Linda's Orchard

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Month: June, 2012

Archives I, Day 2

My second day at Archives I was again a huge success. I arrived at 9:30 and quickly went through security, began in the microfilm area to ask questions about military pensions, ordered files for Lorin Lyon Curtis, Civil War, and for Amos Calkins, War of 1812 in time for the first record pull of the day.

While waiting for those records, I perused books in the library on Japanese American research. Though there was a limited selection of very old books, I gained additional information from the librarian, a California native. Nancy gave me the email for Rebecca Sharp, an  archivist with strength in Japanese American records. Though Rebecca was not available at the archives that day, I will contact her for further information, particularly about Sasanji Okazaki who returned to Japan permanently before World War II.  In the consultation area, it was suggested that I contact the United States Cizenship and Immigration in order to better track the arrival of Sasanji who has continued to perplex me. I have’t found his original immigration documents. I know that he left Japan around 1898. He may have arrived in Canada, Washington, California or elsewhere. He also travelled back to Japan twice, in 1915 and in 1929. From those passenger records I found his Alien Registration number. I hope that between NARA and USCIS I will be able to track down any alien records and additional documentation related to the life of Sasanji Okazaki.

My Japansese research had come to an end at the archives, at least for now, but my pulled military records were ready to view. Lorin Lyon Curtis, a third great grandfather, had a complete Civil War Record documenting his service as a Corporal in the 38th Iowa Infantry. The file of fourth great grandfather Amos Calkins was equally revealing as it included his pension request, the widow’s pension request and a bounty land request. Unfortunately for Amos, his initial pension and bounty land requests were denied as he only served 27 days in Steven Tappan’s New York Militia during the War of 1812. However, his wife, Thankful, did receive a widow’s pension and was actually overpaid by $96. Searching for these military records proved to be both rewarding and simple. When I return to Archives I in a few months, I will be prepared to review the military records of additional ancestors.

DAR Library in Washington DC


The day began on a slow note. I overslept, I took the wrong Metro train, I got off at the wrong station and then I got lost in the city on a day when the temperature hovered around 95 with high humidity. By the time I arrived at the DAR library, I was hot and cranky. As I walked through the doors to this gorgeous old building, all that changed. The air conditioning was a relief and the receptionist was thoughtful. On to the library: a huge collection of genealogically relevant books awaited in a magnificent room, the kind of place shown on “Who Do You Think You Are”. In fact, I think maybe it actually was on that show. I immediately settled in to some Japanese American research. Two hours later I moved on to family histories. It was well worth the trip. I was armed with more historical data which hopefully will help in my upcoming Day 2 at Archives I.

Archives II

It has been an interesting journey today. Archives II in College Park Maryland is a completely different experience than that at Archives I. The long driveway leading up to the building is lined with lush trees. The building itself is sleek, white and modern. I had already corresponded with an archivist, so I knew the records I sought would be available. Once again, I was armed with a research plan and brought my paperwork to the consultation area, as suggested. The first woman I met was clearly new and immediately referred me to someone else. The second woman did her best to dissuade me from my research. She tried to explain that the records I sought were difficult to locate, that they were restricted, that this process was too complicated. Fortunately a third person stepped in. He was a little rough around the edges and he didn’t really know much about Japanese American records, but he made an effort to help me fill out the form in order to get the records I sought. There were three types of documents I was looking for, the World War II Alien Enemy Detention and Internment Case Files, the World War II Japanese Internee Case Files, and lastly, the Compensation and Reparation Case Files. There were probably other files I could search for, but these were the ones I came for. The Alien Enemy Case Files for Ichimaru Okazaki and Jimmy Osuga were thick, more than fifty pages each. Their history was documented from the day they were initially arrested by the FBI in El Centro, California to their incarceration in a small jail in San Diego, to the inquests and transfer to first Santa Fe and then Lordsburg, New Mexico and their eventual transfer to the INS Camp in Crystal City. At last I had a clear picture of just what happened to these men before they were reunited with their families. The Internee cards arrived next, but these were merely typed cards summarizing the files I had just read.  I then sought the Compensation and Redress Files. An archivist named Gene Morris was able to assist me and he clearly was well versed in Japanese American records. Unfortunately, it was now  past 2:30, the last pull time for records. While I could have returned the next day, I decided that I would order these documents by mail and keep the next day open for research at a different facility. Next stop, the DAR Library!

Gaijin Girl at the National Archives: Day 1

This morning I took the metro and arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at the National Archives in Washington DC. Before even walking in the door I was awe inspired, but I was also armed with a research plan. I had done my homework. First, I had to register, get a pass and go through some hoops. Next, I had to request the records. Archives I is going through a renovation. Not everything is where it used to be or where archivists think it might be. The golden rule: be patient, it will serve you well. I really wanted documents from Record Group 210. Everything at NARA is defined in terms of Record Groups (RG’s). My goal was to obtain records on the Okazaki and Osuga families. Lucky for me, archivist Bill Creech was on hand to clarify some of the peculiarities of this particular family. Not all Japanese internment camp records are the same. Fortunately, I was well armed with assorted pieces of information, including   surviving family members authorizing my perusal of and complete access to their records. This is key. Privacy   restrictions are in place but if living relatives want you to obtain these records and declare so in writing, access is virtually unlimited. And I hit the jackpot! I read letters from family members whose handwriting I recognized in a heart beat. I saw photos of internees. I viewed their letters of inquiry searching for their lost personal possessions, medical records and more. The impact this had upon me was unexpected. It’s one thing to find documents pertaining to long deceased ancestors. It’s entirely different to look at papers documenting the legal injustices perpetrated upon family. I was completely unprepared for the wave of emotion as I read about the incarceration of men who were detained by the FBI and all that happened as a result. Tomorrow I am headed to Archives II. In the meantime, I have been told that the A-files for my grandfather-in-law have arrived via USPS at my home in California. Is the puzzle nearly complete? Or will I have more questions  than answers as I maneuver my way through the Japanese American experience?

Mister Toad’s Wild Ride

On Friday I flew from SFO to DC. After the two-hour delay on the tarmac and the thirty minute delay in flight time  due to weather, I arrived at Washington Dulles, followed by a taxi ride with a driver who had trouble following the GPS instructions to my hotel. By the time I dropped my suitcase in my hotel room, it was a twelve-hour door to door trip. No different than going to Syracuse. At least DC has some spectacular sites. In the morning we drove to Georgetown for massages, window shopping and lunch at an Italian bistro, complete with frozen Bellini’s. After that, it was on to Miss Sam’s Wild Ride for a tour of her new neighborhood. Left here. Right there. Up that alley. Down the next. Radio blaring. Stations changing quicker than I thought was possible. It would have been fine in a convertible Fiat. But in Big Blue, Sam’s bulky Ford Escape, I was left gripping the nani-handle like there was no tomorrow. It really was fun, in the seat-gripping sort of way that only Sam can capture. Sunday we were off to brunch then more errands to get basics for her new apartment and nap time for both of us. I’m not sure what the evening will be like but I will try to regroup for my genealogical adventure at the national archives this week. I can hardly wait. There is nothing quite like a visit with Sam to stir the excitement!

Gaijin Genealogist

Researching my husband’s Japanese American ancestry is proving to be challenging and interesting. I have some of the basics already including his grandfather’s immigration records, the World War I draft registrations of his great-grandfather, grandfather and two great uncles. I also have census records, directory entries, family letters, photos, ephemera and a transcribed interview from 1988 in which his grandfather gave an autobiographical account of life in America. But there is more to the story. In April I met Valerie Elkins, considered by many to be the expert in Japanese and Japanese American genealogy. She gave me great advice for starting on this path. She also arranged for translation of numerous family records. Last week I went to the National Archives in San Bruno to find the original immigration records for Sasanji Okazaki who supposedly came to the United States in 1898. While I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did establish that this was in fact the likely year of his immigration. I also was able to meet Marisa Louie, an archivist there. I ordered the A-files for Ichimaru, Okazaki from the archives in Kansas City, MO. Yesterday I met with Kathy Urban, an author who gave me advice about creating the narrative for this tale. Next week I will embark on my maiden voyage to the National Archives I and II, in Washington D.C. and College Park, MD, respectively. There I hope to secure the assorted Okazaki records which will further document the experiences of various family members before, during and after World War II. This is going to be quite a journey.

The Road Not Taken

As both an avid gardener and a frenetic genealogist, I often find myself straddling two worlds. Do I focus on one path or the other? I love tending my roses, pumpkins and fruit trees.  And I adore cemetery runs, hiding out in libraries and courthouses, and otherwise searching for my ancestors. But I am caught between two worlds. How can I do both well? This week I had a wonderful experience merging the two.

On Wednesday June 6, Maureen Taylor gave a spectacular presentation called “A Day With The Photo Detective” at the Veterans Memorial Building in Lafayette. It was an all day event hosted by the California Genealogical Society, complete with book sales, coffee and buffet lunch. I learned a great deal about identifying and preserving my heirloom photos. Sitting in the front row with me were two vibrant women from Contra Costa. We hit it off within minutes. Soon I learned that Patty Click and Joy Cottril were not only CGS members, but also the President and Vice President of the Contra Costa Rose Society. What? Roses and Genealogy?

As Robert Frost so eloquently wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” Perhaps there aren’t many of us who have chosen this road, but it looks like my path will now be filled with both roses and genealogy.