Artificial Intelligence, Family History, Writing

Using ChatGPT to Summarize Historical Articles and Provide Biographical Sketches

Man sitting and writing on a computer at a desk. Brown themed colors.About a week ago I signed up for an online class through NGS which teaches how to leverage AI for genealogy. As part of the homework, we were asked to use ChatGPT to summarize a newspaper article about an ancestor and then have it write a biographical sketch. I didn’t follow the homework exactly (it asked to use an article with three events in an ancestor’s life) because I’m currently working on a family history for someone close to me and wanted to try this out on an article I plan to use for that history book. I have embedded a link to the article below so you can see it in its original format. After the embedded link is the prompt I used and the output from ChatGPT although I didn’t include the summary it did as it was very similar to the article. While I probably could revise my prompt to improve the response even more, this was such a useful task for me. The insights I asked for I probably recognized on some level, but having them written out in this manner causes me to deliberately recognize and consider them and how each may or may not have impacted this event in William Sander’s life. The sketch then helps me so much because as an engineer I sometimes tend to carry my professional writing voice into my family history writing which may cause the story to be a little too dry for a reader. So while I won’t use the sketch word for word as I think it is too long, it does offer me some passages that are in more of a prose-style that I can use in the history.

Injury to Sanders William 1905

Article from Jan 23, 1905 The Arkansas City Daily News (Arkansas City, Kansas)


My prompt: You are an expert genealogist and family history writer. Your goal is to read news articles about family members and develop insights about the family and its members and use that information to write family stories. Can you please read the following transcript of a news article then summarize the article. After the summary, can you provide any insights you have developed from the information and then after the insights write a short biographical paragraph for William Sanders related to this information? [I followed this with text from the article.]

CHATGPT 4 Response:


  1. Occupation and Lifestyle: William Sanders was actively involved in physical labor, suggesting a hardworking and industrious nature, even at an advanced age.
  2. Community Engagement: His involvement in a significant infrastructure project indicates his active participation in community development.
  3. Resilience and Toughness: The incident reflects the tough conditions of manual labor during that time, and Mr. Sanders’s continued work in such a demanding field past the age of 70 demonstrates remarkable resilience and toughness.
  4. Medical Attention: Immediate medical care following the accident, first at Dr. Guinn’s office and then at his home, indicates a supportive community and possibly a well-respected position for Mr. Sanders within it.
  5. Impact of Age: The mention of his age in the context of the injury underscores societal perceptions of the elderly and their vulnerability to accidents, as well as the increased difficulty in recovery.

Biographical Sketch of William Sanders:

William Sanders, a figure emblematic of the early 20th century’s industrious spirit, was a man whose life was as sturdy as the sidewalk stones he labored over. Even past the age of seventy, Sanders dedicated himself to the physically demanding task of infrastructure development in his community. His days were marked by the clatter of chains and the heavy rumble of stones, a testament to a life built on resilience and a commitment to progress. The unfortunate incident on a chilly January morning in 1905, when the weight of his work bore down upon him, leaving him with serious injuries, is a stark reminder of the human cost behind the era’s industrial advancements. Yet, it also highlights the supportive fabric of his community, evident from the immediate medical attention he received. William Sanders’s story is not just one of personal strength and determination, but also a reflection of the era’s values: hard work, community involvement, and a relentless spirit, undeterred by age or adversity.


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