HSTAA 110: History of American Citizenship: Research Step by Step
This page provides a simplified model for researching your family history paper.
Begin with your family interview or with an oral history you've chosen from an online collection. This interview/oral history is the main primary source for your family history paper. You may want to focus on issues related to:ethnicity, a historical or personal event, gender roles, immigration experiences, work or other issues.
Use one or more of the subject encyclopedias to provide quick contextual information placing your interviewee's experience with general trends.
Find additional secondary sources (books and articles) related to issues discussed in the interview/oral history.
Find other primary sources such as news coverage, personal records, and historical photographs that enrich and support issues discussed in the interview/oral history.
Keep in mind while you research that:
Some topics are easier to research than others
There may be fewer sources (both secondary & primary) for some topics
Research is a process of trial and error, you will likely run into some dead ends
The best sources are not necessarily the first sources you'll find
Your secondary sources are often a good way to identify potentially useful primary sources
Step 1: My Family
So I am interviewing my mother. She was born in Japan and was a child during World War II. She mentions moving into the mountains during the war to get away for the bombing of her home town, Sendai. After the war, she went to work first as a nanny to an American family and later at a school located on an American military base. There she met my father, a young G.I. I've decided to focus on her experience as a Japanese woman married to an American soldier -- her experience as a "war bride."
Step 2: Finding Secondary Sources
I'm now ready to dig deeper into finding more historical context by identifying relevant secondary sources (scholarly books and articles). I'm going to begin with books since my encyclopedia entry on Japanese War Brides included a short bibliography. I might also want to look at some of the general histories of Japanese Americans that are listed in the encyclopedia entry in the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America.
To find these sources I use UW Libraries Search and search for the title of the book or article.
I can use UW Libraries Search to find additional books related to my topic by following the directions on Secondary Sources page of this guide.
Step 3: Primary Sources
I'm now ready to look for other primary sources -- material created during the period I am researching (in my case the 1950s) or by those that lived through the experience (memoirs, newspaper & magazine articles from the 1950s, oral histories, etc.)
At this beginning stage of my research, I need to place my mother's experience in context. I'm curious and have questions:
Was her experience typical or atypical?
Did Asian women who married American G.I.s have a similar experience?
How is my mother's experience similar or different to that of the broader Japanese American community?
What role did racism have?
To start my research, I begin with specialized encyclopedias. These provide background information and, because many include a bibliography of additional readings, a start on finding secondary sources (scholarly books and articles}.
Step 2: Process
To find articles, come up with search words/phrases that capture your topic. Keeping things simple works best. I'm going to begin searching for:
"war bride*" AND japan* [put phrases in quotations; the * is used to search for both singular and plural versions of a word and the AND connects different aspects of your topic]
I might try broader searches if I don't initially find much.
"war bride*" AND asia*
"war bride*" AND "world war ii"
"american military" AND japan*
Step 3: Process
To find additional primary sources, check the Primary Sources pages for the types of sources you want. For most topics, newspaper and magazine articles are going to be the easiest sources to find.
Scan the Primary Sources: Newspapers & Magazines pages for the newspapers and magazines most likely to have articles related to your topic, region & time period. For my topic I see a number of sources to try.
Be aware that language changes over time so you want to use the language of the time. For example when looking for 1950s news articles about African Americans you will need to use the term "Negro." In the 1970s when looking for articles about Latinx/Latina/Latino Americans you might need to also use the term "Chicano."
Use publication years as a way to narrow your searches. In my case, I'm looking for articles published during the late 1940s through the 1950s.
This encyclopedia includes information on 152 ethnic groups in the US and covers immigration trends, history & more. There is an entry for Japanese Americans but nothing specific about war brides. This encyclopedia is a good starting place for anyone working on issues related to immigraion or ethnicity.
This English-language newspaper is quite clunky so I simply search for the phrase "war bride*" and limit my search to articles published from 1946 to 1959. I find an interesting article from 27 May 1950, "Nippon Brides in U.S. Unhappy Due to Obstacle in Language."