RootsTech Has Begun!

Don’t miss the FREE lectures, Expo Hall, and connections you can make. Starting this AM, RootsTech is available for free from your home. Just register here and start participating.

Here’s some handy hints to get the most out of the conference:

Look over the lectures by clicking “See Full Schedule” and save those you want to view to the Schedule tool. You can go directly to your class from your schedule, (MySchedule), saving time by having to find it on the main page.

More classes you want to attend then time? No worries! Just open Word and copy and paste those you can’t attend. They will be available on YouTube later.

Refer back to my AI Notes blog so you can save the info from the chatbox and/or lecture in summary format.

Don’t forget to download the syllabus from the viewing site!

Definitely spend time on other events (RootsTech Event>Expo Hall). Lots of discounts on genealogy stuff! Take advantage of it this weekend.

Want to connect with far flung relatives you didn’t know existed?! Easy – just go to RootsTech Event>Relatives at RootsTech. Had to laugh as there were five fifth cousins of mine attending in Indianapolis. I know you’re wondering how in the world did RootsTech know that? Well, if you have yourself on a family tree at Familysearch.org it matches all the registrants to their tree and then connect you if you have a common ancestor.

How To Complete an Indexing Project

AI Generated

This past winter I spent many hours indexing the Johnson Funeral Home and Furniture Store records that I acquired at a local online auction in November 2023. The funeral had been in operation since 1901 and the collection contained many loose documents, such as burial transports and tombstone orders, to eight Daybooks that recorded funerals and items sold from a furniture store that the family also ran through 1991.

This blog article is the How To from begin to end of an indexing project.

Obviously, the first step is to determine if a document is important to preserve. Ask yourself if it contains a:

record that states names, relationships, and/or

dates of residence in a location, and/or

mentions a particular community event.

If so, then this is a record worth preserving. Think about it, there may not be another record available that shows the named individuals in that location on that date. City directories and phone books are important but they don’t narrow down a family’s location to a particular date.

Next determine who owns the rights to the record. If it is a family, will they provide you, in writing, that you may scan, index, and share the information? If it is an archive, will they house not only the record but also have technology available to make scans and the index available to patrons?

Once permissions are received it’s time to appraise the documents. Are they in fragile condition? Are they moldy? Are they dirty/dusty? Do they have a funky smell (seriously!)? If so, then you will want to speak with a preservationist about containing the damage before proceeding.

In my case, there were no funds available locally to hire a specialist so I reached out the Transitional Genealogist Forum and asked for advice.

It was recommended that I spray a microfiber towel with Lysol, peroxide or rubbing alcohol to prevent possible mold from spreading. This was done outside on a warm day, allowing the books to dry naturally.

I then placed each book in an individual plastic bag and  froze them in my freezer for 48 hours to kill any mold spores. Some of the books had water damage and smelled moldy. They were housed in a building that showed visible signs of mold on the walls. I did not want to spread the mold in my home and later, the archive where I was going to be donating them.

The books were then defrosted in my garage which was 60 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours. I then took a microfiber towel and again wiped down the covers, spine, and each page. The books were ready for scanning.

I decided with my local genealogy library to use their oversized scanner as the books were large and would not fit completely on my home scanner. I brought along a thumb drive. Working with the librarian, I adjusted the scanner setting to their recommendations and saved each page, cover and spine that had writing on it to the thumb drive. I had to use more than one thumb drive as the images were large and there were many. After each scanning session I saved the images from the thumb drive to my desk top computer and to a stand-alone hard drive and a cloud. I didn’t want to lose the hard work I had invested in scanning!

It took me a month of scanning four full days a week to have all the records recorded. I placed individual papers in acid free sheet protectors as soon as they were scanned. The books were taken home and housed in case I discovered, while indexing, that the scan was incomplete or blurred. There were two scans that needed to be redone.

Next up was indexing the records. I used Microsoft Excel to set up a database. Since each record book and the individual papers contained varying information, I selected the following headings to keep them consistent as I wanted to combine all the information into one database eventually. First, though, I indexed each book to its own tab. The headings were “Original Name,” “”Book Name,” “Page No.” (if any,) “Image No.”, and “Date”(if any). I later added two more columns – “Verified Name” and “Notes.”

I opened each scan and recorded all the information I could find under the heading names, noting anything interesting under notes. For example, sometimes a marriage date or a spouse’s name was given.

I did try using AI to index but the yellowed pages, written with pencil in poor handwriting and with varying spellings was not something AI I had available could handle. It took me another four weeks to index all the information.

Verifying the indexed information is just as important as recording it the first time! I wish that there were others who could have checked my work but unfortunately, due to family situations others who had volunteered could not assist at the end. So, I had to find a different way to double check my work.

It became apparent that names for the same individual were spelled differently throughout the documents. Sometimes a person would be recorded as Mrs. John Smith and later, Mrs. Betty Smith. I wanted family to be able to find their ancestors quickly so I combined all the individual tabbed databases into one filtering the name column so I could find separate records for the same person. I then used online sources, such as death certificates, public trees, census records, city directories, church records, marriage records, and yearbooks to validate that the individual was the same person. Was Mrs. Betty Smith the same person as Mrs. John Smith? Only thorough research could answer that question.

This is where the note column came in handy. In my Smith example, I could record how many people in the area during that time had the same name. This means I was not always verifying a particular individual made the record but that there were several people with that name in the area at the time the record was made. It will be up to the researcher to analyze the information further to determine exactly which Betty Smith had made the record.

Lastly, I wrote a brief explanation of:

                How the books were acquired

                The businesses address, owners, and years in operation

                How the collection was prepared for indexing

                The condition of the books

                Who to contact if errors were found and needed to be corrected

Then, I was ready to contact the archive and schedule a day/time to turn over the materials. Per their request, I sent the images and index via email.

Now it was time to share the resource with the general community. Otherwise, how would researchers find the index? I spoke with a local newspaper reporter who published an article. The local genealogical society will publish an article in its newsletter. I’ve updated the county resource guide to include the new index. Getting the word out is your important last step.

AI and VHS Tapes

AI Generated

I have not tried this AI tip noted on Facebook by Michael Cassara but it is something I’ve placed on my to-do list.

Do you have lots of old VHS tapes? I do and I’ve had them digitized as they do fade away with time.

Michael uploaded his digital file to ParrotAI and had the former VHS tape transcribed. It can then be summarized and you can even ask questions, such as “Where was immigration mentioned?” of “What did Aunt Dot say about her first job?” This would be a real time saver if you can’t watch the entire video and need to refer to a certain part.

How to Set Up a Genealogy Blog

AI Generated

Last week I blogged about solving an AI creepy result and this is a continuation of how you can get the most out of AI. You can read last week’s blog here.

First, a disclaimer. AI will not immediately be looking at your blog posts as the various companies “train” their technology at set times. This means you aren’t going to see immediate results but you will over time.

You will likely see positive results fairly quickly by connecting with far flung family members who are researching the very same lines you are. I’ve obtained photos and lots of helpful documents I wouldn’t have known existed if I had not blogged about my family.

I love blogging for so many reasons! I began it as I pursued certification through the Board of Certified Genealogists as I thought the journey would be of interest to others. I did not obtain certification but I got hooked on blogging!

Several folks I know had tried to blog but just didn’t follow through with it. The reason was they claimed they didn’t have time. It doesn’t take long to write a short blog post. Schedule an hour once a week at a time where you will have minimal distractions. With practice, you’ll cut down on the time you spend writing.

Another reason I’ve heard that people don’t blog is because they can’t think of what to write about. I write about what I’ve been doing or plan to do. If I find a great webinar, hint, or an a-ha moment, I figure it will be of use to others so I share it. It’s that simple!

I think one of the reasons I was successful in continuing to blog was because I initially wrote four blog posts before I ever published one. That way, I had back up posts in case life got crazy. At the time, I was working two jobs, still had kids at home, and was involved in a lot of community organizations. Developing the habit of sitting down to write when there was a quiet moment and writing several pieces helped me develop a habit. Scientists claim (according to Google, hmm!) that it takes 66 days to develop a positive habit. So, definitely schedule time during that initial period. After that, you can wing it.

I began blogging through Google’s Blogger. It is simple, just follow the directions provided on the website. Why I chose Google over other blog sites is because you will have that search engine behind you to get the word out of what you are writing about.

As my business, Genealogy At Heart, grew I added a website through WordPress. I selected WordPress because other professional genealogists said it was easy and inexpensive. Now I post my weekly blog in both places. If Google ever decides to stop supporting Blogger than my blogs are safe on my own website. If I decide to retire and cease my website, then I can easily backup my blog posts so that future family will still have access to my ancestral discoveries. That’s a win-win outcome!

There are many other blog sites so do a simple search if you’d like alternatives.

So, there you have it! I’ve published over 500 posts since I began in 2015. In 2023 my Genealogy At Heart blog was recognized as one of the top 100 by Genea-Blogs and for 2024, FeedSpot has named it in the Top 100 Bloggers. Getting recognition is nice and appreciated. Getting connections with other who have the same passion I do is even better. Got a question on how to get started? Email me at genealogyatheart@gmail.com.

Creepy Genealogy AI – An Update

AI Generated

In December, I blogged about a creepy AI discovery I had made when testing ChatGPT’s ability to extract and summarize from newspaper articles. Information in the summary was provided by AI that was no where in the articles uploaded. Although errors like this, called hallucinations, are known to happen with this budding tool, the information that AI proved was 100% correct. That’s what made this feel creepy. How did it know more about my family than the articles I entered?!

You can read the blog I’m referring to here.

I’m now enrolled in my second AI for Genealogy class through the National Genealogical Society and my instructor, Steve Little, noted in class this past week that AI was trained by, among other information, through blog posts.

Bingo! That explains how ChatGPT got my correct ancestors to include in the summary as I have blogged extensively about my Leininger and Landfair families.

Since I’ve blogged about my families for years much of my research is available online. I’ve spoken with other family historians who haven’t had as good a result as I have with using AI. Perhaps this is why I’m getting the results that I am.

When the world wide web was in its infancy, I had difficulty with understanding the concept that once something is place there you can’t get rid of it. Sure, websites come and go but the information is still out there if you look hard enough with tools like the Wayback Machine. Personally, I was involved with an educator only web in the early 1990s and on the world wide web since 1995 so my digital footprint is a large size. Who knew that it would be a help to me with the latest technology?!

If AI is not giving you the results you’d like, I’d suggest that you upload the info you’re working with as a pdf when you prompt it. This might also be a good time for you to start blogging about your family. I will be providing more info on how to do that next week. Happy Hunting!

Customize Instructions with AI

AI Generaated

If you have a Chatgpt account ($20.00/month) you have the ability to customize how you want AI to respond to you. It’s simple to set up:

Setting Up Customized Instructions:

  1. On the left side bottom of the screen, click on your name.
  2. Click on “Customize Instructions”
  3. Make sure the button is enabled on the new screen!
  4. Type in the box your instructions to AI. Mine were that I wanted it to be creative. I’m interested in responses that would be given to a professional genealogist. When I type “Geni” I want the response addressed to “Lori”. I also requested a limerick every so often as they make me laugh.

Why Customize? If you want answers tailored to your role, then customized instructions are a must. If you have more than one person sharing an account, you definitely want to add customized instructions. My husband does not use Chatgpt often but when he does he does not want a response that would be given to a genealogist. So, we added into the customized instructions when his name for AI is typed, AI is to respond with my husband’s name and the information he would want from an expert by adding what the his interest and preferred responses would be. He didn’t want a limerick. He wants a response that is engaging to a reader.

I then created a new chat, addressing Chatgpt by the name my husband has given it and asked it to generate reasons why people shop on eBay. He received a response directed to his name with 10 sound reasons. I then replied and used the name I have given AI and asked why would a genealogist use eBay. I got 10 more sound reasons directed to me (using my name).

In case you’re wondering, here’s reasons it came up with why a genealogist would use eBay:

  1. Variety and Rarity: eBay offers a wide range of products, including rare and hard-to-find items. Collectors or those seeking unique items often turn to eBay.
  2. Competitive Pricing: Many users shop on eBay to find better deals or lower prices than in traditional stores or other online platforms.
  3. Auction Format: The excitement of bidding in auctions can be a draw. It gives shoppers the chance to snag items at potentially lower prices.
  4. Second-hand and Vintage Items: eBay is a go-to place for second-hand goods, vintage clothing, and antique items, appealing to those who prefer pre-owned or retro products.
  5. Seller Diversity: From individual sellers to small businesses, eBay hosts a range of vendors, offering shoppers unique buying experiences and a broad diversity of goods.
  6. Global Marketplace: eBay connects buyers with sellers worldwide, providing access to products not available in one’s own country.
  7. Convenience: The convenience of shopping from home and having items delivered to the doorstep is a significant advantage.
  8. User Reviews and Feedback System: eBay’s review system helps buyers make informed decisions based on seller ratings and feedback.
  9. Protection Policies: eBay’s buyer protection policies can make consumers feel more secure in their online purchases.
  10. Niche Markets: eBay caters to niche markets and specific interests, making it easier for buyers to find exactly what they’re looking for.

To sum up, ChatGPT will allow you to customize how you want your responses and for what audience (a child, a teen, a college student, adult, etc.), and by your role (author, editor, marketer, teacher, etc.). It will respond with the request immediately after you enter it following the directions above. You can switch your roles within a chat. Enjoy!

AI and Translations

Newspapers.com

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 geneanet.org 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 MyHeritage.com’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.

Ask A Genealogist Event Postponed

The DeKalb County Indiana Genealogy Society (DKIGS) regrets to have to reschedule the Ask A Genealogist event that was to be held on Saturday, January 13 from 9:30-11:30 am at Willennar Genealogy Center due to inclement weather.

If you are not a member of DCIGS and would like to receive information on when the event will be rescheduled, please email genealogyatheart@gmail.com and we’ll let you know.

Stay safe, warm, and dry!

Here’s A Guide to Create Your Family History Book

Title Page by Rebecca Shamblin

A New Year is always time to make plans and set goals. I’ve just completed a series on Artificial Intelligence (AI) so it has hopefully given you some ideas to boost your family history output.

Two years ago I blogged about my one month deadline to write my personal memoir. You can read about it here. I strongly believe we genealogists often neglect the importance of documenting our own lives. Sure, we know what happened but just like our ancestors who didn’t leave many records, someday, someone will not be happy with you for doing the same.

Recently I was given the opportunity by author, photographer, and genealogist Rebecca Shamblin to review her new book, Leaving a Legacy:  Turn Your Family Tree Into A Family Book (Life Remembered Press, 2023).

My long time readers know I’m not one to gush over the latest and greatest. I take a more middle of the road approach, looking for the pros and cons. 

Seriously, I cannot find one con in this book. I can’t even come up with a suggestion for improvement. 

This is a must read book if you are considering publishing a family history or genealogy book. I’m an eBook author but I understand the reasons that a hard cover book would sometimes be preferred. 

If you thought that the task to write your family’s story was too time consuming or expensive to publish, think again! Rebecca has, through trial and tribulation, worked through the process several times and the reader can benefit from her experiences.

I strongly recommend that you purchase this book even if you aren’t ready to embark on creating a book. There are so many helpful technology tips – short cuts, how to, and step by step directions that it will benefit you in other computerized tasks you need to accomplish. 

I’ll only give away one of the tips and it was such an Ah Ha moment for me. I don’t want to get into the debate of whether footnotes or endnotes are the way to go but suffice it to say, in my opinion, there is time for one and a time for another. Recently I submitted an article for publication that required endnotes. The endnotes in Word were formatted as Roman Numerals. My goodness, did that look clunky. Rebecca provides directions on how you can turn the Roman numerals into Arabic numbers effortlessly. Wish I had known that trick before I submitted the article! Definitely read the Word Processor Settings chapter.

Rebecca uses Family Tree Maker (FTM) software. Read the chapter even if you don’t use FTM as both RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree can be used similarly to what the book describes. When in doubt, send your software company a message for help. Competition is fierce these days so it’s in their best interest to help you out and keep your patronage. 

My favorite part of Rebecca’s book is how she handles sensitive genealogical discoveries. We all have them. One of my most sought out lectures is Skeletons in the Closet. Not sure how to write about that illegitimate child? Definitely follow Rebecca’s suggestions. She even provides excerpts from her own family history books to serve as examples.

I also loved the Distribution chapter as you want your book to be available long after you’re gone. Please do give a free book to your local library and if possible, to a larger library like Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana – they have an entire large room that contains family genealogies. I’m not an accountant but check with yours to see if you can get a tax deduction for your donation. 

To purchase a copy of Leaving a Legacy, click this link on Amazon. Let me know when you’ve finished your family book and where I can read a copy.

Genealogy At Heart’s Top 5 Posts of 2023

AI Image

Blogger stats have identified the following must read of my blogs from last year:

1. Genealogy Organization Disappointments

2. Can AI Solve Your Brick Walls?

3. Evaluating Ancestry.com’s ThruLines

4. Using AI to Write a Genealogical Narrative

    5. Researching at FamilySearch Library

     Grab a cup of coffee/cocoa/tea and check out the links!