I am grateful to Geneamusings.com for today’s post. Check it out:http://www.geneamusings.com/2012/08/book-review-online-state-resources-for.html
I am fortunate to have many friends that helped me and guided me in this journey called life. Jeanne was my second mom, or as my mother called her my Seattle Mom.
When I first met Jeanne, in the late 1980s, she spoke about her time “in camp” as a child and some of the very common happy child memories she had with her brothers and friends. Being a kid from Spanish Harlem and the Bronx, I was impressed and slightly jealous that this older woman, born and raised in Seattle, had the benefit of going to “summer” camp and here was yet another example of how bad my childhood was in comparison.
Then the opportunity of understanding my ignorance came to bear. Jeanne was referring to her experience in Japanese American Interment camps during the second World War. I called my siblings and friends asking them if I had missed class the day this topic was discussed this in school (I only had missed school for one week and that was in June 1969. Other than that I had perfect attendance from kindergarten through high school.). To my relief and embarrassment, they too had not heard about internment. I refer to this as the East Coast-West Coast divide of World War II. For geographic and societal concerns, the east coast was concerned about Germany and the west coast was focused on Japan, especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The reason Jeanne had started talking about camp, was a discussion of the reparations and the redress movement that was reaching a milestone with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Both Jeanne and her husband were personally not in favor of the redress money that was later distributed in 1990. “We were at war. Our country did what they had to do.” Jeanne would say. I learned of her family’s good fortune for their neighbor purchasing their home for $1 right before she, her families and many others of Japanese descent were bused to Puyallup to Camp Harmony and how that family kept their home safe for their return in 1945. There were also painful stories of the ignorance of hatred and discrimination of her, her family and friends in the Japanese community as well as many of courage, true friendship and perseverance.
I celebrated Jeanne’s birthday a few weeks ago with her son. She would have been 78. Her birthday inspired me to do some research that I am sharing with her nieces and nephews. I found interment records on Ancestry.com’s
World War II Japanese-American Internment Camp Documents, 1942-1946.
Looking through the records, I was struck by the fact that they did not have family information like that of the US Census. These records are very much like prison records and how the system was deciding the future employment of the individual (see Potential Occupations in the sample Internment record below)
I found a number of Japan born residents, survivors of the American Internment camps who became American citizens in the mid-1950s. I assume the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 helped facilitate the naturalization process for them.
Jeanne and my mom spent a lot of time together in New York and Seattle on visits. They loved discussing gardening, cooking and “Sylvia Stories”.
Gaman is the Japanese term for perseverance. Both of my moms are my role models of Gaman, and I strive everyday to do them proud.
I know the thought of walking through cemeteries creepy for some. But for me when I visit the town cemetery of my family’s home town, it is a very venerable place.
I remember the first time my mom took us to the town cemetery, she told us it was a place to visit and respect our ancestors. At the age of 9, I was first introduced to the concept of the modern sarcophagi. She didn’t use those terms, but the walk thru the cemetery reminded me of a couple of scenes from the Abbot and Costello movie “Meet Frankenstein” with one scene where Lou Costello is overly anxious by the cemetery (or at least that is my memory of the movie). Our family home town’s cemetery (and many countries I later discovered) was filled with above ground tombs and crypts, where in modern times a casket is placed into. The tomb structures are made of granite and can be inscribed or decorated with sculpture/adornment.
In the 1960s, given the fact the town was of humble means, the ornate tombs and statutes surprised me. Whether it was the catholic traditions or pride, it was obvious the families spent what little wealth they had on the memory of a beloved; it made quite an impression on me. I knew for a fact that many of these families were very poor. The “affluence” disparity between the living and the residence of the cemetery both saddens me and brings me solace every time I visit. Genealogy constantly reminds the resilience of the human spirit.
I recall when I visited the tombstone of my Tio (uncle) Canjo, there is was a large painting of him and his brother Gaspar at the head of the tombstone. Tio Gaspar had died over 25 years earlier in New York. Years later, at the bequest of my aunts, my research discovered Gaspar’s remains in a pauper’s tomb in Queens, NY. Tio Canjo was the eldest of the Vargas clan. His death in 1968, caused much pain and sorrow to all but especially my grandfather. Tio Canjo was the family patriarch in New York for the Vargas family. Since his passing in 1968, his loss is still felt by many in the family.
As I became passionate with my genealogy research, I took several photos of headstones with family names that resembled my family list. I discovered that my father had a number of cousins that served in the second world war. My mom confirmed my discovery as well as told me that Canjo and his cousins enlisted together when they lived in New York in the 1940s and worked as waiters and busboys.
I also discovered my mom’s maternal grandparents resting place in the cemetery. This surprised me since I knew of the stories of how my other great-grandparents were buried in the back yard of my grandparent’s or their siblings home. No head stone. No marker. So knowing that my great-grandmother Justa Silva was buried in 1948 in the town cemetery made her ‘quite’ privileged for the time.
Years later, my maternal grandmother was to be buried here alongside her parents and sister. In 2008, we brought our mom’s remains to rest here as well.
For me cemeteries hold the memories of our families. I am finding meaning and purpose understand who they were, who they loved and how they lived and share their stories to my family.
What does your ancestor’s cemeteries contain?
Looking for my roots is more than just finding names to place in a pedigree chart or finding the exotic lands they were from. It is a way to celebrate our ancestors’ journey and to learn the lessons they provide us for own personal journey.
Don’t get me wrong, I cherish the adventure of adding one more name to the tree or to find one ancestor (or should I say any ancestor) that was not born in the town of Rincon, Puerto Rico. But as my relatives age (as do I), I relish the stories and pictures of what was important to them. Here are some photos of my family and some of the lessons and values they have given me.
Family – As our family migrated to New York in the 1940s and 1950s, being together to celebrate any occasion was important. The birth of a child, a religious festival or ceremony (being Catholics specific celebrations included baptism, communion and confirmation), weddings and deaths are all common events in the human experience. But seeing who are present and who are not in the photos is just as important. Photos also illustrates the customs as well as the fads. I have a photo of my mom in a poodle skirt that I cannot share due to fear of eternal damnation .
The calendar of Jesus and the last supper (upper right hand side of the photo) is an important artifact as any. [Now if I can only see the source of the calendar. A local church perhaps?]
Children - This is a photo of my cousins in Puerto Rico in 1960 in front of the cake for my baptism. Looking at this photo tells me a lot of their personalities (Who is shy? Who is a ham?) The house is my maternal grand parents home, a very simple wood home. In the upper left side a picture of Jesus Christ, a sign of a religious house hold.
Food – A Puerto Rican celebration would not be complete without arroz y gandules (rice and pigeon peas) and pernil (roast pork shoulder). The wallpaper is classic of a 1950s kitchen apartment in New York (Spanish Harlem specifically), while my aunt’s sheepish and proud grin juxtaposed to my uncle’s (her brother-in-law’s) smile is true to their nature and personality. He, a very jolly and generous soul. She always ready to reply with zinger.
To me these photos show me the true joy in their lives: family, children and food. I have learned that I need to do some more celebrating.
What do your photos say?
Everyone has different motivations to start their family search; the birth of a child, the death of a parent.
My search started on a dare. I was meeting my future in-laws and having the classic “get to know you” discussions. How many siblings do you have? Where did your parents grow up? How BIG is your family?
Both of my parents come from large families. I know there are a lot of people that have larger families than mine, but to my future in-laws (extremely nice people btw) the stories of my parents and grandparents from the same small town in Puerto Rico and I being a Native New Yorker was exotic to them.
My father was the third youngest of 12 children, my mother was number 11 of 15.
Do you know all your aunts and uncles? Well, not the ones that died in childhood or an uncle that died at 21 in 1940s, but of course! But you can’t know all your first cousins? I know all my first cousins and share great memories with all but 2.
So, how many first cousins do you have? 61.
This discussion happened in 1989. This sparked my thirst for genealogy to share my family stories to the future generations for my nieces, nephewa and the children of my 61 first cousins.
What sparked your looking?
Welcome to Looking For My Roots.
I’ve decided to start a blog post (yes, this is a new years resolution.)
I have been doing genealogical research for my family (my very large extended family) since 1992. (Why I actually started will be a topic for a future blog post.)
My roots are from the island of Puerto Rico with an extended family that have roots in England, Ireland, France, Spain, Africa, India as well as various parts of the Caribbean and South America.
My research journey is far from over and look forward to sharing my passion for genealogy, as well as a thirst to understand the history of the world that my ancestors experienced.
Hopefully, this site will inspire your quest as well.