Amid howls of protest in my family—after all, we are a household of teachers—one certain family member, who will remain unnamed to, er, protect his privacy, decided to dive into the dark side. He investigated ChatGPT.
It was an innocent enough endeavor. He simply asked the AI device for some references for a particular esoteric topic he was studying. ChatGPT instantly complied.
After long household discussions about how students will never be able to learn anything, and how the entire culture is going down the tubes, and oh no, oh no, whatever shall we do, the conclusion I gleaned from those discussions was: it's a tool. I see it as a souped-up search engine. Think of it as Google: The Next Generation. Sure, I'm never going to use it to write a blog post here—alright, I know: never say never—but I was curious to see whether I could use the thing to do a simple search of the nether reaches of the Internet. For, say, genealogy.
Since I have been struggling with my research project this month, I asked ChatGPT for a rundown of resources for Rose Berryman, my sixth great-grandmother. Well, that is not entirely correct; I had mercy and added a few delineating terms, like when she was born and who she married. After all, if I didn't do that, the answer might turn out more like search results on Facebook.
The response wasn't too bad. After all, I did provide the location (Virginia) and a date (her birth circa 1708). Her husband's name—Richard Taliaferro—was probably the biggest clue. The instantly-provided paragraph indicated her parents' names as well as those of her husband. Included were the names of six, though not all, of their children.
When asked for references, ChatGPT provided links to specific pages in several books digitized on Internet Archive. Some links to other reference material from Google Books were also provided.
The upshot of this little experiment isn't that I'll now use ChatGPT to research my family tree. After all, some of the names provided in this little foray don't line up with what I've found elsewhere. I'll have to check those out, myself. And that's the point: no matter which resource you use to do your research, you still need to check out the information for yourself. The answer isn't right until it's right. And confirming such details is still part of the routine of genealogy, no matter whether I'm using AI or doing the grunt work myself.