In remembrance of the 70th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which placed more than 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps, Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, is offering free access to its extensive internment camp record collections. Due to demand, the free period has been extended from Feb. 23 to March 5.
The more than 180,000 records, spanning 1942-45, allow all Americans a chance to better understand the nation’s wartime mindset and the effect it had on Japanese Americans. For those with Japanese heritage, these databases offer a glimpse into their families’ removal from their homes and businesses and insights into how they were forever affected by their internment. To begin searching, users can visit www.ancestry.com/japanese.
The U.S. government viewed the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as justification to relocate people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast and place them in internment camps throughout the interior of the country. As the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) report stated, the forced removal and mass incarceration was the result of racism, opportunism and a failure of political leadership.
Nevertheless, within months, entire families were displaced from their homes, and in many cases, family members were separated. Two-thirds of those imprisoned were American citizens and half of them were children. The camps began closing in 1944, although at least one government-run camp remained open until 1946.
Finally, in 1988, Congress passed a bill that provided for an official apology and reparations to Japanese American internees still living, over 40 years after the camps were closed.
Married to a man who was named after the director of his camp, Ancestry.com user Pearl Ito was able to learn about her husband’s and sister-in-law’s Tule Lake camp experience in Northern California, information she had struggled to find previously.
“Japanese family history is difficult to research because it’s protected by the Japanese government. Despite this, I was able to search Ancestry.com’s records and found out that my husband’s family, including his parents and siblings, were interned at Tule Lake,” said Ito. “What’s more, it was ironic to also uncover a World War II draft registration for my husband’s father, even though he was not allowed to become a citizen at that time. This was a very sad time in America’s history and we’ve shared the findings with our sons so they better understand how far our family has come in this country.”
The Japanese American National Museum is marking the 70th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 with a new endeavor, the Remembrance Project. Phase I of the project was publicly unveiled at the museum on Feb. 18 with the premiere of a PSA featuring actor and activist George Takei, and with remarks by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, both of whom can be found in the records on Ancestry.com.
The website intends to collect tributes to those who lived this experience, and make them more accessible for others who seek to learn about and become inspired by these remarkable first-person stories. Collaborating with JANM to shed light on this time period, Ancestry.com’s collection includes extensive records that help to further explain the American mindset at the time the executive order was signed.
”I was only a small child when the government sent soldiers to remove my family from our home in Los Angeles,” Takei recalled. “We could only take what we could carry. First we were sent to the horse stalls of Santa Anita racetrack and then to government-run prison camps in both Arkansas and California. My hope is that all Americans will learn about the unfair treatment visited upon Japanese Americans like my family and will ensure it never happens again to any other group.”
The key records that tell this story, made available in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration, include:
World War II Japanese American Internment Camp Documents, 1942-1946: This database contains a collection of images from 10 camps. These documents include newspapers, press bulletins, church reports, community activities and more.
Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II: This database contains information collected by the War Relocation Authority on approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans who forcibly relocated.
“Ancestry.com offers the largest collection of Japanese internment records available online, from which you can paint a detailed picture of what it was like to be held in these camps,” said Daniel Jones, vice president of global content strategy for Ancestry.com. “By opening access to these records free of charge, we hope to better educate the public on this unfortunate moment in our nation’s history.”
Ancestry.com Inc. is the world’s largest online family history resource, with more than 1.7 million paying subscribers. More than 8 billion records have been added to the site in the past 15 years. Ancestry users have created more than 30 million family trees containing over 3 billion profiles. In addition to its flagship site www.ancestry.com, Ancestry.com offers several localized websites designed to empower people to discover, preserve and share their family history.
The Japanese American National Museum is dedicated to fostering greater understanding and appreciation for America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by preserving and telling the stories of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Since its incorporation in 1985, it has grown into an internationally recognized institution, presenting award-winning exhibitions, groundbreaking traveling exhibits, educational public programs, innovative video documentaries and cutting-edge curriculum guides. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or go to www.janm.org.