Electrical engineer created Web tools to find link to past
July 23, 2008 8:00 AM
Dr. Stephen Morse will speak here Aug. 1.
By Marylynne Pitz Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Stephen Morse began researching his family tree, he found lots of surprises. His parents were secretly married in a civil ceremony in New York eight months before their public wedding, and his great-grandparents divorced back in the 1880s in Russia. He also confirmed the story that his grandmother had 21 siblings.
"I'm thankful not to be in the shoes of a good friend who discovered that his great-grandfather was confined to Sing Sing penitentiary for bigamy," said Dr. Morse, who will speak here Aug. 1 about his methods of genealogical research.
Dr. Morse, a 68-year-old electrical engineer from San Francisco, also found several second cousins he never knew, has become close with some of them and contacts them when he travels around the country to genealogical conferences. He has a second cousin in Pittsburgh, too, and 36 speaking engagements this year.
In 2001, while researching his wife's family tree on the Ellis Island Web site, Dr. Morse figured out a way to streamline the cumbersome system.
While most of his one-step Web pages focus on U.S. records, Dr. Morse's computer applications have made it possible to search the records of the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich, Germany, from World War II.
During the past six months, Peter Lande at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., provided Dr. Morse with information from Dachau and asked him to create a search application for it and post it on his Web site, which is www.stevemorse.org.
The paternal side of his wife's family came from Hungary. One of his wife's cousins is a Holocaust survivor who was held at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In his research on the Dachau camp files, Dr. Morse learned that his wife's cousin arrived in Dachau from Auschwitz on Sept. 8, 1944.
While reading genealogy newsletters, Dr. Morse learned about Web sites that had databases in Russian, Polish and Hebrew, languages that many researchers don't speak.
In 2005, he decided to work on the problem of making those databases accessible to English-speaking researchers. His efforts made information about Siberian refugee camps, Soviet gulags and Russia's fallen soldiers available to people who could not speak Russian, Polish or Hebrew.
"I have received numerous e-mails from users thanking me because they were able to find the fate of some of their family members by using my Holocaust-related tools. So I guess I underestimated the importance of some of those databases," Dr. Morse said.