A One-Step Portal for On-Line Genealogy
Stephen P. Morse
An early version of this article appeared in AVOTAYNU: the International Review of Jewish Genalogy (Spring 2004), and a revised version in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly (September and December 2006).
In the “old days” genealogical research was done by traveling great distances and then going through dusty archives or using microfilm readers. But the advent of the World Wide Web has changed that. Today much of the data useful to genealogists has been put on websites and can be accessed from the comfort of home.
Unfortunately, many of these websites are not easy to use. And those that are don’t always offer all the versatility that is possible. For that reason I have created alternate ways of accessing some of these websites. In addition I have developed some of my own databases and programs to facilitate doing genealogical research. These are all collected together under what I call the One-Step website.
The name “One Step” was chosen when I developed my first search tool, which allowed for searches through the Ellis Island records. A search done from the ellisisland.org website involved many steps, whereas my search tool was able to do it all in one step. Hence I called that tool “Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step.” Little did I realize that, by choosing such a name, my website would become branded and I would be forced to use One-Step on all subsequent tools. I almost called that early tool “Searching the Ellis Island Database with Fewer Tears,” in which case this paper would be about the Fewer Tears website.
In this paper I’ll present an overview of what the One-Step website has to offer and, in doing so, will introduce other resources that are available on the web.
I’m often asked why I created the One-Step tools when the ability to search the data already exists on other websites. I can best answer that with an example. Suppose we wanted to find the Ellis Island record for Irving Berlin. If Irving were a member of our family, we would have information about him from family folklore that would help in our search. Since he’s not a member of our family, we’ll simulate our family folklore from information found on the Internet. Here are some articles about him:
From these we learn that his original given name was Israel and that his original surname was either Baline, Berlin, or Bailin. We also learn that he was born in 1888 and that he came to the U.S. in 1893 with his father Moses and his mother whose name was either Leah or Lena. That’s enough for a start.
We can now go to the Ellis Island website at ellisisland.org and enter the information. We are presented with a form that simply asks for first and last name so we enter “Israel Bailin” and get the following response:
The Ellis Island website reports that no records were found. However the bottom line tells us that there are additional tools that might be helpful. If we click on that line, we’ll be presented not with tools provided by the Ellis Island website but with the One-Step tools.
Using the One-Step tools we can enter the information that we know about Irving in one step – specifically first name Israel, last name sounds like Bailin, born in 1888, and arrived in 1893. That will get us to a manifest containing the following entries:
There’s no doubt that this is the correct person. And the name on the manifest is Beilin, not Bailin, which is why we couldn’t find his record when searching on the Ellis Island website directly. Also notice that his mother’s name, which was given as Lena or Leah on different websites, is written on the manifest as Leo!
Now I can answer the question as to why I created the One-Step tools: they provide more powerful interfaces for searching existing databases.
The One-Step website is broken down into twelve sections as shown below. The following sections of this paper will mirror the sections of the website.
One of the most valuable websites for genealogists is the Ellis Island database, which went online in April of 2001. It includes passenger records of 25 million immigrants who came to this country between 1892 and 1924. This section deals with the Ellis Island database and various ways of searching for passengers in it.
There are three One-Step forms for searching for passengers in the Ellis Island database. They are the so-called white form, blue form, and gray form. The existence of more than one form is due to technical limitations that will not be discussed here. Suffice it to say that the white form searches all 25 million passengers in the database, the blue form searches only the 1 million Jewish passengers but provides for added search capabilities, and the gray form searches all 25 million with the added capabilities of the blue form but with some other capabilities missing.
I’ll give three examples, each one using a different form, although there’s nothing inherent about each example that made me chose the particular form that I did.
Suppose we wanted to find Albert Einstein’s ship record. We don’t know his year of arrival or his age, but we do recall that he came here to escape from Nazi Germany. That would suggest that he came some time in the 1930’s.
Using the white form, we enter his name and nothing more and submit the request.
We get the following results:
The one from Berlin seems the most promising so let’s bring up his manifest
From this we see that he is a professor and that’s a good sign. Also this person is Swiss and that too looks promising. But it does say that he arrived in 1921 and that’s too early. It also says he is traveling with his wife, Elsa, who is two years older.
We’ll need some additional information about the well-known Einstein before we can draw any conclusions about whether this is the correct ship record. If we do a google search for biographical information on Albert Einstein, we find the following:
Below are some of the highlights – for simplicity I removed a lot of unnecessary items such as those dealing with something called relativity (I checked and was disappointed to discover that it had nothing at all to do with his relatives).
Date of birth looks good and matches the record that we found.
More confirmation. That’s good.
That’s bad. The ship record says his wife’s name is Elsa
Ok, this is looking promising.
Bingo. That’s the ship record that we found. And apparently it was the first of several of his visits to the U.S.
And in 1933 he came to live permanently in the U.S. This confirms that we found the correct record.
I’ve gone through these steps in detail because this is exactly the process that you’ll be going through when you find ship records of family members and want to confirm that you’ve found the correct record. You’ll do so by piecing together other information that you know about your family member and seeing how well it matches what is on the ship record.
For the next example, let’s try to find the ship record for Maier Sokowlansky by using the blue form. Since we don’t know how the last name was actually spelled, we’ll do a sounds-like rather than an exact search. We’re not even sure how Maier was spelled, so we’ll just enter the initial.
For this we get the following three matches:
It’s not Mendel or Masza, so the person we want is probably Meyer Suchowljansky (we never would have guessed that spelling). From his ship record we learn that Maier is Jewish and is traveling with his mother, Yenta, and brother, Jacov, and that they are going to his father, M. Lansky. From other documents that I have, I know that Maier’s mother’s name was Yetta and not Yenta. I guess she misunderstood the question and thought they were asking for her occupation instead of her name.
So who is this nice Jewish boy Maier Suchowljansky? He’s none other than the notorious Myer Lansky, one of the most powerful leaders of the Jewish mafia. Well of course you didn’t recognize the name – he’s the last person that you’d want to find in your family tree.
Next we’ll use the gray form to find Fiorello LaGuardia, the Jewish-Italian mayor of New York. LaGuardia was born in this country, but he traveled back and forth several times in his official capacity as a congressman before becoming mayor.
Although we probably know how to spell Fiorello, we can’t assume that the person writing the manifest did. So we’ll just enter an initial for the first name.
This gives the following hits
The only entries that are obviously Fiorello are on lines 2 and 3. Note that Fiorello is spelled incorrectly on line 3, so had we entered the entire first name we would not have found him. To verify that these entries are the ones we want, we’ll pull up the ship’s manifest. For the entry on line 2 we obtain
He was traveling in good company, together with a Rothschild. And from this record we learn that Fiorello’s date of birth is December 11th, 1882. From the entry on line 3 we get the following:
Same date of birth so it’s obviously the same person. And here we find the address that he’s going to – 15 Williams Street in New York.
Now it’s time to do a google search on the famous Fiorello LaGuardia to determine if we’ve found the right ship records. On one website we find the following:
The year of birth matches, convincing us that this is the right person. And as a bonus we just learned the names of Fiorello’s parents – Achille and Irene.
As good genealogists, we should always be looking for clues that tie things together. And if we study the above records carefully we’ll find one such clue. Look back on the list of eight matches that we found, and notice that there is a Frans LaGuardia who resides at 15 Williams Street in New York. The same address appeared in one of Fiorello’s records. Could Frans be Fiorello? Not likely because Frans was 52 in 1913, meaning he was born around 1860. But Frans has to be a family member since the addresses match.
If we pull up Frans’s ship record, we’ll find the following:
Yes, I suppose that first name could be Frans. But it could be any number of other things as well. In fact, it could even be his mother Irene. We’ll need to learn more about Fiorello’s parents if we are to find out who Frans really is.
Fiorello’s father Achille was famous in his own right as a bandleader. Searching for Achille LaGuardia gives the following information:
From this we learn that Fiorello’s mother, Irene, was born in 1859. So the ages match and she’s the “Frans” whose record we accidentally found. Purely by luck we are able to add another record to the genealogy scrapbook for Fiorello LaGuardia.
In the above examples we were able to go from the name found in the Ellis Island database directly to the person’s ship record by simply clicking on a link. But it’s not always that easy. There are many instances where the images are online but the links to them are either missing or incorrect. Let’s demonstrate that by trying to find Josef Bulkorstein. No, Bulkorstein is not in the Jewish mafia; he’s not famous for anything (as far as I know) other than having a mis-linked manifest image.
If we search for Bulkorstein we get the following:
Just because it says that there is “No Image Available”, that doesn’t mean that it’s so. The record shows that he arrived on June 26, 1893 from Rotterdam. Sometimes the name of the ship is given, but in this case it isn’t. And although we don’t know which manifest page (frame) he’s on, we do know that wherever he is, he’s on line 60.
We can now go to the One-Step Ship-Lists tool and enter the information that we have.
When we do a search, we are presented with
From this we learn that the ship was the Veendam and which microfilm roll and frame number its manifest starts at. Furthermore if we click on the link for the Veendam, we will get to another One-Step tool (the so-called Missing Manifests form) that provides direct access to manifests by roll and frame number. That tool displays the first frame of the Veendam’s manifests and allows us to step through the manifests of that ship arrival, frame-by-frame.
We start stepping from frame 614, looking for a line 60. On frame 617 we find what we are looking for.
This brings up an important concept that I call the One-Step Immigration Triangle. It denotes a trio of One-Step tools that work together to facilitate searching for immigration records. These three tools are:
Searching by Passenger Name (the Ellis Island White, Blue, and Gray forms)
Searching by Ship Arrival (the Ellis Island Ship-Lists tool)
Accessing Manifests directly by Roll and Frame (the Ellis Island Missing-Manifests tool)
The Morton Allan directory contains ships that sailed from Northern Europe, and as such duplicates some of the information found with the One-Step Ship-Lists tool. Anthony Cimorelli has done a nice job of making the data from that directory available online, and there is a One-Step tool that links to Cimorelli’s website and provides additional searching abilities. The information found in this manner can be used as a cross-check with the information found with the One-Step Ship-Lists tool.
Once we’ve found our relatives’ ship records, it’s nice to have pictures of the ships that brought them across. There are many websites that contain such pictures, and I have combined those that I could find into a One-Step Ship-Pictures tool.
Let’s get a picture of the ship named Carpathia. That ship is well known, and not because it was the ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic in 1912. More important is what it did the following year: it brought my grandmother to this country.
We can select from any of a dozen possible websites to get the pictures. For example, had we selected KinshipsPrints, we would have gotten the following:
The Ellis Island processing center was not always there, and prior to it there were other facilities in New York for processing immigrants. Here is a synopsis of what happened when.
prior to 1820: No record keeping was required
starting in 1820: All passengers’ names were recorded on the ship’s passenger lists
prior to 1855: No processing, passengers just walked off the ship
1855 to 1890: Castle Garden
1890 to 1891: Barge Office
1892 to 1897: Ellis Island
1897 to 1900: Barge Office (Ellis Island closed due to fire)
1900 to 1924: Ellis Island
1924 to 1954: Ellis Island (special cases only)
Starting in 1820, each ship recorded all passengers’ names. However, prior to 1855 passengers were not processed upon their arrival and simply walked off the ship. In 1855 New York State began processing the immigrants and did so at a facility in lower Manhattan known as Castle Garden. The Federal Government took over in 1890 but they didn’t have a facility ready yet, so they used the Barge Office while Ellis Island was being built. From 1892 to 1924 the passengers were processed at Ellis Island, except for a three-year period while the island was unusable due to a fire. After 1924 passengers were processed in their home country (as a result of the new quota laws) so there was no longer a need for extensive processing upon their arrival.
Records from the above periods have been divided into three groups and put online as the so-called pre-Castle Garden Database (1820-1850), Castle Garden Database (1851 to 1891), and Ellis Island Database (1892 to 1924). The preceding section showed how to access the records in the Ellis Island Database. This section deals with the pre-Castle Garden and Castle-Garden Databases.
The pre-Castle Garden Database was put on the web by ancestry.com and consists of a searchable name index only. The associated manifest images are not online. To see the images, you need to visit the National Archives or some other facility that has the microfilm records for series M237, rolls 1 to 94.
Ancestry.com is a commercial website and requires a subscription. But you can access it for free from almost any public library by using the library’s group subscription. There is a One-Step tool for accessing ancestry.com’s pre-Castle Garden Database in ways not possible from the ancestry.com website directly, but it too requires that you have a subscription.
There are two different on-line resources for the Castle Garden Database. One is through ancestry.com (subscription required) and the other through castlegarden.org (free). The castlegarden.org website does not have the manifest images online whereas ancestry.com does. And there are many records missing from castlegarden.org.
There is a One-Step tool to search for passenger names in the Castle Garden Database at castlegarden.org. And there is a trio of One-Step tools (the One-Step Immigration Triangle) for searching the Castle Garden Database at ancestry.com.
As an example, let’s search for Nikola Tesla’s Castle Garden record. Tesla was the father of alternating current and he worked with Thomas Edison for a while, but they were incompatible (Edison was DC and Tesla was AC) and eventually had a falling out.
Here is a passage describing Tesla’s arrival at Castle Garden. As you can see, he was not your typical arriving immigrant.
Below is Tesla’s Castle Garden ship record (bottom line). This record is contained in the Castle Garden Database that is on ancestry.com; it is not in the one on castlegarden.org.
Although a vast majority of the immigrants arrived through the Port of New York, many entered through other ports. Here is a list of some other popular ports during the peak immigration years, and the years for which the records are online:
Baltimore 1820 to 1948
Boston 1820 to 1943
Galveston 1844 to 1954
Philadelphia 1800 to 1945
San Francisco 1893 to 1953
There is a trio of One-Step Immigration-Triangle tools for searching for records from each of the above ports.
The United States Census, which is conducted every ten years, is another valuable resource for genealogists. The census records are sealed for 72 years for privacy reasons. In April 2002 the 1930 census was unsealed, making it the most recent census available.
This section discusses the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census and presents various ways of using the Internet to find people in those census years. It also shows what tools will be available for the 1940 census.
The easiest way to find a person in a census is to search by name. The National Archives has some name indexes but they are not complete and they are not available online. There are commercial websites that have complete name indexes for the various census years, but they require a paid subscription. If you have such a subscription, you can do a name search from the One-Step website and have access to more powerful search features than are available at the commercial website directly.
If you don’t have access to a name index, or if the person you want cannot be found in the name index, the next best thing is to search by address. Unfortunately the census is not organized by address – it is organized by Enumeration Districts (EDs). Converting an address to an ED is a difficult process. The One-Step website offers various tools to make this easier.
Census ED Finder and Census Rolls
Let’s start by doing a search in the 1930 census using the address rather than the name. For example, let’s find the census record for 138 Eagle Street in Albany, New York. That happens to be the governor’s mansion.
We start by entering the state, city, and then street into the One-Step 1930 ED Finder. The ED Finder will then show us all the EDs that the street passes through. It will also provide us with a mapping facility from which we can determine the cross streets. In our example, those streets are Park Avenue and South Swan Street. As we enter each cross street, the number of EDs narrows, and after we have entered both cross streets we are left with a single ED, namely 1-66.
After we’ve found the ED, we need to find the census roll that contains that ED so that we can view it. This can be done with the One-Step Census-Rolls tool.
Once the New York 1-66 ED is entered, the Census-Rolls tool shows that the census roll we want is T626_1403 at the National Archives or 2341138 at the Family History Library (Mormon Church). Furthermore, if we have a paid subscription to ancestry.com, which has the census images online, the One-Step Census-Rolls tool will link us directly to the census images for that ED. We would then step through those images until we come to Eagle Street, and then continue to house number 138. The image we’ll find is shown below.
There at number 138 Eagle is the Honorable Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Anna E (I’ll bet your thought her name was Eleanor) along with his children James, Elliot, Frank Jr., and John, and his secretary. Franklin’s occupation is listed as “Governor” and his industry is listed as “Capitol”.
On the same page is the next house on Eagle Street, namely number 150. And here we find the families of truck driver Anthony Garufi and laborer Vincenzo Nastasi. These census pages make no class distinctions.
If we look at Franklin Roosevelt’s census record, we will see a code following his occupation, namely 9693. These codes were added for statistical purposes after the census was taken, and provide no additional information. However they might be helpful if the occupation is too illegible to be read.
There is a One-Step tool that helps decipher these codes. As shown below, the code 9693 designates “Officials and inspectors, United States”.
1920/1930 ED Converter
The One-Step ED Finder described above provides direct address-to-ED conversion for 1910 and 1930. Although there is no equivalent 1920 ED Finder, there is a converter that maps 1930 EDs to the corresponding 1920 EDs, and vice versa. Using the converter we can find, for example, the 1920 ED for 138 Eagle since we have already determined that the 1930 ED is 1-66.
This shows us that parts of the 1930 ED were found in three 1920 EDs, namely 74, 76, and 77. We can now use the One-Step Census-Rolls tool that interfaces with ancestry.com and step through those EDs looking for 138 Eagle Street. If we did that, we would find 138 Eagle in ED 76, and residing there we would find Governor Alfred E. Smith.
1930/1940 ED Converter
When name indexes are available, they are the easiest way to search the census. Let’s go through an example using the One-Step tool that links to the name index on a commercial website, namely ancestry.com. Ancestry.com has complete name indexes for all the available census years – 1790 to 1930.
Suppose we wanted to find Herbert Hoover, who was living in Washington D.C. in 1930. If we enter that information on the One-Step form and do a search, we’ll get the following results:
There were in fact two Herbert Hoovers living in Washington in 1930. One was a head of household and the other was a prisoner! If you think about it, there’s not that much of a difference between them – one lives in a big “White-House”, the other in a white “Big-House”, and both houses are surrounded by high-security perimeter fences.
But we’ll choose the head of household. If we click on him, we’ll get the record shown below. There’s Herbert, his wife and son, along with a housekeeper, three cooks, three maids, and a steward. His occupation is President and his industry is United States. The address is listed simply as White House. No other families are listed on this page.
This time we get three hits, but now all three of them are relevant. One is John Sr., one John Jr., and the last is John III. Let’s look at the records.
There’s John Sr. and his wife Laura. John’s occupation is President and his industry is Oil Company. Times must have been tough because his wife is working as a schoolteacher. His wife’s sister is living with them and she’s also working in an attempt to make ends meet. The reason money was tight is obvious – they had ten servants that they had to support.
You might not recognize the name of John’s neighbor, 55-year-old Florence Twombly. She was the granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, renowned as the richest man in America at that time. Although not shown in the report above for lack of space, Florence had 21 servants, and she didn’t have to work to support them!
Next take a look at the record for John Jr.
There’s John Jr., his wife and daughter both named Abby, and his sons John III and Nelson. The future governor of New York State was 22 months old at the time. John Jr. listed his occupation as well as his industry as Capitalist.
When using the One-Step ED Finder we often have to determine the cross streets for our particular address. If street names and house numbers haven’t changed since the census year, we can easily find the cross streets using one of the mapping websites. But if the street names have changed, we would need to know the correspondence between old and new names. And if the house numbers have changed, things are even more complicated.
The One-Step website contains a compendium of street-name changes and house-number changes for over 200 U.S. cities. The information for some cities already existed on the web, and in that case the One-Step entry for that city is simply a link to that other website. In other cases the information was transcribed from tables, books, or maps and placed on the One-Step website.
The One-Step website includes a soundex calculator.
Soundex is a fundamental component of search-by-name. It is an encoding of names whereby names that sound the same are given the same encoding. That enables us to find names for which we didn’t know the exact spelling by searching for matches on the soundex code.
Soundex searches on the web will usually not require us to compute the code ourselves, because the website can do the computation for us without our even being aware that soundex is being used. However I’ve come across several websites that actually ask the user to enter the soundex code for the name being searched on. For such websites the One-Step soundex calculator will be helpful.
If we are doing a manual soundex search, such as through microfilm rolls, we will be required to first compute the soundex code for the name we want. Here too the soundex calculator is useful.
There are two soundex systems of interest. One is the American Soundex that is used for U.S. census records as well as other holdings at the National Archives. The other is the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex (DM) that was designed for use with the Eastern European names that are prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews. For that reason DM soundex is used on all the databases found on the jewishgen.org website.
As an example, let’s pick a name that I as a Californian always have trouble spelling – namely Schwarzenegger. If we enter that on the One-Step soundex calculator we’ll obtain the following results:
American Soundex: S625
DM Soundex: 474659 479465
Suppose we misspell the name as Sh instead of Sch. In this case the soundex codes are the same as before.
American Soundex: S625
DM Soundex: 474659 479465
That means that a soundex search based on either code would give a match, even in the face of this misspelling. Next suppose that we misspell it with ts instead of z.
American Soundex: S632
DM Soundex: 479465
The American code has changed, so a soundex search based on American Soundex would fail to find a match. But one based on DM Soundex would still be able to find a match because the DM code for this misspelling matches one of the two DM codes for the correct spelling.
Frankly I think Gray Davis was much easier to spell.
There are several websites that host Canadian and British census data. Below are some that I’ve found and created One-Step tools for.
1901 Canada (automatedgenealogy.com)
1901 British (1901censusonline.com)
New York State conducted its own census many times, usually midway between two federal censuses. The best preserved are the 1905, 1915, and 1925 censuses. These are of great value to genealogists because of the large influx of immigrants during those years, and because so many of those immigrants settled in New York even if only for a brief period.
Unlike the federal census, there are virtually no name indexes for these New York censuses. And like the federal census, searching by address requires first determining the district in which that address is located. The New York equivalent of the Enumeration District is the Assembly District / Election District. So we need a means of converting addresses to AD/EDs.
Although the census was statewide, the biggest problems are in New York City because that’s where most of the people resided and where most of the AD/EDs were. The One-Step website contains an AD/ED finder for each of the five boroughs of New York City in each of these three census years.
Vital records (birth, marriage, death) and naturalization records are another very important resource for genealogists. For privacy reasons, you can’t simply fetch a copy of anyone’s birth certificate. But there is a surprisingly vast amount of this supposed private information available online.
This is one of the unusual genealogical finds on the Internet – the ability to find out almost anyone’s birth date. There are several websites that host such data, notably birthdatabase.com, privateeye.com, zabasearch.com, ancestry.com, and myfamily.com. For each of these there is an associated One-Step forms that allow you to search the same data but in ways not provided by the host website.
For illustrative purposes, I’ve pretended to add a fictional person to one of the databases. That person is Donald Duck, born June 9, 1934, and currently residing in Disneyland California. Below is the result of a search for Donald done on the birthdatabase.com website directly.
I’ve added only one fictional name – all the others are real Donald Ducks!
Since our Donald lives in Disneyland, it would have been nice to narrow the search using that information. By doing so, we would have fewer results to look through to find our Donald. Unfortunately there is no way to enter the place of residence on birthdatabase.com’s search form. But there is on the associated One-Step form, and by doing so we get only one result as shown below:
In addition to place of residence, the One-Step form also allows us to search on middle initial and on range of birth dates. None of these values can be specified when searching on the birthdatabase.com website directly.
To show that we can use these tools to find birthdays for real live people, let’s try for George Bush. Since there are probably many people having that name (I know of at least two), let’s narrow it down by zip code and middle initial. If we specify zip code starting with 7 (see the One-Step Zip-Code Utility in the next section) and middle initial of W, we get the eight hits shown below. If we use middle initial of H instead, we get another three.
The father-and-son presidents are the circled entries.
As a final example, let’s show how easy it is to use these birthday searches to find married women without knowing their married names. Suppose we were trying to locate a classmate named Hillary whom we recall was born on May 16, 1947. Entering just that information and no last name, we obtain the following results:
So that’s whom she married!
The Social Security Administration maintains a database of deceased social security recipients and updates it monthly. The database is not complete – for strange technical reasons (which I’ve never understood) a small percentage of people never make it into the database. And the database has a high percentage of missing names from the 1950’s and very few names prior to that. But in spite of all this, this database is very valuable for genealogical research.
The database can be purchased on CDs from the Social Security Administration. Or it can be accessed online from half a dozen primary websites, and a large number of secondary websites that display the results from the primary ones. The primary websites, in alphabetical order, are ancestry.com, familysearch.com, familytreelegends.com, genealogy.com, newenglandancestors.com, and rootsweb.com.
Each of the primary websites differs slightly in the parameters that it is capable of searching on. For example, ancestry.com allows for searches on middle initial whereas genealogy.com does not. For this reason it is useful to be able to switch between the different primary websites based on the information you have.
There is a One-Step tool that ties in to all six of the primary websites. You enter the information you want to search on, and also select the primary website that you want to search. You can then repeat the same search using a different primary website if you like.
Let’s try to get the death record for Richard M. Nixon. We enter the name on the One-Step website and tell it to search the ancestry.com database. The results we obtain are shown below, with the former president being the last one.
In addition to the six primary SSDI websites, I’ve created my own. It’s based it on the rootsweb.com website because I found rootsweb to have the fewest restrictions. And the restrictions that it does have (such as requiring at least three characters at the start of a partial name), I was able to circumvent. I call that RootsWebPlus, and it is a seventh choice on the list of primary websites that you can select from.
Naturalization records are of course another valuable resource for genealogists. There is no central online repository for such records but rather there are various local databases. The New York City records are of particular interest because of the large number of immigrants settling in New York.
The Jewish Genealogical Society of New York has made the Brooklyn Naturalization Records for the early years of the 20th century available online, and the Italian Genealogical Group has done the same for much of the Greater New York area. However searches performed from these websites involve a lot of navigating between pages. Furthermore, the soundex searches on these websites originally required the user to do his own soundex calculations; they have since been updated using code from the One-Step website.
The One-Step naturalization tool allows you to search in any of these databases using the same search form. As an example, let’s consider Colin Powell. He grew up in the Bronx so he or his family is probably in the database. From a google search on Colin Powell we learn the following:
From this we know that Colin was born in this country, but his parents, Luther Theophilus and Maud Ariel were immigrants. From the One-Step form we can search the Southern District (Manhattan/Bronx) naturalizations records for Powell and come up with:
There are his parents on the first and last lines.
If you are fortunate enough to have relatives who have spent time in some of New York State’s finer institutions (Sing Sing, Elmira, Attica, …), you can obtain more information about them from this One-Step form. For example, we can search on David Berkowitz (a.k.a., Son of Sam) and obtain his entire rap sheet.
Have you ever tried to do a search for Uncle John Doe and discovered that it was a very popular name? Or how about his wife, Aunt Jane Doe? Although there might be too many John Does and Jane Does to make such searches practical, there probably aren’t too many couples named John and Jane Doe.
With this One-Step tool we can find all the John and Jane Does who are living together. It will search through the intelius.com database for John Doe, discard all those who are not living with Jane Doe, and display the others. Here is the result.
Many genealogists, even experienced ones, sometimes get confused when it comes to calculating family relationships. This One-Step tool simplifies all that. You simply press the buttons shown below to build up complex relationships, and the name of that relationship will appear in the box at the bottom.
If you think you know how to compute relationships and don’t need such a calculator, take a look at the following tree. This is an actual example from my wife’s family – only the names have been changed to protect the incestuous. Abe, by some other name, was my wife’s great grandfather.
How many of you were able to figure out that Dave and Debbie were first cousins, second cousins, and first cousins once removed?
Oh, my wife wants me to mention that she is the daughter of Carl’s brother, so her blood is untainted.
All too often I get unsolicited email from total strangers asking me to find their great grandfather for them. And for free no less! So I put up the following tongue-in-cheek One-Step page that I can refer them to.
This section of the One-Step website is one that my wife has given me some flack about because it has nothing to do with genealogy. My reply is that the One-Step website never mentions the word genealogy (although most of the tools on it are genealogy-related) but rather deals with whatever piques my interest at the moment. I’m interested in physics, so don’t be surprised if one day you see a form for “Solving Maxwell’s Equations in One Step.”
However, even the tools in this section have some relevance to genealogists.
This One-Step tool performs date conversions from the secular calendar date to the Jewish calendar, and vice versa. It was actually my very first webpage, long before the One-Step theme was born. Long before there was a World Wide Web, I had written programs in various computer languages to do the calendar conversions.
Of course I can easily show its usefulness to genealogists. Many old Jewish vital records give dates according to the Jewish calendar. Also Jewish tombstones frequently give the Hebrew date of death.
There are other Jewish calendar conversion programs on the web today, but one advantage of the One-Step version is that it really does the conversion in one step. You select the date in one calendar, and while you are doing so the converted date is being displayed in the other. There is no additional step of having to hit a “compute” button.
Another advantage is that it displays the Jewish date in Hebrew as well as in English. The Hebrew is an encoding of the numerals of the date into Hebrew letters, much like Roman Numerals converts numeric information into Latin letters. And the Hebrew encoding is the same encoding that you would find on a tombstone. So when you locate the grave of your distant relative that you know very little about, you can now decipher the cryptic Hebrew letters on his tombstone and determine his date of death.
Here is what the One-Step calendar converter looks like.
Another calculation that’s intrigued me is that of sunrise and sunset. This One-Step tool lets you select a city from a list of several hundred worldwide, and also select a date. It in turn will display the time of sunrise and sunset at that location for that date. And if the city you want is not on the list, you can enter its latitude and longitude instead. You can even find the exact time of sunset at your home by entering the latitude and longitude of your particular address (see the One-Step Latitude/Longitude tool further down in this section).
The One-Step Map tool presents you with a road map, contour map, or aerial photo of practically any place on Earth. Like the One-Step sunrise/sunset tool, you can select the location from a large list of cities, or you can enter its coordinates (latitude and longitude).
One nice application for genealogists is to obtain an aerial photo of the ancestral village. Most likely the village will be too small to be on the list of cities, so you’ll need to determine its coordinates. If it’s in Eastern Europe, you can find that on the Shtetl Seeker at www.jewishgen.org.
For example, suppose I wanted an aerial photo of Bereza in Belarus, which is where my family came from. First I search for Bereza on the Shtetl Seeker and obtain the following:
Here I see that the coordinates of Bereza are 52 degrees 32 minutes north latitude and 24 degrees 59 minutes east longitude. I enter that on the One-Step map tool and obtain the following aerial photo of Bereza.
The One-Step Zip Code tool lets you obtain the city for any U.S. zip code or the zip code for any U.S. address. Furthermore it displays a map showing which leading zip code digit corresponds to which part of the country as well as a table showing where each three-digit zip code is located.
The leading-digit map shown above is particularly useful for the One-Step birthday tool. Recall that for the birthday example we wanted to find all the George Bushes from Texas, and to do that we needed to know the zip code prefix for Texas.
The One-Step Latitude/Longitude tool lets you obtain the latitude and longitude of a house address and vice versa. This is referred to as geocoding. Below is an example showing that the tool is not restricted to U.S. addresses.
Once you know the latitude and longitude of your house, you can go to the One-Step Sunrise/Sunset tool above and obtain the time that the sun will set over your specific house.
One problem that genealogists sometimes face is having to deal with source documents written not only in foreign languages but in alphabets that they do not know. This section of the One-Step website provides tools to make working with these alphabets a little less painful. The specific alphabets covered are Cyrillic, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as all the accentuated characters in the various Latin-based alphabets.
A genealogist might have to sound out names written in a foreign alphabet on vital records or tombstones so that he can match it to the name he knows, which is written in Latin letters. And the genealogist might not be familiar with the alphabet or might have only a rudimentary knowledge of it. So a tool for transliterating names from one alphabet to another is needed.
The One-Step website provides the following transliteration tools:
Cyrillic to Latin
Greek to Latin
Hebrew to Latin
Latin to Cyrillic
Latin to Greek
Latin to Hebrew
In addition, the letters in some of the alphabets might appear different in different contexts. For example, cursive Hebrew and printed Hebrew use the same alphabet, but the appearance of the letters in the two cases bears little resemblance. So a handwritten Hebrew birth record (cursive alphabet) and a typed Hebrew birth record (printed alphabet) would look completely different. For that reason the One-Step website contains these two tools as well:
Cursive Hebrew to Printed Hebrew
Printed Hebrew to Cursive Hebrew
Israeli Phone Directory
The transliteration tools mentioned above are general and can be used for many different applications. But some applications are so useful that customized One-Step transliteration tools have been developed for them. One example is the Israeli telephone directory.
As a genealogist, you can appreciate the usefulness of having phone directories for various parts of the world. Such directories allow you to locate and even contact other families having surnames of interest to you. And the Israeli phone directory, in particular, would be very useful to Jewish genealogists because it’s possible that some branches of their family would have settled there.
The Israeli phone company, Bezeq, has a website at www.144.bezeq.com that lets you do searches in the Israeli phone directory. However their website is entirely in Hebrew, making it daunting for a person not familiar with Hebrew to use. Let’s go through an example doing a lookup on the Bezeq website directly, and then doing it with a One-Step transliteration tool that was customized for the Bezeq website.
The portion of the Bezeq website on which you would enter the person’s name and address is shown below.
Suppose you are interested in finding people named Weinstein. You type that in Hebrew letters into the family-name field (how you type the Hebrew letters without having a Hebrew keyboard is another story). Of course you know which field to type into because it is labeled “sham mishpachah” in Hebrew. Then click on the green search button at the bottom to submit your request. But read the label on the button carefully because if you press the wrong one it will clear the form instead.
After your request is submitted, you will see the following results displayed on your screen.
If you can recognize Hebrew letters, you can sound out the heading on the right-hand column and realize that it says “telephone”. So that column contains the phone numbers. But sounding out the heading on the left-hand column doesn’t help if you don’t understand Hebrew. The next line says 02 and if you sound out the word next to it you get Yerusholiam, which you might recognize as the Hebrew word for Jerusalem. So this is a listing of the Weinsteins in Jerusalem. Furthermore you might attempt to sound out the names under that and discover that the first line is the listings for Aviad Weinstein, the next line is Aviad again, and the third and fourth lines are for an Abraham Weinstein.
Now let’s try the same exercise using the One-Step tool. The form that you need to fill out is shown below.
Notice that there is a field on top into which you can type the name Weinstein in Latin letters. Below that is a large box with several possibilities for how it would look in Hebrew. You select one of them and copy-and-paste it into the last-name field further down. Note that you no longer have to sound out “sham mishpachah” in order to find that field. And now the search and clear buttons are plainly labeled so you won’t be accidentally pressing the wrong one.
After you submit the request, you will receive the following results
Now the telephone heading on the right column is very easy to read, as is Jerusalem. And now you can read and understand the heading on the left column. Best of all, the names Aviad Weinstein and Abraham Weinstein have been transliterated into Latin letters making it easier to sound them out. Of course it’s impossible to obtain a perfect transliteration, and the names here have become Aviad Vienshtien and Avrhm Vienshtein. That’s not what you might have expected, but it is certainly understandable. Furthermore, the original Hebrew form of the name still appears so you can refer back to that if there is any question about the transliteration.
Even Latin-based alphabets can sometimes present problems because they might contain characters that are not in the set of Latin letters used in English. Some examples are the French accent acute (é), the Spanish tilde (ñ), the German eszett or double-S (ß), and the Polish slashed L (ł). This One-Step tool presents a virtual keyboard that let’s you type all such characters, which you can then copy-and-paste into other applications.
10. Holocaust and Eastern Europe
There are several One-Step tools for accessing databases having to do with the Holocaust period. Some of the underlying websites that hosts the data are in Polish or Russian, so the One-Step tools present an English front end for interacting with those websites.
There is also a detailed page on the One-Step website for the areas of Bereza and Antopol in Belarus, which are my ancestral villages. If your roots are not from that region, then this page will be of little value to you. But if you do come from there, you’ll find a wealth of genealogical information about the towns, including English translations of the towns’ memorial books.
This section of the One-Step website is not for the ordinary genealogist. It does not contain any lists nor will it help you search any lists to find your grandfather. Rather it is for the person or organization having a collection of data and wanting to share it with the genealogical community. The data might be the names and dates of people buried in a particular cemetery or it might be information on each of the 25 million passengers that arrived at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924. In either case, collecting the data was just the first step. Next you need to know how to design search forms and implement search engines that make the data accessible from the web.
This all sounds rather technical, and it is. But this One-Step tool automates the process by allowing you to describe your data. It then generates all the code for you, which you can put directly on the web. Of course it requires that you already have disk space on a server on the web and that you know how to upload files to it.
Here’s an example of the end product. You have the database, and the One-Step tool generates the search form that a user would fill out and the search engine that the search form submits the search values to. The user never sees the search engine but he does see the results that the search engine generates. For all he knows, the search engine could very well be of the internal combustion type as shown in the diagram below.
As an alternate to putting it on the web, you could put your database and the generated search application on a CD that you can then distribute.
Under miscellaneous are other One-Step tools that don’t fit into any of the above categories. The most popular one is a tool for submitting a bid on e-bay just seconds before the auction closes. This avoids “auction fever” and optimizes your chance for obtaining the item at the lowest possible price. Another tool allows you to access your collection of bookmarks (or favorites) from any browser and from any computer.
The only thing left for me to tell you is how to get to the One-Step website so you can start doing your research. But before I do, let me tell you how not to get to the website. You don’t get there by typing stevemorse.com into your browser’s address or location field. Because if you did, you would see a motorcycle-riding guitarist claiming to be Steve Morse and proclaiming that you have reached the “official Steve Morse website”. That is not my official website! That is not me! That man is an imposter!
The correct way to get to my “official” One-Step website is to type stevemorse.org into your browser’s location field. Remember, that’s dot-org and not dot-com. One little word – one big difference.
And good luck finding your grandfather once you get there.