AI in genealogy

By Nancy Battick

Let’s continue talking about the uses of AI — artificial intelligence — in genealogy. 

AI is being used to create pedigree charts, write family histories, and translate documents. When you “chat” with an assistant on a genealogical website you are probably chatting with AI. Reaching a human to ask a question is going to be more difficult in the future. 

AI chat programs are out there and can help genealogists find material, edit photos and add material to files. There are several such programs, and if you want to explore them, you can. I saw demonstrations and wasn’t impressed, but I can see where a tech maven would be thrilled.  

If you intend to use one of the many chat programs, don’t blindly sign up for a lot of costs.  Try the freebies first before committing your finances.

AI is also behind the animated photo movement that swept the genealogical community a couple of years ago. This is where an old photo is usually colorized, then given “life” as the dead person talks, moves, smiles, jokes, and recites the facts of their life and death using material you’ve provided. Some people love them. Others hate them. I find them creepy. Listening to an artificial voice portray Abraham Lincoln smiling or winking isn’t my thing at all, but if you’re interested then AI is there. 

I recently took a webinar on AI and the presenter indicated his material was his intellectual copyright and asked us not to use it.  I then used Google to search for genealogy and AI, and all of my presenter’s material (not his examples but his points) were already online. As a writer I have deep concerns regarding copyright issues as books and other content are fed into AI. AI can then mimic an author’s style of writing and create its own content. AI can be used to write something an author wouldn’t, such as endorsing political candidates or espousing views on controversial subjects. 

The problem is identifying what is real and what has been created by AI. I find this deeply disturbing. 

For genealogists, AI is in current use and not going away. It is now part of our genealogical experience for better or worse and will become more so as the field develops. It may be a great help, or it may be a pain.  

But the concerns I have regarding AI and its potential for misuse should be addressed. I’m far from alone in this.  I do hope our political leaders will stop sniping at one another long enough to address these issues and prevent the worst offenses, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. 

In the meantime, it may be difficult to distinguish between the “real” and the “false” so be alert, doublecheck everything. Keep up with what is happening with AI and how it may impact your genealogical experience and your life.

This column was written by Nancy. The research was assisted by AI. 

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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