Accelerating Genealogy with AI: Engineering Prompts for Chat GPT

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Accelerating Genealogy with AI: Engineering Prompts for Chat GPT

Master the Art of Prompting through Blaine Bettinger's 10 Key Strategies and Practical Examples


Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly important role in genealogy, providing researchers with novel techniques to solve problems and find their family history. Based on the GPT-4 architecture, the Chat GPT is a strong AI tool that can assist genealogists with a variety of tasks. 

In this blog post, I unpack Blaine Bettinger’s ten essential tactics for efficiently using Chat GPT. 

Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., is a professional genealogist specializing in DNA evidence. He is the author of the long-running blog The Genetic Genealogist, and frequently gives presentations and webinars to educate others about the use of DNA to explore their ancestry. 

My interest was piqued when I viewed the recent webinar from Blaine Bettinger, hosted by Jen Baldwin from FindMyPast@Home team. I felt that this topic was an ideal introduction to the ‘Power of the Prompts’ theme that I endeavour to bring out in my tips for Genealogists in the use of Chat GPT. The theme of engineering prompts smartly runs through my many video tips on Chat GPT in my You Tube playlist – Ancestry in the Age of AI.

In this blog post I present real examples for each strategy using my own genealogical research tasks and engineered prompts.

Below, I also highlight the five guidelines of prompting for more successful communication with GPT. These were used throughout Blaine’s webinar in real examples of prompting.

I highly recommend that you view this wonderful one-hour webinar: 

10 ChatGPT Prompts Every Genealogist Needs to Know | Findmypast

1 Please draft

Writing greetings to distant relatives or explanations of study findings can take time. By supplying the relevant context and facts, you can use Chat GPT to produce a message or a summary. For example, you may ask GPT to write a message to a distant relative with whom you share ancestors.

In my example I have written a letter to an ancestor sharing my explorations of his life in Dartmouth, and posted as a blog article in 2021 called Dear Grandpa Sam. I prompted GPT-4 like this, and pasted the text of the article – the response was intriguing.

Prompt: Here’s a letter I wrote to my deceased great grandfather Sam. Can you write a reply letter as if you were Samuel Allery born in 1793 and died in 1877

2 Please Extract

When it comes to extracting specific information from a newspaper archive, such as obituary, Chat GPT can be a valuable assistant for genealogists. 

Prompt: Act as a historian, please extract the names and relationships from this obituary and output as a table:

3 Please generate

AI can assist in the creation of possible family tree situations as well as the identification of research avenues. For example, you could ask GPT to generate hypothetical family links based on known ancestors or a list of potential resources to investigate for a given ancestor. 

In my example I was keen to generate some common threads among the family of an ancestor for my family history ebook.

Prompt: You are a skilled analyst specialising in interpreting census data from the 19th century records from England. Identify the common threads for the family members of John Adrian Newth using the data from this 1881 census record:


4 Please help me brainstorm

AI can provide catchy titles and subtitles for blog articles, presentations, books, web pages and chapters in a family history book. 

In my example I created this prompt to start this blog post. I then used Quillbot to paraphrase and edit for clarity and fluency.

You are an experienced genealogist with new and emerging skills in using AI for assistance with your daily genealogical tasks:

Please craft a blog post outline on this topic ‘how to engineer prompts for Chat GPT to help with Genealogy’ – suggest a catchy title and subtitle and use these 10 points from Blaine Bettinger as subheadings and offer practical examples for each one: Please draft Please extract Please generate Please brainstorm Please provide information Please calculate Please translate Please help me remember Please help me learn Please transcribe


5 Please provide information

Ask GPT for information on certain time periods or regions to provide historical context for family occurrences. For example, enquire about daily living in an ancestral hometown during a specific era.

Prompt: “How can I refine my research to focus on historical data, events, and repositories related to my ancestors, including strategies for narrowing down the scope and finding relevant resources?” Specifically how to find out more about infant mortality in the years between 1843 and 1859, the causes of infant deaths, and the medical services available at the time.

6 Please calculate

GPT can help you estimate relationships and dates, as well as analyse DNA data. You could, for example, ask GPT to compute an ancestor’s probable birth year based on their age in a census record or interpret shared centimorgan data with a DNA match.

In my example I was keen to establish the age at death of a large number of children born to my ancestors for whom I had all the birth and death dates; and added the data from my research at FindMyPast. (copied and pasted the list of children)

Prompt: You are a skilled genealogist. Please analyse the data below and create a table showing the children of William and Mary Allery as a family group sheet – show names, date of birth, death date, age at death:

7 Please translate

Ask GPT to translate a German baptism record or interpret Latin terminology found in antique papers to decipher foreign records and genealogical words in other languages.

In my example I asked GPT-4 to summarise an old will with this prompt:

Prompt: I have the transcript of a 1922 will, see below, please assume the role of genealogist with special skills in interpreting old wills and provide a summary of the will with a table showing the beneficiaries and legacies provided.

The summary was well created although GPT had some difficulty with spelling of real place names etc.

The list of beneficiaries was clear and legible in tabular format shown below.

8 Please help me remember

Ask GPT to summarise previous research for simple recollection or put up a task list for future research endeavours to organise research notes and establish reminders for follow-up tasks.

For this one I have modified the prompt to ‘please help me be creative’ as I was eager to begin preparing an ebook in which each of my tailoring family ancestors were featured. In this example I focussed on one of the children in a family group.

Prompt 1: You are a skilled family history storyteller with a specialist skill in outlining ancestral stories to engage your audiences – from 8 to 80 years old. historical events, and family milestones. Please write a story outline for my story about Alice Ada Newth and her family, bringing in the ancestral profiles from the data above. Include details from the 1871 census record

Prompt 2: Please provide me with 10 suitable title for the book about Alice Ada Newth with subtitles in tabular format


9 Please help me learn

Improve your genealogical skills and understanding by asking GPT to provide learning resources such as tutorials or articles, or gain insight into complex genealogical topics such as DNA triangulation.

In this example I was keen to know more about the specific occupation of an ancestor set in his era and location.

Prompt: What can you tell me about the occupation of Journeyman tailor as shown in this 1881 census record for William Allary?

10 Please transcribe

Using GPT, you can convert handwritten materials to text or transcribe audio and video interviews. Request that GPT transcribe a handwritten will or a recorded family history interview, for example.

In this example I wanted to understand more about a particular court case in which one of my ancestors appeared.

Prompt: You are an experienced genealogist with a specialist skill in interpreting old court cases as appeared in the Old Bailey in England. Below is a transcript of a case in which my ancestor Adrian Newth was seen as the victim but also as a benevolent man when giving evidence for the defendant Thomas Stone. Please summarise this court case to explain its outcome.

The Five Rules for Effective GPT Communication: Mastering the Art of Prompting

  1. Act as a (Role): Adopt distinct positions for GPT support, such as genealogy mentor or research assistant.
  2. Create a (Task): Define specific tasks for GPT to complete, like locating an ancestor in a census record.
  3. Show as (Format): Specify the prefered format for GPT’s output, such as providing a bullet-point summary.
  4. Add Limitations: Limit the number of ideas or the length of the response to set boundaries for GPT’s responses.
  5. Refine: To generate better results, iterate and adjust prompts based on GPT’s initial reaction


Genealogists can use Chat GPT to increase their research by exploring the 10 Chat GPT Prompts every Genealogist Should know. Blaine Bettinger’s 10 practical methods in mastering the art of prompting will help you conquer obstacles, streamline your tasks, and enrich your genealogical adventure.

Early adopters of Chat GPT are keen to explore how AI can enhance their genealogy research and ancestral storytelling. The see many benefits of having their own genealogy AI assistant such as: time saving, inspiration, collaborative opportunities, etc.

Prompt: You are a copywriter developing a set of benefits of using Chat GPT for genealogists and family historians. Please provide a set of 10 benefits with examples.

Here are 10 benefits of using Chat GPT for genealogists and family historians, along with examples for each:



  • Access to Vast Knowledge: Chat GPT provides access to a vast amount of historical and genealogical knowledge, allowing researchers to tap into diverse sources and information. For example, you can ask Chat GPT to provide information about migration patterns of a specific ethnic group or historical context for a particular time period.
  • Efficient Record Retrieval: Chat GPT can assist in retrieving records quickly and efficiently. For instance, you can ask Chat GPT how to locate a specific birth certificate, marriage record, or census entry for an ancestor.
  • Translation Assistance: If you come across documents or records written in foreign languages, Chat GPT can help with translations. For instance, you can ask Chat GPT to translate a Latin baptismal record or a handwritten letter from an ancestor.
  • Overcoming Brick Walls: When faced with research roadblocks or brick walls, Chat GPT can provide fresh perspectives and suggest alternative approaches to tackle difficult genealogical problems. For example, you can ask for brainstorming ideas on finding elusive ancestors or exploring lesser-known record sources.
  • Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: Chat GPT can facilitate collaboration among genealogists by providing insights, sharing research methodologies, and suggesting potential connections. It can act as a virtual genealogy community where researchers can exchange ideas and learn from each other.
  • Document Transcription and Summarization: Chat GPT can transcribe handwritten documents or summarize lengthy texts, saving genealogists valuable time and effort. For instance, you can ask Chat GPT to transcribe a letter from an ancestor or summarize a lengthy probate record.
  • Historical Context and Social History: Chat GPT can provide insights into historical events, social history, and cultural contexts relevant to your ancestors’ lives. For example, you can ask for information about the impact of industrialization on a specific region or the social norms during a particular time period.
  • Data Organization and Analysis: Chat GPT can assist in organizing and analyzing genealogical data. It can help create structured family trees, analyze census data, or identify patterns in migration. For example, you can ask Chat GPT to analyze a set of census records and provide a summary of the occupations and locations of your ancestors.
  • Learning and Skill Development: Interacting with Chat GPT can help genealogists expand their knowledge, learn new research techniques, and enhance their genealogical skills. For example, you can ask Chat GPT to provide educational resources on DNA analysis or recommend books on a specific research topic.
  • Preservation and Restoration Guidance: Chat GPT can provide guidance on preserving and restoring old family photographs, documents, or heirlooms. You can ask for tips on proper storage techniques, digitization methods, or even recommendations for professional preservation services. This ensures the longevity of precious family artifacts and helps maintain their historical significance for future generations.
  • Storytelling and Narrative Building: Chat GPT can assist in crafting compelling narratives and stories based on your genealogical research. By providing details about your ancestors, their lives, and their accomplishments, you can ask Chat GPT to help weave these elements into engaging family stories. This benefit adds a personal touch to your genealogical work, making it more accessible and enjoyable for family members and future generations.
  • Cultural and Ethnic Insights: Chat GPT can provide cultural and ethnic insights specific to your ancestors’ backgrounds. By asking questions about traditions, customs, or regional history, you can gain a deeper understanding of the cultural contexts that influenced your ancestors’ lives. This knowledge can enrich your research and help you connect with your heritage on a more meaningful level.

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