Linda's Orchard

The contents of this blog may not be reproduced without written permission. ©2012-2014 Linda's Orchard

German Americans in U.S. Internment Camps?



A true but bittersweet tale.

A Lutheran German American who was imprisoned in the U.S. as a very young boy has lunch at a Jewish deli in Manhattan with a Catholic genealogist from California. They talk about internment camps in the United States where Germans, Italians, and Japanese were detained.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Werner Ulricht in person. He has been pivotal in my understanding of the Enemy Alien Detention Facility in Crystal City Texas. We have corresponded regularly over the past two years, but it’s always rewarding to meet a fellow researcher in person.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of Internment Camps during World War II; 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent were incarcerated. Lesser known is the story of German and Italian internees, thousands of whom were secretly transported (kidnapped) to the U.S. from central and south America. Some of the individuals were not released until more than a year after the end of World War II.

Werner is an American who was born to German immigrant parents; they were legal residents of the United States. His father was arrested during World War II, just as many Japanese immigrants were arrested. He and his family were incarcerated, first at Ellis Island and then Crystal City, Texas.  He is passionate about sharing this segment of history. The federal records of Werner’s family, and the thousands of other incarcerated German and Italian descendants and immigrants  can be found at the National Archives. These include case files, medical records, school records, arrest warrants and more.

Werner has done a magnificent job of teaching others about this dark period in our history. He was instrumental in developing the interpretive panels now on display in Crystal City at the site of that former internment camp. He even created a digitized map of the camp with such detail that the surnames of the families are labeled on each dwelling.

Unlike the Japanese residents of the United States (citizens or aliens), the Germans and Italians never received reparations or even an apology from our government. Why do so few Americans know this part of our history? Those of us who teach about Japanese Internment need to share the entire story and commemorate all individuals who were incarcerated, including the Aleutians, the Japanese Latin Americans (particularly the Japanese Peruvians), and most importantly, the Italians and Germans.

Thank you, Werner, for teaching us to remember.

Public Publication versus Public Domain

U.S. copyright law is pretty straightforward. Original work is copyright protected  until it is in the public domain. Blogs are publications and are (usually) original works of authorship. But publishing in a public venue, such as a blog, is NOT the same thing as public domain. Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, addresses the issue of copyright on a regular basis in her own blog ( As genealogists, we learn how important it is to cite our sources. It’s both the legal and the ethical thing to do.

Recently I found numerous pages of my blog “cut-and-pasted” into multiple online trees.  Once something is posted in an online tree, it spreads like wildfire. I’m all for sharing information, but cutting and pasting without asking? That’s just not right. The explanation I received from one “cut-and-paster” was that if I didn’t want my blog reprinted, I shouldn’t have put it on the internet in the first place, because the internet is “public”. Really? Isn’t being public the point of a blog? This blog is public but it is not in the public domain. Blogs are a bit like books. You aren’t supposed to scan an entire book (another topic addressed by Judy Russell) and you are supposed to cite the source. My point is that I want my blog to be public and I am happy to share information if I am asked. But I don’t want to find my work on someone’s public tree unless they have asked for permission to reprint, or at the very least, cited the source. Period.

Okay, I feel much better after that rant.

Adventures in Vancouver: Nikkei Place

Nikkei Place

Nikkei Place

The Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Center is located in Burnaby, Canada, just outside Vancouver. British Columbia has a long history of Japanese immigrants dating back to 1877 when Manzo Nagano first arrived. As in the United States, Nikkei residing in the military exclusion zone of western Canada during World War II were forced to evacuate to interior locations. But there were differences, too. Before the war, the Japanese in Canada  could own land, could marry Caucasians and could become naturalized citizens, though they were not allowed to vote. The  government records were also very different in Canada compared to the US.

Funded in part by redress money, the center serves the entire Nikkei community, from new immigrants and Japanese ex-pats to yonsei, gosei and so on. There is an attached Japanese market and senior housing. There are language classes, judo and kendo classes, a small museum and gift shop, a research room and archival holdings. Best of all, there are Nikkei Family History Workshops led by research archivist, Linda Kawamoto Reid.  A former nurse turned archivist, Linda was kind enough to give me a personal tour of the resource area and also time to do some personal research before the class.

Though I have a good working knowledge of records available for Japanese American research, I was at a loss as to how to search Japanese Canadian records. The pre-World War II Nikkei population in Canada was only about 22,000, as compared to approximately 120,000 in the western US. Racism was rampant in both countries. Ms. Reid explained to the group how to find their records in BC, at the Canadian National Archives and in Japan. She described the 1940 National Registration for all Canadians, the 1941 Enemy Alien Registration, lists of incarcerated individuals by camp, and the case files for those who owned property, businesses, boats and the like. She showed us books of family histories, and lists of residents created in 1920 and 1929 which included names, towns, prefectures of origin, and family members, all in both English and Kanji. I haven’t found anything quite like that in the US. Beyond the local and national records, Linda also taught the class how to access their koseki in Japan.

The class was organized and well planned. The instructor presented a wealth of examples for us to review after the presentation. She explained complex laws and cultural nuances, immigration records, and the plethora of Nikkei documentation unique to Canada. The handouts were invaluable. I am so glad to have attended this class and to have met another researcher interested in Nikkei records.

Linda Kawamoto Reid and Linda Okazaki

Linda Kawamoto Reid and Linda Okazaki

Nihonmachi and the National Archives

National Archives and Records Administration: Pacific Alaska Region

National Archives and Records Administration                     Pacific Alaska Region

For a genealogist, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to the Pacific Alaska Region branch of the National Archives. I spent a full morning scrolling through dozens of rolls of microfilmed immigration records and also had the chance to visit with fellow California Genealogical Society member Trish Nicola. She is a NARA volunteer who specializes in records pertaining to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Linda Okazaki and Trish Nicola

Linda Okazaki and Trish Nicola

For anyone interested in Japanese American history, the Nihonmachi district of Seattle is a must. This vibrant Japanese community originated in  the late 1800′s. Following World War II, the neighborhood fell into disrepair as the Nikkei were evacuated, first to assembly centers and then to WRA camps. Now the area is experiencing a revival. Shops and restaurants abound. What’s especially interesting is the way the community blends old and new. Stores mix modern clothing and Japanese antiques, long standing restaurants employ new Japanese immigrants, museums house historical artifacts and contemporary art. Even the Panama Hotel, made famous in the book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, is open for business both as a hotel and tea shop. Everything feels interesting and alive.

Urban Revival in Nihonmachi

Urban Revival in Nihonmachi

Panama Hotel

Panama Hotel

Honoring Our Heroes

Roy Matsumoto and Linda Okazaki

Roy Matsumoto and Linda Okazaki

Held in conjunction with the Bay Area Day of Remembrance, the Nichi Bei Foundation presented “Films of Remembrance” at the New People Cinema in San Francisco on 23 February 2014.

World War II was complex on many levels. In just 28 minutes, one film brought to attention many of those issues: Internment, MIS, Merrill’s Marauders, Issei, Nissei, Kibei, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima.

Honor and Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story was a moving documentary. Roy Matsumoto was a US war hero; one of his brother’s also fought for the US; three brothers were in the Japanese Army; the rest of the family lived in Hiroshima. The sensitive material was presented in a thought provoking and respectful manner. Producers Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander, as well as Roy’s daughter Karen Matsumto, were available for an in-depth Q&A following the presenetation.

It was an honor to meet Roy Matsumoto at this special event.

Bittersweet Memories

Hiroko Iida, Harold Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

Hiroko Iida, Eizo Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

On 19 February 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which set the stage for tens of thousands of Nikkei to be incarcerated without due process. Smaller numbers of Italians, Germans and Japanese South Americans were also held. Canada followed suit with a similar scenario.

This past Sunday, I attended a “Day of Remembrance”  service at the Berkeley Methodist United Church. Eizo Kobayashi spoke of his memories as a young boy from West Oakland, detained with his mother and brothers, first at Tanforan Assembly Center and then in Topaz, Utah. His Issei father remained in a California hospital while suffering from tuberculosis. Eizo’s stories were vivid and poignant. He spoke of the stench of horse manure in their dwelling, a refurbished horse stall at the Tanforan race track. He described the three day train ride to Utah, told of the regular dust storms and how he and his brothers stuffed gunny sacks with hay to serve as mattresses atop their cots. His family lost their home, their business, their possessions, and in some ways, their father. For a young boy, it was also an adventure. For his mother, it was a tragedy.

Following the service, the congregation shared displays of their own memorabilia. Maru Hiratzka brought a small  wooden chest, hand crafted during the camp years by her uncle, Jimmy Osuga. Harold Hiyashi proudly displayed his mementos from before, during and after the war. Other Nissei shared their stories, too, so that we would not forget.

Harold Hiyashi

Harold Hiyashi

Have I taken off more than I can chew? Nope!

2014 looks to be quite the year, genealogically speaking. I don’t usually make resolutions, but personal goals seem to be a good way to go. My goals for the year are off to a good start.

1. Attend APG Professional Management Conference. Check.

2. Attend SLIG. Check. Loved John Colletta’s writing course. Thanks, John Colletta and Michael Hait.

3. Start the NGS Home Study Course (graded, of course). Check. First two assignments completed. Yeah.

4. Enroll in ProGen. Check! I’m scheduled to begin ProGen 22 the first week of March.

5. Learn more about Japanese Canadian Internment records. Double check; I’m enrolled in a course in BC in a few weeks and can hardly wait.

6. Update my resume, business plan, business cards and any other outdated info. Check. Lucky to have a professional editor among my closest friends. Whipped that resume into top shape. The other docs will follow suit.

7. Join other societies. Recently joined Southern California and will attend Jamboree.

8. Make a difference in the Nikkei community. Since teaching Nikkei how to find their own records is what floats my boat, this shouldn’t be difficult. Already working with some incredible people at the newly formed Nikkei Genealogical Society. Collaborating with other colleagues on some potential publications. It’s all good.

9. Sort through my old genie files. Yikes. This part is challenging. Like others before me, I started out as a hobbyist. Have too many paper files with too few sources, plus a load of bad habits to break. Tackling #9 is going to take time and patience.

10. Keep a positive attitude. I can do it!


Have you ever seen the 1997 movie with Nathan Lane called Mousehunt? I’ve got a similar scenario with chipmunks. No, not the cute Alvin, Theodore and Simon singing variety. These are the annoying, chomping on the rafters, piddling through the drywall and keeping me up at night variety. This morning I decided that enough was enough. Pulled out the ladder, climbed up into the crawlspace. Yep, plenty of mouse and chipmunk skat to scare off an amateur. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a crawlspace so tiny not even an elf could enter. Now, those of you who know me surely understand these implications. I am elf-sized. I should be able to squeeze through the smallest of spaces. Not happening. No other attic access? Why didn’t I realize this when we bought the place? So what’s a girl to do? Break down the walls, aka Nathan Lane? Not yet. Call the exterminator? Already tried that. The fellow who showed up was huge and there was no way he could even get through the crawl space door, let alone get to the spot where Alvin and his family are living and rapidly reproducing. Bait? A possibility, but the thought of the stench of an entire family of dead rodents makes me hesitate, though not for long. I think what I will do is throw some peanut butter laced bait into the spaces too small for me to crawl through, set some traps in the areas I can reach, and wait for the snow to melt so that I can put wire and steel wool around any areas the critters might be using for access. I am open to suggestions. This is one family tree I’d like to extinguish.

Nobutaro Who?

Who was Nobutaro Okazaki? He was born about 1879, emigrated to Vancouver, BC in 1898 where he worked as a coal miner. He married, had two sons, and divorced. What’s most important is that he was from the village of Tabara, Okayama, Japan, the tiny hamlet from where my husband’s family originated. As of this date, there are precisely 7 families in the village with that surname and reportedly 6 of those are related.

How is a genealogist expected to figure this out? Koseki records are only available to those who can prove direct descent. Last week I contacted several potential descendants in Canada and the US but so far have not had any response.  Even if I could compare koseki content with some descendants, the data might not go back far enough in time. And y-dna studies aren’t an immediate choice because of the frequency of heir adoptions.

Perhaps there is a written history of the town. Certainly there must be a written history of the prefecture, but translation would be cost prohibitive. Interviews with the eldest residents  in Tabara might be my best option.

Looks like I need to get back to Japan.

APG PMC 2014

APG PMC, or the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference. What a mouthful. Sounds overwhelming and intimidating. In actuality, this was my first PMC and I found it to be incredibly informative. Speakers were knowledgeable, attendees were enthusiastic and everyone was approachable. I’m eager to start growing my own clientele, particularly Nikkei seeking their federal records.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 186 other followers