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How Do I find my Japanese Ancestors?


April 30, 2012 by Valerie Elkins

Most of the people I help locate their Japanese ancestors are 3rd, 4th and even 5th generation Japanese. Some of those I assist are only part Japanese, but many are  still a 100% Japanese by blood. All desire to know more about their Japanese ancestors, but are baffled on how to begin.

Since many Japanese Americans have been in America for generations and most likely do not have the ability to speak or read the language, they often feel at a loss at where to even begin to find their Japanese heritage. Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  • Researching your family tree is the same for you as any other American UNTIL your immigrant ancestor. So look in the same places: FamilySearch, Ancestry, are good choices to search for census records, passenger records and vital records.
  • Just like any immigrant from any country looking to doing research in their mother country, you will have to know the town, village,and address, etc. that they came from, otherwise its a needle in a very big haystack. And unlike many countries, Japanese vital records are not available online and are restricted to only those who can prove direct lineage can have access. You will HAVE TO KNOW the address from where they came from, especially if they came from a big city. You can’t just say Kobe and expect to find the exact city hall (large cities have dozens) and be able to locate the records.
  • Where can you find the address if you don’t know? Ask older aunts, uncles and other relatives. Look for anything in anyone’s possession that might have Japanese writing on it. Many people have a koseki record and don’t know what it is because it can look unimportant with all its boxes on it, often with some crossed out, older ones printed on a tissue type of paper, or some are purple mimeograph copies. OMGosh, dance if you find one of those! Eureka, or BONZAI since we are talking Japanese here. You hit the mother lode!
  • Other sources to check for addresses are: passports, Naturalization records, internment camp records, military records, passenger records and personal letters.
  • Small older villages may have been swallowed up by bigger cities and towns, you can still locate them. Try Wikipedia on the village name, you may have to try searching it in Japanese and then use a translation to read it.

In some ways doing Japanese records may seem harder, but the effort is soooo worth the effort!

Don’t get discouraged! It is possible and if you need help, I would be glad to get you going or assist you in anyway.


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