Don’t tell Steve Morse he should be hanging out on golf courses and in genealogy libraries. Since “retiring” in 2002 from his technology career, he’s turned his programming prowess to tools that help researchers wring hard-to-find ancestral names from online databases. In the process, this quick-talking Brooklyn native has become a genealogical folk hero. We asked him why he does it.
FTM: What sparked your interest in genealogy?
SPM: When I was a teenager, my mom helped me put together a family tree for her family and for my father’s. He had passed away by that time, but she knew the family pretty well. I had those papers for years, and hadn’t done anything with them until relatively recently. I found those old trees and started filling them in again.
FTM: You’ve traveled through Eastern Europe, where your and your wife’s families are from. Did you visit your ancestral towns?
SPM: My wife Anita’s family came from Hungary, and she wrote home to get the name of the town from her father. We got that and we drove through that town. Then we went to Russia, where my family’s from. I knew the name of the town but I had no idea where it was. My wife said don’t you want to find out, and I said this is a big country, there’s no way we’re near it. So we didn’t bother looking. This was 1970. Years later I discovered the road we were driving down, the town was on that very road. In 1990 I was working in Europe, and we took two weeks at the end and drove back.
FTM: What surprised you about it?
SPM: We found what we thought was the the old, walled-in part of the city. Of course, the wall was in ruins, but you could tell where it was, and we thought this must be the old synagogue—this is where they worked and prayed. Years later, I was doing more work on the town and discovered there was a Cartusian monastery, and those were the ruins we found.
FTM: Have you found a Yizkor book for the town?
SPM: Yes. In fact, several of us who are interested in this town have an online discussion group. We had the Yizkor book in Hebrew, and I scanned the whole thing and I put it online hoping to get somebody to translate it.
One day, a new member joins the group and she says, “Oh I’m so excited you have a group for this town; this is where my family came from. Did you know there’s a Yizkor book?” And I figured she’s a newcomer, and I said yes, we have the whole thing online, we’re trying to to get it translated. She writes back, “Oh, this is very exciting. My father was the editor of the book. I’m the publisher.” To get it online, this is exciting to them! We did get somebody to do the translation and we have it up on my Web site.