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Japanese Ancestors

Tracing Japanese ancestry can be difficult. The most overwhelming barrier can be the distance and inability to travel back to Japan for research, but useful resources are available.


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Tracing Japanese ancestry can be difficult. The most overwhelming barrier can be the distance and inability to travel back to Japan for research. However, as with any research project, start with yourself and then go backwards. Start with more modern history, and then use what you know about your family and oral interviews with older family members to gain even more clues before pursuing sources in Japan. Some of the following should be considered beginning steps to your research.

World War II

A dark period of our American history could be considered the World War II years when Japanese American families were interned. On February 19, 1942, Executive Order No. 9066 called for the evacuation and internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans. They were sent to 10 "relocation centers" located in the states of California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. If your family was in an internment camp you have at least two resources for researching them.'s military collection includes the database "Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II." This database contains records of those held at those 10 relocation centers. The original data comes from National Archive records and includes information such as name, age, previous address, religion, education, parent's birthplace, and father's occupation.

Another resource that may be of assistance to you is the National Japanese American Historical Society, this San Francisco organization is "dedicated to the collection, preservation, authentic interpretation and sharing of historical information of the Japanese American experience." Their web site includes helpful links on Japanese American history and information on the internment camps, . This web site also features information on the 100/442nd RCT, a Japanese American battalion that was the most decorated battalion because of their combat experience and bravery.

If your family member was a member of the American armed forces during World War II, the web site, Japanese American War Veterans ( might be of interest to you. Although this web site hasn't been updated since 2004, it does include lists of Japanese American soldiers killedin World War II, the Korean, and Vietnam Wars. In addition, it includes names of Japanese American soldiers who served in all three wars. This site also has a link to information and pictures from the internment camps. One of the many historical documents you will find includes the instructions given to Japanese citizens on what to take to the camps. This web site will help you understand your family member's experience during this terrible time.


Japanese Immigrants to the United States 1887-1924 is a database available through Brigham Young University Idaho at According to the database introduction, "Immigrants from Japan began arriving in the United States in the 1880's. At first there was only a trickle of adventurers, but by 1900's the demand for additional mining, railroad, and farm labor brought a stream of young Japanese males to the United States." Most of these initial immigrants came to the Western portion of the United State. This database provides name, birth date, death date, generation, and immigration place. Information on children are linked to their parents so that you can get a sense of the entire family. Those listed in this database are immigrants to Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. Information was taken from census, cemetery, histories, and obituaries.

Japanese immigrants to Hawaii began arriving in 1884 to work as laborers in the sugar cane fields. According to Stuart Terashita's Japanese American Genealogy web site, the Japanese consulate in Hawaii has records of these immigrants from the years 1885-1910. For more information on Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, consult his web site at,


Your first Internet stop for Japanese genealogy should be the Japan GenWeb at This site will assist you in learning how to research your Japanese ancestors.

Rootsweb and both host locality message boards for Japan. Rootsweb boards also include regions of Japan where you can post questions about your family or conduct a search on your surname to see if anyone has posted information about your family. To find the Rootsweb message board, go to, and scroll down their homepage. The left side column includes the listing, "Message Boards." Click on "localities" and then choose Asia, which will lead you to the Japan message boards.

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City does have Japanese records available. To peruse their collection, go to their web site at and click on the Family History Library tab. Then conduct a place search for Japan. A click on the upper right hand button "view related places" will provide you with smaller regions within Japan and the records that the Library has.

If you ancestors happened to be Japanese Catholics, you can find information on different Japanese diocese and Japanese history from the website Local Catholic History and Genealogy at Dioceses addresses should be used to write for and receive information included on baptismal, marriage and funeral records.

A web site that appears to be mostly commercial but does have some helpful information is the Japanese Genealogical Research web site, This web site provides a Japanese character dictionary for some common genealogical terms, family crests, as well as a brief article on researching your family history in Japan.

The 1996 book, A Student's Guide to Japanese America Genealogy by Yoji Yamaguchi may be a little out of date in terms of resources but it will provide you with some beginner information and information conducting oral interviews and the cultural issues involved.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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