Family History Resources
Copyright 2002 Carolyn M. Brady
ETERNALLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION - updated 6 April 2007 (fix and update links)
If you have any corrections, additions, or suggestions for links that you find especially useful, please contact me!
|This resource guide
focuses primarily on researching your family history
using records here in the United States. I don't know as
much about what records are available in Japan and
elsewhere. Be sure to visit Stuart Terashita's
Japanese-American Genealogy Home Page, which also discusses finding your family's koseki (family register) or kamon (family crest) in Japan. Also check out Yoji Yamaguchi's book A
Student's Guide to Japanese-American Genealogy.
If you're just starting out in genealogy, check out some of these resources:
For those of you who have done genealogical research, you probably know about the basic sources I mention here, but you'll also find links and records specific to the Japanese-American community.
This sounds fancy, but I really just mean talking to your relatives. Find out what they can remember about who lived where, and who was married to whom, as well as the stories about where they grew up and what they did as kids, and so forth. This information will help you look for data in other sources. Be sure to take notes, even if you are tape recording, because something can go wrong with the machine or you may not always understand the tape when playing it back later. And if you want to do some formal oral history interviews for posterity, check out the links at Cyndi's List: Oral History and Interviews. You'll also find more suggestions for questions.
Try not to overwhelm your relatives. I gave a long list of questions to two family members, and they were both convinced they couldn't answer them all. One finally sat down with my brother and talked through the list while my brother took notes. (Now I have to decipher my brother's handwriting of course). They also did a session with a tape recorder, which I hope to get transcribed sometime this year :o) The other is planning to send me written installments of answers as he thinks of them.
Bear in mind that not everything you hear will be correct. Goodness knows, I can't remember things from yesterday, much less five or ten years ago, and I'm asking relatives about events that happened in the 1920s and 1930s. Different relatives may have different memories of the same event, or remember something in great detail that others don't recall at all. If you have family members who claim that they don't remember anything that would be of any use, try sitting them down with old family photos or your draft of the family tree. Ask them to help you identify photos or add to the chart, and they may start telling you some great stories! Sometimes getting the family together is great because they remind each other of different events, but sometimes, one or two people may then dominate the conversation while others defer and even "correct" their memories to match the stories they hear the other tell.
A note on finding relatives: sometimes branches of the family lose touch with each other. You might consider posting information on some of the genealogical query boards such as Genforum's Japan Forum, RootsWeb's Japan Genweb (which includes prefectural query boards) or the appropriate state or county specific sites. (Genforum state index - Rootsweb state index) Please read each site's guidelines before posting.
|Don't expect instant results and remember
to update information if you change your e-mail address,
etc. In January 2001, I heard from a Yamasaki cousin (whom
I didn't even know about) who responded to a query I had
posted two years and three e-mail addresses ago! She sent
me copies of photos of my grandmother's cousins, and I
was able to put her in touch with some of her father's
Make notes of where your family lived and when. Who was born where? If they were interned during World War II, which relocation centers and camps were they sent to? Start reading what other people have written about the Japanese American experience in these locations. You may even come across references to your relatives there. My grandfather is quoted in the appendix of Linda Tamura's book Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood River Valley although his name was mistranslated as Ikutaro Takagi (rather than Ikujiro).
Once you've started compiling that list of names and dates and places, you can start looking in the traditional genealogical sources: census records, etc.
Japanese names - a
I don't have much advice to give here; just cautions. If you've done genealogy research you know how many different ways your ancestors' names can be spelled and misspelled. (In our family, we have a line of Rusmisels, who are also the Rosmisels, Rumisels, Rossmeisels, Rosmajzls, etc.). With Japanese-American genealogy you have the added complication for translating a name from Japanese kanji to English romaji. My grandfather settled on the transliteration "Takagi" while his brother's family and his cousin Itaro used "Takaki." The kanji is the same. On the other side of the coin, when identifying photographs in my grandparents' album, I learned that they knew two different families named "Inukai," spelled the same in English, but the kanji is different! Kanji can also represent different sounds depending on the context. A relative translating a Takagi/Takaki lineage chart for me apologized because he could only guess at the correct pronunciation of many of the Japanese names of distant relations whom he did not know.
Add to this mix the mistranslations by hakujin officials recording Japanese names as they heard them. Florence Takagi had the Japanese middle name "Sumire," which was misspelled as "Sumila" on official forms in camp. Also some Japanese adopted English names, so my grandfather arrived in the U.S. as Ikujiro Takagi, but at some point became George I. Takagi. A lot of Nisei had both English and Japanese names used in different contexts. Anyway, this discussion will continue in the next section..... (And if you didn't understand the some of the terms I just used, try this glossary page.)
If you've done genealogical research before then you've probably worked with the federal manuscript census records. If not, check out RootsWeb's guide to using census records. Most of us looking for our Nikkei ancestors will use the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census records. (1930 was just released for public use in April 2002, so it may be harder to find.)
If you happen to live in the state that you are researching, hurrah! You can find the census records at your local Family History Center (FHC) or in many cases a state or regional historical society or library. If you're living farther away from the state you want to research, you might try your regional branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). I live in the Milwaukee, WI, area, so to do research in the Oregon and Idaho census, I have a choice of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison or the NARA branch in Chicago, each about 2 hours away. You can also request microfilm by interlibrary loan either through your local library or FHC.
has all federal census record images on-line for 1790-1930,
but you do need to pay a subscription fee to see them for
longer than the free trial period. Click the link at left
to find out more. Be sure to read the fine print! Your
local library may have a subscription to Ancestry.com's
Sometimes when you can't find a person through the on-line census search engines, you may have to go to the hard copy indexes in books and on microfilm. (This is how people did things before the internet.)
The Soundex, a sound-based index for looking up names, is a wonderful thing, since Japanese names can be spelled all sorts of different ways by the census takers. The two family names I'm researching at the moment are Takagi and Yamasaki. I can look each of these up under their soundex codes and also find Takaki, Teckicki, Yamizaki, and Yameasoki. (Ancestry.com's search engines have the option of doing a soundex search.)
A federal soundex is available for all states in 1900 and 1920, but only for some in 1910 (e.g., California, but not Oregon or Idaho). The 1930 census is only soundexed for a few states, primarily in the south. Fortunately many hard-working genealogists have compiled indexes for their states, as was done in Oregon and Idaho. (As far as I can tell, there isn't one for Washington state. Let me know if you have information otherwise.) You can search the Family History Library (Salt Lake City) catalog on-line to see what's available. Search by place and then look for the subcategory census (e.g., Oregon - Census - 1910 - indexes). Of course, I'm working on the assumption that if a state-wide index is available, the Family History Library will list it!
Some states also gathered census data in the years between the federal censuses, but so far I haven't come across any for California or the Pacific Northwest, except for the 1928 Census of Japanese in Oregon. I have a photocopy of this booklet and will do free look-ups by family name. E-mail me your request. Be sure to include first and last names.
Census records can tell you who else lived in the household at the time. I first learned about my grandfather's cousin Itaro, when I looked up our family in the 1920 census and found "G.I. Takagi," wife Hisae, son "Osam" (instead of Osamu, their son Harry's Japanese name), and cousins Itaro and John. We're still not sure who John Takagi is. Harry thinks it might be Itaro's brother Hisao, except that he never heard him going by the name "John."
The 1900-1930 census records also list the year of immigration to the U.S., but as with dates and ages in these records, take the information with a grain a salt. In the 1920 census, my grandparents are listed as both having arrived in 1907. My grandfather came in 1907, but my grandmother didn't arrive until 1918. And now since we're on the subject.....
Immigration and Naturalization
(Writing of this section is in progress! This has not been updated since the Immigration and Naturalization Service became part of the Department of Homeland Security.)
Note that Issei could not become American citizens before the passage of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952. This means that in many cases living family members will remember if and when naturalization took place and where. (I've heard that some Issei were promised citizenship if they enlisted in the U.S. army during World War I, but as far as I know nothing came of those promises. Ozawa v. United States (1922) determined that Asians could not become naturalized citizens.)
Nisei were automatically U.S. citizens because they were born in the U.S. Those born before 1 December 1924 [I have to double check that date] also had Japanese citizenship. Those born after that date only had dual citizenship if their parents went through the trouble of registering their birth with the Japanese consul.
Obviously finding your Issei relatives' immigration and naturalization records will be a lot easier if you know when and where they petitioned for citizenship and were naturalized, because the information about when and where they arrived in the US (including the boat name) will probably be included, thus saving you the hassle of looking through numerous passenger lists.
|I was fortunate that my parents found
that information in my grandparents' papers. Ask around
the family to find out if these materials have been kept.
In our case, the family that had lived closest to my
grandparents when they passed away had their records. My
grandparents were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the
1950s, and they were naturalized at the federal district
court in Detroit. Those records are now at the regional
National Archives branch in Chicago.
The location of your relatives' naturalization records depends on the court where they were naturalized (county, state, federal, etc.). Christina K. Schaefer's Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States is a good resource for locating repositories.
These sites discuss immigration and naturalization records:
About .com's Genealogy "Immigration 101" and resources for Angel Island, CA
If your Issei relatives did not become US citizens and the family doesn't know when exactly they arrived in the US, you can at least get estimated arrival dates from census records, which asked for the year of immigration (but bear in mind these can often be wrong). An individual's WRA file also lists when they lived in or visited Japan (and again the person reporting might not remember the exact dates).
If you can find out what ship a relative arrived on and when, then you can look at the ship's passenger list for that day. More ship's records (or indexes to them) are now on-line, but the main effort to digitize has focussed on east coast immigration from Europe.
"Locating Ship's Passenger Lists,"
article by Myra Vanderpool Gormley at Genealogy.com
Ancestry's Immigration Databases do now include more West coast and Hawaiian resources.
War Relocation Authority (WRA)
Writing of this section is in progress!
If your family was interned during World War II, you can find their records at the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. There is a searchable database of internees at the NARA website, but it is not very user friendly. If that link does not work, go to the Access to Archival Databases and select "World War II" and then "Records of Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II" (Records Group 210) or "Japanese American Internee Data File."
Ancestry.com has a more user-friendly search engine for this database linked here: Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II
Records of people born more than 75 years ago are open to researchers. Otherwise, you can only request copies of your own records or those of a spouse or blood relative. If the relative is still living and not yet 75 years old, you will need a letter from them giving you permission to see their files. If the relative is deceased, you need to state this when corresponding or speaking with NARA staff.
Information as of February 2001
There are two ways to get copies:
1) Go in person to the NARA building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. You should call a day in advance so they can pull the files for you. (202) 501-5395. Otherwise you will have to wait for them to retrieve the files on the day you go. Be sure to explain that you want to see your family's War Relocation Authority files (Record Group 210). You will need to identify specifically which individuals' files you are requesting, using full names and birthdates. If you have camp names and family numbers, this will make it much easier for them.
You need a photo ID to get into the Archives building, and you will need to get a researcher's ID (good for three years!) before they will give you access to the materials. This takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how many people are ahead of you. You'll also need cash to get a copy card from the machine. Legal size copies are 15 cents each. My mom spent about $75 copying files for five people (though she says this includes accidently making copies of duplicate materials and having trouble adjusting the dark and light for different documents.) You can't take anything into the research room except your wallet and a pencil to write with (no pens!) You'll need a quarter to use the lockers (but you get it back). They provide paper. Be prepared to spend some time there. It took my mom more than 6 hours just to copy her family's files.
2) Write to a letter to
Aloha South, Archivist
National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania AV NW
Washington, DC 20408
Aloha South handles requests for WRA files, among other things. In your letter to her, be sure to provide names and birthdates as described above, and if you are requesting other relatives' files, state your relationship to them, whether or not they are deceased, and provide written permission from living relatives, if necessary. In about 4 to 6 weeks NARA will send you a price quote on how much it will cost to photocopy the requested files (50 cents/page, which includes staff time). After they receive payment from you, they will send you the copies. For a little faster turn around, you can fax your letter: (202) 219-6273.
What's in the WRA files?
Each individual had a file, and the contents vary but probably the most useful records for genealogists are the WRA-126 "War Relocation Authority Application for Leave Clearance," WRA-26 "Individual Record" and WRA-329 "Basic Family Sheet." The first two list
The "Basic Family Sheet" lists the names of other relatives in the same internment camp as well as other "family members, friends and relatives in United States and Hawaii."
You may not want to copy everything in your family's file, but I'm one of those people who believes in copying everything. For example, I found differences (omissions and errors) between the handwritten versions of leave clearance forms and the later typed versions. Sometimes something apparently insignificant at the time may later provide a detail or clue that tells your family's story more clearly. A large chunk of correspondence in my grandfather's file consisted of paperwork trying to recover some items from storage in Oregon, including a sewing machine, radio, and camera. (Radios and cameras were confiscated after Pearl Harbor.) Other correspondence dealt with selling a car and farm equipment and having to settle for lower prices.
Internees were also asked to provide references, and the WRA wrote to hakujin neighbors and employers back in their hometowns, asking them to give their opinion on an individual including "the extent of Americanization through education and upbringing, general standing and reputation in the community, and occupational abilities." One man wrote of my grandfather "If? there is such a thing as a good Japanese - I would imagine he would be one."
The younger internees' files included their school records with grades and attendance, and even a list of books read in 1943! There are also some dental and health records. Another chunk of correspondence dealt with the family leaving camp at the end of the war, with telegrams and letters going back and forth between officials trying to help my grandfather find a job.
What did we learn from our family's WRA files? We got more details about why they ended up where they did after the war. From my grandmother's uncle's file, I got the full names of a set of great-great-grandparents. From my grandfather's cousin's file, we confirmed that another relative whom we had photos of was the cousin's father. And the collections of papers are more tangible evidence of the lives uprooted by war and prejudice.
On to Military Records
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