I am a 1/4 Japanese. My mom is half and my Grandmother full. My Great-grandmother was full Japanese and the one that moved from Japan to Hawaii. That is where she had my Grandmother.

So, I am 3rd generation in America. Over these years my family has lost or not shared for whatever reason the history of my family. Since, high school I have been really into learning anything about my heritage but I have only a hand-full of information.

I know that my Great-grandmother after leaving Japan converted to Catholicism. I don't know the exact time that she moved to America but I think it was around WW2 so I can understand her hiding who she was. She stopped speaking Japanese and never taught my Grandmother. I know my Great-grandmother by the name of "Grandma Luta". Luta was her second married name? I'm not super sure. I have also been told that she was married once and it was maybe (And even my family couldn't say this for sure either..) Kunimori? I have tried looking up that name ANYWHERE and nothing comes up.

My family is pretty sure that she had brothers or sisters back in Japan, plus you know, parents of course..But no names unfortunately.

When my Great-grandmother passed away..my Great-uncle threw out a lot of things as well... We're pretty sure lots of family pictures and letters are now destroyed. Not to mention my Great-grandmother seemed to leave most of her family heirlooms to her friends... not family.. so even more history gone.

Anyways, I guess what I am trying to know are there agencies in Hawaii and Japan that I could look into to find my family in Japan? Even being 3 generations away from them, I wonder about them. I feel really empty not knowing this part of me. And I would love to be able to talk to my own kids one day about Japanese heritage.


1 Answer 1


It sounds like you have a fascinating heritage in your grandmother's family. The best advice I can give is to start with what you know and work systematically back, step by step.

Since you do not know your great grandmother's full name, the place you need to start is your grandmother's birth certificate. If I understand correctly your grandmother was born in Hawaii in the post-war period. If you do not already have a copy, the birth certificate can be ordered on the Hawaii Department of Health website. Note that you personally may not be able to order your grandmother's certificate due to privacy protection laws. If your grandmother is living she could order it herself, or your parent (your grandmother's child) may be able to order it. Genealogy copies can also be ordered but they are the same cost as certified copies.

Your grandmother's birth certificate should contain the full names of your great grandparents, and hopefully other details as well. It may include details about her place of origin in Japan.

The next step would be to locate when and where your great grandparents married. If it was in Hawaii, then the marriage certificate could be ordered in the same way as the birth certificate. Again, this document could be very important in possibly providing information about your great grandmother's parents and place of origin. You mention a second marriage of your great grandmother – it would also be worthwhile obtaining documentation of this event, since I assume this marriage was somewhat later, and might contain different information.

It sounds like your great grandmother may have arrived in the US after 1940, but if she arrived before then, you may be able to locate her on the 1940 US Census (which included Hawaii Territory even though it was not a state until 1959). Once you know your great grandmother's full name, you can search and view this census on FamilySearch. Note that this census was before the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor.

The next step would be to see if you can find a passenger list or other record of immigration corresponding to your great grandmother's arrival in Hawaii. If you have found a 1940 census record you might have key information about the year she arrived. Two free databases to start your search are also on FamilySearch:

At this point you might have collected enough information to start your search in Japan. I think the biggest issue some people have starting out is trying to jump back too quickly to the country of origin, but it is important to really flesh out whatever you can find about her immigration. As far as I am aware, most records in Japan are not centralised so you will need to have some idea of where in the country to start looking, and the US records I have mentioned might provide that key information.

  • Thank you! This makes it seem a little more in reach! My grandmother is still alive so I can ask what she knows as well. I want to say that she's looked into some of it but not shared any info. But I hadn't even thought of how immigration records would work. :) This is a good point.
    – Hush
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 20:05
  • 2
    @Hush564 Definitely ask your grandmother what she knows, if she's willing to discuss it. She might even have a copy of her birth certificate she can show you. You don't want to be looking back in 20 years and wish you'd asked more questions when you had the chance – first-hand knowledge is invaluable.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 20:15
  • It really is. I only met my Great-Grandmother a few times when I was too young to really understand what to ask... then when I finally was interesting in where my family came from she..had already slipped into dementia and passed.
    – Hush
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 20:26

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