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Family Research

Family Research page banner image featuring documents used in research

“Seeing and holding the documents that you provided was the most amazing experience. It made it come to life for me…It changes how I feel in my heart, and it makes me happy to know more about what my family went through.”

Carol Yanagawa, Heart Mountain descendant

Shirabeyou!

– Let’s Learn! –

Shirabeyou, or “Let’s Learn!” is an exciting new program from the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. Because our Japanese American history was written out of many school textbooks, and because many incarcerees were too ashamed or pained to talk about their experiences, many camp descendants have little information about what their relatives went through. This new offering provides a way for former incarcerees and their descendants to begin the process of discovery and healing. 

Read through our Frequently Asked Questions to get a sense of the scope of the research, who it is best suited for, and how to request a session.


This service is available for members at the Sustainer level ($250) and above.
Check out the membership page for details and to become a member!


Frequently Asked Questions:

Shirabeyou (Let’s learn) is a new benefit that is being offered to Heart Mountain members at the Sustainer level ($250) and above. Trained Heart Mountain staff will research former incarcerees, compile the documentation, and schedule a one-on-one session to present the highlights, explain the significance, and invite reflection. Let’s Learn! is one way to help camp survivors and descendants reclaim our histories and honor our relatives.

Let’s Learn! is for former incarcerees and descendants of incarcerees that are members of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.

Because this research is labor-intensive, a single Let’s Learn! session covers individuals residing in a single barrack unit. Your Sustainer member benefit includes one session per year. If you renew at the same level or higher, you may request an additional research session during that active membership.

No. We are able to research individuals that were incarcerated at any War Relocation Authority or Department of Justice camp, but we have the most information on Heart Mountain incarcerees.

You will receive a family research session within your one-year active membership period. We appreciate your patience as we balance the volume of requests with available time.

Let’s Learn! sessions are currently limited to members at the Sustainer level ($250) or higher. These sessions require a tremendous amount of staff time and at this point are only possible with membership funds to offset the cost. 

Your one-year annual membership allows for one research session. If you renew your membership you may request another research session.

Before your session, a Heart Mountain Staff member will compile a digital packet of all files, documents, pictures, and information they were able to find. During your session, we will walk you through the highlights – pointing out notable details, explaining what each type of document is, and answering any questions you may have. After your session, we will share the digital packet with you for your own use. 

Each digital packet is different based on the lived experience of each incarceree and the amount of information in the databases we use. Common documents include: census records, Heart Mountain Sentinel articles, death/birth records, military records, and Final Accountability Records.  

Documents are snapshots in history and rarely answer the “why?” question. You will leave your session with information, but likely with new questions as well.

Each session is scheduled for one hour. The amount of information on each incarceree is different, therefore some sessions might be less than an hour.

In most cases, sessions are conducted remotely via Zoom. If you or your relatives are able to come to Heart Mountain in person and arrange with us ahead of time, an in-person session can be a powerful aspect of your visit. Please contact Michael McDaniel (michael@heartmoutain.org) to request an onsite session.

We would love to record your session! If you choose to have your session recorded you will need to sign the Video Release Form. The digital recording will be sent to you as well as kept in the HMWF records.

First become a Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation member at the sustainer level or higher. Check out our membership page to learn more and become a member.

Before research can begin you will need to sign the Informed Consent Form. Finally, please fill out the Heart Mountain Let’s Learn! Form. This will give us the information we need to begin researching your family.

No, but we encourage you to request them for your own continued journey. To request a file,  submit this form to the National Archives.

Please note there are fees and a wait-time associated with requesting WRA files. If you have additional questions, we are happy to help.

The Let’s Learn! Sessions deal with sensitive and potentially distressing topics, including but not limited to trauma, incarceration, and other emotionally charged subjects. While Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation believes this research holds educational and informational value, it is crucial for us to prioritize your emotional well-being and provide you with an opportunity to make an informed decision regarding your exposure to it. 

The consent form is for you to acknowledge and understand the potential impact this material may have on your emotional state and to recognize that it is your responsibility to discontinue engaging with the material if you find it distressing, triggering, or harmful to your mental health.

The sessions can be ended at any time, or if preferred you may receive material without having a session.

More Research:

Want to conduct your own research? Here are some resources to get you started! These are the most common resources used by Heart Mountain staff conducting research:

Free Resources:


National Archives

NARA records for each family incarceree: start here by typing in the name of incarceree(s) to find records. Searchers can also use this form to type in the name of the camp in which the incarceree lived and the last name. Please note that some people may not show up in a search because the Archives files cut off longer first names, names are sometimes misspelled and people born in camp aren’t included.

Final Accounting Record for Family

The final accounting records for Heart Mountain incarcerees can be found here. This contains the date the family entered camp, the name of the assembly center, the date they left camp, and their destination.


Heart Mountain Sentinel search

A simple Google search of “Heart Mountain Sentinel” and the name of the incarceree often turns up some references in the paper between 1942 and 1945.

Densho

Densho is a wonderful resource for a wide array of information on incarceration.

Paid Resources:


Ancestry.com

This site can generate multiple pieces of information about family members, including Census records, shipping manifests that show if they traveled to the United States by boat and among other details.

Newspapers.com

This site is good for newspaper mentions of incarcerees before and after they were in camp.


USCIS alien files

Immigration records for first-generation Japanese Americans can be obtained from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service for a fee. The alien case file number is often found via an Ancestry.com search.

WRA files

War Relocation Authority records can be obtained from the National Archives for a fee. Like the USCIS records, we can inform family members we will file for these records if they pay the processing fees. These files are a great source of information, and we can use them to build our own archives. Click below for the request form:

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