How Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning Impact Genealogy

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.

Free Webinar AI Machine learning and Genealogy

Watch the free video below.

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)

Patents for AI machine learning and DNA

Patent search result: a pending patent involving AI and DNA by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

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.

Elevenses with Lisa Q&A on AI and Genealogy

www.GenealogyGems.com/Elevenses

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.

Resources

Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.
Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. 
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

 

RootsTech 2017: Come Celebrate 10 Years with Us!

RootsTech 2017 is the biggest genealogy conference of the year, and Genealogy Gems will be celebrating in a big way! Here’s your chance to win fantastic prizes, and join in even from home through our live-streaming, as we celebrate 10 years and 200 episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast.

RootsTech is being held on February 8-11, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is sponsored by FamilySearch International and is a conference that brings together family history lovers and technology innovators for a truly one-of-a-kind event.

RootsTech 2017 Exhibit Hall: Visit Genealogy Gems Booth #1039

Free 30 Minute Sessions
Join us for our famous power-sessions at our booth #1039, very close to where we were located in the hall last year!

Not able to make it to Rootstech in person? Join us for a selected classes via live-streaming via the free Periscope app, or on our Facebook page.
Look for the Periscope symbol next to the live-streamed sessions on the schedule above.
(All time listed are Mountain time)

Prizes!

As part of our 10th year & 200th episode celebration, you will have a chance to win fantastic prizes at every session in our booth. This is thanks to the generous genealogy community and our podcast sponsors! Here’s what you can win:

Thursday, February 9

  1. 10:15 AM – Beginning Genetic Genealogy with Diahan Southard
    Your DNA Guide Video Series ($29.95)
    Getting Started Quick Guide ($8.95)
  1. 12:15 PM – 5 Ways to Jog Memories with Sunny Morton
    Story of My Life workbook ($19.99)
    Famicity Premium Subscription ($95.88) This is a brand new, private family social network. Think of it as your family’s Legacy Center!
  1. 12:40 PM – Naturalization Records with Amie Tennant
    RootsMagic 4 CD Set ($119.80) includes RootsMagic Software from our long-time and valued sponsor, the spectacular RootsMagic!
  1. 2:30 PM – German Ancestral Villages with Jim Beidler, video from Family Tree University
    Trace Your German Roots Online book ($21.99)  Fabulous resource for Germany research!
    Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies book ($15.95) Lisa Louise Cooke’s hard to find first book.Google Drive and other tips
  1. 4:00 PM – Google Methodology with Lisa Louise Cooke
    The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox book, Second Ed. ($24.95) Lisa Louise Cooke’s Google Methodology in one complete and updated volume.
    Genealogy Gems Premium Membership (New or renewal) ($39.95) Includes over 30 class videos and over 140 exclusive Premium podcast episodes!

Friday, February 10

  1. animoto how a genealogy society can grow membership10:15 AM – Creating Family History Videos with Lisa Louise Cooke
    Animoto Subscription ($96.00) You’re going to flip for this tech tool! Click here to learn more right away.
  1. 12:15 PM – Your Ethnic DNA Pie with Diahan Southard
    Exciting DNA themed prize to be announced soon!
  1. 12:45 PM – Genealogy Jackpot with Sunny Morton
    SnagIt Software by Techsmith ($49.95) Lisa uses SnagIt constantly, and you’re going to love it for genealogy! TechSmith tools are tops!
    Ultimate Family Tree Chart Templates CD ($29.99) Every genealogist needs this from the #1 genealogy magazine, Family Tree Magazine.
  1. 4:00 PM – Mastering Ancestry.com video from Family Tree University
    Genealogy Gems Premium Membership (New or renewal) ($39.95)
  1. 5:45 PM – Journaling & Scrapbooking Tech with Amie Tennant
    FlipPal Mobile Scanner ($149.99) You’ll flip if you win this wonderful prize from our good friends at FlipPal.
  1. 6:15 PM – Organize with Trello with Drew Smith
    Organize Your Genealogy book ($25.99) After you win the book, Drew will sign it for you!

Saturday, February 11

  1. 10:15 AM – “Big 4” Databases with Sunny Morton
    Findmypast Premium Subscription ($239.50) You don’t have to have just British ancestors to love this prize!
  1. 2:05 PM – Google Earth Strategies with Lisa Louise Cooke
    Google Earth for Genealogy Video Series ($24.00) This series will help you go into the genealogy geography stratosphere after learning the basics from Lisa’s session.
    Genealogy Gems Premium Membership ($39.95)  7 of the 30 video classes included are on geography and genealogy, like Time Travel with Google Earth! Sweet!

Saturday Starting at 12:15 p.m.
Pick up an entry form, fill it out, and bring the completed form to our booth starting at 12:15 on Saturday for a chance to win our GRAND PRIZE and get our FREE syllabus e-book with all of our booth session handouts. No purchase necessary, and you must be present to win.

Grand Prizes – Saturday at 12:45 PM

3rd Grand Prize: 1 Complete MyHeritage Subscription ($250.74) AND MyHeritage DNA Test Kit ($99.00) from our wonderful podcast sponsor. Thank you MyHeritage!

2nd Grand Prize: Discovery Research Package from Legacy Tree Genealogists ($350.00) Hit a brick wall? These experts will help you bust through! The winner will receive 3.5 hours of research in a digital format which includes: preliminary analysis on your family tree or DNA; discovery of what records are available for the area and time period of interest; development of a research plan; and some work towards your research goals.

1st Grand Prize: 1 Year Ancestry.com World Subscription ($298.00) AND Ancestry DNA Autosomal Test Kit ($99.00) An amazing duo from our friends Ancestry.com.

Book Signings: All Week

Lisa will also be signing copies of her books, including her books Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research
and The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Second Edition. Sunny Morton will be available to sign her new book, Story of My Life. Diahan Southard will also be there answering your DNA questions!

RootsTech 2017 Classes: All Week

Lisa Louise Cooke and her regular Genealogy Gems team members will be teaching several sessions:

Wednesday:
3:00 p.m. Lisa Louise Cooke: Google Books: The Tool You Should Use Every Day!  Location: Ballroom C
3:00 p.m. Diahan Southard: DNA: The Glue that Holds Families Together  Location: Ballroom J

Thursday:
11:00 a.m. Lisa Louise Cooke: Organizing All This Stuff (Beginner)  Location: 155D Getting Started Pass
1:30 p.m. Lisa Louise Cooke: Eliminate the Eye-Rolling with These 7 Awesome Apps!  Location: Ballroom C
3:00 p.m. Diahan Southard: From Click to DNA Connection (Lab)
5:00 p.m. Lisa Louise Cooke: 5 Amazing Things Google Earth Can Do for Genealogy (Rootstech Demo Theater, Exhibit Hall)

Friday:
3:00 p.m. Sunny Morton: Comparing the Big 4 (Ancestry, Findmypast, MyHeritage, FamilySearch; Location: Ballroom B
3:00 p.m. Amie Tennant: Crowdsource with Social Media Breaks Through Walls; Location: Room 251D
3:00 p.m. Lisa Louise Cooke: Google Search Power Strategies (Rootstech Demo Theater, Exhibit Hall)
4:30 p.m. Diahan Southard: From Click to DNA Connection (Lab)

Saturday:
11:00 a.m. Lisa Louise Cooke: How to Create a Free Google Earth Map Collection; Location: Ballroom G
11:00 a.m. Diahan Southard: Let Your DNA Tell the Story
11:00 a.m. Amie Tennant: Troll Virtual Cemeteries & Using Cemetery Records; Location: Room 254A
1:30 p.m. Sunny Morton: Relatively Recent Relatives: the 20th Century Search; Location: Room 150

We can’t wait to meet as many of you as possible! We hope you have a marvelous experience at RootsTech 2017.

Family History Never Tasted So Good!

We all have cookbooks in our kitchen, many of which were handed down to us by our mothers and grandmothers. In addition to be overflowing with delectable recipes, they are often brimming with family history. Today I’d like to share with you a recipe mystery that followed me for years, and the bit of genealogical serendipity that solved it. 

family history never tasted so good: cookie recipe

I once gave a presentation called Inspiring Ways to Capture the Interest of the Non-Genealogists in Your Family at a local genealogical society. (Genealogy Gems Premium Members can log in and watch this vide class as part of their membership here.)

In it, I gave an example of some items I had found on Ebay from my husband’s Larson family. If you listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast then you have heard me mention the Larson family. They hailed from Winthrop Minnesota and owned a hardware store and lumber business there for many years.

LJ Larson Hardware store

LJ Larson Hardware store

While I was taking questions toward the end of the presentation a woman in the front raised her hand. Her name was Harriet, and she said she was sure that she had a cookbook from Winthrop, Minnesota in her collection of books at home. She offered to send it to me and I gladly gave her my email address so we could connect.

Considering that Winthrop is such a small town, it make her statement surprising indeed! To provide perspective: Winthrop is about 1 square mile and the population hovers somewhere around 1300. So, I was surprised indeed to have someone in Pleasanton, California telling me that she had a cookbook that dated back to the early 20th century from this little town.

As promised, Harriett followed up with me by email. She asked for my address and told me that the book “looks a little worn but all of the pages are there. I hope it can be of some use to you. My sister taught either first grade or kindergarten there during World War 2 and that’s how it came in to her possession.”

The Cookbook Filled with Family History

Harriett was a woman of her word because about a week later the 340 Home Tested Recipes cookbook compiled by members of The Ladies Aid of the First Lutheran Church of Winthrop, Minnesota was in my mailbox.

The Winthrop Cookbook

The Winthrop Cookbook

It continues to amaze and delight me how powerful just putting your family history “out there” is. By regularly mentioning real people and places in your own research, it so often leads to information and items that just seem to be waiting to be found. It’s what we call “genealogical serendipity” in genealogy circles. 

But the genealogical serendipity didn’t end there. Not only did my husband’s ancestors contribute recipes to this little community cookbook, which of course I was thrilled to find – but there was a recipe in there that I had been in search of for over 25 years.

The Great Cookie Mystery

You see, when Bill and I got married, he shared his fond memories of a sour cream cookie his grandmother used to make. I’m an avid baker, so I checked with his mom to see if she had the recipe. Sadly, she didn’t.
 
Over the years I have tried to find a recipe for sour cream cookies in an attempt to recreate them. Every time I found one, I whipped up a batch. Bill would take a bite and shake his head saying they’ were good, but they weren’t like grandma’s cookies.
 

Bill enjoying baked treats with his Grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield.

 
So as you can imagine, the first thing I looked for when I received this cookbook from the town where Bill’s grandma was born, was a recipe for sour cream cookies. There were many yummy-sounding treats to comb through like Pecan Sticks, Victoria Cookies, Father and Son Favorite Cookies, and Sorghum Cookies. 
 
I got excited as I came across names I recognized from the family tree including Mrs. Sheldon S. Larson, the mother of a cousin we had the good fortune to finally meet two years ago when I presented a genealogy seminar in Minnesota at the Swedish Genealogical Society. 
 
But the real thrill came when I made my way to page 42. There I found a recipe for Sour Cream Drop Cookies:
 

Larson sour cream cookie recipe (1)

The infamous sour cream cookie recipe!

 
Surprisingly, the recipe wasn’t contributed by Bill’s grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield or anyone named Larson. Instead it was submitted for inclusion in the cookbook by Mrs. Hulda Anderson. That fact didn’t deter me from trying it out. In a small town like Winthrop, recipes likely were regularly swapped and handed down through various families. 
 
I immediately baked a batch and served them up to Bill. I’ll never forget his eyes as they lit up in excitement! He took a bite, and was ecstatic to once again be tasting Grandma’s sour cream cookies!
 
It may sound like a small victory in the scheme of thing, but for me it was a thrilling one, none the less!
 
I emailed Harriet and told her the good news and thanked her profusely.
 
I got a reply from her husband George. He wrote:
 
“I thought I would add a little amusement to the coincidence of the Sour Cream cookies. My father, George Anderson, Sr., was a salesman for American Steel and Wire, subsidiary of U. S. Steel, from the 1920s to the 1960s, traveling to every hardware store and lumber yard in southern Minnesota to sell fence, posts, nails etc. I don’t have any record of it, but I’m sure he would have called on your family’s hardware store in Winthrop. He knew all of his customers by first name, no doubt your in-laws included.”
 
Genealogy Serendipity never tasted so good!
 

A Genealogical Look at the Cookbook

 
I looked through the book carefully for a publishing date but none was to be found. However, there were several clues including the name of the church and the pastors name:
 
First Lutheran Church
Lambert Engwall, Pastor
 
To put these clues to use, I headed to Google and searched the name of the church, the location and the name of the pastor:
first lutheran church winthrop minnesota lambert engwall, pastor
 

Googling the pastor

Googling the church, location and pastor

 
The first result was just what I needed. The link to me to a Wikipedia page about the church: 
 

researching the pastor

The church in Wikipedia

 
It was a fairly comprehensive page, and I was specifically looking for a list of pastors who had served at the church. To save time, I used Control + F (PC) to trigger a find on page search bar. I searched for “pastor” and was immediately take much further down the page to exactly what I wanted to know. 
 

previous pastors

A helpful list of previous pastors

 
I quickly learned that Lambert Engwall served at this church in Winthrop, Minnesota from 1944 to 1972. Given that Harriett through it hailed from the World War II era when her sister lived there, and from the condition and style of the book, I feel confident it was published closer to 1944. 
 
The next steps to learn more about the relationship between the Andersons and Larson include could include:

  • Reviewing the 1940 census for Winthrop, Sibley County, Minnesota, and mapping their homes in Google Earth.
  • conducting additional research into church and their available records include church meeting minutes.
  • A comprehensive search of the Winthrop News newspaper, with a particular eye on the social pages. 

Share Your Genealogical Serendipity and Cookbook Stories

Have you experienced glorious instances of genealogical serendipity in your own family history quest? Do you have a cookbook that has been handed down to you that you treasure? Please leave a comment below and share your story!  
 

Resources

  • Learn more powerful Google search techniques and ways to use Google Earth for genealogy in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louse Cooke (2020) available at the Genealogy Gems Store.
  • The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

    Book by the author

    Learn more here about how to access the 50+ video classes that are a part of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. 

What’s a CentiMorgan, Anyway? How DNA Tests for Family History Measure Genetic Relationships

If you’re doing DNA tests for family history, you may see lots of predicted cousin matches: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc…..But what does that predicted genetic relationship actually mean? Learn about centimorgans, the powerful genetic genealogy unit of measure, and how it helps your research.

genetic relationships and centimorgans

How DNA Tests Measure Genetic Relationships

When we are looking at genetic relationships, there are also many ways we can measure them. But ultimately, we want the testing company to tell us how likely it is that a particular individual shares a single, recent common ancestor with us. One factor in this calculation is to take into account the total amount of DNA we share with that match.

Currently, all the testing companies are reporting this sum in centimorgans (cMs).  Every company reports to you the total number of shared cMs, as outlined below.

  • AncestryDNA: Click on the match to access the personal profile page for that match. In the second section, under Predicted Relationship, you will see the confidence level. To the right of the confidence level, you will see a grey circle with a little “i” in it. Clicking there will show you the total amount of shared cMs as well as how many pieces of DNA you share.
  • Family Tree DNA: On the main match page for your Family Finder results, you will see the total amount of shared cMs in the third column.
  • 23andMe: You can see the percentage of shared DNA from the main DNA Relatives home page. To convert the percentage into centimorgans, just multiply your percentage by 68 (that will at least get you close). You can also see total shared cMs in the chromosome browser tool (go to Tools > DNA Relatives > DNA).
  • MyHeritageDNA: The total amount of shared DNA is shown on the main match page under the title Match Quality. MyHeritage also has a new DNA Match Review page. Click here to read more about that.

Centimorgan: A Genetic “Crystal Ball”

It is very tempting to think of a cM just like you would think of an inch or a centimeter, and for all practical purposes, that is okay. But it is actually much more complicated than that.

A cM is actually more like a crystal ball: it helps us predict how likely a piece of DNA looks exactly as it did a generation ago. This, in turn, helps us calculate how far back we should be looking for the common ancestor between two people.

But for our practical purposes, you can use the total amount of shared DNA, in combination with this chart compiled by Blaine Bettinger and the Shared cM Project, to better assess your genealogical relationship with your match based on your genetics.

To use the chart, take the total amount of shared DNA you have with a match, and look up that number in the chart to get an idea of what kind of genealogical relationship might best fit the genetics that you see. For example, if I share 69 cM with my match, we might be third cousins. But we might also be second cousins once or twice removed.

How do you figure out which one? Simply put: do genealogy research! It’s time to use traditional records and research skills to better understand the genetic clues in your family history mysteries.

My series of DNA quick reference guides can help you get the most out of your DNA tests for family history. I definitely recommend the value-priced bundle of all 10 guides. But I especially recommend the guides listed below if you’re to the point where you’re trying to understand what genetic relationships mean:

Thanks for sharing this post with someone who would enjoy reading it! You’re a gem!

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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