Family members can have access to personal WRA information at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Photo: Patti Hirahara
How the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is helping families discover first-hand personal WRA information
By Patti Hirahara
If you could go back over 70 years ago to read what your family’s descendants wrote on their camp individual WRA profiles as well as see actual documents and carbon copies of documentation that was filed from 1942-45, it would seem like a miracle. And that is exactly what the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is doing: allowing family descendants this opportunity.
Many families have commented, over the years, that their parents never talked about camp. But having the ability to actually see personal handwritten documents of history, ID cards, references of Caucasian friends from back home and other pertinent information while in camp — it becomes a fascinating experience.
To those that are interested in making the trip, here are some helpful hints of what you will encounter.
The National Archives is located at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. in Washington, D.C., and is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. This is the only location where the WRA Japanese American relocation files are stored. (For more information about visiting the NARA, go to http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/washington/.)
Upon entering, once you have your belongings screened by security, you will then need to register for a temporary visitor’s pass. Archives staff will allow you to go in before the 9 a.m. opening time to pass through security and get your badge, and you can wait in the lobby once this is completed.
Each person planning to research his/her family records will need to register for a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) research card. This card will serve two purposes: one, as your ID into the National Archives to do research, and second, it will act as a debit card to pay for copy or duplication services. You will also need to bring with you a photo ID, fill out the registration paperwork and read through a PowerPoint presentation on how to do research at the NARA. The research card is free and is good for one year.
Once you receive your card, you’ll be directed to the locker area, where you will need to store all of your personal belongings. Remember to bring a quarter for the locker as well as a clear zip-lock sandwich bag, in which you’ll put your research card, locker key and credit card or cash to add funds to your NARA “debit” card. You must leave everything else in your locker. In addition, you can bring a camera without a flash or laptop computer without its case up to the second floor research room. Xerox copies are 25 cents each.
The next step is to go to the center information desk to swipe your NARA research card to acknowledge you have entered the facility. From that point, you will go to the right of the information desk to the Consultation Room, where you will fill out separate pull slips for your family (Evacuee Case Files: Entry 22, Record Group 210, Records of War Relocation Authority). Please ask for assistance in filling out these forms.
You can pull only four records at a time, and you must have the person’s name and birth date. In accessing information, it is preferred that you bring the individual’s death certificate to prove you are a family descendant for privacy reasons; if the person is still alive, a signed letter authorizing you access of their WRA records is advised.
Pull times for these records are from Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-11 a.m., 1 p.m.-2 p.m. and 3 p.m. If you want to take full advantage of this opportunity, apply for your research card at 9 a.m. and then make your request before the 10 a.m. pull time so that you will be able to have the whole day to look over the records. There are no pull times on Saturday, but consultation services are available, and the research room is open for you to look at files that you have already requested.
Once you have made your request, you will need to go to the second floor to Research Room 203, where you will be able to view the records. Once inside, you will need to show your research card to the security guard and then find a desk area to do your research.
While you are waiting, you can get a pencil and some paper, located in front of the security guard, that is provided by the NARA for note taking. Information will be coming in to the center information desk from time to time, so it’s helpful that staff knows your name and the information requested so they can let you know when your documents arrive.
Once you receive your documents, you may only view one folder of information at a time. It is best to ask how you should view the records and how you can make copies of the documents. These documents can be viewed for a total of three days before they are returned to the archives.
Before you make copies, you must bring the folder to the center information desk to have one of the information assistants look through the folder. At that time, take out all the staples so that you can make your copies. Make sure that all documents have been checked or you may have to go to the desk to have the staples removed while you are making copies. (For more information about making copies, visit http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/self-service-copying.html.)
NARA recommends that you should not put a lot of funds on your “debit” card since the money cannot be refunded.
You may leave your information folders in the box on your desk and take a break, from time to time, but you cannot remove the documents from the research room. Each time you go in and out, you must have your research card scanned.
Once you have completed your research, you will need to have all of your documents checked by a research room assistant before you leave and go through the proper protocol.
For those that are unable to travel to Washington, D.C., you can find information online at http://www.archives.gov/research/japanese-americans/internment-intro.html. If you would like to have your files copied and mailed, visit http://www.archives.gov/research/japanese-americans/order.html.
These records can provide information to a family’s Japanese incarceration history and, for many, becomes an unknown resource that is yet to be discovered.