Helen L. Harriss, a pioneering genealogist of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, died Saturday at age 94.
The founding president of the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, she authored numerous volumes on Allegheny County public records from the 18th and 19th centuries and a history of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. She was a well-known local lecturer and had been a featured speaker at an international genealogical conference in Salt Lake City.
The Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society was created in 1974, when the 10 founding members met in Helen's living room. She became a certified genealogist, of which there are currently only about 10 in Pennsylvania, according to her friend and colleague, Elissa Powell of Marshall. She was an expert on river boat captains and wrote books abstracting public records in Allegheny County. These included wills recorded from 1789 to 1844 and a seven-volume series on people who became naturalized citizens here.
Despite her technical skill in research, she also relied on less scientific methods. "She had a knack for finding information. We called it telephone genealogy," Mrs. Powell said. Whenever you're traveling, you tend to look for people's names in the phone book. She would slide her finger down the list, and wherever it stopped she would call that person. It was usually a relative."
You can read a much longer account of her life, including her super-secret work in World War II, at http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06003/631545.stm.
A list of her publications is available at http://www.powellgenealogy.com/Publications/body_publications.cfm.