You’ve probably read about, or seen news reports describing how artificial intelligence or AI is going to radically change the way we live. Recently, you may have heard of ChatGPT, a sophisticated AI chat bot that can answer questions like a human. This post looks at how we can use AI for genealogy, specifically how ChatGPT and some other tools can help us with our research for free.
As well as ChatGPT itself, I’ve looked at a couple of related Chrome extensions as well as two alternatives; Andi and Perplexity. I recommend giving them all a go to see if any can help with your research.
ChatGPT was created by OpenAI and is an AI-driven language model. It can produce text that resembles human writing based on the input it gets, answering queries, making entire sentences, and providing data on a variety of subjects.
The huge mass of text data used to train ChatGPT has supposedly given it expertise and awareness of a wide range of topics. Customer support, language translation, and content production are just a few of the many applications it can be used for.
Note; ChatGPT is free to use at the time of writing, but may not always be so. A paid upgrade is now available which gives you access to the latest version and faster response times. But for now, at least, the basic service is still free.
How can you use ChatGPT for genealogy?
Well I wondered that, so I asked ChatGPT and this was its reply:
ChatGPT can assist with genealogy research by:
- Answering questions about historical events, places and dates that may relate to ancestors.
- Providing information on genealogy resources and tools.
- Offering suggestions for further research.
- Generating names that were common during a specific time period.
- Interpreting genealogy-related terms and concepts. Note: ChatGPT’s training data only goes up until 2021, so it might not have the most up-to-date information on genealogy research.
Screenshot from ChatGPT – genealogy help.
You’ll need to create an account with OpenAI to be able to log in to ChatGPT. Please note that due to high demand, it may take a few attempts before you can set up an account and use it. Peak times, like weekends, seem to be the worst.
I’ve been using ChatGPT for a couple of weeks now and I can see the benefits, not just as an AI for genealogy tool, but for most things. This, or something like it, will probably replace traditional search engines like Google and Bing before very long. The beauty with using this is that you can have a conversation and keep asking questions as you learn more about a particular topic.
I asked ChatGPT to provide examples of the types of genealogy questions you could ask and this was the reply:
Here are 5 examples of questions you can ask ChatGPT to assist with genealogy research:
- What events occurred in the year 1850 that may have affected my ancestors?
- Can you suggest some genealogy resources I can use to research my family history in Scotland?
- What were the most common names in the USA in the 1900s?
- What is the meaning of “parish records” in the context of genealogy research?
- Can you give me some tips for locating old census records for my ancestors who lived in Germany?
The last question was about German genealogy, so I asked ChatGPT if there were any free websites that could help. This was the reply:
Yes, here are a few free websites that can assist with German genealogy research:
- FamilySearch: A large genealogy website that provides access to historical records from around the world, including Germany.
- Archion: A German website that provides access to church records, including baptisms, marriages, and burials, from across Germany.
- Melderegister: A website that provides access to German address books and directories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Genealogy.net: A German-language genealogy website that provides access to various resources and tools, including census records, family trees, and historical maps.
- Deutsches Familienarchiv: A German genealogy website that provides access to historical records and resources, including census records, church records, and family histories.
These websites are a good starting point for anyone researching German genealogy, but it is always a good idea to cross-reference information found on these websites with other sources to ensure accuracy.
As I’m not an expert in German genealogy, I thought I’d ask ChatGPT some questions about Irish research which I’m more familiar with.
I started by asking; “what records are available for genealogy research in the National Archives of Ireland?” This was the answer:
The National Archives of Ireland holds a wide range of records for genealogy research, including census records, wills, deeds, and church records. Additionally, the archives hold records related to emigration, immigration, and shipping.
I then asked; “what records are available online at the National Archives of Ireland?” Reply:
The National Archives of Ireland provides online access to a variety of records, including:
- Census records from 1901 and 1911.
- Military service records from World War I.
- Records related to land ownership, including maps and deeds.
- Wills and administration records from the Probate Office.
- Records of the Irish judiciary, including court proceedings and legal cases.
- Records of the Irish government, including parliamentary papers and reports.
- Records related to Irish emigration and immigration, including passenger lists and shipping records.
This is not an exhaustive list, and other records may be available online or accessible by visiting the National Archives of Ireland in person. It is recommended to check the archives’ website or to contact the archives directly for the most up-to-date information on available records.
At first glance that seemed like a pretty good reply, however, not all those records are online (see limitations below). I went on to ask ChatGPT; “where can I find civil birth, marriage and death records of Ireland online?” Reply:
You can find civil birth, marriage, and death records of Ireland online at the following websites:
- IrishGenealogy.ie – provides access to civil birth, marriage, and death records from the General Register Office of Ireland, as well as other Irish genealogy resources.
- RootsIreland.ie – a pay-per-view website with access to the civil birth, marriage, and death records of Ireland, along with other Irish genealogy records.
- Ancestry.com – provides access to Irish civil birth, marriage, and death records, as well as other Irish genealogy records and resources.
- FindMyPast – a pay-per-view website with access to Irish civil birth, marriage, and death records, as well as other Irish genealogy records and resources.
These records are a valuable resource for genealogy research in Ireland and can provide information about your ancestors, including dates of birth, marriage, and death, as well as other details such as occupation and place of residence. Keep in mind that some of these websites may require a subscription or payment to access the records.
Well, that’s not bad, ChatGPT has given me some fairly comprehensive answers about some record sources in Ireland. However, I then discovered that there are some limitations to what it can do.
Limitations of ChatGPT
Still on the topic of Irish genealogy records, I asked ChatGPT; “are the National Library of Ireland Catholic church records online?” This was the reply:
No, the National Library of Ireland’s collection of Roman Catholic church records is not available online. However, microfilm copies of many of these records are available for viewing at the National Library in Dublin, Ireland. You can also contact the National Library for information about accessing their collection of church records, or for information about obtaining copies of specific records. Keep in mind that some of the records may be restricted, and access to them may be limited.
Screenshot of ChatGPT giving an incorrect response
This simply isn’t true. Digitized copies of the microfilms have been available (for free) online on the National Library of Ireland website since 2015.
This highlights a major problem with ChatGPT at the moment. It gets its information from the web (up until December 2021). I assume that there are still many website pages out there about Irish genealogy that were written before 2015 and are therefore out of date when it comes to this record set. I’m guessing that’s where the information comes from because ChatGPT doesn’t reveal its sources.
Having said that, I think ChatGPT can still be a very useful AI for genealogy tool. It can point you in the right direction for research sources, answer questions about historical events, places and dates that may relate to your ancestors, provide information on genealogy tools and other resources, and interpret genealogy-related terms and concepts. You just need to be aware that some information may not be 100% accurate.
If you are using Google Chrome as your internet browser, you may be interested to know that there are several free extensions that connect to ChatGPT which you might find useful. Here are two of them.
ChatGPT for Google
This extension allows you to display a ChatGPT response in your Google search results. In this example, I searched for Abraham Lincoln in Google. Along with the regular search results, you can see on the right, a ChatGPT response, showing a brief summary of his life.
ChatGPT Chrome Extension
Get the free ChatGPT extension for Google at the Chrome Web Store
Once installed, this extension connects to your ChatGPT account and will give you a summary of articles and text you access on the web. This is very handy if you don’t have the time to read a long article. Note, I had difficulty using the extension today; it was unable to connect to ChatGPT long enough to complete a summary. I therefore couldn’t get a screenshot. This just highlights how popular ChatGPT is at the moment.
Get the free ChatGPT Summary extension at the Chrome Web Store
There are other extensions available which can be found via a Google search.
Finally, I’m going to look at a couple of other AI for genealogy alternatives to ChatGPT. These are more like a cross between a traditional search engine and ChatGPT.
Bing Chat is now available and, in combination with the latest version of the Edge browser, it is the best option for genealogy, in my view. See How to use Bing AI as your Free Genealogy PA for a detailed look at what you can do with it.
Google’s AI chat tool, called Bard, was recently launched in the US and the UK. As I live in Canada, I haven’t been able to try it yet. I’ll update this post when I’m able to use it.
Andi describes itself as a “smart search assistance”. It basically uses AI to give enhanced search results. It’s free to use and you don’t need to set up an account. As an example, I asked it “what were the Plantations in Ireland?”.
Andi Search Page
As you can see, it gives you a brief answer to the question, and unlike ChatGPT, tells you where it got the information from, which is great. And on the right, it gives you links where you can get more information about the topic. The screenshot above only shows the first couple of links, there are several more if you scroll down. You also have the option to ask further questions about that topic.
Go to the Andi search page here.
Perplexity is similar to Andi, in that it’s an AI enhanced search resource. I asked it the same question about the Irish Plantation and this was the response:
Perplexity Search Page
I actually preferred this response over Andi’s as it’s given me a few more options for further information. Like Andi, it gives you a short answer to the question. However, you have the option here to see a more detailed response by clicking on the View Detailed link. You get the links to the sources and by clicking on the View List link, you can see a summary of each one.
The result also gives you some options where you can find related information about your topic. You can also ask follow up questions.
Go to Perplexity here
All of these options described in this post can help you with your genealogy research. I recommend giving them all a go to see which one/s you prefer.