Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, May 17, 2024

Finally a way to quickly identify and correct entries on the FamilySearch Family Family Tree -- Family Tree Validator

 


I learned about this app at RootsTech 2024, a couple of months ago. I am sorry I have not written about it sooner but after talking to the developer, I was waiting for some changes before I went online with a post. 

The  Family Tree Validator, is a free Chrome extension by Robert Scott at Find My Roots Consulting. You can find this app by searching in the Chrome Web Store. 

This app does exactly what it says it does. It validates entries in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree and gives you way of directly correcting the issues identified. I have been suggesting both types of features to FamilySearch for many years. There is a series of slides on the Validator site that explain the extension. Here is a quote from the extension website about the Validator.
Ensure that the information in your family's tree on FamilySearch is correct and complete. Validator makes it quick and easy. 
The purpose of the Family Tree Validator is to find inconsistencies, errors, missing data in your family's tree. Because these errors are under the surface, you may not even be aware that anything is wrong. It will make suggestions on items that may help FamilySearch find additional matches. It can even find cleanup items like date and location inconsistencies. Best of all, it makes fixing these simple issues very easy! Validator checks that the information currently in FamilySearch about your family is 'reasonable'. That means common sense tests are applied EVERYWHERE. It checks all the information currently available, comparing husband and wife, children, parents and siblings. The extension further checks each attached source record that the information was fully added into FamilySearch. This saves you massive time in doing this review yourself!
The Validator extension works when you are looking at a particular profile page in the FamilySearch Family Tree. You can see an example from one of my family lines above. The advantage is that changes can be made directly from the app such as standardization without an extra step. Because it is a browser app, it is always available for use. Go to the website for complete instructions. 

The Fix Everything feature allows you to make all the suggested changes at once. This is an advanced feature and should be used sparingly. It is important to review and evaluate every possible change. No system can account for every possible place or other data. Care and accuracy should always be a main concern. 


If you are living under the entirely mistaken impression that your part of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is perfect, I suggest installing this free app and testing in on a few of the entries you think are correct in every way. With the newly added corrections, this app is invaluable in making your entries closer to correct as it is currently possible. However, if it suggests a “correction” and you happen to disagree with the suggested change, you can always ignore the suggestion, but I would take it a bit further and do some additional research to see if the suggested change is accurate. You might end up learning a little history in this process. 

In my example above, all of the changes suggested were standardization issues. This is an entire separate topic. The Validator does point out that few of the places mentioned in Other Information section of the profile were or are standardized. This brings up another interesting issue of whether the places in Other Information need to be standardized. I am sure the Validator will bring up a lot of questions. I suggest being brave and install it and see if you can out guess it. 






Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Photo Scanner Introduced on MyHeritage App

New: Multi-Photo Scanner on the MyHeritage Mobile App

 

https://youtu.be/Hp09Kf8w-04?si=NvFpX6EVkhnbx1Td

MyHeritage.com recently added a powerful, state-of-the-art Photo Scanner to the MyHeritage mobile app! Watch the video linked above for a quick overview of the new Photo Scanner.

Quoting from the blog post:

Photo Scanner is a state-of-the-art feature developed by MyHeritage’s AI team. It enables quick and easy scanning of entire album pages or multiple loose photos in a single tap. The scanner then uses cutting-edge, cloud-based AI technology to automatically detect the individual photos and crop them, saving hours of work traditionally required with other scanners. Scanned photos are saved in a dedicated album on your MyHeritage family site.

This is a dramatic addition to the MyHeritage collection of photo enhancement and acquisition tools. 


 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Foundation for East European Family History Studies in-person Conference August 6-9, 2024

 

https://feefhs.org/

FEEFHS is holding their annual conference in Salt Lake City from August 6-9. This content-packed event features almost 60 classes on researching genealogies of Eastern and Central Europe. Several optional pre-conference workshops will be offered on August 5. Plus, we’ll host a welcome reception and offer an optional closing banquet with plenary presentation on our last night where we celebrate together. It promises to be a great gathering with rich opportunities for learning and hands-on research at the adjacent FamilySearch Library.

If you are looking for reasonably priced accommodation, the Plaza Hotel that hosts the conference offers a discounted rate for conference attendees. Registration, workshops, classes and social events will be held at the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel at Temple Square. Conveniently located in the heart of downtown, the Plaza is next door to the FamilySearch Library. Temple Square is across the street. Other historical sites, shopping, dining, and many arts venues are nearby. The Plaza Hotel is located at 122 West South Temple.

Instruction for Eastern European genealogists and family history researchers will occur over four days with eight interest-area tracks. Topics will encompass countries and regions of Central and Eastern Europe, including areas of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, German Empire, Russian Empire/USSR and more. Other topics will include DNA, minority and ethnicity research, general resources, and technology for family history.

I will be teaching three classes:

  • Using an AI Chatbot to Translate 133 Languages 
  • Discovering the Records of Eastern European Minority Populations 
  • How Historic Polish Boundary Changes Affect Genealogical Records

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Who Do You Believe:? The Accuracy of Inherited Genealogy

 

Many genealogists "inherited" their interest in genealogy from a relative: parent, a grandparent, or some other relation. I became interested in genealogy in a different way, but I still inherited a lot of documents and information from two great-grandmothers. One of my great-grandmother published an almost 700 page book about her ancestral lines. The other great-grandmother left a pile of boxes 5 feet tall with thousands of documents and letters. In addition, for over fifteen years, by visiting the then Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, I accumulated a pile of photocopied family group records and pedigree charts over three feet tall. This all began about 42 years ago. Consistently, for all of those 42 years, I have been involved in correcting and augmenting the massive amount of information I initially received from my relatives and ancestors. Fortunately, all of that paper has now been incorporated into the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. 

But what I found over the last 42 years is that the initial information was incomplete and in very many cases inaccurate. The fact that my great-grandmothers spent a major portion of their lives "doing genealogy" did not make their efforts particularly accurate or complete. 

As I have worked with other would-be genealogists over those many years, I find a common theme. The theme is the same from hundreds of people. The theme is the story of the perfect genealogical relative; the researcher who spent his or her life gathering genealogical information about the family with an accuracy that is now carved in stone. 

Much of my 42 year genealogical effort has been spent correcting the errors I and others have inherited from these perfect ancestral genealogists. This monumental effort is ongoing due to newer generations of would-be genealogists who insist that their perfect ancestral genealogist recorded on paper or old Personal Ancestral File disks is absolutely correct and anything that appears to disagree with the perfect ancestor in the FamilySearch Family Tree has to be wrong. It is very hard to argue with perfection. 

The reality is that we have an enormously larger availability of historical records than my great-grandmothers had to use in doing our own research. One quote from one of the published books by one great-grandmother is a perfect example of the changes wrought by technology. Here is the quote: 
We know our ancestors were in London as early, possibly about 1700 to 1735. Perhaps in the future records will come into our hands to prove where they came from to England. We hope so. We have gathered names from various countries, cities, churches, through correspondence, &c.. and have them on hand, but cannot connect them to our line. We have also quite a number who are connected. Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. [Mesa?, Ariz.]: [M.G. Jarvis Overson], 1957.

The answer is I now have records dating back to the early 1600s in the Netherlands with this same family. This does not diminish or denigrate the work done in the early 1900s on my lines, but it does illustrate the fact that, in many cases, those "perfect genealogists" realized the limitations of their work which are now being considered to be perfect. 

Now, I am in no way disparaging the work done by these wonderful people. I have always felt honored to have such diligent research that was done, but I now have a lot more information than they had access to and unless there are citations to actual historical records the traditional paper-based genealogy has little value. We are now coming to the end of the major transition that began in about 1970 and now those people who did the original work are all gone and most of their children are now gone. I have also seen a significant decrease in people bringing me questions about pre-computer information. Although, it is interesting that the use of this "ancestral" record is still haunting the FamilySearch Family Tree. You can see this phenomena by looking at almost any person in the Family Tree from New England and born before 1700. Here is a randomly chosen example. 


You can see the list of changes by clicking on the image or going to John Kenyon I KNQL-7VM in the Family Tree. The reality here is that there is no controversy or question about this family and none of these changes have been made because new documents have been found. The last source added that pertained to this individual or family was added almost ten years ago, but the changes just keep coming from people who have outdated and unsubstantiated inherited records. 


Saturday, April 13, 2024

Exploring the legal Issues of Artificial Intelligence

 

As a retired attorney with over 39 years of trial experience and as an author, photographer, and blogger, I became interested in the issues of intellectual property law well before computer programs and the internet became legal issues. My technological background also dates back to the 1970s when computers filled an entire floor of the engineering department at the University of Utah. With my interest and background, I taught copyright law to both students and to my fellow lawyers in Arizona. Concurrent with my legal career, my genealogical background goes back more than 40 years. 

Because I am a retired attorney and no longer practice law, none of what I say in this post should be treated as legal advice for any particular legal issue. 

Now that said, the current media interest in the significant advances in artificial intelligence has highlighted some new legal issues primarily concerning copyright law. To begin this exploration, it is necessary to refer to some of the Federal statutes that pre-exist the advent of personal computer use. 

First of all, copyright is solely a federal issue. The right to own a copyright on intellectual property begins with two provisions of the U.S. Constitution. 

Article I Section 8 | Clause 8 – Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution: Congress shall have power... To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For more information about the origins of copyright law, see the following:

“Article 1 Section 8 Clause 8 | Constitution Annotated | Congress.Gov | Library of Congress.” Accessed November 11, 2023. https://constitution.congress.gov/browse/article-1/section-8/clause-8/.
Justia Law. “Origins and Scope of the Power.” Accessed November 11, 2023. https://law.justia.com/constitution/us/article-1/50-copyrights-and-patents.html.
Kopel, Matthew. “LibGuides: Copyright Services: Copyright Term and the Public Domain.” Accessed November 11, 2023. https://guides.library.cornell.edu/copyright/publicdomain.

Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center. “US Constitution,” April 8, 2013. https://fairuse.stanford.edu/law/us-constitution/.

Congressional interest in copyright law began on May 31, 1790 with the enactment of the first copyright law is enacted under the new United States Constitution. The new law is relatively limited in scope, protecting books, maps, and charts for only 14 years. These works were registered in the United States District Courts.

 “History and Education | U.S. Copyright Office.” Accessed November 11, 2023. https://www.copyright.gov/history/.

Of course, I could write a book about copyright law but for this exploration, I will jump to 1976 when the fourth general revision of the copyright law was passed extending Federal protection to "all works, both unpublished and published, once they are fixed in a tangible form." 

“Timeline 1950 - 2000 | U.S. Copyright Office.” Accessed November 11, 2023. https://www.copyright.gov/timeline/timeline_1950-2000.html.

The next major copyright date is March 1, 1989 when the United States joined the Berne Convention. The practical application of joining the Berne Convention is that copyright claims exist without any formal notice. In other words, you have a claim of copyright even though there is no symbol or other notice on your work. 

Now we come to artificial intelligence or AI. Before I get into the legal issues of AI, I have to acknowledge that Google has a convenient way to research federal and state court cases. The app is called Google Scholar. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of WestLaw.com or LexusNexus.com, but it is free to use. 

As I said above, copyright and other intellectual property claims can only be filed in federal courts. So, for a practical reality check, the initial cost of filing something such as a violation of copyright claim would be into the tens of thousands of dollars. 

A quick search of the federal court cases for "artificial intelligence" from Google Scholar brings up only 675 results. This doesn't mean that there are that many cases where the issue was AI, all it means is that the term showed up in that many cases.  Oh, what if I add in the term "genealogy"? The total number of cases drops to 23. Then I add in a filter limiting the search to the last five years. Well, that ends this discussion quickly. There are no cases where genealogy and artificial intelligence were the topics. If I remove "genealogy" as a search term and leave the filter at after 2020, then the number jumps up to 338 cases. 

As you would imagine if you understood the economics of bringing a federal lawsuit, the parties that show up in this list include companies such as Google, Reuters, National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, Amazon, McDonald's, Apple, TIKTOK, Microsoft, and so forth. So, what does this mean for genealogists?

Now, I add "copyright" to the list of cases and the number drops to 52 cases. So, if you were listening to the news, you would think that AI and copyright issues were really important. However, the number of cases over the past four years would seen to indicate otherwise. In addition, if I limit my search to the Supreme Court of the United States, there are only five cases. None of these cases involve issues that are currently being discussed in the news. Maybe four years is too soon for cases of this nature? 

So, my only conclusion at this time is that it is too early to see if any of the issues that are being discussed in the online news stream turn out to be real legal issues that make their way to the Supreme Court. Of course, this doesn't mean that there will not be litigation is the future or that some cases may be wending their way through the District Courts, but right now there is nothing in the decided cases to talk about. There is one case about copyright but it is not about AI so much. See Google Llc v. Oracle America, Inc., 141 S. Ct. 1183 (Supreme Court 2020).





Friday, March 29, 2024

Google Search or AI Chatbot, that is the question

 

I hope I don't have to tell you this image is an AI generated image. 

I just read an article from The Verge entitled "Here's why AI search engines really can't kill Google." It started me thinking about the thousands of searches I had done in the past few weeks using Google Search, Google Gemini, and Microsoft Copilot. I realized that I had come to the same conclusion months ago. AI does what it does and Google Search does what it does. AI is not trying to copy Google Search and I assume that Google Search isn't even particularly aware of what AI does. The simple example of this statement is the following hypothetical example search.

Me: Amazon [typed in the Google Search field} (Note: I am wanting to look up a price on an item on Amazon.com but I am too lazy to search more specifically.)

Google Search: The first item is a link to Amazon.com 

Hmm. 

How about the same question and response from Microsoft Copilot easily the best generative AI chatbot at the present time. 

Me: Amazon

Here is the answer from Copilot after a few seconds of searching. 


Yes, it gave me the link to Amazon, but also gave information I did not ask for. No, I am not that stupid, I do not need to ask about Amazon's URL, I realize it is Amazon.com and that is the end of this example. 

The chatbot is sort of like one of my friends or even like me. If I just walked up to someone (a live person) and said the word "Amazon" They would probably say What? Why are telling me the word Amazon? Do you mean Wonder Woman or the online store? Copilot didn't mention Wonder Woman but it did, at least, give me a link to the website. I realize this seems to be a trivial example, but it really isn't trivial. 

Using a chatbot to do research is more that simply asking questions. You need to understand what you are trying to learn. Your questions or prompts need to reflect accurate information. You essentially get what you ask for whether you meant to ask for it or not. The chatbot, if it has a huge Large Language Model or a specialized Large Language Model will begin to learn from you about the information you are looking for. For example, If I use the term "Family Tree" with descriptions, a broad chatbot such as Microsoft Copilot will "understand" that I am asking about genealogy and family history. A lessor based chatbot will never recognize the distinction and keep answering with trees and families. 

Both the AI chatbots and Google Searches learn from your past searches. You might realize this by observing the pathetic "targeted ads" on nearly every website. Supposedly, they tailor the ads to what you are interested in buying. Because the ads annoy me, occasionally, I will start making random product searches. Right now, for example, I am getting ads for Alpha Romeo automobiles and random cruise ship offers neither of which have the slightest interest in purchasing. 

I am writing this post late in the afternoon. I went to my Google History and counted that I had done 231 Google searches since 7;00 this morning. During the same time, I had done 8 Microsoft CoPilot searches.  Those numbers and probably low for an average day. How many of those searches gave me responses I was looking for? All of them. Why the Copilot searches because I needed answers such as one URL not an explanation and the short wait for the explanation did not justify using Copilot. 

Working with both the Google Search and Copilot relies on a learned skill. With Google, I am guessing what Google will know and using words that give me the response I need. Copilot is a little more demanding. They call the search input to chatbots, "prompts" but that is not a very good name for the methodology involved. It is more like using a language. If I want to communicate with someone who speaks Spanish, I have to use Spanish. If I want to communicate with a chatbot, I need to use chatbot language. I am learning chatbot language by doing hundreds of searches (or beginning chatbot conversations). All in all, chatbots are pretty limited and not at all intelligent. Carrying on a conversation is an allusion. They are only marginal better in a limited number of ways to regular Google searches. What is helpful is that the chatbot answers questions rather than pointing websites that might answer questions. But as I illustrated with my Amazon example, most of the time I don't need an explanation, I just need a single short answer. 

So, will chatbots kill Google Search. Probably not in my lifetime unless they can learn to give a one work answer to a one word question.



Friday, March 22, 2024

RootsTech 2024 is still online and available

 

https://www.familysearch.org/en/rootstech/

My wife and I have been enjoying some of the presentations from RootsTech 2024 that we missed while being so busy doing other things. Here is a list of some of the current attractions. 

www.familysearch.org/en/connect

www.familysearch.org/discovery/famousrelatives

www.familysearch.org/campaign/lookalike

www.familysearch.org/campaign/photocollage

www.rootstech.org

You might want to look at the huge collection of videos also. There are 1,500 sessions on 185 topics in over 30 languages. The video collection is a marvelous resource for learning about almost everything genealogical.