For this Follow Friday, I want to highlight the work of Stephen P. Morse, the genealogist whose One-Step search interfaces have rescued me from brick walls more than once.
Morse’s first career was in electrical engineering, where he is renowned as the architect of the Intel 8086 chip. Fortunately for those of us doing family history research, his second career has focused on the use of technology to open new avenues of research.
There’s no shortage of genealogical databases available online, but often one encounters poorly designed user interfaces for searching these databases. The lack of Soundex, aka the ability to search phonetically, the inability to substitute wildcards into search strings, or forced search terms are all examples of bad interface design.
I’ve talked before about Cook County and their poor user interface. Originally, their marriage searches only allowed one surname! FamilySearch’s International Genealogical Index [update: site is defunct after database moved to FamilySearch's main site] is another example of a maddening search interface. It demands a forename when one tries to structure a search by both parents’ names in attempts to discover siblings in a family group. Crazy!
But if you are lucky, Steve Morse has provided alternative ways to search databases you’re interested in at his One-Step Webpages site. Just a few of the sites he improves upon include Ellis Island, Castle Garden, passenger and ship lists for a host of ports in the U.S. and Canada, and others too numerous to mention.
Dr. Morse has also collaborated with Alexander Beider on the Beider–Morse Phonetic Name Matching Algorithm, which refines both the venerable Soundex created by National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the spin-off Daitch–Mokotoff Soundex. His One-Step pages also help you with genetic genealogy, Jewish research, calculating dates and intervals, and other indispensable tools. He even has an eBay auction sniper program available.
If you’re having trouble with an awkward or poorly designed search interface for a critical database, your first stop should be to check out Dr. Morse’s One-Step pages and see if he’s provided another way into the data you need. And don’t miss the chance to hear Dr. Morse speak. His presentations are great.