Sunday, February 7, 2016

Researching Japanese-American Family History

Example of koseki
(Japanese family registry)
A few years ago I volunteered and worked with a group that was bringing genealogy into schools and social agency programs, trying to interest the younger generation in researching family history.  The outreach during the first couple of years focused on the black community.  It was then decided that we expand our outreach to other groups.  One suggestion was the Japanese-American community, but we ended up not pursuing that, primarily because Japanese family history research can be difficult and we knew of no good resources for beginners.

Well, Japanese family history is still difficult to research, but now I know about a very handy reference for people who are getting started.  Linda Harms Okazaki has created a six-page guide, Finding Your Japanese Roots, in a laminated trifold layout.  It is focused on Japanese-American research, finding records in the United States, and then working back to finding records in japan.

The guide provides a quick overview of important history to keep in mind when conducting your research, types of records to look for in the U.S. and Japan, a glossary, a comprehensive list of online resources, and several short tips.  Most of the information is clear and to the point, but some items would benefit from a little clarity, due in part to the need to be very concise because of the limited space.

The short introduction explains circumstances and records specific to Japanese-American research.  In particular, the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II, while a heinous tragedy, created records that can be extremely detailed and informative.

The timeline Linda has created fits an amazing number of important dates into a small space, but a critical fact was omitted.  She included the 1952 Immigration and Naturalization Act that allowed Asian immigrants to become citizens but did not mention that laws enacted at various earlier times (usually during wartime) allowed Asians who served in the U.S. military to naturalize prior to that.

The records discussed are divided into conventional U.S. records, records unique to Japanese-Americans, and conventional Japanese records, and the lists appear to give a good overview.  One record type for those unique to Japanese-Americans seems to have accidentally been left out, however.  There are two references to "Evacuee Case Files" in the descriptions of other records, but there's no entry for the Evacuee Case Files themselves.

Some phrasing is misleading.  A reference to delayed birth certificates as a resource suggests that these exist only for Hawai'i and pre-1906 San Francisco.  Certainly, the majority of Japanese immigrants in the United States were probably in California and Hawai'i, but some were in other locations that either required vital records registration at later dates or simply didn't come near complete compliance for many years.  Delayed birth registration is something to consider through the early 1940's for anywhere in the U.S.  Another statement that would benefit from rephrasing is in the introduction, which states that "American-born women who married Japanese immigrants lost their citizenship until 1931", implying that this was always the case.  It only began in 1907, however.

As Linda is producing and distributing her guide on her own, she makes it in small batches and updates it on an ongoing basis.  Some of the minor problems I have mentioned here will undoubtedly be corrected in an upcoming print run.  If you would like to talk to her about getting a copy, she can be reached at

Full disclosure:  The copy of Finding Your Japanese Roots that I used for this review was given to me by Linda.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I'm Apparently a Sellers via Informal Adoption

During my extended search for my grandfather's birth record, one of the reasons I continued to try after being rebuffed by the New Jersey State Archives multiple times was, of course, to verify and document his birth date.  But another reason was that I had begun to wonder who his father actually was.

You see, my grandfather had a younger brother, George Moore Sellers.  I was told by their younger sister that George (who actually went by "Dickie") was named after my great-grandfather Cornelius Elmer Sellers' stepfather, George W. Moore, because Elmer loved his stepfather so much.

I had that little factoid filed away in the back of my brain for several years before I suddenly wondered why, if Elmer loved his stepfather so much, did he name his *second* son after the man, and not his first son?  From that it was an easy step to wonder if maybe Dickie actually had been Elmer's first son.

When my sister finally acquired a copy of my grandfather's birth record, it did not resolve the question, as no father was listed.  The fact that my great-grandmother filed an amended birth certificate 37 years later and listed Elmer as the father seemed a little too convenient, as poor Elmer had been dead for 22 years and really couldn't argue about the issue.

It occurred to me that this was a great way to use DNA testing to resolve a question.  I already had the results of my father's Y-DNA test (Y-DNA being the test for the male sex chromosome, passed down from father to son).  I just needed to find a straight male-line descendant of Dickie and convince him to have a test done.  This was even one of the wishes I had in my Dear Genea-Santa letter.

I was lucky in that Dickie had two sons and they each had sons.  I found most of them through online searches and was able to talk one of my cousins into doing the Y-DNA test (which I of course offered to pay for).

And the big news is here.  I received the results of the Y-DNA test for my cousin (grandson of my grandfather's brother) a few days ago.  If the Y-DNA for two men matches, they have to descend from the same male ancestor at some point in the past.  If it does not match, they do not descend from the same man.

After comparing my father's and my cousin's Y-DNA, the conclusion is that Dickie and my grandfather absolutely do not descend from the same man.  My grandfather's biological father was not Cornelius Elmer Sellers, and my family line became Sellerses by informal adoption.  When Elmer married Laura Armstrong, he accepted her 7-month-old son by another man, and as far as I know raised him as his own.  There are no stories in my family that my grandfather ever knew that Elmer was not his biological father.

Speaking of Y-DNA, another reason this didn't come as a big surprise to me is that with more than 1,000 matches at 12 markers, my father has no matches with anyone named Sellers.  My cousin who just took the Y-DNA test?  At 37 markers he has eight matches, five of whom are Sellers.

So I think researching my adoptive Sellers family line back to 1615 is far enough, and I probably won't do too much Sellers research anymore.  On the other hand, now I have to try to figure out just who Grampa's father actually was.  And maybe I'll find out that the 12% Irish that's DNA test claimed for me is actually true.  (Of course, that test also said I'm less than 1% English, when one of my great-grandmothers immigrated here from England and her family is traceable in the Manchester area for five generations.  So I still don't trust the "cocktail party conversation.")

There are some things I'll miss about the Sellers line.  Now I know that I'm not a descendant of Alexander Mack, the founder of the Church of the Brethren (Dunkers); of Justus Fox, a printer in 18th-century Philadelphia who knew Benjamin Franklin; or of Franklin P. Sellers and his son Cornelius Godshalk Sellers, both printers and editors.  And I can't claim Sellersville anymore.  But I'll be sharing all the research I've done with the cousins I've been contacting and letting them know about the rich heritage that's part of the Sellers name.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Emma and Emile Petit's Divorce Is Finalized

When I read the receipt of payment for Emma Petit's lawyer in conjunction with her divorce case, I was surprised it came chronologically before the divorce itself was finalized.  Maybe the lawyer was not concerned about the final decree taking place?  Whatever the reason, the next item is Emma's Decree of Divorce.  This appears to be an original document from the Superior Court of Solano County, with an impressed seal.  It is watermarked bond, 14" x 8 1/2".  The paper may have originally been white, but it is now a creamy off-white.  I've underlined the parts that are handwritten.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

No. 3230


  Emma Margaret Petit    
                      Plaintiff __
    Emile Petit                  

Decree of Divorce.

Filed  March 30th.  , 1908 
    G. G. Halliday            
By  _________________
                Deputy Clerk.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --


       I, the undersigned, County Clerk of the County of Solano, State of California, and ex-officio Clerk of the Superior Court of said County, do hereby certify that the foregoing is a full, true and correct copy of the final decree and judgment madein the above entitled action on the    30th    day of    March    , A. D. 190

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my
hand  affixed  the  Seal  of  said  Court  this
  30th   day of   March   , A. D. 190
 (signature)  G. G. Hallida
By ____________________
Deputy Clerk.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

In the Superior Court

Emma Margaret Petit
vs.                                                                             Decree of Divorce.
Emile Petit

     This cause having been brought on to be heard the   11th   day of     March         A. D., 1907 , upon the complaint herein, taken as confessed by the defendant (whose default for not answering had been duly entered), and evidence having been adduced from which it appeared that all the allegations of the complaint were true, whereupon an Interlocutory Judgement was made and entered declaring that Plaintiff was entitled to a divorce from said Defendant upon the grounds of     Extreme Cruelty         and more than one year having expired after the entry of said Interlocutory Judgment, and no appeal from said judgment haveing been taken or motion for a new trial made, now
     Upon motion of             John T. Ryan             , counsel for said Plain-
tiff, and good cause appearing therefore,
     It is Ordered, Adjudged and Decreed, and this Court, by virtue of the power and authority therein vested, and in pursuance of the Statute in such case made and provided, DOES ORDER, ADJUDGE AND DECREE, that the marriage between the said Plaintiff,      Emma Margaret Petit       and the said Defendant,      Emile Petit      be dissolved, and the same is hereby dissolved accordingly, and the said parties are and each of them is freed and absolutely released from the bonds of matrimony, and all the obligations thereof.
  It is further ordered that the custody of children of said marriage  
  heretofore awarded to plaintiff be and it is hereby confirmed.         
Done in open Court this     30th .    day of      March           A. D., 190

(signature)           L. G. Harrier .          
Judge of the Superior Court.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

In Emma's handwritten narrative, she mentioned that Emile had not appeared in court for the divorce suit, and here that's confirmed.  The case was first heard on Match 11, 1907, four months after Emile accepted $500 from Emma to leave her and Vallejo, so she paid him off before filing.  Since part of his agreement was that he would "never again intrude upon her presence", maybe that's why he didn't appear in court.

Emile and Emma's children are mentioned almost in passing in the decree, only to confirm that Emma will retain custody of them, but they are not named.  If the file still exists in Solano County, it should have more details about them.

As an editor, I was amused by some of the spelling I found.  On the outside jacket we see "judgment", but on the inside decree it's spelled "judgement" once and "judgment" twice.  Somehow I don't expect legal court papers to have spelling errors.  And it's in the preprinted part!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2016 Black Family History Day

This is the sixth year that the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California and the Oakland FamilySearch Library are partnering to to offer a Black Family History Day in honor of Black History Month, with this year's event taking place on Sunday, February 20, 2016.

The family history day is scheduled for 1:00–5:00 p.m. at the Oakland FamilySearch Library, 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, California.  There is no charge to participate, but we encourage you to preregister, so that we will have a better idea of how many attendees to expect.

A short introductory workshop will be the first stop for new researchers, who will then receive help in creating their initial family tree information.  After that they will enjoy one-on-one assistance in learning how to do research and and look for documents about their family members.  More experienced researchers will have the option of going through the workshop or heading directly to the one-on-one research stage.  It's a good idea for all attendees to bring copies (please leave your originals safely at home!) of any documents you already have with you, so they can be used as references during your searches.

I will be one of the AAGSNC volunteers helping people with one-on-one research.  I'm looking forward to assisting attendees in doing research and hope we make some wonderful discoveries.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Emma Petit's Divorce Lawyer

We have previously read that Emma (Schafer) Petit divorced her husband, Emile Petit.  This week's very short document in Emma's ongoing story is the receipt for her payment for legal services in conjunction with her divorce suit against Emile.  It is handwritten in beautiful penmanship with pencil on a piece of 10" x 8" lined paper.  The paper was folded into quarters.  The obverse is blank.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

                   Vallejo, Cal. Mar. 14/07

Received from Mrs. E. Petit
Fifty Dollars <$50.00> in full
for legal services in divorce
action of Petit vs. Petit

                        John T. Ryan.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

It appears that Emma was still living in Vallejo when she divorced Emile.  I have to admit, I wonder how $50 ranked in 1907 for the services of a divorce lawyer.  Was that low end, middle of the road, or top notch?  How did California's rates compare to the rest of the country?

Emma apparently paid for the divorce, and she also paid Emile $500 to write himself out of her life.  She must have had money of her own, but so far nothing has specifically been said about her having a job.

At some point in the future I will probably want to try to obtain a copy of the complete divorce file.  I hope Solano County hasn't done what New Haven County, Connecticut, and San Francisco did:  dump all of their old divorce files (without microfilming them!) because they had space problems and decided the files just weren't important and no one would ever want them.  Even with that, at least San Francisco kept the registers of actions.  New Haven has nothing left.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

We Don't Have Those Records. . . . Oh, Wait, Yes, We Do.

I'm sure that most researchers have at least heard of the nonpopulation census schedules that were completed during many census years:  mortality, defective/dependent/delinquent (DDD), farming, manufacturing/industry, supplemental, and social statistics.  The one I've seen most people focus on is the mortality schedules, which list those people who died in the year immediately preceding the official census date.  They were part of the census in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1885 (for a few states)  Part of the reason for them being used more than the others is probably their accessibility, as they are available in their entirety on  A second schedule that receives a lot of attention is the DDD schedule, done only in 1880 and also available on Ancestry.

After attending a class at RootsTech 2015 on these nonpopulation schedules, I became interested in trying to find my father's New Jersey family in the agricultural schedules, as they were farmers for generations.  These schedules were part of the census in the same years as the mortality schedules.  Unfortunately, the schedules for New Jersey are not on, and I wasn't planning any trips that would take me near the National Archives in Washington, D.C., so I put that research on the back burner.

While I was at SLIG earlier this month and doing some of my own research, I was reminded that my great-great-grandfather was a wheelwright, as he was consistently listed as such in the birth records I found for my great-grandfather and his siblings.  Somehow that triggered a desire to look him up in the manufacturing schedules.  These were apparently done in 1810, 1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880.  I figured the Family History Library would have them, because it has everything, right?  Nope, not there.  They have very few.  So I started searching online for more information.

After refining my search terms on a few Google searches, I found a page at the National Archives with details about New Jersey nonpopulation census schedules.  I was surprised to read that NARA doesn't hold any of the 1850–1880 agricultural or manufacturing schedules for New Jersey, but the page does say that the New Jersey State Library has the schedules.

So, next stop was the New Jersey State Library catalog search.  I tried several searches with different terms — nonpopulation census schedule, agricultural census schedule, manufacturing census, U.S. census agricultural — and found nothing relevant.  After a few minutes of this frustration, I tried to go to the "Ask a Librarian" page, which at that time had a broken link that gave a 404 message (but is working now).  Somewhere on the site I found an e-mail address for the reference desk and sent a message asking if the library actually did have the agricultural and manufacturing census schedules for 1850–1880.  Unfortunately, the person who responded (no job title in his signature) apparently did not read my request thoroughly and pointed me to a book titled Agriculture of the United States in 1860, the description of which says that it was compiled from the returns of the census, not even close to what I was asking for.

I suspected that the person who answered my message just grabbed at the first thing he could find and was hoping to get rid of me that way.  I'm a little more persistent than that, however.  I waited a couple of hours so that I wouldn't be snarky in my message and then sent a second message, explaining politely that the book referenced was not what I was looking for and giving more details about the nonpopulation schedules and the pointer from the NARA page.  I even asked if perhaps there was some way to determine if the schedules had been there in the past and had been removed from the library's holdings.

This time the response was from the U.S. Documents Librarian, who had taken the time to look a little further.  The microfilms are indeed at the library, in the genealogy collection!  The library has the agricultural and manufacturing schedules for 1850–1880, the mortality schedules for 1870 and 1880, and even the social statistics schedules for 1850 and 1860.  She sent me the complete list and said that the microfilms would be properly catalogued (they're not there yet), which means future nonlocal researchers won't need to do what I did to find out the films are there.

The only piece of bad news was that the library does not permit the films to circulate through interlibrary loan, which really wasn't a surprise.  It just means I'll need to talk my sister into going to Trenton again to help with the family research!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Two Degrees of Separation

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun is one of those where I tend to come up on the short end because of limited information about my family on one side and short lifespans on the other.

1)  Using your ancestral lines, how far back in time can you go with two degrees of separation?  That means "you knew an ancestor, who knew another ancestor."  When was that second ancestor born?

2)  Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment to this blog post, in a status line on Facebook or a stream post on Google+.

1.  Similar to one of Randy's connections, I have been told that I met my maternal great-grandmother, Sarah Libby (Brainin) Gordon, but I don't remember it.  My mother told me she flew with me from California to Florida shortly after I was born in 1962, when I was just a babe in arms, so that her grandmother could see me; my father remembers that it happened.  Unfortunately, my mother's father, who took photographs of everything else in the family, somehow didn't commemorate the four generations of women.  My great-grandmother was born about 1885 in the Russian Empire.  She was the daughter of Mendel Herz Brainin and Ruchel Dwojre Jaffe.  Based on the naming patterns in her family, it's likely that she knew at least one and probably most of her grandparents — Solomon and Yetta Brainin, and Joseph and Anna Jaffe — who would have been born at the latest about 1840 in the Russian Empire and possibly as early as the 1820's.

2.  I met my paternal grandmother, Anna (Gauntt) Stradling, more than once, while she was living in Florida (I think in Jacksonville?).  She was born in 1893, as I recently discovered, the daughter of Thomas Kirkland Gauntt and Jane Dunstan.  Because her family members lived close together in Burlington County, New Jersey, she almost definitely knew her paternal grandmother, Amelia (Gibson) Gauntt, who was born about 1831 and died in 1908.

3  I knew my paternal grandfather, Bertram Lynn Sellers, Sr., born in 1903, the son of Laura May Armstrong and Cornelius Elmer Sellers (if my grandfather was actually a Sellers, but that's still research in process).  He may have known his maternal grandfather, Joel Armstrong, who was born about 1849 and seems to have died about 1921 or so in Burlington County.  Grampa also probably knew his paternal grandmother, Catharine Fox (Owen) Sellers Moore, who was also born in 1849 and died in 1923.

So with two degrees of separation, I can reliably get back to a great-great-grandmother born about 1831.  That's 50 years shy of Randy.  Even accounting for the fact that Randy is 20 years older than I am, I feel kind of deficient.