NOTE: This blog was posted on 25 Nov 2023 on the Empowering Genealogists with Artificial Intelligence Facebook group. Since my blog two weeks ago on using AI to write a narrative, I’ve been getting a lot of questions and comments. I’ve been told that AI doesn’t work with some sites; I have found that to be not true. I have also found a temporary work around for footnote/endnote citations that look more like what genealogists use – simply provide this prompt: Please write all footnotes in Chicago format style. You will have to go back and fill in some info, like the enumeration district for censuses, but it will be closer to what we are used to seeing.
I was interested in seeing how a narrative summary with endnotes from various sources that had similar data would be written.
I used the same prompt: You are a professional genealogist and expert writer. Please write a narrative summary with endnotes from the attached file. (AI seems to place all sources at the end, whether you make the request as a footnote or endnote. This could be due to my requested writings being short.) The endnotes for the example below are funky looking because they are sources from sources, meaning the information that was being compared was the main source, like Ancestry.com, and not where the source cited in Ancestry.com came from.
Each request was made using a new message on ChatGPT.
The files I uploaded individually were:
Ancestry.com from Life Story with and without AI. AI selected “What was (region) like when (individual) was (event).”
FamilySearch.org Source/Detail and About
FamilyTreeMaker from Individual Report
LegacyFamilyTree from Other Reports>Individual Summary
MyHeritage.com side view of Family Tree for named individual
Roots Magic from Reports> Individual Summary
The information for all but FamilySearch.org was generated by me over the years. The data was always entered into Ancestry.com, then synched with RootsMagic and FamilyTreeMaker. A gedcom from Ancestry was uploaded to both LegacyFamilyTree and MyHeritage so no media is available on either of those sites. FamilySearch.org does include a minimal amount of information from me but most of the data was generated by family members.
I then gave ChatGPT the following prompt:
Today you are an expert data analysis and professional genealogist. Prioritize fidelity to the information below; dry recitation, avoid editorialization. Process the data sentence-by-sentence, from beginning to end. Extract this structured data: “Name”, “Relationship”, “Event Year and Location Baptism”, “Event Year and Location Marriage”, “Event Year and Location Children”, “Event Year and Location Death”. The response should have the header row in line 1: “Data From:”, “Name”, “Relationship”, “Baptism” “Marriage”, “Children Name & Birth Year”, “Death”. Column A should have the header row: “Ancestry.com With AI”, “Ancestry.com Without AI”, “FamilySearch About”, “FamilySearch Source & Detail”, “Family Tree Maker”, “Legacy Family Tree”, “MyHeritage.com”, “RootsMagic”. Enclose all cells or fields in quotation marks; omit, ignore, and avoid commas and other punctuation in the original data in your response in an attempt to keep the CSV error-free. Display dates in military format meaning day month spelled out and not by number and year. Display your response in a code window for easy copy-and-paste.
The results are attached above. I’ve color coded them to denote synch (pale green), gedcom (blue), not my own data (yellow).
Interesting how the diacritical marks are shown by Ancestry, Legacy, MyHeritage, and RootsMagic. FamilyTreeMaker omitted them. The apostrophe before and after August was originally quotation marks. Not sure if that is standardization issues or software/technical limitations.
I was surprised that Ancestry, which has the full location for events, simplifies to only provided county and state. The complete marriage location would be Baileytown, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana. I wondered why Westchester Township was omitted and discovered I had never entered that in any of my generated trees. I had mis-entered death location as Chesterton Township instead of Chesterton, Westchester Township. This is a nice way to enhance and correct your data. (Chesterton is actually in three townships but the events occurred in Westchester).
All of the sites had the names of children. FamilySearch provided the most information (child’s name and dates). Legacy and FamilyTreeMaker both named all children. Not sure why RootsMagic didn’t specify. And now we know MyHeritage considers six children as “several.” Personally, I’d call that a handful plus!
I can see another use for this when trying to figure out where online public trees vary from yours and what source info (if any) they might have. It’s also a nice clean timeline that takes little effort to create.
Next I decided to take the Excel info, re-enter it into ChatGPT and give the original narrative prompt again. Since every narrative had been slightly different I wondered what the final product with the full information available would be. (I should mention I did the first narrative a few weeks ago in RootsMagic and there were three hallucinations but the rest I did on Wednesday and there were none.) Here is the compiled narrative:
Samuel ‘August’ Samuelson was a pivotal figure in his family lineage, with his life journey documented across multiple genealogical platforms. Born on January 3, 1839, in Stora Haddebo, Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden, Samuel was the son of Samuel Howard Erickson and Anna Elisabet ‘Lisa’ Torstensdotter. His baptism, a significant event in his early life, is consistently recorded in these sources, reaffirming the importance of his Swedish origins.
Samuel’s life took a significant turn when he married on February 17, 1871. While the exact location of his marriage varies slightly in records, ranging from Baileytown to Westchester Township in Porter, Indiana, it’s clear that this event marked his transition into family life in the United States.
The couple was blessed with several children, though the records differ in detailing their names and birth years. FamilySearch Source & Detail provides the most comprehensive list, including Johan Victor (1872-1921), John Louis (1873-1919), Alfrida (1874-1886), Ada Emilia (b. 1876), and two sons named Gustav Theodore (the first born in 1877 and died the same year, and the second born in 1879). This detail adds depth to our understanding of Samuel’s role as a father and the legacy he left behind.
Samuel’s life came to an end on January 14, 1908, in Chesterton, Porter, Indiana. The consistency of this date across multiple records emphasizes its accuracy and the end of an era in the Samuelson family history.
Baptism and Birth: Samuel’s baptism and birth details are consistently recorded across Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, FamilySearch Source & Detail, MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com (with and without AI), and RootsMagic.
Marriage: The date of marriage is consistently noted as February 17, 1871, but the location varies slightly, as recorded in different databases.
Children: The most detailed account of his children is provided by FamilySearch Source & Detail, with other databases offering varying levels of detail.
Death: Samuel’s death date is uniformly recorded as January 14, 1908, across all sources, with slight variations in the location’s specificity.
The answer is a definite maybe! Here’s what I did with one of my brick walls and Chat GPT. This story revolves around a stolen identity of John A. Long who served in the Union during the Civil War. After his death someone in Marion, Indiana assumed his identity and received a pension. The scammer resided in the Home for Disabled Veterans there and is buried in their cemetery. Interestingly, the man’s tombstone is for a John A. Long that served in New York. But no man by that name served in the regiment written on the tombstone. I asked ChatGPT for some help in solving this dilemma and here was the results:
Cross-Reference Census Records: Look for any John A. Longs or John Longs in the state where the scammer lived, especially around the time the identity was assumed. See if any disappear from the records or have inconsistencies in their details.
Local Newspapers: Scour local newspapers from that era for any mentions of John A. Long, especially in the context of veterans or obituaries. Sometimes these articles can provide clues not found elsewhere.
Military Records: Since he was buried near a home for disabled vets, there might be admission records or logs that could contain discrepancies or additional information.
Check Neighboring States: Given that he switched the infantry unit to New York, it might be worth checking records from neighboring states as well.
Land and Property Records: If he lived in a home for disabled vets, there might be land or property records that could provide more information or even list next of kin.
DNA Testing: This is a long shot, but if there are any living descendants who are curious enough, a DNA test could potentially link them to the scammer’s real family.
Consult Other Experts: Sometimes two (or more) heads are better than one. Maybe consult with experts in Civil War history or forensic genealogy.
Legal Documents: Wills, marriage licenses, or other legal documents might have been altered or faked. These could contain mistakes that reveal his true identity.
Local Lore: Sometimes, stories get passed down that never make it into official records. Local historical societies or elderly residents might have stories or records that could provide clues.
All sound ideas but unfortunately, DNA wouldn’t be available as it looks like the man had no children. Supposedly had a wife in Michigan but no woman found with the name he provided on the intake form. Can’t find them in the 1880 US federal census either. I then mentioned there was a connection with the Odd Fellows and the Grand Army of the Republic in Michigan, California, and Indiana and asked AI for some out of the box ideas to find records. Here’s the response:
Wow, Lori, you’ve really dug deep into this mystery! 🕵️♀️ It’s like you’ve hit a genealogical brick wall made of steel. The Odd Fellows connection and the financial advisor being part of the Grand Army of the Republic are intriguing leads.
Given what you’ve already done, here are some more “out-of-the-box” ideas:
Fraternal Organizations: Since you suspect he was an Odd Fellow, have you tried reaching out to the current Odd Fellows organization? They might have historical archives that aren’t publicly available.
Medical Records: You mentioned he was admitted to a Disabled Vet Home and had dementia. While it’s a long shot, medical records might have additional information, like next of kin or previous addresses.
Railroad Employment Records: Many Civil War vets worked on the railroads. These records sometimes contain personal details and could be another avenue to explore.
Church Records: If he was religious, baptismal, marriage, or burial records from local churches might offer clues.
Military Buddies: The scammer had to get the details of John A. Long’s service from somewhere. Could he have known someone who served with the real John A. Long? Maybe look into the men who served in the same unit.
Pension Fraud Investigations: Given that he was scamming the pension system, were there any investigations into pension fraud at the time that might have records on him?
Check for Alias: Since he was so good at assuming identities, it’s possible he used more than one alias. Look for inconsistencies in other records that might indicate another assumed identity.
Foreign Records: It’s a stretch, but could he have immigrated from another country and assumed a new identity upon arrival? Immigration and naturalization records might be worth a look.
Consult a Criminal Historian: Someone specialized in the history of crime might have some unique perspectives or resources to offer.
Social Network Analysis: Map out the known associates like the financial advisor, and see if any patterns emerge that could lead to the scammer’s true identity.
All great ideas. If you’re stuck, try AI. Let me know if you solved your brick wall with their help.
Artificial Intelligence – AI – You either love it or fear it. I’ve just begun using it in my genealogy practice and I think you’ll find what I’ve discovered useful.
I just completed a 4-week class through the National Genealogical Society so I have many more tricks up my sleeve to save time and money. I’ll be sharing my personal discoveries over the next four weeks.
If you have RootsMagic, then you are aware that you can have the program write a narrative of your family members. Above is what it looks like for my husband’s second great-grandfather, Samuel Samuelson.
Short and not very sweet, right?! Lots of corrections are needed. Not a very entertaining story.
Instead of selecting narrative, I selected RootsMagic Reports>Individual Summary. It is a compilation of all the facts you’ve found about your ancestors. I’ve highlighted it below to stand out from my blog content:
Individual Summary 24 October 2023 1 Name: Samuel “August” Samuelson1–3 Sex: Male Father: Samuel Howard Erickson (1810-1890) Mother: Anna Elisabet “Lisa” Torstensdotter (1797-1868) Individual Facts Residence 1700–1882 (age 0–about 43) Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden4–10 Residence 1700–1882 (age 0–about 43) Lake; Porter, Indiana, USA11–12 Birth 3 Jan 1839 Stora Haddebo, Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden13–57 Arrival 1851(about age 12) 37,51,58 Departure 10 May 1851(age 12) Östergötland23,35,49 Emigration 1852 (about age 13) Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA59–61 Residence 1860 (about age 21) Residence Post Office: Coffee Creek; Westchester, Porter, Indiana, USA14,26,40,53,55,57 Residence 1862 (about age 23) Calumet, Lake, Indiana62–64 MilSvc 16 Aug 1862 (age 23) Civil War 73rd Indiana Infantry Regiment19,31,45,65–67 Residence 28 May 1863 (age 24) Calumet, Lake, Indiana, USA68–70 Residence 1870 (about age 31) Westchester, Porter, Indiana, United States17,29,43 Arrival 1874 (about age 35) 24,36,50 Residence 1880 (about age 41) Westchester, Porter, Indiana, United States15,27,41 Residence 1900 (about age 61) Westchester Township (North Half), Porter, Indiana16,28,42 Occupation 13 Jan 1908 (age 69) Farmer; Chesterton, Porter, Indiana18–19,30–31,44–45 Death 14 Jan 1908 (age 69) Chesterton Township, Porter, Indiana18,20–22,30,32–34,44,46–48,71–76 Medical 14 Jan 1908 (age 69) Skull; Chesterton, Porter, Indiana18,30,44 Accident 15 Jan 1908 (age 69) Tribune, col. 3, p. 5.; South Bend, Indiana77–79 Accident 15 Jan 1908 (age 69) Tribune, col. 2-3, p. 10.; South Bend, Indiana80–82 Burial 16 Jan 1908 (age 69) Augsburg Lutheran Cemetery, Porter, Indiana18–19,21,30–31,33,44–45,47,83–88 Accident 16 Jan 1908 (age 69) Breeze, col. 1, p. 2.; Monroeville,Indiana89–91 Accident 24 Jan 1908 (age 69) Banner, col. 3, p. 2.; Bristol, Indiana92–94 Lawsuit 5 Mar 1908 (age 69) Argos Reflector, col. 6, p. 6.; Argos, Indiana95–97 Alt. Name A. Lifelong Republican19 Arrival Nordamerika23,35,49 Residence Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa36,50 Probate Porter, Indiana, USA73,76,98 Individual Summary 24 October 2023 2 Departure W. Harg37,51,58 Marriages/Children 1. Maria Svensdotter – Swanson (1849-1880) Marriage 10 Jan 1871(age 32) Her parent’s home, Baileytown, Porter, Indiana19,99–104 Marriage 17 Feb 1871(age 32) Her parent’s home, Baileytown, Porter, Indiana105–107 Children Johan Viktor “John Victor” Samuelson (1872-1921) John Louis “Louie” Samuelson (1873-1919) Alfrieda Frederika Samuelson (1874-1881) August Theodore “Gust” Samuelson (1877-1879) Gustaf Teodor “Gust” Samuelson (1879-1947) John Louis “Louie” Samuelson (1848-1919) Ada Emilia Samuelson (1876-1955) 2. Unknown spouse Children Ada Emilia Samuelson (1876-1955) Notes Notes: Samuel “August” Samuelson General: In the 1970’s,family members stated wife’s name was “Mary Swanson” . Samuel was a lifelong Republican.
The summary isn’t very easy to read, either. If you want to engage your family this certainly wouldn’t be the way to do it. Enter ChatGPT.
I did pay the $20.00/month with cancellation at any time for the 4.0 version to try out its capabilities. I understand that temporarily, the paid subscription isn’t available so keep checking back or use other AI (Claude or Bard).
All I did after opening the ChatGPT account (provide name, email, date of birth, cell number, sign on, and password) was to click on 4.0, use a credit card to pay for the month, and then copy the above Individual Summary and paste it in the chat box with the directions, “You are a professional genealogist and expert writer. Please write a narrative for the following:” In seconds, it was complete. But it was missing the sources so I replied, “Wonderful job! Please include source citations.” Seconds later, the finished product.
There were some errors, but they were easily corrected. I did control + c to copy it and placed it on Word by clicking control + v (paste). It was in a box so I right-clicked one of the box lines, went to home>borders, and removed it.
There were three errors. The first was the computer misreading from an authored work. It wrote that Samuel had emigrated at the age of 42 instead of 12. The article had mentioned he had spent 42 years in Indiana, not Sweden, explaining where the age came from. AI is not very good at math! The next error claimed that Samuel had once lived in Lake County, Indiana. He hadn’t but he did go there to enlist in the Civil War. Deleting Lake County was a quick fix. So the computer did what genealogists shouldn’t do – it assumes. Lastly, the article claimed Samuel had been involved in a lawsuit in Bristol, Indiana after his death. Nope, his children testified in a lawsuit that was brought by the family of a man who was killed in the train accident in which Samuel also died. The Bristol, Indiana newspaper reported it. This took a minute longer to correct.
I also wish it had elaborated more on Samuel’s Civil War experience as he was severely injured and then captured as a POW. I would have also liked more about the awful way he died and that his children were named. All items I can easily add. I understand why it didn’t add the war information as I have scanned in the NARA file to RootsMagic but that program can’t yet read handwriting or .jpg yet.
AI also does not put dates in the British military format that we typically use in genealogy so that was another update to make.
My biggest wish was for the source citations to be entered correctly. I gave ChapGPT that request. I plan to develop a template that I can easily fill in info going forward.
What was nice about this experience is not just that you have a quick biography of your ancestor but it will also help you clean up your saved facts. I had saved a naturalization record but it wasn’t for my Samuel. When I was fixing the sources I caught it and easily deleted it from both RootsMagic and Ancestry.com where RootsMagic had gotten it from. Hadn’t thought of using AI to clean my tree but it did accomplish that.
I’m not done with the bio but here’s what ChatGPT came up with. Let me know what you think – I appreciate your thoughts on this interesting new tool for genealogy:
Samuel “August” Samuelson’s life story is a testament to the enduring spirit of an immigrant who crossed continents and oceans to find a new home and build a future in the United States.
Born on 3 January 1839, in the picturesque village of Stora Haddebo, Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden.[i] Samuelson was the son of Samuel Howard Erickson and Anna Elisabet “Lisa” Torstensdotter.His early years were shaped by the serene landscapes of rural Sweden, where he spent the first decade of his life.[ii]
On 10 May 1851, at the tender age of 12, Samuelson’s life took a remarkable turn when he embarked on a journey to America. Leaving behind his familiar homeland, he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Chicago, Cook, Illinois, in 1852.[iii] It was a courageous step for a young boy, but it marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
Over the years, Samuelson’s path took him to various places in the United States, however, he made his home in Westchester, Porter, Indiana,[iv] His journey was not just one of geography but also one through time, as he lived through the tumultuous years of the American Civil War.
In August 1862, at the age of 23, Samuelson’s dedication to his adopted country led him to enlist in the 73rd Indiana Infantry Regiment, where he served bravely during the Civil War.[v] This commitment reflected his deep sense of loyalty to the land he had chosen as his own. ELABORATE
On 10 January 1871, at the age of 32, Samuelson took a significant step in his American journey by marrying Maria Svensdotter Swanson at her parent’s home in Baileytown, Porter, Indiana[vi] Together, they began building a family and welcomed several children into their lives. NAME CHILDREN
Samuelson served his community as a farmer and his political beliefs are reflected in his lifelong affiliation with the Republican Party.[vii]
Tragically, Samuelson’s life took a devastating turn on 14 January 1908, when he suffered a severe skull injury as his horse-drawn sleigh was hit by an incoming Pere Marquette Railway train.[viii] He passed away at the age of 69 in Chesterton Township, Porter, Indiana, leaving behind a grieving family and community. His final resting place is Augsburg Lutheran Cemetery in Porter, Indiana.[ix]
Throughout his life, Samuel “August” Samuelson encountered various challenges, including an accident that made headlines in newspapers like the South Bend Tribune, Chesterton Times, Monroeville Breeze, and the Bristol Banner. His descendants found themselves involved in a legal dispute in Argos, Indiana, in 1908, as documented in the Argos Reflector due to the railroad employee’s negligence. ELABORATE.
Despite these trials and tribulations, Samuelson’s legacy endures through historical records and documents, which provide a glimpse into his remarkable journey from Sweden to the United States, his service in the Civil War, and his life in Indiana. His story serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of immigrants who sought a better life in a new land, leaving an indelible mark on the history of their adopted country.
What do you think? Are you ready to give AI a try?
[i] “Sweden, Church Records, 1451-1943,” Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden, Samuel Samuelson, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, citing C:1, Fodde, 1797-1840, Roll IJ-532, p. 503.
[ii] Weston A. Goodspeed & Charles Blanchard, Editors. Counties of Porter and Lake, Indiana: Historical and Biographical: Historical and Biographical Illustrated. Chicago: F. A. Battey & Co, 1882 p. 310, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 306 of 770.
[iii] “Sweden, Emigrants Registered in Church Books, 1783-1991,” Samuel August Samuelsson Eriksson, 10 May 1851, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing p. 202.
Ibid. Goodspeed & Blanchard.
[iv] 1860 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule, John Johnson (sic), Dwelling 277, Family 211, page 34 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 10 of 23, citing NARA Roll M653_289.
1870 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule, Augt Samuelson (sic), dwelling/family 185, page 23 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 23 of 35, citing NARA Roll M593, RG29.
1880 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule,
Samuel Samuelson, Dwelling 253, Family 265, page 27 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 27 of 38, citing FHL microfilm 1254304.
1900 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule, Samuel Samuelson, Line 13, sheet 8 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 15 of 26, citing NARA Roll T623.
Indiana State Board of Health, Death Certificate, Samuel August Samuelson, 14 January 1908, Record 193, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 996 of 2808, citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, Roll 9.
Findagrave.com, Samuel August Samuelson, (1839-1908), Memorial No. 2569980, citing Augsburg Lutheran Church Cemetery, Porter, Porter, Indiana, created by Laura Heckman. Photo by Angelo D. Angeles and Laura Heckman. Obituary and news article of accidental death by Steve Shook.
“American Civil War Soldiers,” Samuel Samuelson, 16 August 1862, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023.
“Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index,” Samuel A. Samuelson, digital database; Fold3.com: accessed 24 October 2023.
“Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana,” Samuel A. Samuelson, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] News, A Large Number of Cases Finally Disposed of, 29 May 1895, p. 6, c. 5, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 1 November 2022.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] Journal, Pensions for Veterans, 31 May 1895, p. 7, c. 3, digital image; GenealogyBank.com: accessed 1 November 2022.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] News, Pensions for Indianians, 13 June 1900, p. 2, c. 5, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 1 November 2022.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] Journal, Pensions for Veterans, 23 July 1901, p. 7, c. 3, digital image; GenealogyBank: accessed 1 November 2022.
[vi] “Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941,” S. A. Samuelson, 11 February 1871, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing Porter County, Indiana, Marriage Record Volume 3, p. 572.
“Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001,” S. A. Samuelson, 10 January 1871 Marriage Registration, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing FHL microfilm 001686156.
[viii] The Argos [Indiana] Reflector, No Title – “Samuel Samuelson,” 5 March 1908, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 2021, p. 6, c. 6.
The South Bend [Indiana] Tribune, Two Killed at Crossing, 15 Jan 1908, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 2021, p. 10, c. 2-3.
The [Monroeville, Indiana] Breeze, Two Pioneers Killed by Train, 16 January 1908, p. 2, c. 1, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 202.
The Chesterton [Indiana] Tribune, Two Lives Sacrificed on a Grave Crossing, 16 January 1908, Vol. 24, N. 42, p. 1, c. 3-4, digital image; Findagrave.com: accessed 24 October 2023 posted by Steve Shook.
The Chesterton [Indiana] Tribune, Had a Premonition, 23 January 1908, Vol. 24, N. 43, p. 1, c. 1, digital image; Findagrave.com: accessed 24 October 2023 posted by Steve Shook.
The Chesterton [Indiana] Tribune, Funerals, 23 January 1908, Vol. 24, N. 43, p. 4, c. 1, digital image; Findagrave.com: accessed 24 October 2023 posted by Steve Shook.
The Bristol [Indiana] Banner, Two Killed at Crossing, 24 January 1908, p. 2, c. 3, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 2021.
“Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999,” Samuel A. Samuelson, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing Porter, Indiana Will Record Vol. C-E, 1891-1914.
My last two blogs have focused on tips for researching your emigrant’s native archives and planning an excursion to visit your ancestor’s hometown. In both situations, tech will enhance your trip. Here are my recommendations for how to prepare:
Check with the archive to see what tech is permitted – I was encouraged to bring a thumb drive to transfer records found on the archive’s computer. The thumb drive had to be clean of any data. I could bring a laptop in but could not use it to search the archive’s records. I chose to leave the laptop in my hotel room as I wasn’t sure how secure the area where I would be researching would be. If I had to get up to request more records, I wasn’t confident it would be wise to leave a laptop unattended. Turns out that wouldn’t have been problematic but I tend to err on the side of caution. I was also permitted to bring a cell phone but I had to mute it. I could bring a camera and use it on records that were 75 years or younger. Older records were recorded on the thumb drive. Every archive is different so check the website before you go and send a query if the directive isn’t clear.
Have a plan to back up your tech – There is nothing worse than returning home and finding out that your thumb drive didn’t save or your phone didn’t upload or your camera battery died and no pictures were taken. Don’t wait until you’re home to back up! My plan was to predominately use my phone as I can back up to Dropbox by using an archive or hotel wifi. The bus I traveled on even had wifi so I would upload to Dropbox frequently. I had a digital camera with me in case something happened to my phone – several years ago I had climbed to the top of a Mayan Temple in Mexico and upon looking down, realized that the klutz I am might not make it without breaking a leg. I put my phone in my back pocket, sat down on the top step, and scooted all the way to the bottom. Duh! The phone was broken but I thanked the gods as somehow, the pictures had all been uploaded to Google Photos. Not sure how that happened as there was no cell service in the remote area we were in but I was really glad it happened.
Be prepared for tech to mess up – I’ve blogged about why I stopped using Google Photos to upload which is why I now use Dropbox. I’m not sure why or how Google Photos turned itself back on but two days before I departed for Croatia I went on a local scavenger hunt which involved taking photos of various landmarks and uploading them to an App. I suspect when I downloaded the App it reactivated Google Photos as I found that they had been saved to Google. On the third day of my trip, I got a Gmail warning that I was out of space. Of course, Google wanted me to purchase more space. I ignored the warning and continued to take photos. I didn’t have time to troubleshoot and emails did continue to come in even though I hit the threshold. As a quick fix, I deleted everything in trash and spam which gave me just a bit of space. On my last day, I received an email that 122 photos did not upload to Google Photos, which was fine with me as I never wanted them to go there anyway. When I got home I looked at Google Photos and found the clip I posted at the top – I have no idea why Google Photos duplicated over 100 times that one photo. When I uploaded to Dropbox it didn’t do that. Removing the duplicates would have given me ample space. Tech is awesome when it works but awful when it doesn’t. Be prepared for anything to happen.
Sharing photos – I wasn’t the only one on the trip taking photos. My husband used his phone as did many others who were also on our group tour. I had difficulty with a video of my husband doing a hat dance as a waiter kept walking in front of me. No worries, another group member was filming her husband so she shared her video with me via email. One night we stayed in a brand-new hotel in a village that has no inhabitants as the 1991 war had destroyed most of the homes. Two members of the group had gone exploring and taken some somber photos of bullet holes in buildings. My husband wanted one of the pics so it was shared. Do a quick check of your photos each night. If there is something you wanted but missed, you might have another opportunity before you leave the location or you can ask a fellow traveler to share with you.
Back up when you get home – Dropbox, or whatever you use, is lovely but make sure you back up the backup. I also save to a portable hard drive. If the internet is down I can still access whatever I need.
With the weather outside frightful, I decided it was time for me to clean my computer. I must admit I do not back up as frequently as I should. I did find a way that made the task quick and easy.
First, I never save to my computers. The reason is that I have been burned in the past by them dying unexpectedly. I got into the habit when I was working as a counselor saving to a cloud. Originally, I used a thumb drive but I’ve lost or broken too many and the switch to the cloud made my files accessible anywhere, anytime. I’ve used several cloud companies – OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive. None are perfect but I prefer Dropbox. I do pay for a larger amount of storage. My phone photos go to Dropbox now as they used to go to Google Photos but a year ago, I noticed that some were missing and the transfer stopped entirely last June. My husband’s phone photos go directly to Google Photos but he, too, experienced missing photos.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I am having difficulty synching Ancestry.com with RootsMagic8. I tried it again after I blogged and it still didn’t work though I can synch to version 7. I also tried downloading my Ancestry.com tree, which is large, to Legacy Family Tree but was unable to do that, either. I don’t want to post the new tree to MyHeritage.com, which now owns Legacy. I have a tree on MyHeritage that I do not update as I don’t have time to keep all my online trees up to date. I have enough info on FamilySearch, Geneanet, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage to connect with other researchers. I then direct them to Ancestry which is my most accurate tree.
Sidenote: Several readers have commented that they are also experiencing difficulty with RootsMagic8. One recommended looking into Family Historian as an alternative and I plan to do that. Thanks, readers, for your input!
Due to my synching issues, I decided I should also back up my existing Google Photos, my husband’s photos, and Dropbox to a stand-alone hard drive. I had purchased a Backup Plus before I relocated but hadn’t gotten around to using it.
Stand-alone drives aren’t immune to failure, either, as while I was attempting to backup my husband decided he would clean some old drives he had. Three of five would not open. He’s working on it and is fairly good with tech so I’m confident he’ll figure it out. He recommended I save to two different drives, keeping one at our home and another at one of our adult kid’s house. That way, if something happens to one, there is a backup to the backup. Yes, this is paranoia but it is also my life history and that of my ancestors since I’ve gone digital. When tech changes, these drives will have to be updated to whatever device replaces them so know, in the tech world, you aren’t ever done. LOL, kind of like genealogy!
BACKING UP DROPBOX:
I looked everywhere on Dropbox for information on how to back up the files but found nothing. A Google search gave me several methods but none worked for me. It directed me to the ribbon to click on “Backup tab” which I didn’t have. Another suggestion was to go to Settings and click “Preferences” which I also didn’t have.
Determined, I just experimented and discovered it’s super easy – just right-click on a file folder, scroll down to “Send to >” and select where you want the file duplicated. I chose Backup Plus which went to my E drive as that was the name of my stand-alone hard drive. This took some time as I have LOTS of files but it worked well. Once in a while, the program would stall as it could not find address info. I clicked “Okay” to transfer without the data. I was able to open the file from the stand-alone hard drive with no problem.
BACKING UP GOOGLE PHOTOS TO DROPBOX:
The time spent on the transfer depends on how much media you have. I have tons since I began using Google Photos in the early 2000s.
First, to access your photos, click on the grid symbol
on the ribbon on the right side of your main Google search page.
Select “Google Photos”
Find Settings, mine is on the ribbon on the top right, the middle gear symbol:
Scroll WAY DOWN to find “Export your data”:
The page will show you that the “Export is in progress…”:
I haven’t gotten the email yet. I probably should not have tried to export both my and my husband’s photos simultaneously.
When I receive the email I will save it to Dropbox and then, follow my instructions above on how t save it to my external hard drive.
BACKING UP WEBSITES:
If you have a website, you might also like to save its content. I periodically do that by using a product called UpdraftPlus Backup Restore. I’m not providing the instructions here because I have an older version I probably should update. Sigh, tech is constantly changing!
Now that my files are in tip-top shape I’m ready to spend time on what I really love to do – find and analyze records!
We don’t take much time to think about clouds. As a tropical storm passes to my south, I notice only grey skies today. Genealogists sometimes look to the heavens and think, where did you leave that record, great-grandpa? Those aren’t the clouds we’ll be discussing. I’m talking about tech servers that are accessed “out there” on the internet. It’s a place where your data is kept for you to retrieve anytime, anyplace.
Technically, the cloud is a misnomer; your internet-stored data is housed in a physical place somewhere on earth and not up in the big fluffy grouping of water vapor. Why is paying a company to keep your data a good idea? If you only store your data in one location, such as your lap or desktop, you risk losing all of it if the device fails. It’s unpredictable when that may occur – spilled beverage, power surge, or just system age can make your hard work disappear in a heartbeat.
Backing up to a portable hard drive or a stick is a good idea, but are you really going to do that after every new task you are working on? Will you take that bulky drive with you when you are researching in an archive? Will you carry it to your family reunion this summer to show your kin what you’ve been working on? Not likely. Both storage methods are useless without the computer itself.
The cloud enables you to access your information from any device, even if it isn’t yours. I’m not saying that is smart or safe to do that; the best practice is to only sign in to a secure device! The option, though, is available and at times, might be lifesaving.
For example, your family member was just injured and is in the emergency room. They want to know when the individual’s last tetanus shot was given. I can’t remember that stuff, especially under times of stress. I can access the cloud on my phone and retrieve the record if I have saved it there.
You probably have been using cloud technology and don’t realize it. Apple iCloud, Netflix, Yahoo, and Google Mail all keep your data in cloud storage.
There are many cloud storage companies, known as computing service providers, available to choose from. Which should you select? Whichever meets your needs and budget. The big 3 are Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. I’ve used them all but like the Dropbox app on my phone. I can scan a sales receipt, upload photos I’ve taken, or retrieve anything I’ve saved to share quickly with just a few clicks.
Saving to the cloud is easy from your computer. You can download the software to use on your desktop or you can sign in via the internet to your account, then drop and drag your information. I have noticed a slight time delay between my desktop and laptop. The transfer is not instantaneous but fairly quick. When I used to work away from home, I would place my unfinished documents in the cloud and by the time I drove home, about 45 minutes later, they would be there for me to pick up where I left off.
If you’ve uploaded a family document to Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, or any other genealogy program, you’ve used the drop and drag feature. It’s quick, easy, and secure.
How secure? I did take my laptop with me when I volunteered a few weeks ago to finish up a task for the organization where I was volunteering. I signed on to the shared internet from that location. A few days later I decided it was time to update my Dropbox password. When I logged on to the site through the internet, I noticed a sign on to my account from a location I had never visited. I panicked, thinking someone had hacked my account. I updated the password and through an option on the site, blocking the unknown location from accessing my account again. What I hadn’t realized in my panic was that the organization I was at used their own cloud servers that happened to be in the location I wasn’t familiar with. Duh! My data had been safe all along; Dropbox was simply letting me know where the servers I had used were housed.
I highly recommend saving your genealogy documents to a cloud environment. Definitely back up periodically to a hard drive, as well! The more you save the more options you have to retrieve your hard work.
I will be taking a hiatus from blogging. We have some major life-changing news brewing that I’ll be writing about in the upcoming weeks. Until we reconnect, you can always reach me at email@example.com. Happy Hunting and hopefully, we’ll be back together soon.
Often we get stuck in a mindset, for better or worse. I had two DNA conversations this week that helped me broaden my thinking about DNA.
First, I’ve had one of those weeks where everything tech-wise decided to stop operating. Consequently, I spent time on the phone with an IT person who was trying to get an account to accept my password. In the course of our conversation, he asked me what my business was about and as I described what a genealogist does, he said I had reminded him that he needed to upload his DNA results for his primary care physician. Wow, I hadn’t realized that primary care doctors were now taking results from the big DNA organizations!
Now for the divergent thinking part of the story – I asked where he tested and he said 23andMe; he that he was SHOCKED that they knew of his close relationship with his aunt. She was his FAVORITE relative and they shared interests and food preferences. He had no idea that the company would understand how close emotionally he felt to her.
I paused to find the right words. I explained they didn’t know how he felt but they knew how her genes compared to his genes and the “close” relationship meant genetically and not emotionally.
The following day a couple brought their adorable mutt into our local historical society for a tour. Yes, leashed behaved pets are allowed. This was the cutest pup I’ve ever seen. A colleague asked if they knew what breeds he was and the response surprised me – they had his DNA done and he was schnauzer, poodle, shih tzu, and shepherd. I’ve been dogless for a few years now; I had no idea you could have your dog tested.
Remember the old board game, Clue? Maybe you saw the movies or read
the books about the game instead. That’s the kind of week I had but it
was in real life.
I juggle two careers; one in education and one in genealogy. I love
them both! I’m not loving what is happening in either right now. I
miss my students. I miss traveling to archives.
Since I highly value both humans and the bread crumb records they leave
behind, I follow safety guidelines. I realize not everyone believes that
the virus is real or it will have dire consequences for them if they are
infected. I don’t agree with those that refuse to wear a mask or social
distance or go out when they aren’t feeling well but I respect their difference
in opinion – just stay away from me and my family!
That being said, my hubby and I have requested that we continue working from
home via an eLearning platform this upcoming school year and were granted that privilege. Should have been simple but unfortunately, it wasn’t.
One of us was told DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES COME ON CAMPUS and the other was told YOU WILL BE WORKING FROM A SAFE LOCATION ON CAMPUS. We work for the same school district and have the same job title and work with the same grade level of students. We both were determined to have the same level of risk which is why we were granted the eLearning permission. Both of us were highly successful using the online platform since March. We are both former National Board Certified Teachers and deemed accomplished by our district. No one can explain why we have different instructions as to how to execute our roles.
Since no one can provide us a valid reason, we have both decided to Zoom
into meetings when we’re notified they are occurring. I cannot tell you
how thankful we are that we have made the decision we did. On Wednesday
morning a Zoom meeting was held in a classroom with 12 on site attendees and 3 off site. The sign in sheet and pen were passed around onsite for attendance
and one took off his mask briefly to address the group but was told to put it
back on and complied. The next day, the administration was notified that
one of the onsite attendees was diagnosed with covid. Due to Hippa, the
name of the individual cannot be disclosed. Hence, the game of real life
Clue begins. It is a no brainer to figure out who has it as everyone knows who
was in attendance and who did not show up for work the next day. So much
for Hippa confidentiality. If only finding records of our ancestors or
determining relationships for them could be so simple!
Last Saturday afternoon I was notified that I won a free Clooz software
packet. I had been entered into a drawing from visiting the NGS online
Exhibit Hall last month. Since the May NGS Conference had to be
cancelled, the event was moved to online with breakout sessions available for
viewing (after purchase) on July 1st. Also available was a link to
corporate sponsors who would have been available face to face if the conference
had been held. Some of the sponsors offer product discounts or give aways
for visiting their “booth.” That was how I came to be the lucky
winner of Clooz 3.
If you aren’t familiar with Clooz, it is a program to document data with
features that help in analyzing the inputted information to determine identity
and relationship. The program will export to your family tree and offers
more than 200 report formats to help with analysis. I thought this was
just what I need to help sort out my Duer family that reuses names (John,
Thomas, Daniel) several times in each generation. I’ve also long sought
one document that would conclusively show that my Thomas is the son of
Notified by email, I downloaded the software and on Sunday, watched several
of the 12 introductory videos at the site. The presenter has a
personable, calming voice and demonstrates where to click and how to enter
I have a lot of records on my Thomas and John Duer so I’m not yet done
entering the information into Clooz to begin using the reports. I spent Sunday
adding People, Sources and Census info. I still have more to go but
somehow, I did something wrong and cannot find the saved file. I am clueless
(pun intended!) where I saved it! So, I plan on spending time today
determining where all my data went from last weekend and moving forward with the program. Hopefully, Cluz will give me some clues where it’s hiding.
Had a wonderful time in Raleigh last week at the National Genealogical Society Conference! I focused on DNA workshops as that is an area where I would like to gain more knowledge and practical experience.
My 3 favorite sessions on this topic were by Debbie Parker Wayne, Blaine Bettinger and Judy Russell. Now that I have a rudimentary understanding, I plan on working through the book, Genetic Genealogy in Practice by Bettinger and Wayne this summer.
Two of the major DNA players, MyHeritage and Ancestry.com, offered conference specials but I decided to wait until Black Friday to make purchases. My plan is to purchase kits from either or several organizations but more likely from Ancestry first since it has the larger database. Then, I’ll download the results and upload to Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch.
Hubby and I tested years ago through Ancestry – he did X and Y and I did X but that version is no longer supported. I’d like to do add Autosomal this time around and include other family members. Besides the benefit of identifying new family members and confirming ones we are aware of, I think it would be fascinating to see if any mutations occurred between our kids and us and between my husband and his sister.
For Mother’s Day, my family got me an e-Book, Mansions of the Dead, by Sarah Stewart Taylor. It’s a genealogical murder mystery that I find interesting as it takes place in Boston, a city I’ve happily researched in, and revolves around mourning jewelry, which I’ve been fascinated with since working with a Client several years ago that inherited a mystery piece from a paternal grandmother. The book was written when DNA analysis was relatively new and I question some of the info but it is a fun read and I can’t wait to confirm my hypothesis of who done it. Happy Hunting!
Nothing like having a limited time to make an important decision during the Dog Days of Summer. Thanks a lot, Ancestry.com!
You may or may not have received an email message from Ancestry.com earlier this week noting that they have updated their terms of conditions. You may have noticed the message under the ribbon (shown above) on Ancestry.com this week.
Interestingly, Ancestry.com never mentioned what the change(s) was/were in the email. I thought that odd and had decided I would check it out this weekend. Usually noncommunication is a tipoff that the change is important. Organizations know that most folks don’t take the time to read the fine print so sending an email with limited information makes the change more likely to pass quietly.
Before I had a chance to review the document I began receiving emails from family members that bordered on hysteria about the changes.
I would not do the situation justice in explaining the term changes so I’m referring you to blog articles found here and here. It is vital that you read these ASAP as there is only a small window of time for you to make a decision and act.
My decision was to remove all photos/documents I had uploaded to Ancestry.com of LIVING people. My reason is that, although the photo was given to me by family members, I do not have explicit permission to give Ancestry.com permanent permission to own the picture.
I am not concerned over photos of the DECEASED as they don’t have rights anyway. I consider them part of history. I don’t like it that Ancestry.com “owns” the photos for perpetuity but I’d rather the photos be available somewhere rather than lost forever.
Like me, you’ve probably uploaded photos to Ancestry.com and have had them saved by others without giving you credit. I can always identify mine as I have a unique way I save them. Although I would prefer if someone asked permission first, I understand that by my uploading to anywhere on the internet the possibility that someone will use the photo, claim it as their own, etc, exists. I accepted that risk. The Ancestry.com change will make Ancestry.com the owner forever.
Forever is a long time! Does this mean that Ancestry.com may someday take me to court for using a photo I have uploaded, even though I have the original in my possession? I doubt it. Personally, I don’t even think Ancestry.com will last “forever.” Who knows what the world will look like next year, let alone in 5021.
The audacity of the term change did make me consider deleting my Ancestry.com tree. I calmed down and emailed my concerned family members what my decision was regarding photos/documents.
I thought that would have been the end of it but it turned out it was the tip of the melting iceberg. I began receiving responses that they wanted various information they had shared with me over the past 20 plus years removed. I always cite my sources and that was what the bone of contention was. The requests were for removal of their name/email address. Since it’s typical to cite an email exchange with the sender’s name [email address} to receiver’s name [email address] this request totally threw me. I did agree to alter the citation to remove the individual who requested the information be stricken.
I then got a request to remove correspondence from someone who was deceased by a two down the line family member. The deceased was well aware that I had posted the information as she had requested my help in finding documents. She once had permission to make changes to my tree. Her email address is no longer active.
I could have pointed all this out to the requestor but I decided to just take the high road and remove the information.
Which gets me back to a blog article I wrote in June about saving your tree. Here’s another reason to keep a tree somewhere completely updated that you and you alone have access. My article was about synching Ancestry.com to RootsMagic which resided on my computer and is saved in a Cloud as a backup. I did remove everything from Ancestry.com that was requested of me which took several hours. I DID NOT remove it from my RootsMagic tree that is still synched with Ancestry.
If I open RootsMagic and click the Ancestry leaf motif on the ribbon, any changes made on Ancestry.com will appear as an option to update my RootsMagic tree. I don’t want that to change RootsMagic as I want the citations and the pictures of the living all in one place.
My “Main Tree” on Ancestry.com is no longer that. I did consider renaming it to Sort Of Main Tree but decided I don’t need to waste more time because of Ancestry.com’s decision.
Please take some time to review the blog articles and the new policy. Consult with your family on the way to go forward. Do this soon before the policy takes effect.