Our American Family – Episode 3: The Furutas

Genealogy author and expert Thomas MacEntee reviews Episode 3: The Furutas of the series entitled Our American Family and interviews producer Steve Young

Our American Family – Episode 3: The Furutas

NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles about a new documentary series entitled Our American Family available via Amazon Prime. Our American Family seeks to document our American family heritage, one family at a time, and inspire viewers to capture their own family stories – before those voices are gone. Click HERE to view any or all of the episodes and to get a FREE TRIAL of Amazon Prime.

Overview of Our American Family: The Furutas

Our American Family: The Furutas captures the story of a Japanese-American family. Following years in an Arizona relocation camp, their indomitable spirit prevails as they return home to California and band together to pursue the American dream a second time.

Commentary on Our American Family: The Barreras

For me, as it is likely for most Americans, Episode 3: The Furutas was a difficult one to watch. The main life changing event for Charles Furuta who arrived in the US in 1900, was the interment of his family as “enemy aliens” during World War II. And yet despite having his family separated – and his children being American citizens yet interned with thousands of others – the Furutas thrived in spite of setbacks.

This episode of Our American Family is important for several reasons: it highlights Japanese-American family history which is not easy to trace, as a rule; it covers a dark period in American history that should never be forgotten; and it shows how our immigrant ancestors pursued goals important to them: success for their descendants.

And finally, I always love it when, even as an experienced genealogist, I can be reminded of methodology issues involved in researching a specific ethnicity! In this case, Charles being the second son, would not have inherited land due to Japan’s primogeniture laws. This was his “push” factor for immigrating to the United States. The status of immigration and citizenship laws for Asians was also covered – Charles was not able to become a citizen until after 1952. Unfortunately, Charles passed in 1953 and was unable to realize this goal.

Watch Episode 3: The Furutas in the Our American Family series and you’ll gain a better understanding of how members of a Japanese-American family pursued the American dream.

Genealogy author and expert Thomas MacEntee interviews Steve Young, producer of Our American Family

Interview with Steve Young, Producer of Our American Family

Note: I had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview recently with Steve Young who produces the Our American Family series. Here are the questions and answers related to The Furutas episode and the series in general.

I noticed that much of the narration for The Furutas was based on a written family history by Yukiko Furuta, the matriarch of the family. While the grandchildren of Charles and Yukiko Furuta performed some narration, how was it decided to use Yukiko’s first person narrative in this episode?

If we are fortunate enough to have a written or recorded history of a matriarch or patriarch since deceased, we work hard to use it since there is nothing better than a first-hand account. In the case of the Furuta family, we had two wonderful gifts – Yukiko’s written family history and Charles’ incredible photography from the era. We were blessed to work with voice-over artist Takayo Fischer, who did a wonderful job performing the part of Yukiko Furuta.

This clip, using a shadow technique to visualize a sweet newlywed story, showcases just how well Takayo “became” Yukiko:

Our American Family: The Furutas – bike-riding story from Our American Family on Vimeo.

Continuing on the topic of family history narratives, any suggestions on getting our older relatives to document their family stories for posterity? Any recommended tools or techniques?

All history used to be oral history, passing down stories from one generation to the next. In that spirit, we find that the best way to engage older relatives to tell their stories is to make it a family event! Whether gathered around a holiday table or just a reunion for this purpose alone, there is no better way to encourage older relatives to open up and share. They need to know that what they have to say really matters, and there is no better way to demonstrate that than to be present.

The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was a focus of The Furutas, yet this dark topic did not dominate the episode. Was it difficult for living members of the Furuta family to discuss the internment camps?

It actually was not difficult for the family to discuss internment; however the family wanted to convey that their story was much bigger than just internment. From a story-telling standpoint, that took a while for us to work out, as Japanese-American internment so easily could have been the dominant theme. What emerged however was the larger theme of overcoming adversity, no matter the cause, and the family never losing faith in the American dream. This is remarkable, and speaks to the character and commitment of the Furuta family.

Want to be a part of Our American Family? Submit Your Application

If you are interested in having your family’s story considered for the Our American Family project, please review their requirements and submit an online application HERE.

Help Support Our American Family

Our American Family is a project of Legacy Filmworks, a non-profit organization, and your tax-deductible contributions are greatly appreciated to help the project continue – thank you for your support! Click HERE to donate.


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About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.