Today I attended the BYU Family History Technology Workshop at BYU co-chaired by Professor Mark Clement of the Department of Computer Science and Professor Joe Price of the Department of Economics. It was a great workshop showcasing genealogy apps based on new technology and research.

The keynote speaker was Mike Mansfield of MyHeritage. I’ll spare you the favoritism and just say my husband spoke about the advances in DNA and Technology in Family History. Some of this presentation was taken from a class he taught in Oslo that you can view for free at Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Then we had a fun “lightning round” of BYU Family History Technology Lab presentations from college students. Each student had six minutes to explain their project and its application and benefit in the field of Family History and Genealogy. Some of these projects require a FamilySearch login to access the tools.


Vet Finder

Jesse Williams presented the Handwriting Recognition and Vet Finder site. “Vet Finder uses machine learning and neural networks to read the census entry for each person in the 1930 US Census and automatically recognize whether or not they are a veteran of World War I. All of the data powering Vet Finder was indexed automatically.”

Once you login with your FamilySearch account, Vet Finder will search your tree with you as the root person or another person as the root if you can give them another name/ID.

This app successfully found my grandfather, a WWI veteran, and linked me to a page in the 1930 census where he identified himself as a veteran. 


Tree Sweeper

Madeleine Aydelotte and Massiel Islas explained the merging problem their app, Tree Sweeper, tries to simplify. Aydelotte and Islas are trying to tackle the problem of duplicate individuals and teach the computer how to correctly prompt users to merge or not merge people. Currently, Tree Sweeper is designed to find errors in your tree. “Have you ever found that a particular ancestor was born before their parents?  Tree Sweeper will help you to find unlikely or erroneous parts of your tree and will help you to fix them.”

I did a 4-generation Tree Sweep on my FamilySearch tree and it found one problem, my great great great grandfather’s christening date is before his birth date. Here’s what it looks like in Tree Sweep.

And here’s what it looks like on that ancestor’s page. You can see we don’t know his actual birth date and someone typed in “Abt. 1793” which is later than the christening date that was attached as a source. I’m actually working on this ancestor this week at RootsTech, with a free consultation at Trace, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to do a better job sourcing this ancestor.


The Family History Guide

This was not a presentation by a college student. James Tanner, author of the blog, Genealogy’s Star, an experienced genealogist who now serves on the advisory board of The Family History Guide, explained that The Family History Guide is a free, non-denominational genealogy training resource used in over 150 countries. It’s run by a non-profit organization that accepts donations to support its educational efforts.

The whole program is set up as a lesson plan with short videos and you can track your progress through the lessons or use the lessons to teach classes or groups basic genealogy principles. The Family History Guide usually has a large, well-staffed booth at RootsTech and has a very easy-to-navigate website.


Other Presentations

I haven’t been able to find operating sites for the other presentations, but watch the BYU Family History Technology Lab website for future projects.

  • Matt Armstrong & Matthew Phillips presented “Using augmented reality to create immersive family history experiences” and discussed different ways to use VR technology for interactive family history games and tools. He used ARIS for an iOS app and AR.JS + A-frame for some other apps.
  • Chris Cook presented “Name Networks” which was a vectorization applied to names and related misspellings used to improve machine learning and help genealogy programs return correct records for a person even if the name was misspelled.
  • Isaac Riley presented “Automated Record Linking” which was technology that trained computers to correctly link or match people from one census year to another.
  • Jacob Van Leeuwan presented “Census Tree” which was a computer process that enabled deeper analysis of census records, including matching locations that were renamed over time, tracking migration by locale through censuses, and more.
  • Michael Crowther presented “Reminisce” which is a social media type program that allows you to pull FamilySearch memories for living people into the site and it’s presented in a newsfeed and people can like and comment on the memories. You can only pull your own FS Memories into the app because FamilySearch doesn’t allow random access to records of living people. But this app would make those records viewable to anyone you invited to your site.
  • Drew Hirschi presented “Virtual Family Tree” which was a virtual reality app that made it easy to see your entire family tree in one space and then you could move from person to person to explore more about an ancestor.

Then we had a lunch break and came back to listen to some Developer and Researcher presentations which were all very interesting. Sadly, with a tight schedule before RootsTech, I missed the last hour of Developer talks but here’s a link to their program if you’re interested in searching online for mention of these presentations. If I get some time after RootsTech, I’ll add write-ups for a few more presentations.

If you’re curious about where the research and technology is going in this industry, the BYU Family History and Technology Workshop is held annually, sometimes in conjunction with RootsTech, other years as a separate convention, but always the same time of year as RootsTech. It’s exciting to see the advances in handwriting recognition and computer-learning and be inspired by how the next generation is using these technologies to benefit the research of their forebears.

Best in your research!

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