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This lesson on AI in genealogy offers a multidisciplinary approach, blending technology, history, and ethics, thereby fostering critical thinking and cultural awareness among students. By exploring the intersection of AI and genealogical research, it not only introduces students to cutting-edge technological applications but also prompts them to consider the profound implications of AI on personal and cultural identities. Furthermore, this lesson encourages students to engage with complex ethical dilemmas, preparing them to navigate and shape the increasingly digital and data-driven world responsibly and thoughtfully.

Materials Needed

Materials Needed

Printouts of the Student Handout (one per student) Printouts of the Group Discussion sheet (one per group)

Time needed

Time needed

Approximately 45 minutes


  • Students will be able to explain the role of AI in genealogical research and identify its potential to transform the study of family histories.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the ethical implications of using AI in genealogy, particularly concerning data privacy and bias in data interpretation.
  • Students will be able to critically analyze real-world examples where AI is used in genealogy, identifying both the benefits and the potential misinterpretations or oversimplifications made by AI.

Key Concepts & Vocabulary

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Computer systems designed to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence.
  • Genealogy: The study and tracing of family ancestries and histories.
  • Data Privacy: The protection of personal information from unauthorized access or misuse.
  • Machine Learning: A subset of AI where systems improve their performance by learning from data.

Lesson Components

  1. Before You Watch: Connect the lesson to background knowledge of family studies in genealogy and get students’ attention .
  2. Video: Show the video explaining the ethical considerations in the topic of AI use in genealogical research.
  3. Case Study: Detail a real-world scenario that relates to the issue of AI needing specific cultural understanding in helping with genealogical research.
  4. Simulation: Lead students through an interactive activity exploring the possible ethical considerations.
  5. Discussion: Ask whole-class questions to reflect on experience and consider perspectives.
  6. Assessment: Verify student understanding with an exit ticket.

Warm up

Option 1: Family Tree Sketch – Ask students to quickly sketch a basic family tree including themselves, their parents, and if possible, grandparents or great-grandparents. This will make the concept of genealogy more personal.

Option 2: Cultural Name Game –  Briefly discuss how names can tell a lot about a person’s cultural background. Have students say their names and, if applicable, share any cultural, historical, or family significance behind them.

Case Study

Distribute or read Case Study handout.

Summary: A family’s journey into their ancestral past using AI-powered genealogy services reveals the technology’s limitations in grasping cultural nuances and historical depth. Challenges such as cultural oversimplification, historical misrepresentation, name confusion, and data privacy concerns highlight the complexity of accurately and respectfully representing a family’s legacy. Addressing these issues requires a blend of improved cultural algorithms, robust privacy measures, and a collaborative approach between AI and human insight, ensuring that genealogical exploration enriches our understanding of heritage without compromising its authenticity.

Student Handout

Case Study: The History of the Nguyen Family

Imagine the Nguyen family, excited to discover their roots using an AI-powered genealogy service. They hope to learn about their ancestors, traditions, and the stories that shaped their family. However, what if the AI, with all its smart algorithms, doesn’t fully understand their deep cultural nuances and rich history? AI in genealogy might misinterpret or oversimplify a family’s past.


Background Information

The Nguyen family, with a heritage rooted in Vietnam, represents a tapestry of rich traditions and historical resilience. Vietnamese culture is renowned for its intricate family values, traditional festivals like Tết Nguyên Đán, and a strong sense of community. Genealogy, the study of family history, often involves piecing together documents, photos, and stories to form a family tree. Recently, AI has stepped into this field, promising to uncover long-lost connections and simplify the search through historical records. However, AI’s understanding of deep cultural subtleties and historical contexts can sometimes be limited, posing challenges in accurately representing a family’s legacy.


The main dilemma arises when the AI, used by the Nguyen family, starts to interpret and present their family history. Several issues surface:


  • Cultural Oversimplification: The AI might not grasp the full significance of cultural practices, reducing rich traditions like the Lunar New Year to mere dates and superficial descriptions.
  • Historical Misrepresentation: Important historical nuances, like the family’s role in local events or migrations, might be inaccurately depicted, losing the depth and emotional context behind these stories.
  • Name Confusion: The AI could misinterpret the structure and meaning behind Vietnamese names, especially a common name like Nguyen. This can lead to confusion and a loss of identity.
  • Data Privacy: There’s also the worry about how the family’s sensitive information is handled and protected by the AI system.


Possible Solutions

Addressing these challenges involves multiple approaches, including enhanced cultural algorithms to recognize and respect cultural nuances, privacy safeguards to ensure that families feel secure about their personal histories, and human-AI collaboration to offer the efficiency of AI and the cultural insight of humans.



The story of the Nguyen family highlights the potential and pitfalls of AI in genealogy. While AI offers exciting possibilities in uncovering our past, it’s crucial to navigate this journey with care, ensuring that the technology respects and honors the depth of our heritage. 


Reflect on this

  • How can we ensure that AI becomes a respectful ally in our quest to understand our roots? 
  • What steps would you take to protect your family’s stories and ensure they are told accurately and thoughtfully?


In this simulation, students take the role of AI that has to learn how to deal with naming conventions from a variety of cultures and languages around the world. 

  1. Distribute the student handout to each student. 
  2. The students will look at the names listed in the first column and see what they can learn by looking at the way the names are written and formatted.
  3. Students should write down their observations after just looking at the names. 
  4. Some students may represent a culture or language mentioned on the sheet, or have specific knowledge, which will help them explain the important information.
  5. After students look over all the names and respond to them, go through the information on the Teacher Handout. Explain the naming conventions for each of the cultures / languages and ask for student comments on each.
  6. The group questions sheet can be printed on the back of the student handout, or distributed later, to gauge student understanding of the task.
  7. Students should discuss the questions in small groups, and see what they can learn, or what new understanding they gain, about the task of implementing culturally responsive AI.

Student handout

Simulation Activity Handout: Naming Conventions

Genealogical research can be extremely difficult around the world due to naming conventions. Play the AI in this activity where you see how much you can figure out about people based on their names. Names are in the first column, and the countries or languages are in the second column. Make an educated guess in the third column about something you can learn about them by their names. Also, how would you alphabetize?


Name Origin What can you learn?
Ba Kaung and Daw Mya Aye have a son called Saw Tin Burmese (Myanmar)
Many people are known as Wayan and Ni Luh Balian, Indonesia
Björn Jónsson’s son is named Hafthór Björnsson Icelandic
Maria Zapatero and Juan Ávila have a son, José Ávila-Zapatero Spanish-
speaking cultures
Aisha bint Abu Bakr’s father does not have the same last name Arabic
Johannes Diderik van den Heuvel Dutch
Giannis Antetokounmpo Nigerian / Greek
Lee Chae-Yeong Korean
Many people have the same name, Singh Punjab, India


These questions below are for the end of the simulation. They are also found on the Group Discussion Questions handout.

  1. Understanding Cultural Context: How might AI struggle to understand the cultural significance behind the order of names or the use of certain terms like “bint” or “van den” in a genealogical context?
  2. Identifying Family Relations: In cases where family names or direct lineage indicators (like ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’) are not used or are used differently (e.g., Icelandic naming conventions), how might AI face challenges in accurately mapping family trees?
  3. Handling Non-Western Naming Systems: How would AI cope with naming systems that don’t follow the English-speaking first name-last name structure, such as in Burmese culture where names are part of the identity and don’t necessarily indicate family relations?
  4. Interpreting Birth Order Names: How might AI misinterpret names that indicate birth order, like the Balinese names Wayan or Ni Luh, especially when these names don’t provide direct information about family lineage?
  5. Respecting Cultural Diversity in Names: Reflect on the potential for AI to oversimplify or misinterpret names that have deep cultural meanings or that change form across different cultures, like Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name. What are the implications of this for individuals and their understanding of their heritage?
  6. Dealing with Common Names: In cultures where a large number of people share the same name, like Singh in Punjab, India, how could AI differentiate between individuals and avoid confusion in genealogical research?
  7. Transliteration Challenges: Consider the challenges AI might face with names that have been transliterated from one alphabet to another, possibly altering their pronunciation or meaning. How might this impact the accuracy of genealogical records?


The questions below may be used in full-class discussion after the simulation is complete.

  1. In what ways did the simulation highlight the importance of cultural sensitivity in genealogical research?
  2. How did the simulation change your perspective on the importance of data privacy in genealogical research?
  3. What types of biases might AI introduce into genealogical research, and how can they affect our understanding of our family history?
  4. How do you think human oversight can complement AI in genealogical research to ensure accuracy and cultural respect?
  5. Who do you think should be responsible for ensuring that AI systems used in genealogy are ethical and respectful of individuals’ histories?
  6. Can you think of a situation where AI might misrepresent someone’s cultural heritage? How would that impact the individual or the community?
  7. How does the potential for errors in AI-driven genealogy affect your trust in technology for personal research?
  8. How do you envision the future of genealogical research with the integration of AI, and what steps should be taken to address the ethical challenges discussed?


Exit Ticket: Provide a prompt for students to reflect on their learning, such as: 

  • What limitations of AI in understanding complex human narratives were evident during the simulation?
  • How did the simulation make you feel about your own family history and the importance of accurately preserving it?
  • What is your biggest takeaway from this experience?

Sources to Learn More