A One-Step Approach to Research

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

Your online research is only as good as your search strategy and search skills. As more and more online sources become available, the knowledge required to wring essential information from a multitude of sources becomes more difficult as each has its own search structure and eccentricities. Lectures, books, and articles are published regularly professing to provide the tips and tricks needed to be successful on a particular research site.

Steven P. Morse to the rescue! While many researchers already know who Mr. Morse is, for those of you who do not, he is an electrical engineer with many years of experience in innovation at some of the country’s top corporations such as Bell Laboratories, IBM, Intel (where he pioneered the Intel 8086), Netscape, and GE. He has taught at CCNY, Pratt Institute, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, among other educational institutions, has authored text books, holds several patents, and is an engaging and humorous lecturer. He is also a genealogist who has applied his engineering, software, and genealogical knowledge to create a search engine format commonly known as a “one-step” search page. (No twelve steps for genealogists!)

You may have encountered a Steve Morse one-step research site for the first time while searching for passenger arrival or ship arrival information. Morse was galvanized into action by the launch, in 2001, of the online Ellis Island Database [EIDB]. Because he (like many of us) was frustrated in his search for an elusive ancestor using that site, he began to develop improved search options and, as they say, the rest is history. He described his motivation in a 2004 Genealogical Computing article by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak: “Whenever I come across a site that offers some valuable service but doesn’t provide the most flexible way of accessing that service, I’m motivated to improve the situation.” Thank goodness!

I wish I could say that I had ancestors who entered the United States through Ellis Island – or even Castle Garden, but I don’t. My grandparent’s came directly into Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1920s, and my other ancestors’ arrival predated the applicable years for these two institutions. But, early in my research into my Portuguese grandparents’ arrival I did register to use the Ellis Island website. It yielded no information–I later documented their Providence arrival–but I also found the site difficult to navigate successfully. Fortunately, Morse’s One-Step Ellis Island Search now provides several options, or “forms,” as described below, that vastly improve the navigation:

  • The white form searches all New York passengers between 1892 and 1924. While it uses the EIDB database and search engine and requires at least two characters of a surname, it does provide additional features on its own search form, including year of arrival and list from which to select a port of departure; calculates a rough year of birth; and employs the same soundexing system as used by the National Archives. Its power comes from its ability to submit multiple requests and provide the results to you in a single list. If you could devise each of those separate searches and submit them on your own, the time required would be exponentially longer.
  • The gold form (the recommended form) again searches all New York passengers between 1892 and 1924 and continues to use the EIDB, but provides enhanced search options, once again on a unique search form. This search requires no surname at all; provides “sounds-like” searches for names or places; allows you to specify a traveling companion, marital status and exact date of arrival; calculates a precise year of birth; and allows you to specify which fields you wish to have included in the results list. This search uses a more sophisticated soundex system, known as “Daitch Mokotoff,” which is based on six consonant sounds, rather than the traditional four.
  • All New York Arrivals 1820-1957 searches the database at Ancestry.com, using their search engine. Once again, however, additional features have been provided on the search form.

One of the best explanations of the power of these searches can be found in the text of an article and lecture, “A One-Step Portal for On-Line Genealogy” which illustrates via Irving Berlin, is both interesting and helpful in explaining the differences between the various one-step options. Other immigration one-step search forms are available for the Morton Allan Directory, Ship Pictures, and passenger, crew, and ship arrival records for the ports of Baltimore, Boston, Galveston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Hamburg, among others.

There are many more one-step resources available, however. A full list is available at http://stevemorse.org. Extensive search assistance is available for a variety of censuses (Canadian, British, and American). Of particular interest are several links related to the 1940 census, whose release is now just weeks away. These timely resources include a 1940 Tutorial Quiz, and an APGQ article entitled “Getting Ready for the 1940 Census: Searching Without a Name Index.” Also available are a Unified 1940 Census ED [enumeration district], Finder and a one-step search form to view 1940 ED Maps and how to obtain 1940 census tracts in one step.

Other one step topics include French, Muslim, Mayan, Julian, and Jewish calendar conversions (did you know that there was a French Revolutionary Calendar?); how to convert an address to its latitude and longitude; how to transliterate Russian (or Greek, Japanese, and Arabic) to English and vice versa; and several promising links to extracting DNA-related information. As I am the project administrator for the Barclay Surname Study on FamilyTreeDNA, I will definitely be looking at several in this category including “FamilyTreeDNA Markers: Fetching Markers from FamilyTreeDNA Website in One Step;” “Distances: Obtaining DNA Distances in One Step;” and “Group Chart: Building a DNA-Group Chart in One Step.” While I know that I can accomplish these functions on the FamilyTreeDNA site, perhaps the one step approach will simplify the process. Two other links look useful: one assists in determining your ancestor’s migration details, and the other that allows you to map your ancestor’s migration route, with both based on haplogroup information.

Finally, if you are really inspired, information is available to help you create your own one-step search forms and search engines.

Many genealogists have bookmarked Steve Morse’s web site on their laptops, iPads, and desktop computers. If you have not used this site before, don’t delay. You will find it extremely helpful, with many more one-step links available on the site than what I included here. Explore and use them in your research. I cannot imagine the work that is required in providing us with this rich array of resources. It is clearly work driven by a passion for genealogy and by a desire to assist others in finding information more easily. Above all, if you have a chance to attend one of Steve Morse’s lectures at a conference, be sure to do so – you’ll be glad you did.



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