AI and Translations

Perhaps you are like me and you have ancestors who spoke a variety of languages. This can become problematic if you don’t read the language where they left records. Sure, there has been Google Translate, an AI program, but Google Translate was unable to translate fully the article shown above in December 2022 when I needed it for a lineage society application I was submitting.

I tried to type in what I saw from the article but it is written in old German style and my guesses of what the letters were was not accurate. I had family members who can read German take a look at it but they couldn’t decipher the entire article either. I placed the article on two list servs I use and there was disagreement among German speakers of what the translation was because some of the words used were archaic. I eventually got a translation but it took a lot of time, effort, and connections to get it done.

Enter Chatgpt.

I uploaded the article and in seconds got a translation. Wow, it was extremely close to the one that I eventually submitted after the German “experts” looked at it.

I then decided to try translations from French and Latin. I had needed that for the very same lineage society application. The ancestors lived in what is now Germany so they read the German newspaper, however, Napoleon had taken over their area by the time they were married so the record was in French. Their birth record was in Latin. Sigh, that’s alot of language translations needed!

I used records from for birth and marriage that had been transcribed into French. Again, in seconds, I had a very good English translation.

Now, for the final test – I had a letter written in pencil from 1950 that was faded from someone who had written to my grandparents from Croatia, then called Yugoslavia. I could never translate it because I couldn’t even see it clearly. I had once tried uploading it to’s photo enhancer but it still wasn’t readable.

Since I had such luck with German, French, and Latin I decided to let ChatGPT attempt a translation. My goodness, it was wonderful! I only wish that I had the envelope or an address of the sender. I now know that the letter was written by one of my maternal grandfather’s relatives. This solves a mystery for me as I know my grandparents sent care packages for years to a relative but I didn’t know who. I never thought to ask as a kid and my grandmother’s address book disappeared when she made several moves as she got older.

ChatGPT’s translation allowed me to get a better understanding of this family question mark. Try it – so far ChatGPT is able to translate into about 50 languages. If it doesn’t know exactly it will give you a hint. For example, I did another query asking for information on plementi ljudi – people of nobility. It wasn’t familiar with the term which would equate with a Von or Van status of a German. What ChatGPT did recognize was that it was a Slavic language and it asked me to be more specific. I then stated it was Croatian and if AI knew what p.l. status meant. It correctly gave me a brief history of the honor awarded going back to Hungary. It acknowledged it didn’t know specifically about the meaning in Croatia but that in other Slavic countries, it came with privileges dependent on the time period. When I gave it a time period I got more specific info. This is important as language based AI’s are not the same as search engines. You cannot ask them to tell you when your local library is open or what the library address is. But they can tell you ideas of what you should research in a library or other archive to get the answer you are seeking.

I have enrolled in the National Genealogical Society’s second AI class so I’m hoping to learn lots more of this new genealogy tool. As always, I’ll be sharing it with you.