FINDING YOUR NIKKEI ROOTS: On the Road Again: Planning a genealogy research trip


Any trip requires planning. If you want to go to Japan, you would consider when to go, for how long, which airline to take, which cities to visit and more. Even the most relaxed traveler would have some plans in place. 

A genealogy research trip requires the same sort of planning. The more you plan, the more rewarding your experience will be. 

Your first step is to determine what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want to hold specific records in your hands? Or, do you want to wander around the towns where your ancestors lived? Perhaps you hope to obtain Evacuee Case Files, look at manuscript collections or determine where your family relocated following incarceration. 

If you have been following this column, you know that it’s important to develop a research plan, to organize your findings and to keep track of the data in a timeline. With these tools, you will be able to decide what it is you want to accomplish and where you want to research.

Your second step is to develop a plan based on a specific repository or location. Use Websites and catalogs that are online to prepare for your adventure. In addition to determining exactly what records you want to view and whether or not there are restrictions on how many records you can access in one visit, it’s critical to learn: 

the hours and days each facility is open to the public

whether or not appointments are required (and if so, how to go about making those appointments)

what materials/equipment can or cannot be brought into the research room

how long you can stay in the repository

whether or not you should/can request items in advance of your arrival (highly recommended)

whether or not there are other guidelines of which you should be aware

Don’t forget to explore transportation options, including parking if traveling by car, or the public transit system in a particular city.

Create a master list of items you want to obtain and copies of relevant notes or documents but DO NOT bring original documents with you. Make sure those items are scanned before you leave home. 

Your third step is to decide how you want to record your results. A camera? A tripod with a 90 degree arm? A flatbed scanner? Does the repository even allow personal scanners? What else might you need? A computer or notebook, pencils and paper? Are you allowed to bring your own paper? Coins for a copy machine? Credit card for those places which no longer handle money? Have you packed all necessary power cords and adaptors? Get all of this ready well before you head to that archive, library, or museum. Practice with your equipment ahead of time. You don’t want to get someplace and realize you haven’t set up the software on your scanner or don’t know how to use your new tripod. 

Your fourth step, when your research plan is in place, is to contact the repositories you want to visit. This is always a good idea, but even more so because of COVID. Each facility will have different protocols to keep employees, volunteers, and patrons safe. There may also be differing protocols for facility disinfection and ventilation, as well as quarantine requirements for archival materials and books. Some facilities may operate on a limited schedule with a limited number of visitors. Other facilities remain closed. 

Try to not over-schedule every moment of your visit. You may discover some unexpected information which takes you in a new direction and you definitely want room to be flexible. 

When you get home, don’t just put your findings or images into a folder and forget about them. This is the time to analyze your data, enter information into your software program (if you have one), tidy up your notes, and make a plan for the next trip. It’s so easy to skip this step and not be able to decipher your notes later on. 

ROAD TRIP — Group researchers from the California Genealogical Society at the National Archives at College Park, Md. photo by Bernice Bennett of BlogTalkRadio,

Other thoughts. If tackling a research trip on your own is intimidating, consider joining a genealogy group trip. In 2016, the California Genealogical Society ( led a research trip to Washington, D.C. While each attendee created his or her own research plan, they also had the opportunity to consult with genealogists and archivists. CGS also leads trips to other locations such as the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind. 

A sampling of places you might want to visit to further your research:

Bancroft Library — University of California, Berkeley

California State Library —Sacramento and San Francisco

Cemeteries — Some cemeteries have archival collections or historical data 

Churches — Contact the religious organizations where your ancestors worshipped

Courthouses — You may want to visit a courthouse to obtain records about divorce, guardianship, land ownership, or naturalization

Historical societies — Located in the towns where your relatives lived

National Archives — Each branch has its own hours and restrictions 

FamilySearch Library — Salt Lake City, Oakland, Los Angeles and other locations

Japanese American National Museum — L.A.’s Little Tokyo 

National Japanese American Historical Society — San Francisco’s Japantown

Oakland History Museum

Genealogical Society — Both near your home and near where your ancestors lived

San Francisco Public Library

Even if the facilities you hope to visit are still closed, now is the time to plan for your visit. A research trip is different from a genealogy vacation. We’ll explore that topic in next month’s column. 

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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