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

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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

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Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. 
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

 

PERSI Adds Thousands of Articles: New Genealogy Records Online

New genealogy records online recently include thousands of articles and images in PERSI, the Periodical Source Index. Also: new and updated Australian vital and parish records, German civil registers, an enormous Japanese newspaper archive, and a variety of newspaper and other resources for US states: AZ, AR, IA, KS, MD, NJ, PA, & TX. 

PERSI thousand of articles new genealogy records online

PERSI Update: Thousands of new genealogy articles and images

Findmypast.com updated the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) this week, adding 14,865 new articles, and uploaded 13,039 new images to seven different publications. PERSI is one of those vastly under-utilized genealogy gems: a master subject index of every known genealogical and historical magazine, journal or newsletter ever published! Click here to explore PERSI.

The seven publications to which they’ve added images are as follows:

Click here to read an article about using PERSI for genealogy research.

More New Genealogy Records Online Around the World

Australia

Parish registers in Sydney. A new Ancestry.com database has been published: Sydney, Australia, Anglican Parish Registers, 1818-2011. “This database contains baptism, burial, confirmation, marriage, and composite registers from the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney,” says the collection description. Baptismal records may include name, birth date, gender, name and occupation of mother and father, address, and date and parish of baptism. Confirmation records may include name, age, birth date, address, and the date and parish of confirmation. Marriage records may include the names of bride and groom as well as their age at marriage, parents’ names and the date and parish of the event. Burial records may include the name, gender, address, death date, and date and parish of burial.

Victoria BMD indexes. MyHeritage.com now hosts the following vital records indexes for Victoria, Australia: births (1837-1920), marriages (1837-1942), and deaths (1836-1985). These new databases supplement MyHeritage’s other Victoria collections, including annual and police gazettes. (Note: comparable collections of Victoria vital records are also available to search for free at the Victoria state government website.)

Germany

Just over 858,000 records appear in Ancestry.com’s new database, Halle (Saale), Germany, Deaths, 1874-1957. “This collection contains death records from Halle (Saale) covering the years 1874 up to and including 1957,” states the collection description. “Halle, also known as “Halle on the Saale,” was already a major city by 1890. These records come from the local registry offices, which began keeping vital records in the former Prussian provinces in October 1874. “The collected records are arranged chronologically and usually in bound yearbook form, which are collectively referred to as ‘civil registers.’ For most of the communities included in the collection, corresponding alphabetical directories of names were also created. While churches continued to keep traditional records, the State also mandated that the personal or marital status of the entire population be recorded. (Note: These records are in German. For best results, you should search using German words and location spellings.)”

Japan

A large Japanese newspaper archive has been made available online, as reported by The Japan News. The report states: “The Yomiuri Shimbun has launched a new online archive called Yomiuri Kiji-Kensaku (Yomiuri article search), enabling people to access more than 13 million articles dating back to the newspaper’s first issue in 1874. The archive also includes articles from The Japan News (previously The Daily Yomiuri) dating back to 1989. This content will be useful for people seeking English-language information on Japan…Using the service requires registration. There is a minimum monthly charge of ¥300 plus tax, with any other charges based on how much content is accessed.” Tip: read the use instructions at the article above, before clicking through in the link given in that article.

New Genealogy Records Online for the United States: By State

Arizona. Newspapers.com has added the Arizona Daily Star, with issues from 1879 to 2017. The Arizona Daily Star is a daily morning paper that began publishing in Tucson on January 12, 1879, more than 30 years before Arizona became a state. The Daily Star’s first editor was L.C. Hughes, who would later go on to become governor of the Arizona Territory.

Arkansas. The University of Arkansas Libraries has digitized over 34,000 pages of content for its latest digital collection, the Arkansas Extension Circulars. A recent news article reports that: “The Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service began publishing the Arkansas Extension Circulars in the 1880s. These popular publications covered myriad agriculture-related topics: sewing, gardening and caring for livestock among them. Now, users worldwide can access these guides online.” These practical use articles give insight into the lives of rural and farming families in Arkansas, and feature local clubs and community efforts.

Iowa. The Cedar Rapids Public Library has partnered with The Gazette to make millions of pages of the newspaper available online. The Gazette dates back to 1883, and the new database is keyword searchable. A recent article reports that 2 million pages are currently available online in this searchable archive, with plans to digitize another 1 million pages over the next 18 months.

Kansas. From a recent article: “Complete issues of Fort Hays State University’s Reveille yearbooks – from the first in 1914 to the last in 2003 – are now online, freely available to the public in clean, crisp, fast-loading and searchable digital versions in Forsyth Library’s FHSU Scholars Repository.” Click here to go directly to the yearbook archive and start exploring.

Maryland. New at Ancestry.com: Maryland, Catholic Families, 1753-1851 (a small collection of 13.5k records, but an important point of origin for many US families). “Judging from the 12,000-name index at the back of the volume, for sheer coverage this must be the starting point for Western Maryland Catholic genealogy,” states the description for this collection of birth, baptismal, marriage, and death records for the parishes of St. Ignatius in Mt. Savage, and St. Mary’s in Cumberland, Maryland. Find a brief history of Catholicism in western Maryland with lists of priests and a summary of congregational growth. Then find lists of marriages, baptisms, deaths, and burials, and even lists of  those “who appeared at Easter Confession, confirmation, communion, or who pledged financial support for the parish priest.”

New Jersey. Findmypast.com subscribers may now access small but historically and genealogically important collections of baptismal records (1746-1795) and additional church records (1747-1794) for Hannover, Morris County, New Jersey. States the first collection description, “Despite being small in population, the township is rich in history. It was the first settlement established in northwest New Jersey, dating back to 1685, and is situated by the Whippany River.” The second group of records “pertains to an active time in Hanover, with the resurgence of religious revivals kicking off around 1740. The most populous denominations in the latter half of the 1700s were Presbyterian, Society of Friends (Quaker), Dutch Reformed, Baptist, and Episcopal.”

Pennsylvania. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, located in Carlisle, PA, was a federally-funded boarding school for Native American children from 1879 through 1918. The Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center is a project that is building an online searchable database of resources to preserve the history of the school and the students who attended there.

They recently announced a new resource titled Cemetery Information. According to the site, this collection provides “easy access to a wide range of primary source documents about the cemetery and the Carlisle Indian School students interred there.” Available materials include an individual page for every person interred there with their basic information, downloadable primary source materials about their death, an interactive aerial map of the cemetery, and more.

Texas. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has digitized a series of collections featuring archival holdings from the First World War through the Texas Digital Archive. These collections are:

  • The Frank S. Tillman Collection: “The bulk of the collection focuses on the Thirty-Sixth Division and also features items from the Ninetieth Division, the Adjutant General of Texas, and other Texas soldiers.”
  • General John A. Hulen Papers:”Highlights include correspondence, photographs, and scrapbooks, dating 1887-1960.”
  • 36th Division Association Papers: “The papers include correspondence, reports, military records, and scrapbooks, dating 1857-1954. Records relate to Texans’ experience during World War I, railroads in Texas, and the San Jacinto Monument.”

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetWhat genealogy websites are you using? Which additional ones should you also be using?

Learn more about the giant genealogy websites mentioned in this post–and how they stack up to the other big sites–in our unique, must-have quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants, Comparing the 4 Major Websites, by Genealogy Gems editor Sunny Morton. You’ll learn how knowing the relative strengths and weaknesses of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com can help your research. There’s more than one site out there–and you should be using as many of them as possible. The guide does share information about how to access library editions of these websites for free. This inexpensive guide is worth every penny–and may very well help you save money.

Disclosure: This post 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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