Testing ChatGPT 3.5

By Ms Christine Christine Harris

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past twelve months, you will have heard that AI applications have become available to everyone.  The first big release came on 30 Nov 2022 when a company called Open AI released an application called ChatGPT.  Since then the world has been scrambling to catch up and many other applications have become available and every day we hear about new things AI can do.

Our area of interest is genealogy and you can now find many articles and videos online about using AI for your family history.  And I have been testing to see what can be done.  I made the decision to stick with the free version of ChatGPT because it was the first and because it is free.  Everyone has access to this tool.

I'm not going to go into all the hows and whys and wherefores right now, I'm just going to share an exercise that I did for the London, South of England and Wales Interest Group on Saturday, 2 Dec, 2023.  

This test involves a random obituary that I found on Trove at  It is for a man called James Bugg.  He is not my ancestor, and I'm guessing he's not yours either.  This is simply a test of the technology.

After opening ChatGPT, I typed the following prompt - which is the instruction to ChatGPT about what I want it to do:

Act as a genealogist. From the obituary of James Bugg below extract the people and their relationships to the deceased in a table with a unique person on each row. Include any biographical information provided about each person in columns headed Residence, Biography and make a note of any person where the relationship is unknown. 

The prompt is the instruction to ChatGPT about what I want it to do.

Next I copied the OCR of the obituary from Trove into the prompt box in ChatGPT - the same box where I had written the prompt.  

OBITUARY LATE JAMES BUGG Mr. James Bugg, one of the oldest surviving pioneer residents of the Goulburn district, whose death was briefly announced in yesterday's Penny Post, died at the District Hos- pital on Wednesday afternoon at the age of 92 years. He had suffered a lengthy illness. He was the eldest son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bugg, Parkes- bourne identities, and was born at Suf- folk, England. At the age of 10 years he left for Australia aboard an old sailing ship, and after a voyage of about four months arrived off Gabo Island, Australia, where the vessel encountered trouble and the passen- gers were forced to remain on the island for about four months. This little settlement was inhabited by 400 people of different nationalities and during the whole time it is recorded that there was not a single quarrel. Mr. Bugg and his parents arrived in Sydney Harbour on the night of the tragic wreck of the Dunbar. The captain of the Begepoor, however, anchored outside the heads until the gale had subsided and in the morning pieces of wreckage were seen float- ing near the ship. Mr. and Mrs. Bugg and their family settled in the Hawkesbury River district for about two years and at the age of 16 James Bugg set out alone for Parkesbourne. Driving a waggon drawn by two horses, he camped for the night at Paddy's River, where bushranger Dunn ac- costed him and closely questioned him. Apparently satisfied with the answers received, the bushranger slept the night in his camp and in the morning inquired if he needed food or money. The young traveller possessed sufficient food but was short of money, and Dunn gave him £2 before leaving. Arriving in the Parkesbourne dis- trict, James Bugg settled on the land and the remainder of his life was divided between the Parkes- bourne and Yarra districts. The re- mainder of his family also settled there and soon a model farm had been formed. PLOUGHING MATCH About 57 years ago a ploughing match between Australia and the World was staged at Parkesbourne for a large cup presented by the late D. M. Broadhead and in this two days' gruelling match, Mr. Bugg was successful. His interests were centred on mixed farming, but at the age of 68 he was forced to retire from active life through illness and together with his wife, took up resi- dence at "Blackberry Farm," a short distance from the Yarra railway gates. His property was noted for the splendid blackberry bushes grow- ing there and it was also remarkable for the fact that there was not a single fence on the place, as the thick bushes were all that was neces- sary to keep stock from straying. These bushes were imported from England, for the special purpose of forming a hedge, and it is some- what strange that the bush has now been declared noxious and special precautions are being taken to eradicate it. Always a stout adherent of the Methodist Church, Mr. Bugg took a keen interest in his self-appointed task and was a foundation member of the Church at Yarra. Together with other residents, he helped build the present structure. His interest did not cease there, for he had been a trustee and church steward for the past 40 years. Mr. Bugg was marked for his integrity and honesty, and his old friends will mourn the pass- ing of a typical English gentleman. Following the death of his wife four years ago, Mr. Bugg suffered ill-health and left his old home. He is survived by three sons, Wil- liam (Lidcombe), Leslie (New Zea- land), Cecil (Goulburn), and four daughters, Mrs. J. Higgins (Malabar), Mrs. Mary Price (Bannister), Mrs. A. E. Bool (Parkesbourne), and Mrs. C. Buxton (Queensland). Three children predeceased him. Mr. Alfred Bugg (South Grafton) is a brother and Mrs. J. Cuthbert (Campsie) is a sister. The funeral took place at the Meth- odist cemetery, Yarra, at 3.30 p.m. yesterday afternoon.

As you can see I made no attempt to format or correct the OCR, just copied it as it came out of Trove and pasted it into the prompt box.  The next version of ChatGPT will likely not need the OCR, but will read the obituary directly from the digital image.

This is what it produced:
Here's a table summarizing the information about the individuals mentioned in the obituary of James Bugg:





James Bugg


District Hospital, Goulburn

Mr. James Bugg, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bugg, Parkesbourne identities. Born in Suffolk, England. Traveled to Australia at the age of 10. Settled in Hawkesbury River district before moving to Parkesbourne. Involved in a ploughing match 57 years ago. Retired due to illness at the age of 68. Lived at "Blackberry Farm" near Yarra railway gates. Active in the Methodist Church. Survived by three sons and four daughters.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bugg



Parents of James Bugg. Parkesbourne identities.

William Bugg



Surviving son of James Bugg.

Leslie Bugg


New Zealand

Surviving son of James Bugg.

Cecil Bugg



Surviving son of James Bugg.

Mrs. J. Higgins



Surviving daughter of James Bugg.

Mrs. Mary Price



Surviving daughter of James Bugg.

Mrs. A. E. Bool



Surviving daughter of James Bugg.

Mrs. C. Buxton



Surviving daughter of James Bugg.

Three predeceased children



The obituary mentions that three children predeceased James Bugg, but their names and other details are not provided.

Alfred Bugg


South Grafton

Brother of James Bugg, residing in South Grafton.

Mrs. J. Cuthbert



Sister of James Bugg, residing in Campsie.

Please note that the information is extracted based on the provided obituary, and the relationships and details may be limited or unclear in some cases.

So in about 5 minutes including the time it took for me (inexperienced) to fashion the prompt correctly.  I had all the salient information extracted and provided to me in tabular format.

I decided to push it a little further, just for the sake of curiosity.  As a new prompt, I typed "Acting as a genealogist, from the table above write a family history of the Bugg family".  As you can see I didn't repeat the previous input of the obituary.  I simply carried on and have asked AI to produce a different output from the same information.

ChatGPT came back with:

The Bugg family has a rich history that spans continents and generations. The patriarch, Mr. James Bugg, played a pivotal role in shaping the family's legacy. Born in Suffolk, England, he embarked on a journey to Australia at the age of 10, alongside his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bugg. The family encountered adversity during their sea voyage, with an unexpected four-month stay on Gabo Island. Despite the challenges, this experience is marked by an absence of quarrels among the 400 inhabitants.

Upon reaching Sydney Harbour, the Bugg family faced the aftermath of the tragic wreck of the Dunbar. However, they found safety aboard the Begepoor, where the captain's cautious decision saved them from the storm. The Buggs initially settled in the Hawkesbury River district for about two years before young James, at the age of 16, set out alone for Parkesbourne.

In Parkesbourne, James Bugg established himself on the land, marking the beginning of a lifelong connection to the region. His dedication to farming and community was evident when he successfully participated in a ploughing match between Australia and the World, showcasing his commitment to agricultural pursuits.

As James Bugg's family grew, so did his influence in the Parkesbourne and Yarra districts. A model farm emerged, and "Blackberry Farm" became the residence for James and his wife during their later years. The property, known for its splendid blackberry bushes imported from England, was characterized by the absence of traditional fences, as the thick bushes provided sufficient containment for the livestock.

Beyond his contributions to agriculture, James Bugg was a devoted member of the Methodist Church. His involvement extended to the founding of the Church at Yarra, where he served as a trustee and church steward for 40 years. Renowned for his integrity and honesty, James was remembered as a typical English gentleman by his old friends.

The Bugg family faced the passing of James Bugg's wife four years prior to his own demise. Following her death, James experienced declining health and left the family's old home. He left behind a legacy survived by three sons—William, Leslie, and Cecil—and four daughters—Mrs. J. Higgins, Mrs. Mary Price, Mrs. A. E. Bool, and Mrs. C. Buxton. Unfortunately, three of their siblings had predeceased them, their names and details remaining unspecified.
The broader Bugg family also includes Alfred Bugg, a brother residing in South Grafton, and Mrs. J. Cuthbert, a sister living in Campsie. The family's history is marked by resilience, pioneering spirit, and a commitment to community and faith. The Bugg legacy, shaped by James Bugg's enduring contributions, lives on through the surviving generations and the memories of an exemplary English gentleman.

The language may be a little flowery, but you have something that you can use, edit, rewrite, discard.  It's all up to you what you do with it.

In under 10 minutes, I not only have multiple facts ready for entering into my family history software, but I also have a story that can be used anywhere you choose to publish your family history stories.

Now, I haven't fact-checked either output.  As a good family historian, if I was going to use this information I would check everything.  But, for now, I believe this is a strong example of what AI is going to be able to do for family historians to help us get everything on the record and save us time and effort doing mundane tasks that can be better spent elsewhere.

If you want to try it, go to ChatGPT, register for a free account, and try it out.  You can play with it to your heart's content and it is fun to experiment!

Footnote:  You will see that I didn't ask ChatGPT to find James or any of his family.  What I did was to take what I had and asked it to analyse and provide information is the two formats that I wanted.  Use the tools to do the things that it is good at.  Don't try to get it to do everything for you.  Horses for courses.


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