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.
Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 207
with Lisa Louise Cooke
In this episode, Lisa welcomes Mary Tedesco, a co-host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. Mary shares stories and tips about tracing Italian and Italian-American roots. Also:
- FamilySearch updates since the end of microfilm lending (and how YOU helped make the last days of lending more effective);
- A listener uses Google to find her mysterious great-grandmother, with a success story she calls a “game-changer” for her genealogy research.
- The premiere of Military Minutes with Michael Strauss
DOUBLE THE FUN WITH MORE GENEALOGY GEMS PODCAST
This episode launches the NEW twice-monthly Genealogy Gems Podcast format. From now on, watch for two free episodes every month, each about 35-45 minutes long.
If you haven’t downloaded the Genealogy Gems app for easier listening on your mobile device, consider doing so now to make it twice as easy on yourself?and get twice the bonus content from now on!
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is?. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.
FAMILYSEARCH RECORDS ACCESS UPDATE
ALL of the microfilmed records that have been rented in the past 5 years have now been digitized, over 1.5 million films.
From now on, if you need a film that hasn’t been digitized yet, you can call FamilySearch Support toll-free (866-406-1830) and request it for the priority digitization list.
They continue to digitally scan about 1000 films per day. (That sounds like a lot, but at this rate it will still take them until 2020 to be done.)
New digital images are being put in the FamilySearch Catalog as soon as possible. This is not the main digital record search area! It will take collections a while to appear here. Instead, under the Search tab, select Catalog, and then search by place and record type or other categories. This is a master catalog of all the Family History Library’s collections, online and offline, and when you click on an item’s individual description, you’ll be able to see a link to its digitized version if it’s available.
If you or anyone else had any films on loan in family history centers and FamilySearch affiliate libraries when the lending program ended, those automatically have extended loan status, which means they can stay there indefinitely unless the management decides to send them back.
If all else fails, you can still go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and order microfilmed records to view, or you can hire someone to do it for you.
FamilySearch Affiliate libraries now have access to nearly all of the restricted image collections as family history centers.
Click here to read or listen to Lisa’s special interview with Diane Loosle of FamilySearch. It goes into much more detail about accessing records on the site, at affiliate libraries and more.
Click here to read the August 30, 2017 update from FamilySearch.
To save 30% off a Care.com Premium membership, visit care.com/gems when you subscribe.
I had so much fun opening the box. They even sent me an apron!
Visit hellofresh.com and use promo code gems30 to save $30 off your first week of deliveries.
NEWS: FREE GENEALOGY WEBINAR FROM NYC
Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems presents:
Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA & Family History sponsored by Animoto
Saturday, September 23, 2017 11:00 AM EST
- Turn DNA results into your family history
- Turn your family history into a compelling story
- Turn your compelling story into a video!
Learn from Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard and Animoto’s Beth Forester:
- Your DNA testing options (there are more than you think), and possible outcomes
- The best free resources for going beyond DNA, back several generations in your family (quickly!)
- Creative ideas for filling in the story gaps
- How to expand your story in ways you never expected by finding DNA connections
- Share the story you’ve uncovered with the world through riveting video
Lisa chat with Hannah about Hurricane Harvey
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
MAILBOX: KRISTIN’S SUCCESS STORY
“Among the handful of mystery photographs of my grandmother as a child and the strangers who sat beside her, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners, titled ‘Silence is Golden’ and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman with a disheveled Gibson hairdo was attached.”
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke teaches the search strategies you need to do searches like these.
Try Ebay! Lisa found a listing for a commencement program from 1902, old post cards of the school, and other yearbooks from Lancaster High School. Sign up for a free Ebay account, run a search, and then click to Follow the search. You will then be alerted to future auctions that match your criteria.
Click here for tips on finding yearbooks and other school records.
INTERVIEW: MARY TEDESCO of Genealogy Roadshow
MARY M. Tedesco is a professional genealogist, speaker, and author. She is a host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow” and Founder of ORIGINS ITALY. Mary speaks fluent Italian and travels often to Italy to conduct client genealogical research and visit family. She is co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors.
Click here to watch a free interview with Mary Tedesco with more tips on doing Italian genealogy research.
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski tells the story of the author’s journey to Italy to learn the truth behind the family stories about her Italian ancestors. Tune in to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 208 later this month to hear an excerpt from a conversation with Helene Stapinski. (The entire interview will play in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 151.)
MILITARY MINUTES: DRAFT REGISTRATIONS
INTRODUCING MICHAEL STRAUSS
Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.
BONUS handout to celebrate this new segment: Click here for a 4-page handout on U.S. draft registration records by Michael L. Strauss.
FREE GENEALOGY NEWSLETTER:
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