Happy New Year! Hard to believe this is my last blog of 2023. I’ve been writing about using Artificial Intelligence in family history research for the past few weeks. I hope it has been helpful and taken the fear out of the tech. Whenever I’ve talked about it with my personal FAN Club, I get the same reaction which is either a sign of the cross and the question, Haven’t you seen the terminator movie? to Oh, I want to learn how to do that. Absolutely no reactions in between!
Which I think is quite interesting because I’m a middle of the roader. I love the time saving aspect and the assistance in handling large amounts of data to analyze but I also am very cognizant that this tech is still in it’s infancy, makes mistakes (like people do), and due to lack of transparency from the companies involved, we have no idea what training information was used. So, it could have been an item that was under copywrite, it could have been biased information, or it could have been false information.
That said, I still think it can be useful. I really miss an early Google AI attempt called Picasa. I had saved all of my family photos there and it could identify family members that were infants I could not. I have two sets of twin cousins and in some of the photos I can’t tell them apart. Picasa was able to separate them out individually.
Today, AI can also create pictures. I haven’t tried to input photos from say, 1890, and ask it to take the person in the photo and create a new picture in 1820 period clothes but I suspect that can be done. Sounds interesting and want to get started?
Through ChatGPT I use Dall-E. It has become one in the same since November. Before that, Dall-E was Beta but now they are joined. Here’s how to use AI to get a picture.
In the chat box, ask to “Create a picture or photo of” whatever. You can be specific or not.
When you get a response you might want to edit the picture. You can have the AI do that by specifically stating what you want altered. In the photo above, I asked to update the first image with the word “2024” added. I never told it where to add but perhaps you wanted it front and center. You can then tell it to add a calendar showing the month of January and the year 2024 displayed.
I will be one of seven professional genealogists giving a lecture at an upcoming genealogical conference later in 2024. I will be using AI to create some of the slide pics. For some slides, I had an idea but for others, I let AI create for me with only the slide title as the instruction.
Ethically, I believe that I need to credit AI for the pictures, just as I would source any photo that I use.
I hope you are enjoying the holidays with family and friends. I look forward to 2024 and providing you with more heartfelt and informative blogs. All the best to you and yours!
I’ve blogged many times before about the Field of Honor project in the Netherlands who memorializes service personnel that were killed in the line of duty during World War 2. They had originally planned a 75 year memorial event for early May that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.
On Memorial Day, they held a small event for 30 people that was attended by the King and had a flyover. They reached their goal of obtaining 7500 photos of the interred; thank you to all that helped with the research!
You can learn more about the organization and the ceremony here and here.
They have set a new goal of 8000 photos for the larger event that was postponed until next spring (hopefully). Please continue to send photos by checking their website.
Just 75 years ago this spring, WW2 came to a close. The Faces of Margraten project, spearheaded by the nonprofit Fields of Honor Database in the Netherlands, is attempting to locate 7500 photos of U.S. service personnel who sacrificed their lives to end the conflict. Between May 2-6, 2020, at the American War Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, the photos will be displayed at the gravesite or the Memorial Wall for those who were missing in action.
As of today, the organization is only 180 photos short of their goal. Do you know of a family or community member who was interred in Margraten? If so, you can send a photo of the deceased to email@example.com.
I became involved last summer when I received an email from the organization inquiring about a distant relative found in my Ancestry.com tree. I didn’t have a photo but after checking out the organization, decided I needed to help. All it took was an email to the hometown library and a request to check a local newspaper for a photo in the obituary. The following day, I received the photo which I forwarded to the Fields of Honor Database. I then tried to find photos for the Indiana soldiers. I was able to find 21. I don’t live anywhere near Indiana but I remember my high school had a memorial to the alumni who were killed in combat. That memory made me want to help find the Indiana folks. One of those 21 photos happened to be an alumni of my alma mater.
Want to help but not sure how? First, go to the Fields of Honor Database then click on an alphabet letter. For example, I clicked on “A” and then the first entry, AARON, John D. If you see the following:
then a photo is needed. To find a photo I use the same genealogy skills I would to find information about any ancestor I’m researching. Here’s the steps I would take:
1. Review what is known – From the memorial page I see that John D. Aaron was born in Chismville, Logan, Arkansas and he enlisted in Kansas in 1943. He was killed 27 Nov 1944 near Barmen, Germany.
2. Look in the obvious places first (in alpha order) – Ancestry, BillionGraves, FamilySearch, Find-a-Grave, Fold3, MyHeritage, etc. to get more info. I like to start with the 1940 US Federal census because I can get an age and education level for the soldier and discover where he/she lived (1935) prior to enlistment. Why? So I can look at year book photos.
This is what I find for John D. Aaron using Ancestry:
I’m going to check out the third entry because it’s a close match name, age, and places – born in Arkansas but living in Oklahoma. That record is a little disappointing:
because John only went to grade 6, meaning no picture in a high school year book.
If a year book photo is not available, I check out the online family trees for the individual. On Ancestry, he’s found in 23 family trees. If you find a photo, contact the poster for permission to use and then send to the project. If there is no photo but you find a tree naming the individual, contact the owner to ask if they have a photo and explain why you’d like one. But don’t stop there, we all know it can be YEARS before someone will respond to your query.
Interestingly, the first tree I went to on Ancestry has an obit. When I go to Gallery to get the citation, I find a note from the family member who provides his email address with a note that he is looking for a photo to be included in the Faces of Margraten project. Small world! Since I know someone is actively searching for this photo, I’d go back to step 1 and pick another individual to research.
3. Ramp up your search by contacting a local library, genealogy organization, hometown newspaper or high school. Briefly email the organization what you know and why your searching for a photo. Sometimes newspapers put the photos in a special section, other times with the obituaries. Besides newspapers and year books, photos have been located in library clipping files and family donated materials. The local staff can help direct you to another archive if necessary. I’ve even had small town libraries tell me that they know of family members who still reside in the area and they’ve reached out to them for a photo. Isn’t that heartwarming?!
My biggest learning experience with this project was that the American Gold Star Mothers organization, founded in 1928, does not have an archive containing soldier information. That’s a shame since many of the U.S. government records were destroyed in the 1973 fire in St. Louis. Makes me appreciate the Netherlands organization even more for memorializing the fallen.
Now it’s your turn to pitch in and find a photo. I’d love to hear of your success; leave a comment or email me at GenealogyAtHeart@gmail.com with your soldier’s name and how you made the discovery.
Two weeks ago I wrote about genealogy patience. This is a follow up that I’m having difficulty writing because I’m so overwhelmed with joy at the moment I can hardly contain myself! Now this story is also just plain weird and I think proves that the universe has a wicked sense of humor so I hope you enjoy what I’m about to relate.
I have searched for a picture of my husband’s maternal Great Grandmother Lovisa “Louise” Carlson Johnson for years (pictured above with her three daughters). When a DNA match was discovered two years ago in August I sent an email asking if the match had a picture. He responded this year on Halloween that he didn’t think so but would check with another family member who had a box of unlabeled photos and would get back to me. I put it out of my mind as I wish I had a buck for every time a family member said, “I’ll check and get back with you.” My people procrastinate and they never seem to followup up unless I keep bothering them. I figured, with the holidays approaching and people getting busy, I’d wait til after Thanksgiving and send a gentle reminder.
I went about my business and was volunteering two weeks ago at a local genealogy library event assisting interested patrons in finding their roots. I had helped 2 wonderful retired teachers when things got really slow. I considered leaving but the event was supposed to continue for one more hour and I don’t like to cut out early when I’ve committed so I decided to bring up Arkidigital.com, a Swedish genealogy site, that is awesome. I used to belong but found most of my husband’s Swedish records so I didn’t renew. Since it was free for the weekend I decided I’d revisit and see if they had added any new records. I was still bringing it up when a new patron stopped by. So, you can probably guess that the woman had deep Swedish roots. What a coincidence, I thought, and told her I just happened to open up the free site. She was interested in discovering information about her great grandfather who settled in Minnesota. She thought he had changed his name at Ellis Island so she wasn’t sure how to verify the story.
I didn’t need Arkivdigital for that so I went in search of naturalization records and World War I and II draft records to see if we could find a clue. There it was – he hadn’t changed his name at all. What she had thought was a last name appeared to be a Confirmation name that he had stopped using between 1917 and 1942. He had emigrated under the name he had arrived with in the U.S. and continued using it; it is on his tombstone.
By the time we had found the evidence, the event was ending so I showed her how to go to Arkivdigital to search for his birth record in Sweden. Turns out, she was also a former educator and she told me a funny story of her attending a conference in Wales several years ago. I replied I wanted to go there, to Croatia and to Sweden to see family’s old haunts but I couldn’t find a tour that went where my husband and my people lived. She told me she had gone on a fantastic trip to Sweden through a group out of Minnesota and gave me their website. I told her I’d check it out when I got home.
On the way home I stopped in a store to pick up a few items and yes, they were already playing holiday muzak. What was on was Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. Geez, I thought, what a dumb song. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
I got home and told my husband I’d love to go to Sweden next summer and was going to check out a tour group. Sure enough, the tour went exactly where we needed to visit. Wow, I thought, that’s coincidence number 2 for the day – the last lady just happens to give me the info that I’ve been looking for. I sent the company an email.
After dinner I decided I’d bring Arkivdigital back up and search for a bit. I had my tree up on one screen and the website I’d be searching on the other when an Ancestry little leaf appeared. As I’ve written several times, I typically just ignore the hints but this time something told me to check it out. It was for my husband’s paternal great grandfather, Samuel Samuelson, who had died in 1908. It was a link to Find-A-Grave. I already had that info but clicked to go to Find-A-Grave anyway. I’m so glad I did because a man interested in history had recently posted a newspaper story from a Chesterton, Indiana paper that is not available anywhere online regarding the circumstances surrounding Samuel’s death. The information hadn’t been there the last time I looked (so you have to go back and look over sites again or you might miss something important). I had the death certificate which noted accident – skull crushed but I assumed that was the result of a farming accident of some sort. Nope, the accident explained that Samuel and a neighbor were crossing a train track when the sleigh they were in was hit by the train. Both men and horse died. Okay, so here’s the weird, twisted part – I couldn’t get the reindeer song out of my head. I was humming it when I read this. I got a sick feeling – I’m humming a song that’s supposed to be funny but I just discovered someone’s gruesome death in a related accident. That was the 3rd coincidence that day. The individual who posted the article had also posted the obituary which said, “…his youthful looks and manner, his good nature, and never failing sense of humor made him a delightful companion…”. Somehow, I thought he would be amused by this twisted occurrence. And learning about his personality, the man sounds just like my husband.
By this point I was just done with genealogy for the day so I thought I’d check my email and then call it a night. There was an email and it was from the DNA match who said he’s get back with me – he had found a few pictures that were labeled and they were of my husband’s maternal great grandma! It must have been Sweden Day as the photos he sent me were of different stages in the woman’s life. He promised to send me a thumb drive with all the photos of other relatives he had but warned me that most weren’t labeled.
I just got the thumb drive – my, oh, my, what a wonderful early Christmas present! There was my husband’s maternal grandparents wedding photo which was also the earliest photo of his grandfather I had ever seen.
There were photos, labeled, that had stepchildren of his great great grandfather. There were church records! Someone had gone to a long closed church and photographed the handwritten membership list. There is so many genealogical gems that I haven’t even gone through everything yet.
Oddly, he had even sent photos of my husband’s paternal side of the family who isn’t even his relation. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but in 1917, they all had attended a wedding for one of his relatives. Living in the small farming community, it shouldn’t have been surprising a wedding would have brought neighbors together. I just never expected to find so many of my husband’s great and grandparents in these photos.
But that’s not all! I had a grainy photo of the Harbaugh family reunion but I could never make out most of the individuals because someone had moved the camera as the photo was taken. It was also a far shot and the people were so tiny. Enlarging the photo only made it more blurry. Turns out I had the first photo and the photographer decided to take a second shot. I can tell as the man in the front row far left has turned to walk away from the group. Unbelievably, the photo I just received has names attached and is clear as can be:
Check out the man in row 2, third from left that looks like Abe Lincoln. That would be my husband’s maternal great grandfather. It is the only photo known to be in existence of him! His wife is right in front of him. I had a grainy photo of her from a church group shot taken about 10 years before this one. All of my husband’s great aunts and uncles are also pictured and we never had any of their photos, either! The mysterious Louisa, who I had originally contacted the DNA match for a photo, is also shown.
So my patience really paid off and I highly encourage you, this upcoming holiday season, to ask for the stories – photos – documents – DNA tests – that will enhance what you’ve already discovered and give you a more complete story of your ancestors. Happy Hunting!
You know that Bible verse Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it shall be given to you, knock and you shall find?” I believe it was really written for genealogists. I would add to it – “though not immediately.”
In August, 2017, I sent an email query to a DNA cousin on Ancestry. I recognized the surname, Chellburg, and knew immediately the relationship. I was hoping to find a picture of my husband’s great grandmother, Louvisa “Louise” Carlson Johnson. Louise had lived in the house my husband grew up in and when my husband’s parents were relocating, I claimed all the photos and letters that had been stored in a suitcase in the basement. Of course they weren’t labeled. We were able to identify just about everyone, however, and no photo was ever found to be of Louise. Maybe she was camera shy or perhaps, when she moved in with another daughter the last year of her life, the pictures went with her. I was really hoping the last scenario was the case.
Over the years, I’ve checked with all the closer relatives for a photo and no one had one so when the DNA match came up I immediately sent off a message. Hey, I followed the Biblical directions – I asked and the email served as an electronic knock and then, well, I guess no one was home because I didn’t get a response.
Two years, two and a half months later I get an email back with the answer (paraphrased) – Sorry, I haven’t been on in a while. I don’t have a picture of Louise but I have one of her husband, Gust Johnson. I think another cousin, who’s 92, has the photos. He’s got a lot but none our labeled.
Big surprise there – another box of unlabeled photos. My husband had actually reached out to the older relative a few years ago but he didn’t respond. Now I’m hoping that the DNA match can connect with him to find a photo.
I am many things but patient is not in my makeup so the waiting really is the hardest part of genealogy for me.
I just read an article that I think you might find interesting – Lost Rolls America is about those rolls of film you have hanging around the house that you never take to get developed.
A few years ago I had developed all of the rolls and disposable cameras (remember those?!) that were in my home. Most of the photos were field trips my children went on and the pictures weren’t all that exciting. My family still laughs, though, at the weird occurrence that happened when I took the films in to be developed.
I was next in line at the camera counter at my neighborhood Walgreens when a woman came in and sighed loudly behind me. Turning, I saw she was clearly in a hurry. I smiled and said something about the line was moving quickly. She said she was late and hoped it did. Then she saw all the film and disposable cameras I had in a gallon size baggie. I told her she could go ahead of me.
Just at that moment the customer who was being waited on finished. The hurried woman needed to buy batteries but the kind she needed they didn’t have. She said something like, “That’s just great, now what am I gonna do?” I suggested she run to the Battery Store a few miles away as they seem to have every kind imaginable. I added, “Just be careful driving;” as she did seem to be in such a hurry. She said “Thanks,” walked away and as I started dumping the contents of the baggie on the counter she came back. “Excuse me,” she said. Both the clerk and I looked up. “I know this will sound strange, but you have a lot of dead people following you.” The clerk looked at her like she was out of her mind. I just laughed and said, “I’m sure I do. I’m a genealogist and it’s probably family.” Turns out she was a fortune teller. She gave me her card and told me she’d give me a free reading for my kindness. I never took her up on it.
Maybe I should have; those dead people following me sure didn’t answer my genealogical questions! Perhaps you’ll get lucky and those rolls of film will help you answer yours. Happy Hunting!
If you haven’t seen the Disney movie that came out last fall, Coco, then you must do it soon. I’m not the kind of person that watches the same shows again and again but I have seen Coco 3 times. Here’s why I think Coco is important to genealogy and will help you with your research:
Customs – the story takes place in Mexico on the eve of Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Even though my family never celebrated that holiday, we sure celebrated many others. Think back to your own childhood and identify customs that your family practiced. Did Aunt Marge always bring a special dish? If so, ask why before it’s too late. I regret not writing down the words in Croatian that my grandparents said before Christmas Eve dinner. I know it was brought with them from the Old Country but unfortunately, that custom is now lost to me.
Photo clues – One of my favorite parts of Coco is the altar of photos. I don’t have that layout but I do have a family tree of photos on the wall in my office. Those photos are of couples going back 5 generations. Around the tree I’ve placed pictures of large family gatherings to include more of the extended family. I also received as a Christmas gift a metal tree that holds smaller photos. I’ve placed pictures of many of those couples as infants on this stand alone tree. By seeing the “big picture” you can often identify people in other photos that were considered unknown.
In Coco, the main character, Miguel, accidentally discovers a displayed photo had been altered and the missing person is critical to his story. That part of the film made me laugh as my family does the same thing Miguel’s family did! I inherited some photos from a deceased second cousin and one of them was torn vertically to remove someone. I’ve never been able to find a copy of the intact photo but from the dress of the remaining individual, it appears that it was taken before a cantakerous divorce. There’s a story behind every missing person in a photo and it pays to try to uncover it.
Making Wrong Assumptions – Like Miguel, I’ve been down the wrong trail of who I thought was family. Aided by spirits, he was able to uncover the truth. You don’t have to hire a medium to find the answer – simply take a DNA test. One of my husband’s cousins is doing a Lazarus project on a line through Gedmatch. I’ll be writing about it soon but in the meantime, if you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s trying to “raise the dead” by comparing the living’s DNA. The results can help you insure you’re researching your direct family lines.
FAN Club – Miguel learns all about a neighbor of his great grandfather and that connection with his family is a key to the story. What I especially like about this genealogy tip is that the connection isn’t an immediate neighbor or made through a religious organization, such as being a baptism sponsor. This connection is career related and sometimes we overlook that. Checking out union records, membership in business associations and even competitors in an industry could provide you with a wealth of information about an ancestor’s life.
Family Stories – We all have our legends and just like Miguel’s, they get convoluted in the retelling. To separate the facts from fiction in yours, first write down the story as you remember hearing it. If possible, ask another family member to tell you what they remember of the story. There will be some differences and note those. Next, research to see if there were records for the event mentioned. Newspapers, court documents, and even almanacs can help you determine the factual basis of the story. Getting the correct story may help you find that missing marriage record or place of death so this approach is well worth the effort.
Uncovering Buried Memories – The most poignant part of the movie for me was when Abuelita identifies her father, Miguel’s great grandfather. Miguel is so gentle when talking with his senile grandmother and to get information before it’s too late can’t be stressed enough. I interviewed my maternal grandmother and mother before their memories became difficult to access. In hindsight, I wish I had recorded it instead of taking notes. If you haven’t interviewed your older relatives plan on doing that soon.
Our Gifts – Miguel loved music while the rest of his living family did not. His genealogical journey helped him understand where his talent came from. By looking deeper into your family’s history, you’ll uncover much more than just birth-marriage-death info – you’ll discover people you wish you’d met and others who you’d love to understand why they made the choices they did. Some people we can closely identify with, others, not so much. They’re all a part of us and we’re all connected. Like Miguel’s family, we need to make peace with the past so the future can be brighter.
Yesterday I attended an all day seminar sponsored by my local genealogy society. As always, I learned something new and enjoyed the camaraderie of others who are passionate about genealogy. Lisa Louise Cooke was the primary speaker and I absolutely fell in love with her use of media to share her family stories. I agree with her that the family members that get that glazed over look when you start talking about ancestors would show an interest in a short video presentations that highlighted an ancestor’s life.
Lisa used Animoto and I plan to explore that site in the next few weeks (as soon as my new floors are in and the dust can finally settle!) On the long drive home I thought about several “stories” I could portray. I’d love to do one including 8 mm movie clips I have of my husband and his siblings for his retirement. I’m thinking about making another for my DAR daughter tracing the line from the patriot to her. Would definitely make one about farming since it’s so ingrained in my blood; my son would enjoy that one as he’s the hydroponic expert for the rest of us.
I think what I found most appealing was that the story can be “told” in so many different ways. Words can be included or not. Music or a song can be added or not. Maps and still photos can be used, along with video clips and photogs. The possibility seems endless.
If you’re having difficulty writing your family’s story this might be perfect way for you to get moving. If you’ve made a family video let me know – I’d love to check it out and learn from you.
I found it interesting that four of Legacy Family Tree’s top 10 webinars of 2016 revolved around photography (Dating Family Photographs – 1900-1940 by Jane Neff Rollins; Enriching Your Family History through Pictures and Stories by Amie Bowser Tennant; Scrapbooking & Journaling for Family History by Amie Bowser Tennant; and Share, Store, and Save Your Family Photos by Maureen Taylor). I guess you could even make a case that a fifth one also involves photos (Crowdsourcing with Social Media to Overcome Brick Walls in Genealogy Researchby Amie Bowser Tennant) since FaceBook and Pinterest are valuable genealogical tools to find photos.
I love discovering photos and when I perform Client work I try to add them to a project. Staring into the eyes of an ancestor elicits emotions like no other item can!
So, that’s why I’m worried about the present habits we have developed (no pun intended!) regarding preserving our photos. Our smart phones and other devices have made preserving memories incredibly quick, easy and inexpensive. I use my phone’s camera for recording anything I want to refer back to, such as a whiteboard that was used during a brainstorm session in a meeting, two garments I might purchase to see which would better match the shoes I left at home, and of course, family events. I take more photos now than at any earlier stages of my life. I also have a horrible habit of not preserving those photos I take.
As I walk throughout my home I noticed that most of the framed photos I have on display were taken by a professional. Back in the day, having a photograph made was an event in and of itself. First you had to find the studio, then book an appointment, make sure everyone was dressed and ready to go and finally, return days later to view the proofs to select which you wanted to purchase. Another trip was necessary to pick up the final product. No wonder most of those photos are still around. So much time, effort and cost was involved the photo was determined to be valuable.
Today, not at all. Snap, click, delete if it wasn’t to everyone’s liking or share if it was. We don’t print out photos like we did in the past. Right after the “Years of the Hurricanes” in Florida in the early 2000’s I would have said it was a blessing not to have more photos to lug during an evacuation. CD and Cloud technology seemed like such a great idea. It was the hurricanes that forced me to scan and save my family’s photos – those from the 1800’s to the recent scrapbooks I had created as my children grew up. I thought I was being so smart when I saved to CD’s and gave them out as Christmas gifts to various relatives. My thought was to spread them around to increase the likelihood that they would be preserved. Have a wildfire in California or a twister in the Midwest? No worries, the CD will live on in New England. I never thought about CD’s going away or family members who misplaced them.
When Cloud technology came out I simply transferred everything online. How convenient to be able to access those photos from anywhere! But the program I used, Picassa, became defunct. So I transferred them to Google Photos and Dropbox and Ancestry.
It just hit me I’ve preserved the past but not the present. I’m not saving my current photos at the rate that I did before. Our family’s Thanksgiving pics are still in my phone, along with birthdays and other events I’ve recently attended.
Just as I calendar in a monthly day to download my gedcom from Ancestry to save to software (Legacy and RootsMagic7) on my hard drive, a stand alone hard drive and in the Cloud (Dropbox) I need to also be saving my pics. Yes, I am paranoid but I’ve invested so much time I would be heartsick if all of those were lost.
What I need to do is to get in the habit of cleaning out the photos and preserving them. My plan is to delete those that didn’t come out well and send those I want to keep to my computer. I’ll back those up like I do the gedcom. This is being added to my New Year’s Resolutions!