QUESTION: Linda, Welcome to Genealogy Journeys! We are thrilled to have you as a sponsor and are excited to have an opportunity to get to know you a little better. When did you first become interested in family history?
ANSWER: I first became interested in family history when my second-grader had to create a family tree and I didn’t know the names of all my great grandparents. Winning a Broderbund Family Tree Maker helped kick-start my new interest. That was 1997 or 1998.
QUESTION: I haven’t met too many people that specialize in Japanese, or Japanese-American Genealogy. How did you come to be interested in this particular area of research?
ANSWER: My husband was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Japanese-American father. Ted (hubby) and his brother were born stateless, not Japanese, not American. They grew up on an air force base and were granted U.S. citizenship when they turned 21. I wanted to know more about this situation, which was related to the laws of the time and their ancestral history in the internment camps.
QUESTION: Our readers come from a variety of backgrounds, and it seems every group has interesting “quirks” in the records that can make researching a real challenge or a real joy. Assuming that researching Japanese and Japanese-American individuals is no different, would you be able to share a few examples that you might have come across?
ANSWER: There are countless stories of joy and of tragedy. The experience of Japanese Americans in the internment camps was a tragedy, but the records are a genealogical gold mine. It seems that the worse the experience, the more prolific the records. Uncovering these records is an emotional experience for family members.
Asian exclusion laws, including alien land laws, made life very challenging for the Japanese immigrants. I'm currently researching a fellow who immigrated first to Sandy, Utah, then moved to Colorado in the 1920s where he was able to buy a ranch. There were no alien land laws in Colorado, so his experience was vastly different from the Japanese Americans on the west coast.
From 1910-1940, Asian immigrants to San Francisco were “processed” through Angel Island. Sometimes called the Ellis Island of the west, it was also called the Guardian of the Western Gate, with the intent to limit Asian immigration. About 10,000 picture brides came through the island. Not all of those files survive, but the ones that do are held at the National Archives in San Bruno. The photographs are remarkable. Can you imagine finding a photo of your ancestors along with the transcript from the interrogation and perhaps a marriage certificate? Below is a photo from the case file of Kane and Kinusaku Mineta, the parents of politician Norm Mineta.
QUESTION: The profile on your Blog mentions you are a fourth-generation San Franciscan, which probably means that your personal research was affected by the infamous 1906 quake. Would you be willing to share a short success story of working around the records lost as a result of that disaster?
ANSWER: One set of 2nd great grandparents immigrated to “the City” in 1867. Not only did the 1906 earthquake destroy their records (land, vital, court, etc), their home, their business, these ancestors also changed their names due to their nefarious behavior in Australia. City directories and newspapers from both the U.S and Australia, as well as Y-DNA, cracked that case, connecting the family to descendants in Australia and proving this line back to the 1700’s in England. I also used the book, Raking the Ashes by Nancy Peterson, as a resource for pre-1906 San Francisco research. The book is also useful for learning work-arounds for any location which suffered record loss.
QUESTION: I admit, I asked that last question partly because we have readers from all over the world, and there are some who have California roots, even though they may live elsewhere. Do you ever take on research requests from individuals seeking their non-Japanese ancestors from the San Francisco area?
ANSWER: I really enjoy researching those with California ancestry but have had a full client-load of Japanese Americans for the past few years. Maybe I’ll have an opportunity to take those research requests in the future.
QUESTION: When a client comes to you with a genealogical dilemma, asking to hire you, what are some of the first things you tell the person about your services, approach to the work, etc?
ANSWER: I like to create a collaborative relationship with my clients. Before I take on a project, I meet with the client in person or remotely. It might be described as a pro-bono consultation. This gives us a chance to determine if we will be a good fit for each other. I assess the expectations of the client, and the client also assesses me. I explain what I can do, but more importantly, what I cannot do. Sometimes the client wants me to do all of the research, other times the client wants to learn how to do the research themselves. If we come to an agreement, I create a contract. I always ask the client if I can include findings or samples of documents in my lectures.
QUESTION: I’m sure some of our readers would like to know how to get in touch with you. Aside from your blog at https://lindasorchard.com/, how might they get in touch? Or is that the best way to reach you?
QUESTION: Is there anything else you would like to add?
ANSWER: I especially enjoy teaching others about Japanese ancestry. This includes Japanese Americans as well as fellow genealogists. As our country becomes more diverse and ethnically mixed, more genealogists will encounter individuals with Japanese roots.
One more thing, the Nichi Bei Foundation is an organization which promotes cultural and educational experiences for the Japanese American community. In October, they host a pilgrimage. This year, on October 13, they will again host a pilgrimage to Angel Island. I have been part of the pilgrimage planning committee for the past four years. Volunteers from the California Genealogical Society provide 1:1 consultations during the pilgrimage, helping Japanese Americans to discover their ancestral roots. Here is a link from the 2015 pilgrimage.