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Getting started with Japanese research
The four top sources for Japanese genealogical research are: koseki (household registers), kakochō (Buddhist death registers), Shumonchō (Examination of Religion Register), and kafu (compiled family sources).
Japan is divided into a number of areas called 'Prefectures' (abbreviated 'Pref.'). These are analogous to states or provinces in other countries. They were created after the Meiji Restoration (1868) by consolidating feudal domains. Some include a city by the same name within their boundaries.
Chūbu · Chūgoku · Hokkaidō · Kansai · Kantō · Kyūshū · Shikoku · Tōhoku
Aichi · Akita · Aomori · Chiba · Ehime · Fukui · Fukuoka · Fukushima · Gifu · Gunma · Hiroshima · Hokkaidō · Hyōgo · Ibaraki · Ishikawa · Iwate · Kagawa · Kagoshima · Kanagawa · Kōchi · Kumamoto · Kyōto · Mie · Miyagi · Miyazaki · Nagano · Nagasaki · Nara · Niigata · Ōita · Okayama · Okinawa · Ōsaka · Saga · Saitama · Shiga · Shimane · Shizuoka · Tochigi · Tokushima · Tōkyō · Tottori · Toyama · Wakayama · Yamagata · Yamaguchi · Yamanashi
Cities, Towns, and Villages
Within each prefecture is a number of cities, towns and villages, The larger cities are very populous, while many towns and villages are quite small and often can border each other in a way that they are at times considered part of a larger city. Most though have some space between them.
How to Obtain Your Family's Koseki (Family Registration):
Searching for your Japanese ancestors cannot be done the same way you would research for someone from non-Asian countries. The main reason is that Japan has very strict privacy laws and access to Vital Records is carefully protected. That being said, the Japanese are wonderful record-keepers and the koseki or Family Registration is the record on which births, deaths, marriages and divorces of Japanese nationals are kept and is a rich source of genealogical information. A child is listed on his or her parent's koseki until they create their own.
The koseki is kept and protected by the city hall in the hometown (honseki) or permanent address of the head of household. If your ancestor was listed on a koseki, you can get a copy of the record. This is the best resource for finding your ancestors, as often many generations are included. Obtaining your family's koseki requires some effort but it is worth every bit of it.
The best and easiest way to get your koseki is check with other family members, (i.e.cousins still in Japan, etc.) and see if someone already has a copy and will make you a copy. If they do - do the happy dance!
If not, continue with the steps below:
1. Make a pedigree chart with all the information you know and determine who was the 1st generation (issei) to leave Japan.
2. Locate the address of the honseki or hometown of where your ancestor came from. You will need their address or you cannot locate their city hall. If they came from a large city like Hiroshima, you will need to know the ward or village.You can find this information in several ways:
a. Personal knowledge of relatives, written information, correspondense or a copy of their passport.
b. Search Passenger List databases on line. A good resource is: http://stevemorse.org/. Sometimes the hometown address is recorded. HINT: Look for other family members who might have traveled with them. Often the husband would imigrate to another country, work for awhile and then come back for his wife - or if he was single, he would return to marry a hometown girl arranged for by his family. Check later years for the family returning to visit relatives and bringing their children to meet the grandparents, etc. Be creative in your spelling as often the names are horribly mispelled. When searching for the wife be sure to use her married name - often you can find the 'husband by seraching for the wife or vise versa.
c. Obtain the passport information from the Japanese Consulate (must follow same rules as for obtaining a koseki), though this is often slow and unsuccessful.
d. Search the Family History Catalog and view microfilms. Look in the "Subject" catagory under Japan immigration, or just Japan. Microfilms can be ordered and viewed at local Family History Centers. When searching for information on Passenger Lists try to determine where their first Port of Entry was located. HINT: Do not assume that because they ended up in California that their Port of Entry was in California. They may have first gone to Seattle or Canada first. Be very creative and open minded in your searching.
Once you know the address of the 1st generation (issei) to immigrate, you must check to see if the village or hometown's name is still in existence. Many villages merged into others, names changed etc. Try using google or wikipedia.com to determine the address of the city hall for the town you are searching for. HINT: Try www.google.co.jp/ which is the Japanese version of Google if you can't locate it on the English version. You may need someone who can read kanji to translate if the translate version does not work. Most city hall's have a web page and their address is usually located on the bottom of the page.
Now that you know the name of the ancestor, his estimated birth year, and his address and city hall's information you are ready to contact the city hall.
How to Write City Hall for Your Family's Koseki
In order to receive your koseki you will first have to prove your lineage to the person for whom you are requesting. The following information will be needed:
1. A copy of your photo ID (Driver's license, Passport, etc.)
2. A copy of your birth certificate and a copy of for each set of parents until you reach the ancestor in question. For example, if you want your great grandfather's koseki and he was born in Japan, you would need yours, your parent's on whose line he is on - so if it is your father's line, you would need your father's birth certifcate and both of his parent's birth certificate. You don't need your great grandfather's because his information is recorded on the koseki in Japan.
3. A pedigree chart with your lineage written out with information that you have. Highlight the line you are seeking information on.
4. A koseki request form filled out.
5. Currently the cost for a copy of a koseki and postage is about $12 US dollars. Japanese City Halls will only accept Interational Money Orders from US Postal Service. DO NOT send money orders from banks as it will be returned. Make the International Money Order payable to the City Hall.
6. Enclose a self-addressed envelope.
7. If you cannot write in Japanese, see if you can find someone who can. It will be most helpful if you write the family's name in kanji, as the characters can be very necessary in distingushing your family. All Japanese names can be pronounced several different ways, so a request written only in Romanization - containing what you think is the correct pronunciation of the name - may be hard to determine accurately. It is worth trying, even if you don't know the Japanese characters. Try checking with other family members to see if they know it if you do not. If not you can write it in Roman letters, but it will greatly slow things down.
The City Hall is not required to give you a copy of your famil's koseki, even after you prove your lineage. You want to make sure you have everything in order and make it as simple as possible for them to respond to your request. Be patient. It can take a couple of weeks, to many months to receive a response. Any $ change from the transaction will be given in Japanese postage stamps - which you can use again as partial payment on your next request. When you receive your family's koseki it is time for another happy dance!
It will be necessary to find someone to translate the koseki for you if you cannot read kanji (Japanese character writing). Kanji has changed over the years, so you will need to use the handwriting charts on this page for help. HINT:If there is a kanji you cannot read, download a free language bar from Microsoft.On the Japanese language bar there is an IME pad, using the mouse you can copy the mystery kanji in stroke order and the program will read the kanji in Roman letters. Of course, this is only helpful for someone who knows kanji stroke order.
Once you have the translated copy of your family's koseki, it is time to input that information onto your Family Group Sheets and Pedigree chart. Using a software program is highly recommended as you will quickly see how complicated Japanese lineage can be because of heir adoptions and name changes. (That is explained further down.) You can download a free copy of thePAF genealogy software program. PAF (Personal Ancestrial File) is excellent to use as you can choose Japanese or English versions or both.
Female Lines: Women are found on koseki under the male head of household. Usually on a father's koseki until she is married. If her father dies before her marriage it will be under his male heir's name. When you receive your family's koseki you can then request the koseki for your ancestor's wife, as her maiden name, the head ofhousehold's name on whose koseki she is found on and the address of where she is from, are all usually recorded on her husband's koseki. This is all the information you will need to now follow all the steps above to now request her family information.
Japanese Adoption and Name Changes:
It was common practice for Japanese to adopt another male young adult or older children, if no male heirs were present in a family. Often a son who was not his family's heir would marry a daughter of a man with no male heirs. Upon their marriage, the groom would take the bride's maiden name as his and would become her father's heir. If they divorced, his rights to her family's estate would be returned, he would resume his own name and return to his family and again be recorded under the head of his household's koseki. These changes that are recorded on the family's koseki can quickly become confusing. Using a software program like PAF is helpful to keep track of these changes and distinguish between direct lineage and adopted lineage. Adoptions were very common and frequent in all families and for varied reasons. A good explanation of this practise can be found here: www.alanmacfarlane.com/savage/A-ADOPT.PDF and here:books.google.com/books.
Should you need further help or assistance in obtaining your family's koseki, please feel free to contact
The Family History Library (801) 240-6206
See also Tips for Obtaining a Copy of Your Japanese Family Registry (courtesy: JapanGenWeb)
In order to make this wiki a better research tool, we need your help! Many tasks need to be done. You can help by:
Things you can do
Other records you can search:
(Many of these records are on microfilm at the Family History Library. These records are written in old Japanese, so being able to read and search them you will need a knowlege of written Japanese and as well as a good kanji dictionary that will be necessary to decipher them. In order to find these records in the Family History Library catalog, it will be necessary to use the language bar on the computer and type in the Japanese characters under the "Keyword" tab to locate these records in the catalog.)
Religious Inquisition Census Records - This is a census which was used to detect illegal Christians. The government required that everyone register at their religious affliation temple or Shinto shrine. Temple priests were required to give this information to the local authorities. They do not include Samurai. Some kinds of census records are:
* Religious Inquisition Records.
* Individual Surveillance Registers
* Registers of Five-household Units
Use these records to:
Find the name of the head of the household and family members. Because they were created before the time when surnames were used, they do not include surnames.
Complied History and Genealogy of Clans and Families (keizu 系図):These records consist of compiled genealogies, organized collections of lineage data, family histories, pedigrees, family and community genealogies - some manuscript and some published. They include fedual lord genealogies (daimyo kafu), court genealogies (kuge kafu), samurai genealogies (sanurai kafu) and similar records.
Use these records to:
Extend your ancestral records back many generations. Find dates and places of events in your ancestors lives. Learn other information, depending on the record.
Emigrant Passenger Lists and Assorted Papers on Emigrant Shipping:These records were generated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japanese Diplomacy Office at the time when people emigrated from Japan. The records cover the time period from 1868-1940. This is a very reliable source. However, it is very difficult to find information on these records because they are listed by shipping company name and some of the destinations. If you seach in the Family History Library Catalog under the "Author" tab, type in the author (Diplomacy Record Office), you will get a list of the records by title (for example, List of Workers Going to Hawaii). You must search them by rolling through the microfilm one entry at a time. Once they are indexed, these records will be much easier to use.
Use these records to: Get the domicle of the head of the household, which is necessary to obtaining the koseki. They are particularly helpful for American researchers who are trying to determine where their Japanese ancestors came from.
Use these records to: Learn what country your ancestors came from, the date they arrived, the port they left from, and their age when they arrived.
Tombstone Inscriptions (Bohi Mei): These are compiled in manuscript or published form. They cover the time period from 1600 to the present. A few tombstones exist from earlier times but most are lost or destroyed.
Use these records to: Find the names, the posthumous name, and the death date of the ancestor.
Did you know?
That you can decipher "old" kanji, by using the IME pad on the Language Bar on your computer? Draw the kanji - in stroke order, then move your curser over the corresponding kanji on the right. It will reveal the different options of how to read/speak the kanji.
Christian Church records (Kirisuto Kyokai Kiroku) of baptisms, marriages, and deaths were kept by church clergy. They include the parish registers of Roman-Catholic and various protestant churches. They cover the time period of 1873 to the present.
Did you know many Japanese emigrated to Peru? The Family History Library has microfilmed records of these emigrants.
(All text below this is included in a column on the left side of the screen.)
- ↑ John W. Orton, Basil P. Yang, Ted A. Telford, and Kenji Suzuki, "Panel: East Asian Family Sources: The Genealogical Society of Utah," World Conference on Records: Preserving Our Heritage, August 12-15, 1980, Vol. 11: Asian and African Family and Local History. FHL US/CAN Book 929.1 W893 1980 v. 11 Shumonchō are also known as ninbetuchō and goningumichō. Compiled family sources are also known as keizu.
- ↑ Wikipedia Contributors, "Meiji Restoration," Wikipedia, accessed 15 June 2011.