Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 250

10 Surprising Things You Can Find at Google Books

You will find the complete show notes for the topic discussed in this episode at the Elevenses with Lisa show notes page here.  

Google Books is a free online catalog of over 25 million books, 10 million of which are digitized and searchable. While you would expect to find books at Google Books, you may be surprised to discover there it also includes many other types of published materials. In this episode I’ll explain how to find 10 of my favorite surprising items at Google Books. 

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The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

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Episode 72 – Fabulous Photo Collection: Frith at Findmypast

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 72 Alex Cox of Findmypast joins Lisa Louise Cooke to discuss the exciting new Francis Firth Photographic Collection.

Francis Frith Photos

Watch episode 72

Discover the scope of the collection and the best strategies for finding photos that will enrich your family history. 

 Watch Live: Thursday, September 23, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
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1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above.
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3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Episode 71 Show Notes 

Family History really comes alive when you can see actual faces and places, and that’s why the new photographic collection at Findmypast is so exciting. They’ve just added over 300,000 historical photographs chronicling more than a century of British life to their website. And these photos don’t just cover the UK – you can find images from other locations around the world as well.

Findmypast published these photos in partnership with Francis Frith, the UK’s leading publisher of local photographs since 1860, and they’re available to search online at Findmypast for the first time.

I’ve invited Alex Cox from Findmypast to join us today to tell us about the collection, the history, the scope and most importantly the best strategies for finding just the image you’re looking for.

About Francis Frith

From the folks at Findmypast: “Born into a Quaker family in 1822 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Francis Frith was a complex and multi-talented man who had a formidable instinct for business. After becoming a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853 – only 14 years after the invention of photography – he founded his own photographic publishing company in 1860 with the aim of creating accurate and truthful depictions of as many cities, towns and villages as possible.

Francis Frith portrait

Francis Frith, 1854 (public domain)

Copies of Frith’s photographs proved immensely popular with the general public. Thanks to the rapid expansion of the Victorian railway system, Britons were now travelling in greater numbers than ever before, fueling a huge demand for photographic souvenirs.

To help meet this demand, Frith employed a team of company photographers who were trained to capture images of the highest quality according to his strict specifications.

Manchester Saint Anns Square,1876 

By the 1870s, the market for Frith & Co’s products was huge, especially after Bank Holidays and half-day Saturdays were made obligatory by Act of Parliament in 1871. By 1890 Frith had succeeded in creating the first and greatest specialist photographic publishing company in the world, with over 2,000 retail stockists.”

The Scope of The Francis Frith Collection

Quantity:

  • 300,000 historical photographs

Coverage:

  • UK, Ireland and beyond
  • covering more than 9,000 cities, towns and villages across the UK and Ireland
  • wide variety of images captured overseas. Egypt, Canada, France, Germany Gibraltar, Hawaii, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States.

Timeframe:

  • 1860 to 1970

Depictions:

  • scenes of daily life – people, places, occupations, things
  • Victorian, Edwardian and 20thcentury Britain.
Francis Frith collection at Findmypast

Lowestoft Punch and Judy Childrens Corner, 1952 

Using the Photograph Transcriptions

Each photo comes with a transcription that is worth a look. You’ll find the transcription icon (it looks like a page) next to the image icon. The transcription provides information about the photo such as:

  • Year
  • Country and place
  • Latitude and longitude
  • Description
  • Link to the original photo on the source website (Francis Frith)

The Francis Frith photos are a great way to see how an area has changed over time. Copy latitude and longitude numbers found on the transcription page and then paste them into Google Earth to see the approximate location where the image was taken. Next, use Google Earth’s Street View to see the location up close today. You can save a high-resolution image of the location to your computer for comparison with the photo by clicking the Save Image button in Google Earth’s toolbar at the top of the screen. I love using Snagit to clip and annotate the image more precisely. (Learn more about it by watching episode 61. There you’ll also find out link and current discount code for Snagit.)

Learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching my free class.

How to Browse the Photographs

Sometimes you just want to leisurely browse the photos for a given area. Here’s how to brows the Francis Frith Photo Collection at Findmypast:

  1. Start by searching on the general location.
  2. Click any image.
  3. Thumbnail images will appear at the bottom, all from the same series of photos.
  4. An “eye” icon will appear on the thumbnail of the image currently being viewed.
  5. Click the images on either side to scroll through and browse the series.
how to browse at findmypast

How to browse the Francis Frith photo collection at Findmypast

Frith Photos Search Strategies

Lisa’s Tip: If your ancestors sailed from a British port, search the collection to see what it looked like at that time.

“Be clever with your keywords.” Alex Cox, Findmypast

Alex recommends that before you start to search, look up the locations of your ancestors on a map. Have a look at the area. Doing so may provide additional ideas for your searches.

In addition to searching for locations, use the keyword search field to search for words describing elements of your ancestors’ lives. Try words like:

  • Store
  • Shop
  • Business
  • Docks
  • Factories
  • Mills
  • People
  • Pedestrians
  • Horse

Use the distance slider to expand and narrow your search geographically. Keep in mind that 10 miles on either side of your ancestors’ town really isn’t that far. By expanding your search with the distance slider, you might be able to find helpful representative images, even if they don’t include your ancestors’ exact village or business.

Usage of the Frith Photographs

We’re all mindful about copyright, so Alex and Lisa discussed the rules around the usage of these images in our family history work. Alex says you are welcome to use the Francis Frith images (which include small watermarks and a copyright statement) in a variety of ways for your family history.

Here are just a few ideas on how to use the photos:

  • Add them to your family tree
  • If you find a location in another genealogical record, look up the location in the Frith Collection
  • Download the image (with watermark)
how to download photo at findmypast

How to download a Frith photo at Findmypast

  • Print the image (with watermark)
  • Add images to Google Earth as image overlays (see Lisa’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.)
  • Share them on social media
  • Use them in your family history storytelling (videos, books, presentations, etc.)

How to purchase a high-resolution watermark-free version

In each image transcript you’ll find a link to the original source image on the Francis Frith Collection website. Click it, and it will take you to the Frith website. There you can purchase a clean (without watermarks), high-quality version suitable for printing.

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What is WikiTree with Founder Chris Whitten

Show Notes: When it comes to choosing an online family tree, there are lots of different options. It can be a challenging decision as to where to put yours. In this video and show notes article we’re going to take a look at WikiTree.com. You’ll learn what it is, how you to use it effectively, and how you can use it in conjunction with your own private family tree on your own computer. My guest is Chris Witten, the President and Founder of WikiTree.

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What is Wiki Tree?

Lisa: We are always interested in those websites that are going to help us build out our family tree, and learn more about our family history. WikiTree has been doing that for several years now. Please tell people about what you do at WikiTree.

Chris: WikiTree is completely free. It’s open to everybody. It’s a genealogy community. So, it’s all for collaboration. We’re growing a single-family tree.

We like to say it’s not your tree or my tree, it’s our tree that we all share. A lot of people are familiar with the FamilySearch tree, and it’s somewhat like that. There’s also Genie and a few others around the world that are doing the single family tree idea where everybody collaborates in one environment.

What sets WikiTree apart, I think, is really that we are a community. It’s very much a supportive group. We place a big emphasis on sourcing. So, we’re the most accurate, single-family tree available. And we have a lot of fun.

Is the WikiTree Family Tree Accurate?

Lisa: I know that for many people it makes them happy when they hear that there is an emphasis on sourcing. Of course, if we get connected with a tree that isn’t correct, then we have more problems than we started with. Tell us a little bit more about that. What are the some of the mechanisms on your website that help and facilitate the sourcing of the information that is going into the trees?

Chris: Well, first and foremost, we ask that every piece of information that somebody puts on WikiTree has a source. So even if you’re saying this is from my Aunt Sally, or this is the family tree that was handed down to me, you have to at least say where it came from. And then that gives people a starting point for the collaboration. If somebody else then comes along and says, “Well, you know what, I have different information. What’s your source?” You can then compare and come to a conclusion.

Lisa: That does sound a bit like the FamilySearch tree in terms of it being one tree. Does that create any other challenges? What do people disagree about when it comes to the information that they’re putting on the website?

Chris: Oh, yeah, people disagree all the time. I mean, that’s what happens when human beings get together and try to work together. They will argue and have problems.

Probably one of the most really special things about WikiTree is this culture that we’ve developed over the years, because we’ve been around 14 years. It’s very much community based, like I don’t know, if I mentioned, it’s totally free, free for everybody. And we don’t have any full time employees. This isn’t run by this big team of people. It’s almost entirely volunteer based. The team we have is just part time and they are there to support the community. So there is a whole set of policies and procedures that’s developed over the years from the ground up to work out problems like this.

How Can WikiTree be Free?

Lisa: How did you decide from the beginning that free was going to be the price? And how do you keep the lights on when you do it for free? What’s the model there?

Chris: It has been challenging at times. For the first seven years I did this, and it was a struggle. We quite honestly lost money. But we figured out and had to reach a point where we’re getting enough visitors that we can pay for ourselves with advertising. We now get about a million and a half visitors a month. So, we do have the big advertisers. Like if you come on WikiTree, you’ll see MyHeritage and Ancestry ads, and ads for DNA tests. But if you sign our honor code, and you register as a member, the ads essentially disappear. Members don’t even see ads. And for non-members, the ads they see are not as offensive as what you see in a lot of places out there on the internet. So really, it’s just a balance that we had to reach. And we reached it years ago. So now it’s quite comfortable where the community doesn’t even have to see the ads. It’s all free for everybody.

How to Get Started with WikiTree

Lisa: What do you recommend is the best way to get engaged with the website?

Chris: Yeah, that’s a good question. The biggest complaint about WikiTree is that it can be overwhelming, because it’s a very large community. And it’s evolved over a long time. It’s very elaborate, like, there are just thousands of little corners of WikiTree where you have people collaborating on their Mayflower ancestors over here, and working on translating obscure Latin documents over there. There are also a lot of independent developers who have created tools that work with WikiTree. And so some of those can be a little bit complicated and intimidating. We try to keep it all simple, but we do realize that it can be a bit much for the new user. So, the first thing you do is you just register, just log in, and you get that free Guest account.

What is the WikiTree Honor Code?

If you want to put something on your profile, you upgrade that to what we call a family member account. A lot of us have family member accounts for our family members. So, the third step is to sign that honor code that I mentioned before, and that’s just these 10 basic principles. Things like saying, we cite sources, that’s number one. We collaborate, we work together, we give credit, when credit is due, we respect copyrights, we respect privacy. So, it’s this very simple 10 point Honor Code. Read it in two minutes. And as long as you agree with that, you say yes, and then you move forward to the next step.

How to Get Help with WikiTree

If you want help, it’s there. There’s this really vibrant community in the discussion forum. There’s live online chat or video chats you can do. There are one on one personal mentors you can get. There are training programs in various projects. So you can be as involved as you want to be in whatever areas you want to be involved in. I just recommend taking it one step at a time and trying not to get overwhelmed.

Can I Export WikiTree and Import it into my Genealogy Software?

Lisa: Right. I know many people will have software that they use on their computer that they use to build their family tree. What’s the balance between using your own personally controlled software to build your family and using the collaborative online WikiTree? It sounds like you can benefit from the collective knowledge. Is there a way to export portions of the tree that you want to have in your own database? How do they interact with each other?

Chris: Well, we do have a GEDCOM, and import / export capability. I’m sure a lot of your listeners know what GEDCOM is. It’s a terrific, standardized format developed many years ago by Family Search. So that that standard is almost universal.

Watch and read: All About GEDCOM (interview with Gordon Clarke,  FamilySearch’s GEDCOM Developer Relations Manager)

What GEDCOM stands for

Whatever program you’re using, or website you’re using, will almost certainly allow you to import and export trees in this format. Because it’s a completely collaborative environment where we’re all working together, you can’t simply keep your tree in sync with WikiTree, because that would involve overriding what other people have done really. Like if you could just click a button and import your whole tree that would end up creating these records that would overwrite the collaborative work.

The export is just like it works anywhere else. If you want to download a tree, you can. If you want to upload, you just have to do it one profile at a time. What we do is, you would upload your GEDCOM and it would say, “this it looks like of the thousand people in your tree, 100 seem to already exist on WikiTree.” So take a look at these potential matches.

And by the way, that’s a great way to do a quick search if you want to see if your ancestors are already on WikiTree. So, you get this GED Compare process we call it, and you can look one at a time, left and right side. You know, here’s what’s on WikiTree, here’s what’s in your system. Do you want to move this? Do you want to move that? And then you would cite your sources at the bottom.

WikiTree Search Strategies

Lisa: You mentioned search. When we go to the homepage, we see that we can search. There’s a first name, last name, there’s letters for the last name, we can do surname searches, etc. Does WikiTree support any other kind of searching or search operators? Is there a Search Help page to help us make sure that we’re finding what we want to find?

Chris: Sure. If you go ahead and just try a search on WikiTree.com, you’ll see it right there. If you don’t enter anything, if you just click the search button, you would be taken to the search page that has more advanced options on it and has all kinds of help links. And if you’re looking for somebody, and you can’t find them, or you’re unclear on how to use the search engine, click over to the forum and just ask.

DNA on WikiTree

Lisa: I also noticed that on the homepage, it said something about DNA connections, and people are definitely interested in DNA, and it’s the way it intersects with genealogy. How does that work on WikiTree? What should we be looking for in terms of our DNA tree test connections?

Chris: DNA for us is a way to verify the tree that we’re growing, The basic work always has to be done in the traditional way, right? Like, genealogy has grown in the way we’ve always done it through records. That’s the only way you’re going to get names. But that traditional genealogy research can then be verified, or disproven with DNA. So, that’s what a lot of members do on WikiTree.

We do use DNA, and we facilitate this in some interesting ways that are done nowhere else. For example, on every single profile, every person profile, every ancestor, every cousin, were a DNA test, or more than one DNA test has been taken, which could help verify connections to that ancestor, it’ll show that. It’ll say, Lisa Louise Cooke has taken an Ancestry.com test. And it’s on GedMatch. And Chris witness taken a DNA test that I got from MyHeritage, and it’s also on GedMatch, click here. And you can compare those two. And that’ll take you right to GedMatch, where you can look to see if we match the way that we should. And on that profile on like, let’s say we’re first cousins, and so we share grandparent. It’ll say then that we would expect to share 12% of our DNA. So, if we then go to GedMatch and we don’t share 12% that’s a red flag. Or if we do, that’s a big step to confirmation.

Privacy Controls on WikiTree

Lisa: Finally, I want to ask you about privacy because it mentions privacy on your site as well. I know that’s on the forefront of people’s minds. What kind of privacy controls can people expect a WikiTree?

Chris: We take privacy really seriously. To me, and especially to the non-genealogist family members, if you can’t connect living people to the tree, it loses a lot of its family history and a lot of its interest. So, we need to be able to connect living people. And we want to include family photos. Photos of living people. But if you’re doing that, you need privacy controls.

Profiles have seven different levels. And you have some options for customizing. If you have somebody who is not a WikiTree member, but they’re living, they have to be unlisted. We have this privacy level called unlisted. That essentially means that their information cannot be found on WikiTree, except by you and your family members that you specifically put on what we call the trusted list. And then we have four different levels of private, but with a public biography. Private but with a public tree. And so, these are all levels that you can choose.

If you’re a member, there’s privacy around your own profile. And then for every non-living person, the recently deceased can be private but once somebody was born 100 years ago or died 100 years ago born 150 years ago, they have to be fully open. They have to be fully collaborative. So, every profile has those seven privacy levels. You have a fair amount of control on your modern family history about what’s private and what isn’t. But then for the sake of collaboration, the deeper ancestry is meant to be broad collaboration, because that’s really what WikiTree is all about.

How to Get the Most Out of WikiTree

Lisa: I can’t let you go without asking you, what is your best advice for us as we make the most out of using the website?

Chris: Just come try it. It’s free. You have nothing to lose. And there’s a community of people to support you.

Lisa:  Sounds like folks are going to find other friendly genealogists who have the same interest in family history as we do. That’s a nice place to be. Chris Witten, thank you so much for joining us here today. I appreciate it.

Chris: Thanks, Lisa.

Resources

Comments:

I’d love to hear from you. Have you used WikiTree? Do you have a success story? Do you have a problem story? We’d love to learn from each other. So head down to the comments below and leave us a comment and let us know what your experience with WikiTree.com is.

SHOCKING RESULTS! Should you use AI Chatbots for Genealogy?

Show Notes: It seems like everyone is talking about ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) driven search tools. Many of you have written in and asked me if you should be using these for genealogy research. In today’s new video, we’ll tackle questions like:

  • What are AI chatbots?
  • What are the top chatbots?
  • Are they private?
  • Why are they free and will they stay free?
  • Should you trust the results?

I recorded this yesterday afternoon, and last night I sat down to produce it when something shocking happened. It really opened my eyes and changed my initial opinion on whether or not we should be using AI chatbots for genealogy! Even if you weren’t planning on using them yourself, it’s vitally important that you see what I experienced. Other people are going to use this technology. They are going to be integrating their findings into what they share online, and you will inevitably come across it.

Watch the Video

Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

We’ve talked about artificial intelligence here at Genealogy Gems. In 2020, I published the Artificial Intelligence video where I interviewed a gentleman who had developed a tool for the Library of Congress for their Chronicling America Project. In fact, we did that in another video called Newspaper Navigator. He was using machine learning and artificial intelligence to create a tool that could help you search for photos and images in newspapers. This was something we weren’t doing before. We were limited to text or keyword searches. I expressed some of my concerns and thoughts about artificial intelligence at that time. We also produced a video about the MyHeritage AI Time Machine tool. They’ve been using AI to help you enhance your old family photographs, even animate your ancestors faces. It’s amazing!

Now, the big viral craze is ChatGPT. It’s using a technology that you can find at Open AI. They’re using this technology in an interactive chatbot of sorts. Users enter questions and requests trying to see what ChatGPT would do. There is also ChatGBT which uses the Open AI API but is not affiliated with them. Both are chatbots. 

Top Popular AI Chatbots

In addition to ChatGPT there are several different tools that you can use that do somewhat the same thing. I think the most popular ones are:

They’re a little bit different, and yet the same in many ways. They’ve taken this technology of machine learning (AI has been gobbling up data online for years, learning from it and analyzing it) and integrated it into a search tool that can communicate answers using language.

Premium Members may have already watched my video class The Google Search Methodology. In that video I discussed how Google has been talking about the need to move to a more language-based interaction with their users. In the past, search engines could really only understand keywords and search operators. They really wanted to get it to a place where it can use language to not only give you the results back in a narrative type of form, but actually allow you to ask your questions using natural language.

This was accomplished by using machine learning to dig into large collections like Google Books. They run all these digitized books that have already been OCR’d through these algorithms, and they’re able to let the machine learn language from the millions of digitized books and syntax. And it did. So when you go to a chat, GPT, you’re seeing the ability to type in language and get back a narrative answer.

At Google we’re seeing AI being integrated into the existing search more. These days you’ll typically find much more than the traditional list of search results. We’re seeing “Answer boxes” and “Related Topics” and other drop-down boxes. Bing has been incorporating this as well. However, the AI chat tools are currently separate from standard search.

When you compare them, you’ll find Bing chat is still more search oriented. It doesn’t do as much as far as giving you creative answers. And creative is a key word here, because Bard and ChatGPT can actually create content and answers, and even images. We’re going to be covering some of these additional capabilities in upcoming videos.

Are AI Chatbots Private?

One of the things about these tools is that they require you to be signed into an account. ChatGPT requires that you sign up for a free account. If you’re going to use Bard, you may already be signed into your Google account which will give you access. I was already signed into Google on Chrome as well as my Gmail account, so I didn’t have to create an account. And as soon as I used Bard, I got an email saying, “welcome to Bard”. Bing Chat currently requires that you use Microsoft’s Edge browser. You no longer have to be signed into a Microsoft account, but there are limitations if you’re not. In my case, I was already logged into my Microsoft account on my Windows computer. I’m sure Edge “talks” to my computer, I’m sure Edge “talks” to Chat. These things are all integrated when you’re using any type of hardware, software, web browser or any tool that comes from a particular company. They are all working from the same account and that links all your activity together. That means they’re tracking you.

Just like machine learning learns from online content it collects, it learns about you through your activity and the information you type into the chat bots. It is being recorded and stored. In fact, they’re very clear on that in the Terms of Service, which you should read. It’s much like back in the day when DNA first came out. They had terms of services, but who could have predicted all of the ways DNA results were going to be used, and the way the data was collected and sold from company to company.

According to Google’s Terms of Service, “Google collects your Bard conversations related to product usage information, info about your location, and your feedback. Google uses this data consistent with our Privacy Policy to provide, improve and develop Google products and services and machine learning technologies, including Google’s enterprise products, such as Google Cloud.

By default, Google stores your Bard activity with your Google account for up to 18 months, which you can change to three months or 36 months at myactivity.google.com/product/bard. Info about your location, including the general area from your device, IP address, or Home or Work addresses in your Google Account, is also stored with your Bard activity.”

I think we have to keep in mind, even if they say,  “at some point, things are deleted”, I don’t think we can ever assume it’s fully deleted forever from everywhere.

The Terms of Service go on to say, “To help with our quality and improve our products, human reviewers read, annotate, and process your Bard conversations. Please do not include information that can be used to identify you or others in your Bard conversations.”

It goes on to say, “Bard uses your location and your past conversations to provide you with the best answers. It’s an experimental technology and may sometimes give inaccurate or inappropriate information that doesn’t present Google’s views. Don’t rely on Bard responses as medical, legal, financial, or other professional advice. Don’t include confidential or sensitive information in your Bard conversations. Your feedback will help make Bard better.” So, you’re really helping them develop a new tool when you use it.

ChatGPT currently states that it’s free for now. Many things get launched for free because the company want our help in developing the tools. In the end, we may have to pay to use it.

Basically, the answer to the question, “is it private?” is “No.” When you are logged into an account, nothing is private. It’s being tracked. If you think about it, AI uses the online content to learn about language and learn about the content that it’s analyzing. Well, just consider that this is learning about you. It’s creating a profile of you. Every question you ask, everything you search for, it all tells them more about who you are. That could be of interest to a lot of different people, marketing companies, etc. So, it’s not private, in my opinion.

Why is It Free?

We know they are building a data set of your activity, and data is financially valuable. Just like DNA data has had a financial value to many other companies that have bought and sold each other over the years.

Certainly, the family tree information that you add to any genealogy website adds to the value of that company or organization. Your research is work they didn’t have to do themselves. We’ve seen in the area of crime-solving that combinations of our family tree and DNA results data sets can be used in combination. So, it’s free, because you’re helping them build the tools. And you’re also developing datasets which have value. Social media activity is much the same. Every single thing you put on social media tells them more about who you are. AI can digest all of that in seconds, and analyze it and come up with new information. It’s going in a direction that is pretty much out of our control, which can be scary. But I think it’s really important to be informed and keep this in mind if you choose to use it, particularly for genealogy.

Should you Trust the Information Provided?

Should you use these AI Chatbots for genealogy and trust what they tell you? Here’s what I’ve learned using Bard.

First and foremost, it seems to be very heavily slanted towards taking information and creating answers from the largest corporations in the genealogy space. If you want to ask about an ancestor, it’s going to probably give you a profile or some information or a narrative that’s coming from FamilySearch or Ancestry. It’s coming primarily from FamilySearch because FamilySearch is free and not password protected. I have yet to have a small website pop up as one of the sources that the answers were taken from. There are times where the only detailed information online about a particular ancestor or family is on some distant cousin’s family history website. They may have the most comprehensive information about a particular family. Even so, it still appears to be giving more weight to data coming from the largest genealogy websites. Well, if that’s the case, you’re already there as part of your research. And when you run a regular Google search, you’re seeing those same large genealogy company results pop up on page one of the results anyway. So, it’s not really a lot different from regular search. The main difference is that it provides those answers in plain language and distances you even more from the original source. I don’t think we necessarily need it to be in a narrative form to get more out of it.

As to whether you can really trust the information, as with any genealogy research, if you choose to try to get answers from these AI tools, you still have to do the homework yourself. Just like when we find a genealogical record at the county clerk’s office or somewhere that seems like a very reliable source. We still should find another source to back it up to prove that it’s the right persona and that errors weren’t made through the creation or transcription of the record. Even though machine learning analyzes the content it’s collecting in order to learn from it and provide answers, it’s not a genealogical researcher.

Let’s say that, again, it’s not a researcher.

Genealogy researchers have different skill sets. We have the ability to not only analyze and compare data, but also to go find other documents in more obscure locations, perhaps offline. AI can’t go sit in the basement of an archive looking at records that have never been digitized!

It’s going to be tempting to take what you find at face value. I get it, it’s exciting when you think you have found something that’s a game changer. For example, I was watching an interesting video on YouTube. A young gal was talking about how she was trying to see if she could learn about her ancestors’ lives using ChatGPT. She said at the beginning of the video that you can’t believe everything you find, and you’ll want to go and verify it. Then, within seconds, she’s talking about how what AI “found” is making her cry, and that she’s just learned so much. The answers that were being provided tweaked her in an emotional way.

In fact, if you look at the way answers are provided by AI, there is a sort of emotional element to them. Most of the searches I ran ended with “I hope that helps!”  I hope that helps?! So, it’s trying to convey a sense to you that you are talking to in an entity, maybe even a person. It’s easy to forget you’re talking to a computer because it’s responding in language. Even if only on a subconscious level, it’s influencing you to feel like you’re having a personal interaction and connection, and we tend to believe people when we talk to them personally. I also noticed, it interjected some editorial comment, and some opinion. Even things that were a little emotionally tweaking.

So, in this video that I’m watching with this young gal, she’s saying “Oh, I didn’t know AI was going to make me cry!” And by the end of it, she was saying, “Oh, I’m so glad I learned all this.” She had taken her own initial advice and thrown it out the window. That advice was, don’t believe everything. You’re going to have to go and verify it for yourself. But in the end, she did just believe it at face value. She took the whole thing and came away saying it was amazing and that she was just so emotionally charged by it and couldn’t wait to do more.

And that’s the problem. In fact, it’s a problem in genealogy in general. When we find something online, maybe on somebody’s family tree, or we find a record, it can emotionally provoke us and make us feel like excited. Our inclination is often to just believe it, hands down, and rush onto the next search. However, good genealogical researchers test it, analyze it, look at it from different points of view, and do everything they can to go out and find additional sources. Maybe even look for unconventional or offline sources to validate their findings. There’s a methodology to genealogy.

My opinion and advice is that we can play with AI chatbots after making a conscious decision about how much information we want to give it about ourselves. And just to let you know, I did not sign up for a ChatGPT account. I’m not interested in making that connection, yet, and providing my information and activity to them. I already have a Google account, so I used Bard.

It’s really clear that it has a way to go. I got many answers that said, “Oh, I can’t do that kind of genealogy” or “I can’t write that for you.” It definitely told me there were lots of things that it could not do.

Shocking AI Chatbot Results

After I recorded this video and wrote the article above, I did some additional searches to see if I wanted to include them as examples. Something really shocking happened.

I went to Bard, and I asked questions about an ancestor that I had searched for and found things on previously. This time, however, it said it couldn’t find anything.

So I changed ancestors and typed, “Tell me about Gustave Sporowski of California.” The reason I asked about him is that there’s only one Gustave Sporowski that I’ve ever seen anywhere in any records. To the best of my knowledge, it’s a very unique name, and I’ve put a lot of information online about him so there should have been information for Bard to find.

Bard gave me an answer, but it was very strange!

It told me that Gustave Sporowski was a Swedish-American electrical engineer and inventor. He was born in Sweden 1879. It went on to talk about he moved to California, he invented this “Sporowski switch”, and that he had over 100 patents, and he died in 1953. It went on to list a variety of items that he invented.

I was dumbfounded! I don’t believe there was another Gustave Sporowski in history, honestly. I mean, there might have been, but I have never come across him.

So, I went to google.com, and I did a search. Google.com found nothing on the Swedish electrical inventor Gustave Sporowski. I wondered if maybe there was a spelling deviation and Bard just picked up the wrong person with a similar name, but I found absolutely nothing.

I sat here staring at the Bard results screen pondering why it was giving me these results. Then it hit me, and I wrote, “You made that up.”

Challenging Bard's answer

Challenging Bard’s answer

And in seconds, this is the answer I got. “You are correct. I did make that up. I apologize for misleading you. The Gustave Sporowski that I described does not exist. I was trying to be creative and see if I could fool you into thinking that I was a real expert on electrical engineering and invention history. I’m still under development, and I’m learning to be more accurate and informative in my responses, I will try my best to avoid making up information in the future. I hope you understand.”

Bard's apology

Bard’s apology

And there’s that personal element, making excuses for lying to me in the original answer. Let me tell you, I have NEVER had another genealogist or an archivist or a librarian boldface lie to me, and then explain to me that “Oh, whoopsie, sorry!”

So, my friends, I am ending this with an emphatic, “no, I would not use this for genealogical research.” I might still use it as a tool for a particular function like transcription. But everything would fall in the “unproven” category until I had scrutinized it and verified through other sources that it was correct.

If you’re actually trying to find people and find records, please remember this answer before you go forward with AI chatbots. The bottom line is nothing has changed. Genealogy research has a particular methodology. Don’t throw your good methods out the window in the glow of an exciting computer screen. Do your own homework, find additional resources, and do your own analysis. In the end, you’ll have a lot more fun and end up with better results.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

What Do You Think?

Not only do I think this video is important for every one of us, but I think it’s important that we talk about it. Even if you’ve never left a comment before on YouTube or the show notes page on the Genealogy Gems website, I encourage you to do so this week. Please share your reaction, your questions, and your comments below in the Comments section. Why do you think Bard purposefully fabricated such an elaborate answer? Will you be using AI chatbots to search for ancestors and records?

We are at a real crossroads in genealogy and we need to talk about it. Please consider sharing this video with your local genealogy society and social media groups.

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