06 November 2023

Writing a Family History Story Using Articial Intelligence (AI)

I watched Wiki Tree's panel discussion on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Genealogy, Sunday, November 5th via YouTube. I know very little about AI and this panel discussion was well done and had noted people in the fields of AI and Genealogy.

The panel participants were Facilitator, Eowyn the Elf, from Wiki Tree; Drew Smith, The Genealogy Guys podcast guru; Dana Leeds, genealogist and founder of the Leeds Method for DNA; Steve Little, AI program director for National Genealogical Society; Thomas MacEntee, genealogist, educator, and founder of Genealogy Bargains; Rob Warthen, DNA gedcom developer; and Willie Williams, genealogy software developer of MORI.

The discussion started out explaining what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is and segued into uses relating to genealogy, copyright and AI, ethical considerations, and more. 

One thing I learned is the difference what Artificial Intelligence is and what an AI generator is. Artificial intelligence is a computer that acts more like a human. It is the intelligence of machines as opposed to humans.

An AI generator is a type of software that uses Artificial Intelligence for written copy. These are simplistic definitions, and the panel went into more scientific definitions, but this is what I understand it to mean. There are different AI generators, but the one people may have heard about is ChatGPT. There are AI generators for art, too.

One thing the panel stressed is that AI is changing rapidly. What we see today will be totally different in a month. 

I decided to see just what ChatGPT 3.5 could do for me. Could it write a story based on a number of given facts? The results blew me away. This was the process I used.

First, I went to my Roots Magic Genealogy Software and created a Timeline (Chronology) List for my father, Bruce Glover. I chose the Individual timeline list. I could have selected other people to include, but I chose just my father. I clicked generate report.

Next, I saved my timeline in RTF (rich text format) to My Documents. I copied the Timeline and pasted it into ChatGPT 3.5. The timeline is below. 

The facts generated in a timeline on Roots Magic are:

Age    Date                Fact/Place

0 17 Feb 1925 Birth: Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, United States1 5 1930–1936 Education: Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan, United States2 5 1930 Census: Royal Oak, Oakland, Michigan, United States3 11 1936–1938 Education: Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan, United States2,4 18 17 Feb 1943 Military: Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan, United States5 18 Jun 1943 Occupation: sports editor; Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan, United States 18 Jun 1943 Graduation: Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan, United States2 18 From Jun 1943 to May 1946 Military: newspaper articles; Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan, United States6 18 From Jun 1943 to May 1946 Military: World War II2,7 25 3 Apr 1950 Census: Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States8 25 Jun 1950 Education: Teacher Certification; Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States9 27 31 May 1952 Marriage: Audrey Jane FREDRICK; Onekama, Manistee, Michigan, United States10 30 1 Jul 1955 Occupation: Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States11 39 20 Mar 1964 Baptism: Palms, Sanilac, Michigan, United States12 39 22 Mar 1964 Confirmation: Palms, Sanilac, Michigan, United States13 57 24 Jan 1983 Occupation: Denton, Denton, Texas, United States14 78 21 Sep 2003 Misc: Mt. Pleasant, Isabella, Michigan, United States15 79 5 May 2004 Awd: Driver of the Year; Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States16 87 31 May 2012 60th Ann.: Audrey Jane FREDRICK; Portage, Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States17 93 8 Sep 2018 Death: at home; Portage, Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States17

The AI generated story was:

Bruce David Glover's life was a tapestry of events that unfolded across nearly a century. Born in Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, on February 17, 1925, his story was marked by a remarkable journey through education, service, love, and achievement.

As a young boy, Bruce's education began in Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan, where he attended school from 1930 to 1936. Those early years in Hazel Park would lay the foundation for his future endeavors.

In 1930, a snapshot in time, the U.S. Census recorded young Bruce and his family residing in Royal Oak, Oakland, Michigan. The country was in the midst of the Great Depression, and the world was slowly emerging from the grip of economic hardship.

By 1936, Bruce continued his education in Hazel Park, further honing his knowledge and skills. Little did he know that the next few years would bring significant changes to his life.

On his 18th birthday in 1943, Bruce embarked on a new chapter when he joined the military, enlisting in Hazel Park, Oakland, Michigan. World War II was raging, and young men like Bruce were answering the call to serve their nation. It was a courageous step for a young man, filled with dreams and aspirations.

However, Bruce was more than just a soldier. In June 1943, he took on the role of a sports editor while still stationed in Hazel Park. His love for sports and his writing skills combined in a unique way, allowing him to share the stories of his fellow servicemen and women. It was during this time that he also graduated, marking an important academic milestone.

Throughout his military service, from June 1943 to May 1946, Bruce continued his work as a sports editor and wrote newspaper articles, capturing the essence of his comrades' experiences during World War II. His words became a bridge between the soldiers on the front lines and the folks back home.

After the war, at the age of 25, Bruce was enumerated in the 1950 U.S. Census in Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, reflecting the changes in his life as he transitioned from the military to civilian life.

Bruce's commitment to education was unwavering, as evidenced by his pursuit of a Teacher Certification in Kalamazoo in June 1950. His dedication to learning was a testament to his passion for knowledge and self-improvement.

The greatest milestone in Bruce's personal life occurred on May 31, 1952, when he married Audrey Jane FREDRICK in Onekama, Manistee, Michigan. Their union marked the beginning of a beautiful journey together.

In the following years, Bruce found occupation in Kalamazoo, where he continued to contribute to his community. His work became a testament to his determination and his commitment to making a difference.

As time passed, Bruce's faith played a significant role in his life. On March 20, 1964, he was baptized in Palms, Sanilac, Michigan, and on March 22, 1964, he received confirmation in the same place. His spiritual journey was an important aspect of his identity.

Bruce's life took him to Denton, Denton, Texas, where he found a new occupation on January 24, 1983. This marked another chapter in his professional journey, highlighting his adaptability and willingness to embrace change.

In 2003, Bruce experienced a notable event in Mt. Pleasant, Isabella, Michigan, which left its mark on his life and memories. The details of this event remain a cherished part of his personal history.

In recognition of his achievements and contributions, Bruce was honored as the Driver of the Year in Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, on May 5, 2004. This recognition celebrated his dedication and excellence in his field.

On May 31, 2012, Bruce and Audrey celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in Portage, Kalamazoo, Michigan, a testament to the enduring love and commitment they shared.

Bruce David Glover's journey reached its final chapter on September 8, 2018, when he passed away at home in Portage, Kalamazoo, Michigan. His legacy lives on through the memories of those who knew him and through the stories he wrote and the life he lived. Bruce's life was a story of service, love, achievement, and the enduring bonds he forged throughout his long and meaningful journey.

I was gob smacked by the way ChatGPT made it interesting. Was it perfect? No. The highlighted sections about his military time needed correction. It is probably because of the way facts are recorded in Roots Magic. My father had to graduate high school before he entered the military. He went to basic training in the summer and never wrote about his military experience for the Hazel Park paper.

He never worked in Kalamazoo after the war. This fact was from his graduate school time in Kalamazoo.

I copied the story just the way it was written. Upon reading it, I saw gaps in my research and areas where I needed to write descriptions. One example was the highlighted "details of the event". I need to include that in the facts for that event.

I noticed I was missing facts. Where is the 1940 Census fact? It is in Roots Magic. Another one was a big gap from his time in Kalamazoo to his time in Denton, Texas. He had thirty years of teaching and coaching during these years. I haven't recorded it in Roots Magic.

This is one example how artificial intelligence can help with our research. Imagine what all it can do! As I said above, AI is changing rapidly. I bet I could go back to Chat GPT with the same facts and get a different story in a week or month.

The panel envisioned future AI possiblilities including looking at databases and giving feedback on errors beyond what we have now, facillitating collaboration, creating transcriptions, and more.

Where I think Chat GPT shines is in organizational type things, i.e. outlines, presentation organization, brainstorming ideas, or suggesting topics.

I am looking forward to the AI future and all it can do for genealogy.


  1. What a great post! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with ChatGPT. It's something I'll definitely have to look into.

  2. Thank you for this post. This will be very useful IMHO, once we learn what to put into our Event timeline.

  3. Nancy, thank you. I am having fun exploring it.

  4. Randy, exactly. Also, to make sure what is there is well written.