“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine; could you be mine?” Mr. Rogers used to sing the praises of the neighborhood on his television show. Did you know that the neighborhood is also critical in your family history research?

So often our research is focused on direct ancestors. But what about the other people in their lives? The lateral lines, fictive kin, business associates, the grouchy lady next door or the family who stored your items during World War II? These characters add dimension and color to your family story. That doesn’t mean you should embellish the truth, just that you should research more than the names and dates in your direct lineage.

Genealogists refer to this type of cluster or collateral research as the FAN club1. Who were the Friends, Associates and Neighbors of the people you are researching? To learn more about the
FAN club, ask yourself questions such as:

• Where did your ancestors live?
• How often did they move? Why and where did they move to/from? Did they move with friends or extended family members?
• Did they live in an urban area? Who lived next door or around the corner? Who lived in the surrounding neighborhood?
• Did they live in a boarding house, an apartment, or a single-family home? Who were their neighbors?
• What businesses were nearby? Who operated those businesses?
• Did they live on a farm? Where? What sorts of crops did they grow? Who was the landowner?
• Did they live on or near a sugar plantation? Who were their co-workers?
• Who were the children’s classmates? Teachers?
•Who was the boss, supervisor, or employer of your ancestor?
• What was the town like? Who was well-known? Who was the mayor?
• Who was the local barber? Midwife? Bartender? Bathhouse operator?
• What sort of work did your ancestors do? Laundry work at home after toiling all day on a sugar plantation? As a clerk in a dry goods store? A sake brewer?
• Where did they eat, shop, bathe, cut their hair, and enjoy recreational activities?
• Did they belong to a club or social group? Boy or Girl Scouts? A kenjinkai?
• Were they Christian or Buddhist? Who was the pastor or minister? Who were the parishioners?
• Which newspapers did they read?

Searching for clues to your ancestral FAN club:

Many traditional genealogy resources provide clues to those friends, associates and neighbors, but maps are especially helpful.

For those who lived in urban areas, try looking at Sanborn maps. These maps of U.S. cities and towns were used by fire insurance companies to assess property. Many of these maps can be viewed online at the Library of Congress, the David Rumsey Map Collection or your local public library. Using these maps can help the family historian to recreate neighborhoods. These are particularly important when there is record loss or reconstruction. The 1905 Sanborn Map of San Francisco offers details about the area just before the earthquake and fire2. The 1915 Sanborn Map of Sacramento shows the Nihonmachi from before the area was razed to build the California State Capitol3.

Historical books often include maps. The 1973 book by Kazuo Ito, “Issei: A History of Japanese Immigrants in North America,” includes detailed hand-drawn maps of Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver BC4. This book is not online but check WorldCat to find it in a library near you.

Your local historical or genealogical society may have maps specific to your research. If you live near San Francisco, try making an appointment at the National Japanese American Historical Society to access their library. The California Genealogical Society has a collection of maps of different counties and states. For research in California immediately before World War II, the Japantown Atlas is a bountiful online resource. Enumeration District Maps are those maps affiliated with a particular census. These maps can be viewed on FamilySearch.org for the 1900-1940 federal censuses.

All family historians should use census records to learn more about their neighborhoods. A quick look at the 1930 U.S. Federal Census of San Francisco’s pre-war Japantown is a good example of detailed neighborhood information. One page out of dozens of names cooks, servants, confectioners, a cannery owner, and a newspaper editor living on Geary and Laguna streets5. If your ancestors lived in this neighborhood in 1930, did they know the Okumura family of the Benkyodo confectionary? Did they read the Shin Sekai newspaper where Tokinobu Mihara was an editor? Did they frequent the bathhouse owned by Minokichi Nakashima? Who else was named on the census pages immediately preceding and following your person or family of interest?

Where else to look?
Be sure to check every record for clues to your FAN club. Is an employer named on a World War I or II draft registration? Was a midwife named on a birth certificate? Was the local doctor named on a death certificate? Are there character references included in an Evacuee Case File?

Have you looked at yearbooks for friends and teachers? How about newspapers, especially for small towns and incarceration camps? Look at Assembly Center Family Folders, Evacuee Case Files and Alien Enemy Internment Case Files for names of people associated with your family, as well as schools attended and names of employers, friends and co-workers.

Researching in Japan
Similar strategies apply to your research in Japan. Look for both modern and historical maps.

You can sometimes identify a registered domicile or town on passenger manifests. For those who lived in Hawai‘i, be sure to obtain the immigration cards available through the Japanese consulate in Honolulu or on FamilySearch. And don’t discount the power of Japanese newspapers.

The people and places affiliated with your ancestors are key to creating robust and interesting family stories. While a fan may be a ubiquitous symbol of Japan, the family historian knows that the FAN club is also an important part of their research.

Henningfield, Melinda Daffin. “Investigate the Neighborhood to Advance Your Research.” JoyResinger Memorial Lecture Series, Legacy Family Tree Webinars.
https://familytreewebinars.com/webinar/investigate-the-neighborhood-to-advance-your-research/ : 2021.

Sanborn Maps Collection, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/about-this-collection/).

“Maps at NARA of Interest to Genealogists,” Resources for Genealogists, National Archives, updated 17 June 2022, (https://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/maps).

“United States, Enumeration District Maps for the Twelfth through the Sixteenth Censuses – FamilySearch Historical Records,”

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 LindasOrchard@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily of the Nichi Bei News.

1 Genealogist and historian Elizabeth Shown Mills coined this term.

2 Pre-Earthquake San Francisco 1905 Sanborn Insurance Atlas, David Rumsey Map Collection (https://www.davidrumsey.com/blog/2011/6/27/pre-earthquake-san-francisco-1905-sanborn-insurance-atlas).

3 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Sacramento County, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn00799_003/).

4 Kazuo Ito, Issei: A History of Japanese Immigrants in North America, Japanese Community Service, Seattle: 1973.

5 1930 U.S. Federal Census, San Francisco, ED 38-297, sheet 2A, p. 144, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9R4P-DRP).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *