Learning About AI

Blog Post Banner - Learning About AI

Have you wanted to learn more about Artificial Intelligence?

Recently I gave a talk about Using AI for Genealogy, and shared some of my sources for education about AI. You can find out more about the talk  and if you want to learn from a genealogist who is a professor with a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering, you might consider having your group book it.

There are many resources available to learn how to get started with generative AI, and some ideas for using it in genealogy. Among them are posts on this blog .

NOTE: DO NOT put any sensitive information into any AI tool.

The first recommendation is a paper that you can download. Genealogists need to learn about prompt engineering to use AI tools effectively. A great paper that offers a catalog of prompt patterns is a good place to start. These prompts presented in the paper are general in nature, but they can be applied to genealogy. The paper is “A Prompt Pattern Catalog to Enhance Prompt Engineering with ChatGPT.” It is an academic paper, and they can look intimidating, but they do not have to be! You can copy-and-paste parts of it into ChatGPT (or another text-to-text AI tool) and ask it to create a summary or explain it. My specific advice is to look at the tables labeled “Contextual Statements” to learn the patterns. I actually copied text from these tables, and combined information about the patterns offered by a generative AI to create a personal cheat sheet.

If you want to dig deeper and understand more, you may want to look beyond genealogical applications and learn about the technology. Understanding what the tools are and how they work might help you be more comfortable with using them and applying them in genealogy.

In its “AI Ready” commitment, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has set a goal to train 2 million people. As part of this commitment, AWS offers free courses about AI. These courses are written for all different levels of knowledge. From the AWS webpage describing the commitment, scroll down to the section “Courses for business and nontechnical audiences” where you can follow the links to register for the courses. A free account is needed. “Introduction to Generative Artificial Intelligence” is a good starting point, with simple and understandable explanations and no formal assessments. (That means no tests!)

AWS Courses for business and nontechnical audiences list

If you want to learn in a more structured way, there are online classes available. These are more formal, with structured lessons and activities that you have to turn in. That should not intimidate you, as these courses are designed for beginners who have little or no technical background. The beginner aspect should not dissuade people with more experience, as there is always something to learn in courses like these. I enjoyed the first and simplest course on the list, as well as courses in the series “Generative AU Learning Planning for Decision Makers” and the “Foundations of Prompt Engineering.”


Coursera offers “Prompt Engineering for ChatGPT.” It is taught by the professor who wrote the article that I recommended. If you take this course for free, be sure to allocate time for it each week because the course materials are only available to paying participants after the end of the class. I found this to be a very enjoyable course, with the assignments being as simple as using ChatGPT 3.5 to try the patterns from lessons and submitting the prompt and response via a text box.

Coursera Prompt Engineering for ChatGPT image

GALE Courses

Another course that I have begun is “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” on GALE Courses (formerly known as Learn4Life). GALE Courses may be available from your local library website, or from a neighboring county for free by using a library card they issue. For those in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, you will find GALE Courses offered by the Howard County Public Library, so get a library card from them. (At Howard County Public Library this is the link to the description https://education.gale.com/l-howardmain/online-courses/introduction-to-artificial-intelligence/?tab=detail). These are 6-week courses, organized into two lessons per week, and there are discussion boards and ungraded quizzes. In order to obtain a certificate for this course, you have to pass a final containing multiple choice questions that appears to be based on the ungraded, optional quizzes for each lesson. Check on your library’s website for an alphabetical listing of online resources or contact a librarian.

Howard County Library System GALE Courses Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course

This is a technology course about the science of how a computer can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence. It covers the forms of AI, how AIs learn, AI applications and ethics. It will not be something that you can use immediately for genealogy, but it will give a foundation as we go forward seeing more and more AIs.

No matter how you decide to learn, keep learning!

Let me know how you are learning about AI.

NOTE: I have no affiliation with any of the courses or services in this post.

Using AI in Genealogy

Blog post banner Using AI for Genealogy

Thanks for such a warm reception at the Western New York Genealogical Society this past weekend. It was a pleasure to be talking about “Using AI for Genealogy” as part of their year-long fiftieth anniversary celebration, conducted over Zoom. At least fifteen states and two countries were represented in the audience.

The lecture was for people who have not already used AI tools but wanted to learn about them and how to start, AND for those who were already using the tools to share ideas about how to be more effective and expand their use.

It took over a day to obtain the ChatGPT data export that I mentioned during the lecture, but it did arrive later in the afternoon. As a reminder, this data export of all your chats can be requested by clicking on the profile icon on the lower left -> Settings -> Data Controls tab -> Export data. The link allows you to download a zipped file, and when you open it, use an HTML file to access your chats.

I wanted to share some of the great feedback from the audience:

  • “Fantastic ‘Gen AI 101’ and how to apply it to research!!!”
  • “Thank you so much! Very clear. Makes me want to go out and try it.!”
  • “Fantastic program!”
  • “This was perfectly demonstrated. Thank you!”
  • “Wow! So much information. Thank you so much.”
  • “I learned so much.  No longer afraid to try it.  Thank you.”
  • ” Hope I can find the time to watch this over and over and over!”

You can embark on a captivating exploration at the crossroads of genealogy and artificial intelligence with our lecture on “Using AI in Genealogy,” conducted over Zoom. Presented by a seasoned genealogist who holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science & Engineering and is the author of “Crash Course on ChatGPT and Genealogy ,” this session promises practical ways to get started using text-to-text artificial intelligence, prompt engineering and other AI tools, with some technological background. AI tools into your genealogical research, along with some technological background about generative AI.

The reasonable pricing ensures accessibility for your group, and participants will receive a thoughtfully curated 5+ page handout. Additionally, we’ve included some optional ‘Homework, but not to turn in’ for those who are ready to delve deeper into the subject. Contact us now to secure an engaging, informative, and educational Zoom lecture for your group.

The reasonable pricing ensures accessibility for your group, and participants will receive a thoughtfully curated 5+ page handout. Additionally, we’ve included some optional ‘Homework, but not to turn in’ for those who are ready to delve deeper into the subject. Contact us now to secure an engaging, informative, and educational Zoom lecture for your group.

There’s an AI for That: Transcribing Handwriting

Blog Post Banner There’s an AI for that transcribing text

Despite what you might have heard, there is progress being made on anything an AI can help with, including handwriting-to-text. In this blog post, we will cover just a few of the AI tools available for transcribing images of handwritten documents into text. The conversion can be done using digital images created by scanning or photographing handwritten documents.

Transcribing documents (or important parts of documents) is a thing that I always recommend. Reading a document is passive. The motion of writing or typing a document forces us to engage different parts of our brain with its content.

Even if a tool pulls the text out of an image, there is still work to be done in checking the accuracy and formatting the text.

While this can be done with a pencil and piece of paper, I always write the transcription into a word processing document. A word processing document is easier to share and extract the key pieces of data. Be sure to store the original image and the transcription together on your computer. 

NOTE: Always consider any privacy concerns before uploading documents to a website. While the website may not store the image, it may be used to train the AI model. Anything uploaded to a website usually travels through several stops on its way through the internet to the website and back. 

NOTE: The results from these experiments are certainly influenced by the quality of material that is input. This means that your results may vary.

I am not affiliated with any of the products mentioned in this review.

Always check usage rights for what is generated by a tool.

As the “Unofficial Historian for the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment,” we are always on the lookout for materials that add to the understanding of the Regiment’s service in World War I. We located some letters and decided to try out some handwriting-to-text AI tools.

The beginning of one of the letters was:

first part of WWI letter


OCR2Edit has tools to extract text from scans, images and includes more  features. Since the tools are focused on text, and there was no explicit tool for converting handwriting into text, I had low expectations that this would be the right tool for the task.

At the time of writing this blog post, 3 tasks per hour could be done for free.

OCR2Edit homepage

I selected the Image to text tool and followed the directions to start the process.

When the tool was done, I could download the text file with the transcription.

OCR2Edit download page

The transcription of the letterhead was good, but the handwritten part was not helpful.

OCR2Edit results


Aspose OCR app is an online tool is for turning handwritten notes to text.

Aspse OCR App homepage

The interface on this webpage is slightly awkward.

The first page of a letter uploaded and the “Recognize” button clicked. Then it is time to wait. It took a while to process the request, but there was an option to bookmark the page and return to it.

There are buttons for several of their other Optical Character Recognition (OCR) apps that might be more useful.

The format for download was selectable from a drop-down menu.

Aspose format for download was selectable from a drop-down menu.

There was also an option to apply Automated Text correction.

The results are downloaded into a file named “results” which is less useful than a file that has the original filename in it.

There is a button for Options on the Home Page, where you can select: Enhance Contrast, Deskew Image and Upscale Resolution.

Aspose options

All of the options were selected in an attempt to get better results, but there was no improvement.


Pen TO Print

Pen TO Print was the best tool in this set of experiments.

Only the first 10 pages are free, so check out the pricing if you need to do more.

Pen TO Print Homepage

Select Handwriting to Text Converter. Then Add Files, by dragging and dropping the file or clicking the plus to open a dialog box to navigate to and select a file (or files). Then select Convert.

Pen TO Print Add Files

The text can be Download as Text or Word document, or copied to the Clipboard. The filename of a downloaded files is the original filename with “Pen2Print-Export” added to it. This feature helps keep track of the transcribed files on your computer.

Pen TO Print Download

This was by far the best of the tools that were tried. The output needs some minor corrections, and formatting. Both of these tasks will engage the brain, and make us think about the content.

Let us know how you do!

“There’s an AI for that”

Blog post banner “There’s an AI for that”

With the explosion of artificial intelligence (AI) tools available, have you considered how many tasks in genealogy might be made easier with its use? A type of AI is used to make suggestions based on your previous purchases. Search experiences are beginning to incorporate AI. AI tools can be used in the creative process to invent images and content. AI is already incorporated into many tasks already done in genealogy, such as translation and indexing.

In upcoming blog posts, we will explore a few ways that genealogical tasks that can be done more efficiently with AI. We will look for ways AI might help with a task that has been looming or to overcome hurdles in your way.

Think about tasks that you do in genealogy that could be automated or done more efficiently by using AIs. There is probably already an AI tool for that. Some potential ideas are:

  • Extracting text from:
    • Images of typewritten text
    • Images of handwritten text
  • Converting interviews to text
  • Editing images to:
    • Remove backgrounds
    • Remove parts elements in the pictures
  • Working with text
    • Summarizing text
    • Analyzing text
    • Formatting text
  • Formatting citations
  • Writing content

NOTE: There are many other AIs that can do amazing things. Check out recommended tools from sources that you trust. While you can search the web for tools but be sure to trust your antivirus software and only click on safe websites. The best suggestion is to always try before paying any fee.

NOTE: Do not upload sensitive information into any AI tool.

ChatGPT Shared Links

Blog Banner Blog Post - ChatGPT Shared Chat

NOTE: DO NOT ENTER PRIVATE OR SENSITIVE DATA INTO ChatGPT. Your data is used for training, and is reviewed by OpenAI to verify that content complies with their policies and safety requirements. Data may be used for training purposes.

ChatGPT has a new feature, and it’s pretty nice! Next to the name of the chat there are buttons to edit the name of the chat, share the chat and delete the chat.

Buttons next to chat name

Now you can share your chats via the click of a button.

Share Chat button

When you share the chat, anyone with the link will be able to see what you and the AI chatted about, up until the time that you generated the link. If your conversation with the AI continues after the link has been created (by sending new messages to the AI), the new part of the conversation will not be shared.

When you click on the button to share the chat, you are able to see a preview of what will be shared.

Click on the three dots (sideways snowman) to share your username when the link is opened.

Option to share your name with the link

The other option is to share anonymously.

Option to share the link anonymously

Click on the Copy Link button, and the link can then be pasted in an email, or by other means.

A really interesting feature is that the person with the link has the option to Continue this conversation if they are logged into their OpenAI account.

Continue this conversation button

A user with the link can import your conversation into their own chat history. They will have that part of your conversation, even if you delete the conversation in your account.

You can delete the link, and it will no longer work.

In addition to sharing a chat, I found the shared link feature helpful for copying the text of a conversation and pasting it into a word processing document. I opened a new tab in my browser and pasted the link.

Screenshot of a Chat

When you click on More Info, a browser tab will open to the ChatGPT Shared Links FAQ page.

The first piece of information on this page is that this feature may not be available on your account yet. The feature is being rolled out gradually.

Let me know how you do.

Artificial Intelligence: Google Bard vs. ChatGPT

Blog Post Banner: Google Bard vs. ChatGPT

It is inevitable that similar AI tools will be compared. This blog post takes a look at comparing OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google Bard.

When Google Bard was asked how it was different from ChatGPT, it answered that its training data contained images, that it could access the internet, and that it was a more general AI rather than a text-generating AI. Bard also told me that while ChatGPT was creative, it was more creative.

Google Bard has an interesting approach to answering prompts. Unlike ChatGPT, its training and knowledge does not end at 2021. It can go out and get content from the web to generate its answers.

Like ChatGPT, Google Bard can also hallucinate and authoritatively state inaccurate information. The “Google it” button found under a Bard response can help comfort you that the answer is not a hallucination.

These two AI tools do have some differences.

ChatGPT offers multiple conversations so that a user’s conversations can stay organized. It also has the ability to present previous conversations and pick up where it left off. Google Bard holds one conversation. It allows users to return to their previous prompts by selecting their Bard Activity from its menu. The responses to the prompts have to be selected at the time, and cannot be recalled.

Bard responses can contain images returned from the web. The responses, without any images, can be uploaded to a document in the user’s Google Drive or into the text of a gmail. ChatGPT responses are text-only, and need to be copied and pasted from the browser into a document. (Note: browser addons or plugins to capture responses are not discussed in this blog post. Any code you add to your browser this way should be researched thoroughly!)

Given that the content generated by Bard is not owned by the user, I will probably use ChatGPT for generating text and explaining concepts. (Of course, what ChatGPT generates should be verified!) I do prefer that responses are saved, and that different chats can be active.

It is possible that I might lean on Google Bard more for research questions, and will ask Bard for its sources. Undoubtedly the “Google it” button will be used in those efforts.

Of course, we can expect that Google Bard and other AI tools will continue to evolve at a rapid pace.

Based on the versions available at the time of this blog post being written, below is a table comparing features of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google Bard that I found notable.