Sample Questions to Pester Your Relatives

Here is the (somewhat edited) list of questions I gave Harry Takagi, and his brother Bob's were very similar. (Now you can see why they were overwhelmed!) Unless you have extremely patient family members like mine, I would suggest doing this in stages or using questions like these to engage your relatives in conversation. By necessity I had to do this by mail. The nice thing is that now when Harry remembers an anecdote he writes it down in a letter or e-mail to me or other relatives who pass them on to me. Bear in mind family members may not remember the details you might want, but they may also remember stories that you would never have thought to ask about.

NOTE: Ojiisan and Obaasan are my grandparents, Harry's parents, George and Hisae Takagi.

Also I typed this on the computer and printed it in a larger font (14 pt) for him.

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Here is the long list of questions! Don’t feel that you have to answer them all at once. (I’m hoping that this will inspire you to record your memories.)

Who were Ojiisan and Obaasan’s families? What did they do?

  • Did Ojiisan and Obaasan ever tell you stories about their earlier lives before coming to the US?
    What education did they have?
  • Why and how did Ojiisan come?

  • (His naturalization papers say that he took the SS Shina No Maru from Yokohama to Victoria, British Columbia, in September 1907 and he took the ferry to Seattle from Canada, arriving Sept. 23.)
  • Did he ever tell you what parts of the U.S. he worked in and what he did?

    When did Ojiisan start using the name George?

    When did he settle in Hood River?

    How did your parents get married? Who arranged the marriage?

    How did Obaasan come to the US?

  • I found the record of her arrival in the National Archives: "Hisayo Takagi," October 4, 1918 aboard the Africa Maru. She traveled with Keijiro Takagi. According to the passenger list, his passage was paid by his son (presumably Ojiisan?) and her passage was paid by her father. The page was very faded on the microfilm, and I could not read whether Keijiro had been to the US before or not. It said they were both going to join Ikujiro Takagi, Oak Street, Hood River, Oregon. Had Ojiisan started his farm by then? Neither passenger intended to return to Japan and planned to stay in the US permanently. What happened to Keijiro Takagi?

    Did either of them ever tell you their hopes and fears about this marriage before they met each other or what their meeting was like? I have always wondered what it was like for them to come to a new country.

  • How do you think they got along?

    What do you remember of their relationship? Any stories or anecdotes?

    Can you make a list of our relatives in Japan?
    Who are our other relatives in the U.S.?


    The farm in Hood River

    Where was it located? (Did it have a name?) [Since then I've learned that the family had more than one farm.]

    How big was it?

    When & how did he buy it?

  • (He is listed as owning it in the 1920 census, but I thought Japanese weren’t allowed to own land? Also another family member thought he was still making payments on it when the war broke out?)
  • What was raised there? (fruits? vegetables? including food grown just for family)

    What animals did you have?

    What equipment was used?

    What was the seasonal routine?

    Do you remember any particular farm stories?

    What did the house look like? (Who built it? How old was it?)

  • How many rooms and how were they used? (Did the kids all share a room or rooms?)
    [Bob drew a map showing the location of the farm, and his sister Margaret sketched out a diagram at one point showing what she remembered of the layout of the house.]
  • What happened to the farm when the family left for the internment camps?

    About the 1920 Census entries that include you as a baby (see enclosed transcript)

    Who were the other people listed as cousins of Ojiisan?

    What do you remember about them?

    Do you recognize the names of any of the other families listed on the same page? (These were presumably neighbors.)

    Growing up

    Where were you born? (in Hood River? at home or in hospital?)

    When and where did you go to grade school and high school?

    What were the schools like? (size, grades, teachers?)

    What games did you play as a child?

    Who did you play with?

    What chores did you and your brother and sisters do?

  • How did you get along with your siblings? (You don’t have to answer this if you think it will incriminate you! Or you can tell me not to show them your answers.)
  • How religious was the family?

    What holidays did you celebrate? How?

    What did Ojiisan and Obaasan do if you were bad? (or were you always good!?)

    What community activities did you and the family participate in?

    Who were Ojiisan & Obaasan’s friends?

    How integrated was the Japanese community with other people in the area?

    What did you want to be when you grew up?

    When did you graduate from high school?

    Where did you go to college?

    World War II

    When and why did you join the military?

    What branch & unit(s) did you serve in and where? (ranks? serial number?)

    What did you do during the war? Were you in combat?

    What happened to the Japanese community in Hood River?

    Which camps were our family in?

    Did you get to visit them during the war? How often? What was it like?

    When did you go to Japan? What did you do there?

    And after

    [I've taken out these questions since they were specific to his situation, but they covered how he met his wife, started his career after the military, and so on.]

    I’m sure there are many questions that I will think of later! And if you think of any family stories that aren’t covered here could you write those down as well?

    Thank you very much!


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    This page updated 6 June 2001