The AACP Newsletter
|Since 1970||Asian American Curriculum Project, Inc. - Books for All Ages||May 2003|
|Newsletter Home Page||Event Schedule||Editor's Notes||Featured Books|
By Philip Chin
As part of our effort to honor Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this May AACP staffers Leonard Chan, Mas Hongo, and I visited the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) - Pacific Region. For this month we decided to try to find whatever information exists about our immigrant ancestors. In later articles we'll keep you posted as to how we go about this process so that you can learn from our experience and try it yourself.
The center is located at 1000 Commodore Drive in San Bruno, California, near the Golden Gate National Cemetery. The purpose of the archives is to preserve and provide access to valuable, non-current Federal records with historical, legal, or fiscal value. Only about 2% of all Federal records are saved. Among the few items saved are original census records, immigration records, military draft records, federal land documents, and federal court and legal documents among others.
We met four of the staff at the center. They were:
Some of the documents are in very poor condition due to their age and the high acid content of 19th Century paper. These vulnerable papers have been placed in acid-free folders to slow their deterioration. Some photographs have almost completely faded into whiteness. Among the things we discussed with the archivists were the practical issues of storing and keeping such old records intact. Files are kept in temperature and humidity controlled rooms and away from light as much as possible. However, it is still impossible to stop the steady deterioration of paper. We also discussed the practical limits on what can be done to preserve these records. First, the cost of transforming all the paper records into microfiche or microfilm is prohibitively expensive. The Chinese immigration files alone contain hundreds of thousands of individual documents and photos. Multiply that by the number of other immigration documents, federal court documents, and millions of other federal documents that date back to the 1850s that are also contained in this single archive and you get a small sense of the huge problem. Second, there is no guarantee that any modern form of recordkeeping will still be in use many years or even a few years from now, especially those kept in digital formats. For example, some NASA electronic documents of the 1960s and 1970s are now essentially lost to history because the computers and the human programmers that could open them either no longer exist or have long ago been retired. Document preservation is difficult no matter how it is handled.
All of the fourteen National Archives regional facilities across the nation face critical storage problems. The US Congress appropriates money to build archive space based only upon the current needs of some given year, not on future needs. This means that space that was just sufficient for document storage in 1974 when the center opened are severely congested today in 2003. Saving 2% of federal documents each year translates into tons of documents that must find space somewhere. Sadly, this is the situation faced by many libraries and archives across the nation. In 1998, the center in San Bruno floated the idea of moving the immigration records out of state to clear room for other documents. Only the strong resistance by the Asian American community kept this move from happening. Because of the Asian American community's continued strong interest there are no foreseeable revivals of any such proposals.
Access is fairly easy at the federal archives. If you are doing research in the archives you must fill out an application and show some identification to get a pass that is good for one year. The facility has pay machines for the duplication of documents. For photographs, you can have the archive staff send the pictures out to a professional paid photographic duplication service. If you prefer, you are welcome to bring your own equipment with you. Equipment such as digital cameras, camcorders, scanners, and laptop computers are allowed, but arrangements and approvals must be secured in advance.
Most of the material at the archive can be used without issues of copyright infringements or privacy concerns. As a result, many of the users of the archives are writers and documentarians. Privacy restrictions apply to documents that contain personal information about living individuals. Such documents are normally restricted for 75 years.
To start a search for someone in the federal records, be prepared to provide any bit of information that you can find. Any federal documents or federal identification numbers such as related to Social Security, draft registration, or the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS.) can be particularly useful. Mr. Greene described finding an unknown number on the back of a provided picture and matching that number up to the specific immigration file even though the interested descendant spelled the ancestor's name wrong. Relatives can also be traced back to the street addresses they used in reporting themselves to the US Census. The Census taken in 1930 is particularly well detailed, listing children, jobs, and other interesting bits of useful information that could lead to other files.
It is best to gather this preliminary information before contacting the regional archive offices and arranging a visit. The number of archive employees and their time is extremely limited so you should maximize the benefit of their help by doing your own homework first. With this information the archive staff can get you started in the right direction and assist you during the course of your research. Mr. Piff particularly emphasized that archival research does not require advanced degrees. Ordinary people with little academic background show up all the time to do research and are often successful. However, the process of research requires patience and perseverance. If you find that you lack these characteristics, there are private organizations and individuals that can do the research for you, but be prepared to pay large amounts for such services.
Student groups are welcome to visit the Federal Archives but it recommended that these groups should be limited to 20 or less. In setting an appointment for the visit the class should have some unified research goal so that the staff can be prepared with relevant materials and specialized staff. Our archive staff hosts gave us an example of how they recently helped some students research the Italian Americans interred during World War II.
The National Archives and Records Administration - Pacific Region in San Bruno can be contacted at (650) 876-9009.
Up Coming EventsHere are some events that AACP will soon be attending. Invite us to your events.
Editor's MessageHello everyone. Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!
If you just signed up for our newsletter, thank you and welcome. We hope you find our newsletter of some value.
I'm writing this from the 2003 Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS) Conference in San Francisco. The conference seems well attended. Educators, students, publishers, writers, and other interested parties could all be seen mingling around in the exhibit room where we have a table.
It's been a fun past few weeks. I had a chance to literally rub elbows and talk with lots of authors, poets, filmmakers, an U.S. Congressman, and you the general public. The next few months will be a little slower for AACP as far as major conferences go. Please feel free to give us tips on any up coming events that we can attend. Bringing our collection of materials to the public and meeting you is a major part of our mission. We appreciate your help in filling our schedule. Thank you.
Please feel free to send us your reviews, comments, and book suggestions. You can contact us at -
The Association of Asian American Studies Conference - Resources
The Asian American Writers' Workshop
Chinese Historical Society of America
Coffee House Press
Duke University Press
John Hopkins University Press
Kearny Street Workshop
The Museum of Chinese in the Americas
National Archives and Records - Pacific Region
Rutgers University Press
Stanford University Press
Temple University Press
UCLA Asian American Studies Center
University of California Press
University of Hawai`i Press
University of Illinois Press
University of Washingtom Press
Pam Chun - Author's website
Q&A with Pam Chun - Publisher sourcebooks.com's website
About Pam Chun - Publisher sourcebooks.com's website
Daniel Lee - Japanese American National Museum
Takashi "Thomas" Tanemori - Silkworm Peace Institute
Suji Kwock Kim - poets.org's website on Notes from the Divided County
Ishle Yi Park - Poet's website
US Congressman Michael Honda's website
The following books are discounted for subscribers to our newsletter. The discounts on these books end June 7, 2003.
By Jeanie W. Chooey Low
Growing Up Filipino
Collected And Edited By Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
The Chinese In America
By Iris Chang
Not Just Victims
Edited and with an Introduction by Sucheng Chan
Ghosts for BreakfastBy Stanley Todd Terasaki
Illustrated by Shelly Shinjo
2002, 29 pages, hardback.
Set in a Japanese American farming community in the 1920s, this humorous ghost story is sure to find a special place in the hearts of children who struggle to overcome their fears.