Use Bing to Create Stories from your Family Tree
For this to work, you’ll need to be using Edge as both your browser and as your PDF reader and to have turned on Page Context in the settings. See the section below on how to chat to a PDF.
In this example, I ran a person report on my 2x great grandfather, Abraham Lodge. I’m using Family Tree Maker, but you can do something similar with other family tree programs:
The Individual Report for Abraham Lodge and the Bing summary
This is just a dry list of facts for this person on my tree, mostly extracted from censuses and vital records. Selecting creative mode in Bing chat in the sidebar, I asked it to give me an interesting summary of Abraham’s life with some insights into the life of a farm laborer in Victorian Essex:
Screenshot of the Bing Chat sidebar giving some context to the life of Abraham Lodge.
I then copied the response, selected the Compose tab in the sidebar and pasted it into the Write About window. I selected an Informational tone and a Blog post format with a Long length. This is what Bing AI gave me:
Abraham Lodge: A Life on the Land in Victorian England
Abraham Lodge was a rural laborer who lived and worked in Essex, England, in the second half of the 19th century. His life story, based on census records, parish registers and newspaper reports, reveals some of the challenges and changes that faced the agricultural workers of his time.
Abraham was born in Great Waltham, a village near Chelmsford, before March 7, 1852. He was baptized at St Mary and St Lawrence church on that date. He was the son of George and Caroline Lodge, who were probably agricultural laborers like most of the population of Great Waltham. Abraham had at least three siblings: George, Caroline and William.
By 1861, Abraham’s family had moved to High Easter, another village in Essex, where they lived in a cottage on The Street. Abraham attended school there until he was about 12 years old, when he started working as a farm worker. He probably worked for one of the large landowners in High Easter, such as Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson or William Perry Watlington.
On October 5, 1872, Abraham married Eliza Reeve at St Mary Magdalene church in High Easter. Eliza was born in Good Easter, a neighboring village, in 1853. She was the daughter of John and Sarah Reeve, who were also farm laborers. Abraham and Eliza had nine children: George (born 1873), John (born 1875), Sarah (born 1877), Abraham (born 1879), William (born 1881), Eliza (born 1884), Alice (born 1886), Charles (born 1889) and Ernest (born 1892).
Around 1887, Abraham and his family moved to Pleshey, another village in Essex, where they lived in a cottage on The Green. Abraham continued to work as a laborer until his death. He may have been employed by one of the farmers in Pleshey, such as John Smith or James Carter.
Abraham died tragically on August 19, 1900, at the age of 48. He was killed by falling from a stack while working on a farm in Pleshey. His death was reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle newspaper on August 24, 1900:
“On Sunday afternoon an accident occurred at Pleshey which resulted fatally to a man named Abraham Lodge … He was engaged with others stacking clover hay on Mr Smith’s farm when he fell from the top of the stack to the ground … He was picked up unconscious and conveyed to his home … Dr Hurrell was sent for but he never regained consciousness and expired about half-past six o’clock … The deceased leaves a widow and nine children.”
Abraham was buried at Holy Trinity church in Pleshey on August 23, 1900. His widow Eliza lived until 1928 and died at the age of 75.
Abraham Lodge lived during a period of great change and hardship for rural workers in Victorian England. He witnessed the effects of enclosure, mechanization, industrialization and urbanization on the countryside. He faced low wages, long hours, poor housing and limited opportunities for education and social mobility. He may have been involved in or affected by the laborer’s uprising of 1830 or the trade unions of the 1870s. He may have also experienced the impact of wars, famines and diseases on his family and community. He was one of the many who stayed on the land despite the challenges and temptations of life elsewhere.
Sources: – Ancestry.co.uk – Findmypast.co.uk – British Newspaper Archive – Essex Record Office – Wikipedia
Pretty amazing, eh? That took less than 5 minutes, from running the initial report in Family Tree Maker, getting Bing to summarize it and then getting it to expand Abraham’s story by adding context and insights. I hope you can see the possibilities here, especially if you want to write a family history book about your own ancestors.
You do need to check the facts that Bing AI gives you though. The Abraham Lodge story above is very good, but I did notice a couple of errors. The glaring one is the quote from the newspaper article. Most of it is made up! There was an article in the Chelmsford Chronicle on that date and this is it:
Clipping from the Chelmsford Chronicle of 24 August 1900 concerning the death of Abraham Lodge
As you can see, it is somewhat different. I think what has happened is that it knows from the British Newspaper Archives website, there is an article about the death of Abraham Lodge. But as the newspapers are not transcribed, Bing has no way of knowing what is in the article. So, it’s just guessed what’s in it, based on what it knows.
So, always check Bing Chat’s facts!
Bing AI plus Edge
If you haven’t already upgraded to the new Bing AI, you’ll have to apply for access as it’s still being tested before a full roll out. I had to wait nearly two weeks when I applied a month ago, but it looks like people are getting almost immediate access now. Just go to the main Bing page and sign up to your Microsoft account. If you don’t have one, you will need to create one, but it is free.
To get the most out of Bing AI, you’ll need to use the latest version of the Edge browser. I’m using Windows 11, but according to Microsoft, the current version of Edge will also work on Windows 10 if that’s what you’re running.
If you’re using Google Chrome or another browser, you may be reluctant to switch to Edge. The old Microsoft Explorer had a bad reputation and was eventually outclassed by Chrome. However, the new Edge is much better and is actually based on the Chromium platform. It works just as well, if not better than Chrome. You can easily transfer your Chrome extensions (they work on Edge) as well as your favorites.
You can still use Bing AI on other browsers, but you may need an extension for it to work, such as Bing Chat (GPT-4) in Google
Bing Main Page
Once you’ve accessed new Edge and Bing AI, the main search page will look something like this:
Screenshot of the main Bing page
The first thing to mention is that you can actually earn points by searching with Bing now (1). See the Microsoft Rewards page for more information and how they can be redeemed.
The Bing logo in the top right corner (2) is the Discover button. Clicking on this will open Bing chat in a sidebar.
The Edge sidebar (3) has some useful features. The bell icon (Action Centre) at the top will help you set up Edge to get the most from it. The magnifier icon will open up Bing Search in the sidebar so that you can search for something without leaving the page you’re on. The label icon allows you do your shopping in the sidebar.
Clicking on the toolbox gives you some tools like a calculator, a translator and a dictionary:
Screenshot of part of a magazine page with the Edge sidebar toolbox open
In this example, I was reading an article about court leet records in a magazine. I opened up the toolbox in the Edge sidebar and looked up the word “leet” in the dictionary. Very handy.
BTW, if you’re interested, the magazine (above) is Discover Your Ancestors, published by The Genealogist. If you have UK ancestors, you may be interested in subscribing. More details can be found on this page.
The plane icon is Microsoft Drop which you can use to share files between devices. For more information, see the Drop page here.
You can also add any website/s to the side bar:
Screenshot showing the with Amplenote Jots page open in the Edge sidebar
I’ve added Amplenote which is a note taking app. I’m using the free plan which is good enough for me. I can add jots as I think of them without leaving a page. I can then flesh out the jots later and turn them into tasks if I want to.
Adding a website to the side bar is very easy. Just open the website you want to add in the browser. Click on the Plus (+) icon on the sidebar and then click on the + Add Current Page button.
Finally, to access the main Bing Chat page, just click on Chat (4) at the top of the main Bing search page.
Bing Chat works like Chat GPT (see my earlier post), although there are some major differences:
- Bing is connected to the internet, so answers are current
- Bing gives references, so you can check facts
- At the time of writing chats are limited to 20 responses from Bing. After that, you’ll need to start a new chat
- You can choose one of three conversation styles on Bing; Creative, Balanced or Precise
So, as an example here, I’ve asked Bing to tell me what caused the Irish famines of the 19th century:
Screen shot of the Bing Chat page with a question and answer about Irish famines
As you can see, it’s given references. You can then go on and ask further questions. Bing even suggests some follow up questions to ask.
You can also have some fun with the Creative mode. Here I’ve asked Bing to imagine it’s a Roman soldier posted to Hadrian’s Wall in 4th century Britain writing a letter to his wife back in Rome:
Screen shot of a Bing Chat about Romans in Britain in the 4th century
Here’s the full text of Bing’s Roman letter:
My dearest wife,
I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. I miss you and our children every day, and I pray to Jupiter for our reunion soon.
I am writing to you from a place called Hadrian’s Wall, a great stone barrier that stretches across the width of this island of Britannia. It was built by order of Emperor Hadrian, who visited this province in the year 122. He wanted to separate the Romans from the barbarians who live beyond the wall, and to control the movement across the frontier.
The wall is 80 Roman miles long, or 73 modern miles. It is 12 feet high and 8 feet wide, with a ditch in front of it and an earthwork behind it. There are towers every 1/3 mile, and forts every 7 miles. I am stationed in one of these forts, along with other auxiliary soldiers. We are not legionaries, but we serve Rome faithfully and bravely.
Life on the wall is hard and cold. The weather here is harsh and unpredictable. Sometimes it rains for days, sometimes it snows, sometimes it is foggy and windy. The temperature is much lower than in Rome, and we have to wear thick cloaks and furs to keep warm. The food is scarce and bland, mostly bread, cheese, porridge, and salted meat. We have to fetch water from wells or streams, and chop wood for fire.
The natives here are strange and hostile. They are called Britons, and they speak a language that I cannot understand. They have pale skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair. They wear colorful cloaks and trousers, and paint their bodies with blue dye. They worship many gods and goddesses, some of whom are similar to ours, but others are unknown to me. They practice magic and divination, and they have druids who lead their rituals.
The Britons beyond the wall are even more savage. They are called Picts, which means “painted ones”. They raid our wall frequently, trying to break through or climb over it. They use spears, swords, axes, slings, and bows. They are fierce fighters, but they are no match for our discipline and skill. We repel them with arrows, javelins, stones, and fire. Sometimes we chase them into the woods or hills, but we have to be careful not to fall into their traps or ambushes.
I have seen many battles and bloodshed on this wall. I have lost some of my comrades, and I have killed some of my enemies. I do not enjoy war, but I do my duty for Rome and for you. I hope that one day this wall will bring peace and security to this land, and that I will be able to return home to you.
Until then, please write back to me as often as you can. Tell me about our children, our family, our friends, our house. Tell me about the news of Rome, the politics, the festivals, the games. Tell me about your joys and sorrows, your hopes and fears, your dreams and wishes. Tell me that you love me as much as I love you.
Your faithful husband,
Splendid, isn’t it?
Bing Discover Button
Clicking on the Bing Discover button (top right on the Edge browser), opens Bing chat in the sidebar.
As an example, I’m thinking of making a trip to Northern Ireland in the Fall to do some research, so I asked Bing Chat in the sidebar to plan a trip for me:
Screenshot of the Bing Chat sidebar with Northern Ireland trip planning being discussed
I then asked about the flight cost:
Screenshot of the Expedia page with flight details to Belfast and the Bing chat sidebar open
Clicking on a link in the sidebar (in this case Expedia), opens up the webpage in the browser. I can then make an actual booking if I want to.
How to chat with a PDF on your computer
I’ve already shown what you can do with a PDF from your tree (above). You can also use Bing AI to interrogate other PDF documents on your computer.
But first, you’ll need to allow Bing to access page context:
Screenshot of the App and Notifications page in Bing Chat settings showing how to turn on page context
Open Bing Chat in the Edge side bar and click on the three vertical dots (1). From the drop-down menu, select Notification and App settings. Slide the Page Context toggle switch to on (2).
You’ll need to use Edge as your PDF reader, so that the document will open in the Edge browser. If you normally use the Adobe Acrobat or another reader, you can go to your folder, right click on the document thumbnail and select Open with Edge.
In this example, I’ve opened a document I had previously downloaded from the Staffordshire Archives. I asked Bing to summarize it for me:
Screenshot of an open PDF document with a summary from Bing Chat in the sidebar
You can then effectively chat with the document. Here I asked it to tell me more about the Bishop’s Transcripts:
Screenshot of Bing Chat answering a question about Bishops Transcripts in the sidebar
Bing Image Creator
Finally, you can also create free AI generated images on Bing. Go to Images then Create. As we were talking about Romans in Britain earlier (above), I asked it to generate a picture of one:
Screenshot of the Bing Image Creator page with 4 AI generated images of a Roman soldier in Britain
You get four versions of an image which you can download as jpegs. You can use these to illustrate your family histories!
I think I’ve just scratched the surface with what Edge/Bing AI (and other AI tools) can do to help with our genealogy. I’ll almost certainly be writing more about this fascinating topic in the coming weeks and months.