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.
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.