The search for Yukie Katayama
By Elias Gilman ’09
As I watched Yukie Katayama Sumoge ’07 receive her degree this past spring, a deep feeling of gratification welled within me. At the core of this feeling was the recognition of the small – though not insignificant – act of restoration taking place in a life that had been shattered by the frenzy of the Second World War. But it was also particularly gratifying to know that I had played a small role in the process that led to this moment. As a history major, simply working in the Pacific University Archives is a great opportunity – but on several occasions I’ve had the opportunity to move beyond my daily work and dig into research that has a very meaningful and tangible effect. It is these projects that are truly exciting, and Yukie’s story remains prominent among them.
When the University first received a letter from Yukie’s friend outlining her situation, the Registrar’s Office seemed the natural place to turn to verify details. However, as she had not graduated from Pacific and the records in question dealt with two years of classes taken towards an unfinished degree from over half a century ago, information from that office proved elusive. At that point, the request was handed to the University Archives, and I took over the research. Before locating what was needed, this project (and the task of tracking down others like Yukie, who were unable to finish their degrees at Pacific because of wartime internment) would require some of the Archives’ best resources, and a journey (albeit online) to the National Archives and back.
The first step, as with any such request, was to verify that Yukie actually attended Pacific (the profusion of schools throughout the Northwest with Pacific in their name has led to some confusion in past requests for information). A quick glance through the 1941 Heart of Oak annual and the course catalog of that same year yielded a photograph, hometown, and the knowledge that one Yukie Katayama was a sophomore at Pacific in the spring of 1941. From there, the task became to verify that she did not graduate from Pacific, and if so, that this was due to Executive Order 9066. The Heart of Oak for the following year did not include Yukie, or any of the other Japanese students who had been attending classes at Pacific in the spring of 1941.
To make absolutely certain, I made an online visit to the National Archives, to examine Records Group 210 (better known as the Japanese-American Internee Data File). This database includes the information recorded by the War Relocation Authority about each individual interned by the WRA. It was transcribed from its original punch card format to an electronic file during the 1960s, and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice used the records to aid in the dispensation of reparations to former internees. (Today it may be freely searched over the Internet through a gateway provided by the National Archives and Records Administration).
An initial search for Yukie Katayama turned up nothing, but this wasn’t a surprise, as “Yukie” is a diminutive rather than a full name. Widening the search, I started over with what information the Archives knew for sure about Yukie; a search for individuals with the surname Katayama and who had completed college only through their second year returned four results. Of these, two were older than the individual sought, and three of the four last resided in California. The last, Yukiko Katayama, seemed a likely match. To make sure, I opened her WRA record and checked that all the information provided there matched with what was available in the Archives. The 1941 course catalog listed Yukie’s hometown as Parkdale, a small unincorporated locale in Hood River County. Sure enough, the WRA record gave the last documented residence as “Unincorporated Area, Hood River County.” This, along with the match in years of school completed and first and last names, was enough of a correlation to confirm that Yukie Katayama of Pacific was the same Yukiko Katayama in the WRA record. Shortly thereafter, the school was able to contact Yukie – now Yukie Katayama Sumoge – and invite her to receive an honorary degree at this last year’s commencement.