Alright already – I Will Tell You the Story!

Alright already – I Will Tell You the Story!

I get asked this all the time, “Hey, white chick! What are you doing Japanese family history  research for?” Okay, maybe they don’t say it exactly that way, but that is how it sounds in my head and since this is my story, I can say it however I want.

So, to save time about explaining it over and over, here are the answers to my most frequently asked questions, and even if you don’t ask them – I know you are thinking them!

Are you Japanese?

Example of Japanese anime 

I recently heard about two fellow genealogists who were arguing about this – one, insisting that I was, the other that I wasn’t.  No need to come to blows my compadres – yeah, I’m multi-lingual like that. But no, no I am not.

Nor am I one of those people who are so obsessed with anime or other Japanese pop culture creations, that they become consumed with all things Japanese. Disclaimer: I do like many Japanese things – I love clever Japanese bento boxes, sushi and I have been known to watch the Japanese TV “Ninja Warrior” and laugh at the subtitle and yes, I do have many Japanese items in my home. But, I am proud of my own mixed heritage of Western European and Native American.

Are you married to someone Japanese or have Japanese children?

No, my darling spouse is whiter than I am and our children are our own creations.

Then, why in the heck are you doing Japanese family history research? Excuse my language – but I can hear you screaming this in my head!

This is not a simple answer and it requires a little history lesson. My history…

This is my company logo. The arrow is pointing to my grandmother Helene who is also pictured with my great aunts, Alice and Genevieve and their Japanese nanny which was taken while growing up in Hawaii.That is Connection 1.

Connection 2. I also had a Japanese nanny when I was a child. Her name was Miki and she was married to an American service man and she would babysit me while my mom was going to school. My first words in Japanese were for telling people when I needed to use the potty. Which is benjo by the way, should you ever find yourself in Japan and in need of one. Not the most polite form, but it will get the job done. I still remember the children’s song I learned in Japanese about rain. Since I grew up is Seattle, I am pretty sure I got a lot of opportunities to sing it and explains why it is still in the ole’ noggin.

Connection 3. My family had a foreign exchange student living with us for a year. Ayumi couldn’t speak much English when she first came to live with us, but played the mandolin beautifully and taught me quite a bit of vocabulary before I went to live in Japan.

This is Japanese as I get. It took 2 Japanese women 2 hours to get me dressed like this. You wouldn’t believe what goes on underneath!

Connection 4. As I just mentioned, I went to live and teach in Japan for a year and half. I lived in an apartment with Japanese women who did so much to teach me the language, the culture and I gained a great love and respect for the Japanese people. That was over 25 years ago and I still keep in touch with some of the many friends I made there.

Connection 5. I married an American man who had also lived and taught in Japan. A side benefit – we could speak the language together. Comes in handy when you want to say something to each other that you don’t want the kids to know!

Connection 5. Years later, I worked at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I was assigned to work on the International Floor and to assist Japanese patrons. I was trained by native Japanese on how to do Japanese family history research and access the records in Japan. I really studied and learned all about researching Japanese records – which in case you are wondering, is completely different than any other type of genealogical research.

Connection 6. A Japanese friend from the FHL, came to live with us for several months and  helped me to become more fluent again in the language.

These connections all played a part in where I am now. After I left the FHL, I was continually being contacted by Japanese Americans who wanted me to personally help them with their search for their ancestry. I started Advantage Genealogy to be able to help those with Japanese ancestry find their heritage. Note: My company also offers assistance to those who aren’t necessarily Japanese, but who want to find their family history stories – I am a BIG family history story fan!  We also do private consulting for professional genealogists who want help with their marketing, branding and social media presence.

Okay, back to my story … Do you know what bugs me? When I see subscription websites mislead when they advertise that they have Japanese vital records in their database. Japan does not allow their vital records online. Period. These sites may have a few people’s personal family trees that someone personally put online – but that’s it. There is only one way to obtain to obtain their vital records. You have to know the language, you have to know the in’s and outs of working with the Japanese city halls, and you have to know the culture. 

So, while I do get paid for doing this research, for me it is more of a calling. I really want to help those of Japanese descent who desire to find their ancestors, as they have so few other options. I know how – so I help. Its that simple.

I understand people’s confusion when they find out that is my specialty when they see me. Even more so now that I have mysteriously gone blonde. 

I believe that when we help others, we load up our good karma account. Someday, someone will be able to help me with my Southern US ancestor brick walls. Oh! It would be really cool if someone could help me find my Norwegians! Just putting it out there universe.

So, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Hopefully, I can just refer people to this post and not have to explain it over and over. In the mean time, no more fighting and …Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. Which roughly translates to please accept my humble regards.


  1. Valerie Dahling! I am having some professional envy. We hear over and over that to make it in the field of genealogical research, one must have a niche. You have obviously found yours and more importantly are very good at what you do.

    So you have gone blonde? Next thing you will be found out in the parking lot with me and the rest of the bad girls smoking and drinking LOL!

    I truly enjoyed meeting you at Jamboree this year, only sorry we didn’t have more time to chat.

    • Sheri,

      Thank you sweetie! I am not quite in the big girl leagues, but my blonde highlights make me more blonde than brunette these days!

      So fun to have met, hopefully next year I will be able to stay longer than 1 day!

      Always love your comments! 🙂


  2. Great story, Valerie! And I’m glad to know the secret behind your logo – I’ve always loved that image.

  3. I admit I’ve been curious, Valerie! Fascinating story and, like Sheri said, a perfect niche for your business, given the special skills and knowledge involved. And you look beautiful in the Japanese dress!

  4. Thank you Shelley! I think in my case the niche found me!

  5. I just found your blog and I’m intrigued! I love your story!

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