Form WRA-26

The Form WRA–26 "Individual Record" was a census type form filled out for each inmate in War Relocation Authority (WRA) concentration camps soon after their arrival in the summer and fall of 1942. Requested information included pre-war address, education, employment, religion, prior military service, and "physical condition," along with other basic demographic information. The WRA used the information to inform decisions on inmate employment and leave clearance and for other purposes. The WRA later established statistical labs at Tule Lake and Topaz where inmate staff coded the Form 26 data onto computer punch cards and used it in various statistical reports. After the war, the data were used by the Office of Redress Administration to help identify individuals for redress eligibility, and since 2003, the information has been maintained in an online database by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) where it serves as an important source for researchers and genealogists.

Background and Purpose

The notion of an inmate census seemed to have originated in the WRA Washington D.C. office. An "Instructions to Interviewers" memo dated June 27, 1942, notes that the "record will become the basic record file upon each person residing in an Assembly Center or Relocation Area" and that it "will establish the facts of personal identification, family relationships, education, and occupation for each person in an official, permanent record." It goes on to say that the WRA "will base many of its programs upon the facts contained in this record," noting "educational and recreational programs" in particular. [1]

However, job placement seems to have been the key goal of the data collection, as the memo highlights the "the desire of the Administration to place every person in the job which he is best qualified to do and to obtain maximum utilization of skills and talent, so far as possible," noting that "[t]he facts of occupation, education, and skills which this record provides are essential to accomplish these objectives." Other indicators of the occupational focus include instructions on filling out the "Physical condition" and "Skills and hobbies" fields. "Enter here only diseases requiring extended treatment and major defects of more or less permanent nature, particularly those which limit the person's occupational, recreational, or educational activities," reads the first; "Particular effort should be made to include special abilities or experience, apart from regular employment, in fields such as carpentry, electrical work, auto and machine repairing, music, arts and crafts, etc., which might be developed through special training and experiences in Relocation Projects," read the second. That the Form 26 census was carried out by Employment Divisions in most camps is another clue. [2]

Carrying Out the Survey

The various camps carried out their Form 26 censuses in the summer and fall of 1942, with Manzanar , the only WRA camp with essentially its entire inmate population in place by June 1942, going first, starting in June and finishing by the beginning of September. The general methodology seemed to have been the same from camp-to-camp. Administrators assembled a census team—led by an inmate in some camps and by white WRA staff in others—consisting of anywhere from thirty-five to seventy inmate interviewers, clerks, and support staff. Provided with detailed written instructions as well as in-person training sessions by personnel from WRA regional offices, inmate interviewers (almost of whom were Nisei) either went block to block to conduct the interviews with all inmates aged fourteen or older or organized inmates to come to a central location at appointed times for the interviews. Each interview took fifteen to twenty minutes. Parents or other family members provided the information for children under fourteen. Teams of typists retyped the handwritten information gathered by the interviewers, with the originals and first carbon being sent to the regional office and other copies being kept at individual camps. Most of interviewing seems to have taken place between September and November, with the completed typed forms completed for most camps early in 1943, though additional interviews were done for later arriving inmates in some cases. Among the camps in which inmate staff led the process was Poston , where Tatsuo Kushida "hired and released personnel, coordinated the work of the units, checked progress of the work, periodically reviewed the procedure,...." and Manzanar. Chiyoko Yoshii led the Statistics Section at Topaz—Topaz was the only camp to have established such a section as early as 1942—but the Form 26 census there was led by Fern E. French, who had come from the WRA Washington D.C. office for that purpose. [3]

Based on contemporaneous reports and inmate recollections—or lack of them—the process of completing for the surveys seemed to have gone smoothly for the most part. Two reports do hint at some level of inmate resistance to the surveys, however. At Gila, W.G. Graham's Statistics Section final report notes "appreciable resentment" from inmates at having to complete the survey, "which however was largely overcome by the fact that we stated that we needed this information to make an equitable distribution of employment in the Center." Eleanor Gorham's report on Poston notes that inmates in Unit II objected to the interviewers being largely from Unit I, a reflection of regional differences in those populations. Census leader Kushida did promise to hire some staffers from Unit II. The near absence of accounts of the Form 26 process in inmate oral histories and memoirs may have to do with the somewhat similar registration that took place starting in February 1943—the one that included the so-called " loyalty questionnaire " and that was marked by significant unrest—that became a key marker of the incarceration experience and that may have overshadowed the earlier census. [4]

Use and Legacy

Once completed at each of the ten camps, the Form 26 data were sent to Tule Lake, where WRA statistician Evelyn Rose set up a "statistical laboratory" in October 1942. There, as many as 75 to 80 inmate workers coded the data on the 109,000 forms and transferred it to punch cards that allowed for machine reading. James Sakoda —a fieldworker for the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) and later a pioneering academic computer scientist—was among the Nisei who worked at the Tule Lake lab. Coding work continued through 1943, with the statistical lab moving to Topaz in November 1943. In addition to using the Form 26 data to inform decisions about inmate employment in and out of camp, resettlement, and other topics, the WRA used the information as the basis of inmate case files and to compile various statistical reports on the inmates. Since Rose was a former student of JERS Director Dorothy Swaine Thomas, JERS was able to acquire the Form 26 data and used its analyses of the incarceration. [5]

After the war, one set of punch cards went to NARA and the other to the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, along with other material from the WRA. In the 1960s, staffers at the Bancroft migrated the punch card data to magnetic tape. With the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 , the Office of Redress Administration (ORA) acquired the tapes from the Bancroft and used the data to help identify and verify individuals for reparations payments. When it opened in 1992, the Japanese American National Museum also acquired the data file where it became a popular attraction for former inmates and their family members upon their visits to the museum. Finally, in 2003, NARA made the records publicly accessible and searchable as part of its Access to Archival Databases (AAD) project, under the name "Records about Japanese Americans relocated during World War II." In 2019, the Bancroft Library received a grant from the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant program to digitize the original paper copies of Form 26. [6]

Due to the limitations of the 1940s punch card technology on which it was based and the various migrations of the data over time, the AAD database includes much less information that what is on the paper forms, with some entire fields being omitted. Additionally, some information concerning military service, public assistance, and physical defects were masked in the database for privacy reasons. The paper forms include important information—e.g. arrival dates to Manzanar and other "assembly centers" and pre-removal street addresses—that are not readily available elsewhere. [7]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Finding aid and link to search form, Access to Archival Databases. The National Archives. http://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=623&cat=WR26&bc=,sl .

Densho Names Registry . [Densho's Names Registry incorporates data from the Form 26 database.]

Friedman, Marissa, et al. "[ https://ai-collaboratory.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/4_Friedman.pdf Using AI/Machine Learning to Extract Data from Japanese American Confinement Records.]" Presented at IEEE Big Data 2021: CAS#6, Dec. 17, 2021.

Adams, Margaret O'Neill. "Analyzing Archives and Finding Facts: Use and Users of Digital Data Records." Archival Science 7.1 (2007): 21–36.

The Evacuated People: A Quantitative Description . Washington, DC: United States Department of the Interior, 1946.

Footnotes

  1. "Instructions to Interviewers," June 27, 1942, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records (JAERR), Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, MSS BANC 67/14 c, folder V1.00, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6bk1mdk/?brand=oac4 .
  2. "Instructions to Interviewers." While all of the WRA camps had Statistical Sections, these sections were established in mid-1943 or later in all of the camps except for Topaz, hence the placement of the Form 26 project in Employment Divisions.
  3. Velma E. Woods, "The Statistics Section," [Manzanar Final Report], Jan. 1946, pp. 4–5, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O1.05:8, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6zk5psf/?brand=oac4 ; [Eleanor Gorham], Final Report, Statistics Section [Poston], pp. 1–6, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder J5.50:24, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6zw1szh/?brand=oac4 ; Grant R. Bowen, "Closing Report: Statistics Section" [Topaz], p. 2, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder H12.00:14, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6fj2prv/?brand=oac4 ; R. E. Ulmer, Statistics Section Final Report [Heart Mountain], p. 1, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder M1.05:3, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6n58tj5/?brand=oac4 . These various reports note some difficulty in securing personnel to complete the typing of the forms, and it seems that a significant number of the forms ended up being handwritten. Marissa Friedman, the archivist overseeing the digitization of the paper Forms 26 at UC Berkeley, estimates that thousands of the forms—including over half of those from Poston—are handwritten as opposed to typed. Marissa Friedman, e-mail correspondence, Jan. 7, 2022.
  4. W. G. Graham, Final Report, Statistics Section [Gila River], p. 1, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder K7.50:7, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k60z79dt/?brand=oac4 ; [Gorham], Final Report, Statistics Section [Poston], 6. The Poston, Arizona, concentration camp was subdivided into three smaller subcamps that had distinctly different populations. Unit I largely held inmates from rural parts of Southern California, while Unit II had mostly people from Central California and from the Salinas/Watsonville area.
  5. Memo, Dillon Myer to All Project Directors, Dec. 16, 1942, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder D4.00, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6sb4d3t/?brand=oac4 ; WRA Information Digest (staff newsletter), May 1, 1943, https://ddr.densho.org/ddr-densho-156-401-master-999b4b930e/ ; James M. Sakoda, "Reminiscences of a Participant Observer," in Views from Within: The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study , edited by Yuji Ichioka (Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, 1989), 237–38; Topaz Times , Nov. 13, 1943, 1 and Nov. 18, 1943, 2. See also the Densho interview with Chiyoko Yano by Megan Asaka, August, 1, 2008. An inmate recruited to work in the lab, she recalls her work there in segment 10 of the interview, https://ddr.densho.org/interviews/ddr-densho-1013-9-10/ .
  6. Margaret O'Neill Adams, "Analyzing Archives and Finding Facts: Use and Users of Digital Data Records," Archival Science 7.1 (2007), 23–24; Marissa Friedman, et al, "Using AI/Machine Learning to Extract Data from Japanese American Confinement Records, presented at IEEE Big Data 2021: CAS#6, Dec. 17, 2021, accessed on Jan. 7, 2022 at https://ai-collaboratory.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/4_Friedman.pdf . The author was on the staff of the Japanese American National Museum at this time and recalls the use of the data there.
  7. Friedman, et al, "Using AI/Machine Learning."

Last updated Feb. 2, 2022, 12:56 a.m..