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.

New Offering: Member Survey plus Class

Blog Header - “Creating an Individualized Genealogical Educational Plan.”

We offer a new service!

Have you wanted to learn more about your society members current interests? We can help.

When booking the presentation “Creating an Individualized Genealogical Educational Plan,” We can work with your society to help you learn more about your members’ current interests.

Here’s what is included with the speaker’s fee:

  • Work with your designated society member to create a customized survey
  • Provide a link for society members to use
  • Provide a brief report, with suggestions about how to use the results

Here is a review from the Baltimore County Genealogical Society:

As always, our society meeting attendance is higher with any of Dr. McMahon’s presentations.  It is a reflection of how valuable the information she has to offer is in expanding ancestral research. Her latest guide, Creating an Individualized Genealogical Education Plan provides an introspective approach to research that is deeper than the traditional “to do” list.  With many societies and genealogy groups stepping up their outreach with more online content and lectures via zoom, the Educational Plan presentation is practical and essential for targeting your research goals. 

Contact us to book your society’s survey and talk!

RootsTech 2022 lives on

Another RootsTech has come and gone, but RootsTech 2022 is really is not over! The classes that were recorded for RootsTech 2022 are still available. In fact, RootsTech made a decision to keep classes online for 3 years (unless the content creator asks for them to be removed). That means you have access to content from 2021 and 2022. Be sure to have a free FamilySearch account so that you can create a playlist as you search for classes.

The web address is Use the menu on the upper right corner and select the option “Sessions” to search for sessions, or “Speakers” to search for a particular speaker.

RootsTech Home Page

When you search for Sessions, there will be a search box on the top and a list of filters on the left side of the Session page. I find using the filters more cumbersome than searching, but viewing the topics available can be helpful. To use the filters, click on the down arrow next to a filter to see the options available. After selecting an option, the available classes will show up on the right side of the screen.

Search for Sessions page

An example search for the term: military will have our military classes.

Search results for: military

Most of the classes have a downloadable syllabus or handout, and you should be able to find contact information for the instructors if you have questions.

RootsTech Connect was an overwhelming success, with 700,000 people officially registered. More viewed sessions without registering. Expect that there might be a virtual component in any upcoming RootsTech, which is great news for anyone who cannot travel.

Thanks to those who stopped by virtually to visit my classes at RootsTech, and left a greeting or a question.

You can find my sessions at:

or find them all by clicking on: Dr. McMahon’s RootsTech classes.

Speaking at RootsTech Connect 2021!

RootsTech Connect Speaker badge

This year RootsTech is all virtual and free to register! Have you registered?

I hope you will have a chance to check out my lecture: “Write Their Story: From Timeline to Young Readers’ Book” (Lecture Session 471160). 

For RootsTech Connect 2021, each lecture session will be 20 minutes long. My lecture will be split across two 20-minute sessions.  I hope you will join me!

Session ID: 471160
Session Title: Write Their Story: From Timeline to Young Readers’ Book
Session Type: Lecture Session

When more details are shared, I will post them on Facebook, too.

See you at RootsTech Connect!

NARA II, College Park Visit – Day 1

You have to have a clear idea what you are researching. I went in with the topic of the 51st Pioneer Infantry, and brought my homework with me.

An important number to know before you go is the Record Group. You need to know that the topic numbers do not correspond with the identifying information for the boxes.

A Specialist at the Consultation Room will help you locate the correct binder containing the finding aid for the Record Group.

When you discuss your research interest with the specialist, you may receive suggestions about other record groups of interest. ALWAYS listen.

I went to the Archives in search of RG120. The Specialist recommended that I consider RG165, which is the “Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs”, and showed me the finding aid for that record group.




The Specialist helped me fill out the pull slips. Each pull slip requires the initials of a Specialist before the records can be pulled.

The Specialist also suggested that we go up to the 5th Floor to see if there might be any photographs of the 51st Pioneer Infantry.

While we were waiting for the boxes to come up to the Research Room, we did go up to the 5th floor. That room uses an old fashioned card catalog. We asked for and received help to find the one photo related to the 51st Pioneer Infantry. We filled out a pull slip for that photo.

We looked at the five (5) boxes from RG120. They contained correspondence of the 51st Infantry Regiment. We went through the correspondence and documents. There were some interesting documents, like the price list at YMCA canteens and the rules for soldiers riding trains. The infantry had concerns about equipment and building barns for their horses.

Then it was time to head up to see the photograph. You are given white cotton gloves to wear when you handle a photograph. It was taken on 3/29/19 and was a group of officers who had attended an Arts & Science Course at the University of Edinburgh. One officer, Capt. F. M. Elliott, was from the 51st Pioneer Infantry.




Back at the Research Room on the second floor, we looked at the one box from RG165. The box had some folders with information about the Pioneer Infantry. It also had folders for the 1st Pioneer Infantry, but the last folders in the box were for the 6th Pioneer Infantry. We will need some help to find the box with folders for the 51st Pioneer Infantry.


Day 1 at Home

At home, I did a little research. In “Brief Histories of the Divisions, U.S. Army 1917-1918” on page 30, the 26th Division Contained the 51st Infantry Brigade.




The RG120 boxes we had been looking at were of the 51st Infantry Brigade, not the 51st Pioneer Infantry.

So we will need help finding the correct boxes in RG120, too.


Researching the Merchant Marine

During my talk about military archives at the Howard County Genealogical Society, the question came up about researching Merchant Marines.

Some brief research was educational. I learned that the U.S. Merchant Marine has no official historians and researchers. The Merchant Marine predates the U.S. Navy (13 October 1775), the U.S. Marines (10 November 1775) and the U.S. Coast Guard (formerly the Revenue Cutter Service was founded on (4 August 1790)). On 12 June 1775, a party of Maine mariners in an unarmed lumber schooner captured the HMS Margaretta, which was a fully armed British warship.

The mariners involved in “ocean-going service” during World War II do have Veteran Status. They may be entitled to a gravestone, a flag for their coffin, and burial in a National Cemetery. Merchant Mariners who served during other wars do not have this recognition. For more information, see the information at

Remember to make a timeline for your ancestor and gather information about the ships and their history while the ancestor served.

I recommend the resources at the American Merchant Marine at War website. These are the links that would be good starting places:


1) American Merchant Marine at War

This website is dedicated to those Mariners who died during U.S. wars, and contains many links to valuable research material about the Merchant Marines. This website covers a lot of ground, including history and links to help a researcher dig farther into researching their Merchant Mariner and ships. You can also purchase gift items or make donations to support the website.


2) American Merchant Marine at War Records and Contact Information

This page has the contact information for service records for mariners and ships.

However, do check the website for more history and historical documents.


3) Frequently Asked Questions about the Merchant Marine

This list of frequently asked questions is a great gathering of information about the Merchant Marine including the background about the people, the history, the wartime casualties, and how to join.


4) One page Information Sheet Handout about WWII Merchant Marine

This pdf document is a one page summary of how the U.S. Merchant Marine made victory possible in WWII.