Linda of A Slower Pace asked me how I went about doing my mother's family history. So here goes! I'm sorry. This was going to be short, but this post has grown just as this project did.
I guess I've always felt it would be my job to do this. I am the oldest child of my mother who is also the oldest child. My brother and I have heard her stories as far back as we can remember. I know there was a time well over a half century ago that my mother teetered on the brink of a mental collapse, and that it was only for my brother and me that she marshaled all her strength to make sure our lives would be better.
However, gathering the information for her life history was too difficult. Stories would be told, but my brother and I couldn't understand the how, the where, the why, the when, the who. Then I left for the mainland where we lived for 35 years.
When Art and I moved back to Hawaii, we began to host Cousins Parties. It was at January's party that I asked my mother's sisters if they might have photos from their young lives on Molokai where my zen priest grandfather tended to victims of Hansen's disease (leprosy) at Kalaupapa.
They were happy to share those photos and more that they had not looked at in decades.
These are the newer photos. The older ones from 75+ years ago were not in great shape. The Hawaiian climate is NOT good for photos.
We bought a new scanner and I began the work that would consume me. Incredibly, when combined, there were quite a few photos. The newer scanner could improve the images to a point, but needed my brother, Dennis, the Photoshop magician to restore them to near perfection.
My mother and I worked on organizing and dating the photos on my computer to the best of our abilities. Then I met with both aunts and had them look at each photo. I wrote their impressions and stories onto the summary of each photo file.
You can see my mother corroborating their memories with what their mother wrote in her book that was published in Japan before she passed away.
I wrote the incredible saga of the three sisters' many stories and my son's girlfriend who was a journalist-editor polished it. One of my aunts tells me she's got many more stories to relate. My mother is still trying to forget the pain of them.
It's great that all my mother's brother and sisters are alive to document their experiences. I can't impress upon you enough how important it is to get the stories while everyone is there to tell it. None of Art's immediate uncles and aunts are alive to tell us their stories. We have photos, but the heart of their lives cannot be recorded.
One of the problems was the dates. They were written in Japanese years on the back or front of many of the pictures which is based on the reign of the emperors. I found a great website that gave me the corresponding Christian year to the Japanese emperor years. (Heisei 22 = 2010)
The next step was formatting the photos onto pages with explanations.
I began putting together the family tree after gathering each branch's information through (thank goodness for technology) e-mail. I did the tree lay-out the hard way, cutting and pasting manually which my brother later redid on Photoshop making it look a whole lot more professional. I'm aware that there are loads of family tree web sites, but I couldn't find a template that was useful for me.
I followed Art's suggestion to lay out a time line so we could have a reference for the family's travels from Japan, Molokai, Japan, North Korea, Japan and then back to Hawaii.
Meanwhile, Art was doing a ton of research into all the locations my mother and aunts recalled while they were escaping North Korea and the brutality and cruelty of the first wave of Russian soldiers. My priest grandfather had been sent to a Siberian Prisoner of War camp at the time.
This long ago map Art discovered on Internet really helped us understand the structure of their stories. (The problem was my mother and aunts only knew the Japanese names of occupied North Korea. Therefore we didn't know where they were. This crucial, pre-war map provided us with the where of their stories.) Dennis red inked and labeled their harrowing route on Photoshop.
Finally Art and I printed, copied and bound the pages into albums. Dennis suggested having them printed in a more book-like form, but it was cost prohibitive. There are well over a 100 pages.
In April of this year, we went to Japan and gave my mother's brother and sister their albums. My aunt, in turn gave me MORE photos that my grandmother had kept that we did not know about. I could not believe it! There were two albums of incredible photos that completed the story of that part of their lives.
After returning to Hawaii, we began again at Square #1!
I finished again in September!
Dennis then took the files and put them on DVDs. He's also managed to reduce the file sizes so it wouldn't take too long to load. One of our cousins asked if Dennis would make it playable on their TV so I'm pretty sure he's done that, too. We've also made a public version leaving out actual birth dates because several cousins wanted the option of being able to share the stories without fear of identity theft.
We'll be having a Cousins Party in November and the Addendum (my grandmother's photos) albums will be presented to the aunts in Hawaii. We'll also send albums to the aunt and uncle in Japan. A DVD of both albums combined and reorganized will be given to all the cousins at that time. It's been a journey and could not have been done without a whole lot of help.
But it was worth it!
And I'm glad it's done.