FINDING YOUR NIKKEI ROOTS: The gift of family history


“She Will Marry Him” by Linda Yoshizawa (above) ( reprinted with permission of the artist

The holiday season is practically upon us. Have you wondered what unique gifts you might give your extended family? What about a gift of family history?

Perhaps you’ve been researching your family for months, or even years. You know that there is always another record to find, another tidbit to uncover. And you might feel that you will never be “done” with your research. At some point, you just need to bite the bullet and share your findings in a meaningful way. Family history research is never done, so there is no point in waiting.

The process of sharing can take on various forms or styles: a film, quilt, photo album, series of paintings, collection of letters or a written narrative.

Your project should have a focus, a purpose, an end product. What are your goals? Who is your audience? Are you writing for your young grandchildren? Your community center? Yourself? How much do you want to include? Will it be about one person, or many?

Chart created in Family Tree Maker (above). courtesy of Ronald Madson

Writing your family history is a way to give your ancestors a voice. Use documents, photographs, and family heirlooms to create the framework from which you bring your ancestors to life. Use historical context to help the reader understand the time periods during which your ancestors lived. Be sure to include photos, maps, charts, and other visual aids. Recipes can be fun to include, especially when combined with photographs and family stories. Research the kamon (family crest) of your maternal and paternal lines to add interest.

It’s usually easiest to begin by writing what you know. Then, create a summary of your findings for each document you have collected. Together, these summaries will practically write the story for you.

“She Will Marry Him” by Linda Yoshizawa (above) (
reprinted with permission of the artist

There are all kinds of do-it-yourself publishing options, such as Shutterfly or Lulu, FedEx Office, Office Depot or Staples. Even your local print shop can print and bind your books for a reasonable price.

If you aren’t ready to write it up, or if writing isn’t your goal, consider creating or purchasing a printed wall chart of what you do have. My personal favorite is FamilyChartMasters. This company uses your data, whether it’s written in English, old kanji, or both, to create beautiful printed wall charts. You can also create your own charts using simple software programs, such as Family Tree Maker, Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint.

Interviewing your elders is the first rule of genealogy. If you haven’t done that yet, please start! For those of you who have completed the interviews, make digital copies of the audio or video, or create transcriptions to share with the family. You might even turn a collection of interviews or letters into a book. Deborah Sweeney, aka “The Genealogy Lady,” turned a heart-warming collection of letters into a book. Deborah has a masterful ability to turn the mundane into a true love story.

Consider giving your relatives a consultation with a local genealogist, a subscription to, a membership to your local genealogical society, or hiring a research company to complete the family tree. Most DNA companies have sales during the holidays. Giving your oldest living relatives a DNA test could break down brick walls. (I recommend that you help them manage their kits, and be sure to prepare them for unexpected results.)

Regardless of what research you’ve completed so far, the gift of family history is one which will be cherished for years to come.


Genealogy Publishing: “How to Publish Your Own Family’s History,” by Janice Lee

Inspiration for writing from Family Tree Magazine: “Family Tree 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge,” by Ashlee Peck

“How to Write Your Family History,” by Kimberly Powell

“Producing a Quality Family History,” by Patricia Law Hatcher

“Stories to Tell: An Easy Guide to Self-Publishing Family History Books and Memories,” by Nancy Barnes

“10 Steps to Writing and Engaging Family History,” by Penny Stratton

“Writing Your Family History” Webinar

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 e-mail to The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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