I've had an interest in genealogy for quite a while. It started with an informal gathering around a table, and while I consider myself to still be a novice, I'm getting better at doing the research. I enjoy learning about the process, and see it as a puzzle to solve.
Around the table
Before I moved away from Southern California, I went to several family gatherings. One time at my cousin's house, someone had the idea that since so many people were there, we should sit down and draw out the family tree.
I found it fascinating to see the tree take shape. My dad's parents were at the top, and right underneath were the nine siblings, all in order. This was our first surprise; most of us cousins didn't realize our grandparents had a second child who died as a baby. We saw that the siblings were born at two year intervals, except for the one year interval between the second and third children.
The second surprise was how much information we got in just that one night, and the stories which came out during the process. Everyone was pleased with the results, but what I kept seeing were the missing pieces.
Eventually I became the person who maintained the tree. I did use a computer, but just to type everything into a plain file so I could print it out and then draw the connecting lines. Someone eventually tracked down images for both the Fujimoto and Murakami mons (family crests), which were then added.
Updates to the tree were sporadic, and we'd take it to family gatherings every now and then to see if we could fill in more information.
This photo shows a copy of the tree from 1981 with the mons. On the computer is what I currently have, starting from the same couple, my dad's parents. A lot more people!
Learning to spell "genealogy"
While I was getting a good handle on Fujimoto (my dad's) side of the family, I only knew bits and pieces of the Ishii (my mom's) side. While my dad had several siblings with children and grandchildren, my mom's side was simple. She was one of two Ishii daughters, and my aunt had no children. Their mother was one of two Fujii daughters, and my great aunt had no children. That makes me the only great grandchild on that particular branch. No, I was never spoiled. At least not from my point of view…
My mom kept talking about her cousins (who were on the Ishii, her dad's, side), and I'd remember seeing some of them every now and then, but never knew how we were related. Several years later I realized that it would be difficult to always maintain the family tree on (virtual or real) paper, especially since I didn't know all the relationships.
I went through a few genealogy programs, adding information as I got it (sometimes typing everything in again, sometimes transferring the data). I mostly relied on word-of-mouth, but realized I could also get information from cemeteries, wedding invitations, and birth announcements. I started to fill gaps in my database.
When information became available online, my skills were limited to searching official county records and sites which aggregated searches. Naturally, many documents weren't available for privacy reasons. Even so, more gaps were filled.
Armed with a place to keep things, I mostly fleshed out the Ishii family (at least down to the cousins), and the names and relationships started to fall into place. There was one family which I couldn't connect, though, and it would be several decades before I did.
The Watanabe connection
My parents and I would occasionally make a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit friends and also do some sightseeing. We would also visit the Shinodas; at the time I knew they were family and just took that at face value, not knowing how we were related.
It was very easy to get information online about Melody's family, and I've been able to get back to the early 1700's. Using those resources, I was able to trace a lot of my family back to when they arrived from Japan, tying a lot of families together. Except, of course, the Shinodas, who continued to live as a branch waiting to be connected.
About a month ago I got a call from Yo Shinoda saying that her grand niece was moving to Seattle, and asked me to get in touch. This got me back into trying to tie the families together; my mom knew that her mother and Yo's mother were first cousins, but wasn't sure how. I did have information up through both my mom's and Yo's grandparents, but that's where it stopped.
A couple weeks passed, and Yo's sister Tomi came to Seattle with her son and daughter-in-law to visit her granddaughter, and they all came over to the house. She was able to give me the missing piece, and I realized that both my mom's and Yo's (and Tomi's) grandmothers had Watanabe as their maiden name. I already had their father, so just adding the second daughter connected that tree to the rest.
Third cousin, once removed
I always mentally visualize family relations using my dad's family as a reference, since that's the one I've spent the most time laying out. However, even though there are third cousins, my bias is to always look at the relationships from my point of view; there are aunts, uncles, and cousins (all first cousins, ranging from direct to twice removed).
With my dad's family on his mom's (Murakami) side, I have second cousins, but I'm mostly familiar with my dad's cousins.
Now I have a relative in town who is my third cousin, once removed (fourth cousin to Kellen and Tynor). Whoa! I still have a hard time visualizing the relationship, and I think my sons just see her as a regular cousin.
The learning continues
Of course, I haven't stopped trying to fill in my genealogy database. I'm getting better at combining census data, birth/death/marriage certificates, and generic web searches to cross-check and explore further. In addition, I'm able to share information between my computer and my phone, making it easier than ever to make additions wherever I happen to be.