Mori Magazine

What are the capabilities and constraints of using AI to translate genealogical records between languages?

What are the capabilities and constraints of using AI to translate genealogical records between languages?


The Potential of AI for Translating Genealogy Records

Genealogists know the frustration of coming across a record written in an unfamiliar language. Birth, marriage or death certificates, census documents, passenger lists - these precious details about our ancestors' lives often contain a wealth of information. But if they're not in a language we can read, it's as if that door into their world is locked.

Advancements in artificial intelligence, however, may soon provide a key. AI-powered translation tools can already convert text between popular languages with reasonable accuracy. As the technology continues progressing, could it one day unlock translations for the esoteric languages and archaic scripts found in historical genealogy records?

The possibilities are exciting to consider. Records written in languages like Polish, Greek, Arabic or Chinese could become comprehensible for genealogists lacking those linguistic skills. An AI translator might make it possible for an English speaker to read their great-grandmother's century-old marriage record drafted in rural Spanish.

However, significant constraints around accurately translating niche content still exist. Genealogical documents present unique challenges with their specialized vocabulary, faded handwriting, and centuries-old phrasing. AI systems rely on having ample training data to build translation proficiency - but historical records can be sparse.

There are efforts underway to digitize more genealogy archives and crowdsource their translations at scale. As the available data grows, AI capabilities are likely to expand. But barring major breakthroughs, a fully automated translation process without need for human review is a long way off.

For the foreseeable future, AI will not replace professional translators skilled in deciphering the outdated terminologies and abbreviations found in genealogy documents. Yet if thoughtfully applied, AI technologies may one day provide a starting point - making a portion of records more initially accessible across languages until expert review.

The path ahead remains filled with unknowns. But with care taken not to overpromise their capabilities, AI tools are poised to open up the languages of the past for tomorrow’s genealogists.

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