Crafting a Genealogy Prompt for ChatGPT: Five Valuable Components

The post was prepared as part of my upcoming talk: The National Genealogical Society is hosting a MemberConnects! event on Empowering Genealogists with Artificial Intelligence. Join us Wed. 6 Sept 2023, at 8 p.m. ET. Register here:

As we venture deeper into the digital age, the intersection of genealogy and artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly more exciting. Today, I’m diving into a key skill that will empower your genealogical research with AI: how to craft effective prompts for large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT.

If you’ve been following the ongoing conversation about genealogy and AI, you’ll recall that while LLMs have an arsenal of abilities, they also come with some quirks. To guide them effectively, we need to be thoughtful in our approach.

So, without further ado, let’s discuss the five components that make for a great genealogy prompt!

1. A Role: Begin by imagining you’re recruiting an expert for a specific task. What’s their profession? What expertise should they possess? By defining a role, you’re setting the stage and giving the LLM a context to operate within.

2. A Goal: What do you want to achieve? This is your endgame. Being explicit here ensures that the AI has a clear understanding of your expectations.

3. A Text: Since genealogy is grounded in factual research, provide the text you’d like the AI to process. By supplying the exact text, you mitigate the risk of the AI generating fictitious information (a phenomenon known as “hallucinating”).

4. A Task: Simplify your request. Break it down into manageable steps, just as you’d explain a process to a bright but inexperienced intern. This ensures the LLM knows the sequence of operations it should perform.

5. A Flask: While the term “flask” is playfully chosen for the rhyme, it represents the container or format you’d like your response in. This could range from a narrative report to a structured database table.

For instance, consider this prompt:

PROMPT: You are an expert genealogist and a seasoned data scientist. Your goal is to extract structured relationship data from a provided obituary. Find below an obituary for John Smith from the July 20, 1923, New York Times, page 18. Extract any explicitly stated relationship information; include a quote that supports that determination. Format your response as a CSV file and display that in a code window for easy copy-and-paste.

By following this structure, you provide the LLM with a roadmap to navigate your request. The result? You get precisely the information you’re looking for, formatted just the way you want it.

In conclusion, the digital world of genealogy is at our fingertips, and with tools like ChatGPT, the possibilities are endless. But remember, like any tool, its effectiveness lies in how we use it. With a role, goal, text, task, and flask in hand, you’re all set to harness the full power of LLMs for your genealogical pursuits. Happy researching! 🌳🔍🖥️

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