata is very important.
Question from K M: Why does Allen County Library have this archive?
Lisa’s Answer: I think it may be because the Internet Archive provides affordable cloud storage which can be a big expense when offering online records.
Question from Karen: Lisa will you explain the download options?
Lisa’s Answer: Options are based on the type of item. For print publications you will often find you can download the item as an EPUB, PDF, Full Text, etc. Download options can be found by scrolling down just below the item near the description and Views. You can also found download options for Adobe files while viewing the item in the viewer. Click the three dots in a circle icon just below the search icon.
Question from Barbara: Would audio include old local radio programs?
Lisa’s Answer: Absolutely!
Question from Rita: Can you share info about how to upload something?
Lisa’s Answer: Learn more about creating your own collection at the Internet Archive.
Question from Margaret: What about information on the Mayflower?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes. Search Mayflower and then use the filters to narrow your results by Topic & Subject and by Year.
Question from Jeremy: Any pointers on Swiss Mennonites, Lisa?
Lisa’s Answer: A search of Swiss Mennonites brings up 21 items, some of which look rather interesting. Otherwise, like with all genealogy research, formulating a more specific question can help you craft a better search query at the Internet Archive.
Subscribing to the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel:
I used the British Newspaper Archive to make a shocking discovery in my husband’s family history was made with the help of these three powerful strategies. Read on to learn how to find more information on your ancestors in online historical newspapers. (This British Newspaper Archive link is an affiliate link and we will be financially compensated if you make a purchase. This helps support our free content like this. Thank you.)
The Research Question
Ever since I first started researching the family of my husband’s grandfather Raymond Harry Cooke, I have been aware that his mother, Mary Ann Susannah Cooke (maiden name Munns), died at a young age, around 40 years old.
What I didn’t know was how she died.
In fact, Mary Ann Susannah Cooke has been one of the most elusive recent direct ancestors I’ve pursued. Up until about a decade ago we had never seen her face.
The image of Mary Ann (above) came to us through one of Bill’s first cousins. I had tracked her down in hopes of learning more about their shared grandfather, Raymond. Once we met I was thrilled to discover that Raymond had lived with her until his death at the age of 93 in 1987.
The cousin brought with her a dusty old box of his belongings. Inside we discovered the first and only known image of Mary Ann. (Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about this discovery and the methodology used to find the long-lost distant cousin in the Premium video class 9 Strategies You Need to Find Living Relatives.)
On the back of this cardstock image were notes written in Raymond’s own hand. The handwriting leads me to believe he may have added the notes later in life. This meant that I needed to be especially careful as I analyzed the information as it was likely from childhood memory.
As you can see on the back of the image, Raymond states that Mary Ann died about 1915, and that her birthday was September 3. The birthday was close but incorrect. The actual recorded birth date was September 6.
The date of death was much farther off. Death records from the county of Kent show that Maryann was buried August 20, 1908, a full seven years earlier than Raymond remembered.
It’s not a surprise that his dates were off the mark. Raymond was just 14 years old when Mary Ann died. But the question remained: how did she die?
About five years ago, after writing a blog post about the British Newspaper Archive, I decided to do some digging in historic newspapers to see if I could find anything about Mary Ann’s death in Tunbridge Wells, England in 1908. With a search of Mary Ann Cooke in the website’s powerful advanced search engine I located the answer within minutes. It was devastating.
The Courier, August 31, 1908:
“Tunbridge Wells Woman’s Sad Death: Drowned in a Water Tank. The Inquest.”
“Mr. Thos. Buss, district coroner, held an inquest at the Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells, on Saturday morning, touching the death of Mary Ann Cooke, aged 41 years, whose body was found in a tank at the roof of her house, 49 Kirkdale road, the previous day.”
Suffering from prolonged depression, Mary Ann had drowned herself upstairs in the family home’s water tank. The newspaper provided a blow-by-blow of the coroner’s inquest, and the heart-breaking testimony of her husband, Harry.
And then came the final shock: Harry and Mary Ann’s 14 year old son Raymond had discovered the body.
After absorbing the story of Mary Ann’s untimely death, I was keen to see if I could learn more about the family. This is where some very powerful search strategies came into play and helped me find MUCH more in the British Newspaper Archive.
3 Powerful Newspaper Search Tips
1. Look for Search Clues in the Articles You Find
Finding an historic article on your ancestors can feel like the end of the research road. But actually, it’s just the beginning!
Go through the article with a fine tooth comb. Make note of every http://laparkan.com/buy-sildenafil/unique detail that could possibly be used in an additional newspaper database search. Here’s a list of what I found in the article about Mary Ann’s inquest. In the following steps I’ll show you how we put some of these into action.
Addresses – The Cooke’s address of 49 Kirkdale Road in Tunbridge Wells, was mentioned twice within the first two sentences of the article.
Name variations – I’m not talking about a variation in spelling, although those are certainly worth noting. In the case of newspaper research I’m referring to the varying ways that people are referred to in the newspaper. In the inquest article, Mary Ann Cooke was also referred to as “Mrs. Cooke.” This got me thinking about other ways that Mary Ann might be referred to, such as Mrs. Mary Ann Cooke, Mrs. M. A. Cooke, etc. In England, a boy Raymond’s age might be referred to as “Master Cooke.” Write down all variations you find, and then continue your list by adding the additional possibilities you can think of.
Neighbors – Mrs. Pout played a vital role on the day of Mary Ann’s death, and she served as a witness at the inquest. This was the first I had heard of her, and her name definitely made it onto my list of “searchables.”
Friends and Acquaintances – The names of Donald Thurkill (an employee of Mary Ann’s husband Harry), and the various doctors (Dr. Abbott, Dr. Grace, and Dr. Nield) were among the names I noted.
Occupations – Harry Cooke is described as a “coach builder.” Future searches of “coach builder” and “Cooke” together could prove fruitful in the future.
After assembling a comprehensive list of additional searchable words and phrases, I headed back to the British Newspaper Archive to search those leads.
2. Look Beyond Known Names
All of the naming variations I made note of in step number one could now be put to work. But before doing so, I realized that each option I came up with could actually be searched in two ways: Cooke with an “e” and Cook without an “e”. And I knew it was worth doing, because unfortunately my own name is misspelled in print on a regular basis.
Searching both “Mrs. Cooke” and “Mrs. Cook” resulted in even more articles. And in the article about “Mrs. Cooke,” Raymond was referred to as “Master Cooke.” Indeed, even more articles existed under that name as well. In the following example, I found Raymond’s name displayed three different ways!
3. Go Beyond People
While finding your ancestor’s name in print in the newspaper is exciting, don’t underestimate the power of searching for other bits of information. Searching for addresses where they lived can put you in the middle of a wealth of new information about your family.
It isn’t necessary to include the surname of your family. In fact, I highly recommend that you don’t. The property where they lived has a history of it’s own. Simply searching the address can give you a kind of “house history” set of search results. These articles can potentially reveal who lived there before your family, descriptions of the home and its contents, and who your family sold the property to. In both the buying and selling of the property there is the potential to learn more about your family and possible further connections to others in the transactions.
In my case, I located an article about the Cooke home by searching the address 49 Kirkdale Road.
In the search results I discovered an article about the home being put up for sale several years before the Cooke family owned it. It was interesting to note that the previous owner had also been a coach builder, so it was a logical purchase for Harry Cooke when he decided to start up a coach building and horseless carriage mechanic shop of his own.
The final article I found in the British newspapers was also found only by address. The Cooke name was never mentioned, but indeed it did provide the slightest mention of the family: “Owner going abroad.” This article advertised the family home being put up for sale in 1912 in anticipation of their emigration.
I admit I got a lump in my throat as I read of Mary Ann’s beloved pianofortes being sold. She was a skilled and talented musician who often played violin at the Tunbridge Wells Opera House and at garden parties around the countryside, and clearly she enjoyed playing the piano at home as she owned not one, but two “pianofortes.”
With the description of the inside of the home in the inquest article, the outside of the home in the “house for sale” newspaper advertisement that Harry first responded to, and now this article describing their possessions as they prepare to move to Canada, my newspaper research painted a much more complete picture of the Cooke’s life in Tunbridge Wells, England.
You can hear more about my search for Mary Ann’s story in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #174.
More Resources from Genealogy Gems:
I’ve written additional article here at Genealogy Gems that I think you will benefit from and enjoy:
- 5 Most Popular Historical Newspaper Searches–and How to Improve Yours
- Can Google Help Me Search Digitized Newspaper Pages?
And if you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium member you have access to my video class Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors in Newspapers.
If you’re not yet a member, you can learn more here.
Did these tips help you find your ancestors in old newspapers? Please leave a comment below. We all learn from hearing each other’s successes!