FINDING YOUR NIKKEI ROOTS: Navigating genealogy Websites — and


Genealogical information can be found in a plethora of locations. Of course, not everything is online, but quite a bit IS available digitally. There are many sources of online material, including public and private libraries, universities, Internet Archive, Library of Congress (, the National Archives ( and Some of the best searches begin simply with Google. and are two of the most easily accessible and document-rich online resources. Together, they have changed the face and the pace of family history. The abundance of primary source documents provided by these companies is both staggering and underutilized. Both organizations continue to regularly add records to their databases. is a private company, which hosts a variety of historical records, provides direct-to-consumer DNA testing, offers the opportunity to create family trees, and has a number of educational experiences via online tutorials called “Ancestry Academy.” There is even a free YouTube tutorial with tips and tricks for navigating the site.

You don’t need a subscription to utilize the millions of records on The Library Edition can be accessed from most local genealogical societies, public libraries, National Archives branches or Family History Centers. You can also sign in as a guest to utilize the power of Ancestry, before committing to a paid subscription.

Tips for navigating
The library edition of Ancestry does not allow you to build a tree.

The “search” tab allows searches by category or by catalog. Don’t underestimate the power of the catalog.

When entering data into the search box, remember that less is more. Don’t include everything you know about a person.

Names may be indexed differently than you expect. For example, Sasanji Okazaki may be indexed as Sasange Okaziki.

Expect the unexpected: Your ancestor may have arrived in a different port than you thought, or may have had a spouse or children you didn’t know about.

Be sure to utilize the descriptive information for each type of document. For example, the Final Accountability Rosters can be searched by name, or browsed by camp; but Ancestry also provides a complete description of the content, including abbreviations. This holds true for many other documents on Ancestry, such as census records.

If you have a tree on Ancestry, don’t limit yourself to the shaky leaves (hints). Make sure you utilize the catalog and have a research plan in mind.
Use the trees from other people with caution. Trees belonging to other researchers can serve as clues, but may not be accurate.

When you find a document that relates to your family history research, be sure to download the image and save it to your hard drive and to the cloud. (Note: Next month, we will review organizing your genealogy files.)

Once you save an image, be sure to extract every possible bit of information. Is there a physical description of your ancestor on the passenger manifest or draft registration? Is there an address? Is another relative named on the document?

If you test your DNA with, be sure to sync with your family tree. is a nonprofit organization operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like Ancestry, FamilySearch provides genealogical records, educational opportunities and a software platform for creating family trees, but does not offer DNA testing. There is no fee to use the site. FamilySearch literally has billions of digital images. While there are some overlaps in content with (such as census records), these companies are completely separate entities.

Tips for navigating
Start by creating a free account. You can stay logged in for two weeks at a time.

Use the “search” feature to identify the three main categories to begin your research: Records, Catalog and Research Wiki.

Begin your search with the “Research Wiki.” Think of this as Wikipedia for family history. You can research topics (such as Japanese Americans in WWII) or regions (such as San Francisco).

Use the catalog! The Catalog is probably the most important yet underutilized feature of FamilySearch. You can search by location, surname, or subject, as well as title, author, or keyword. Try starting with the location where your person of interest lived. If you type “Japanese” into the subject category, you will find a list of items held by FamilySearch. Click on the item of interest. Some are authored works, others are microfilmed documents. You will find documents in English, Japanese, Spanish and more.

When searching for historical records, you can search with an ancestor’s name, birthplace or marriage, etc., and with a range of dates. You can then search the results by records or by collections. When a camera icon shows up, that means the digitized record can be viewed. Just as with, don’t enter everything you know into the search boxes.

Spelling of names can vary. Dates aren’t always accurate.

When searching for documents, you may encounter a variety of icons. The “paper” icon indicates that the item is indexed or annotated. The “camera” icon indicates that the image is available digitally from your own computer or personal device. Some images can only be accessed through a family history center or a FamilySearch affiliate library. In those situations, you will see either a camera icon with a key or a frame. On rare occasions, you may find a film icon indicating the microfilm item hasn’t yet been digitized.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are Family History centers in Concord, Danville, Freemont, Oakland, Pacifica, Pleasanton, San Bruno, San Rafael and Vallejo. Oakland FamilySearch is by far the largest in the area and offers many free classes.

Not all images have been indexed so you might need to browse or scroll through a collection of images.

As with, use other trees for clues, but do your own research.
If you build a free tree on FamilySearch, remember that these are public and can be edited by others.

Linda Harms Okazaki is a professional genealogist who is past president of the California Genealogical Society. She specializes in Japanese American records. If you have a genealogical question which might be answered in this column, send an email to The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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