Posted by Paul Rawlins on January 13, 2011 in Collections

A few weeks back, I introduced the launch of a new collection, WWII U.S. Prisoners of the Japanese, 1941–1945, by sharing the story of Gene Jacobsen. Maybe it’s the dramatic circumstances behind the capture of many of these POWs that makes for the dramatic stories surrounding this database. Stories like Gene’s—or Ari Self’s.

“Ari Self was my uncle. He was my father’s younger brother,” Nancy Kolstad explained recently. “During the Depression Ari lived with my parents for a couple of years when he was fourteen years old or so.  Later on he was a frequent visitor at our house and as a result, a favorite uncle among his nieces and nephews. He was already the favorite brother to all his siblings.” This would have been shortly after he appeared with his family in Soledad City in the 1930 census.

Which was about a year before this picture was taken:

Nancy knew, too, that Ari had been captured by the Japanese, made the Bataan Death March, and died at Camp O’Donnell. That’s how Ari found his way onto the list of WWII Prisoners of the Japanese:

Nancy says, “I’m not exactly sure when my parents learned of Ari’s imprisonment. They, of course, knew that the Americans had surrendered there in the Philippines, but at that time they didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. I have a Christmas card my mother mailed to him December 17, 1941, and it is marked Return to Sender, Service Suspended. I also have a letter from the Red Cross dated February 5, 1942. In this letter, the Red Cross is responding to my mother’s request for information regarding Ari. My parents knew the Japanese had taken prisoners but didn’t know if Ari was among them. I suspect they had no information until they received word from the War Department that he had died.”

Nancy has been able to fill in some of the blanks since with additional records on, including Ari’s enlistment information:

None of the records alone tell the rest of the story, though.

After the war, a man who had been with Ari on the Death March and at Camp O’Donnell came to visit Nancy’s father. The War Department said Ari had died from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell, which was how many men in the camps died. But the visitor explained that Ari hadn’t died from dysentery at all. He had been killed when he was caught stealing food, another fact of life for the starving men at Camp O’Donnell.

“My aunt told me that Ari was the first Salinas Valley boy to give his life for his country in WWII,” Nancy says. “I don’t know if there is any way to determine if this is true or not. It certainly could be since he died within six months of the start of the war.”

But that’s the family historian’s job: Digging up the hard truth, filling in the gaps between the records, then telling the world the rest of the story. So if you haven’t already, check out the WWII U.S. Prisoners of the Japanese collection yourself and see if you can locate one of your military ancestors and a story that’s just waiting to be told.


  1. Johnharris215

    Its good to see that the American records are coming on line. My fathers cousin also died in a japanese prisoner of war camp he was in the Britsh Army. Will there we be able to search British prisoner of war lisc on Ancestry?

    Look forward to your reply

    John Harris

  2. Are the Australian records available either? My Uncle Jack Kirby was taken prisoner in Java, and from the taken to the Burma end of the Thai Burma railway via Changi. He was a musician. I Have interviewed a few of the old blokes who were with him either in his unit or on the railway. There were Americans there mostly naval boys survivors of an American naval vessel that the Japanese sank… can’t remember which one this second… I did this research about 20 years ago- and many of those have since passed away. If you know someone who is still alive speak to them, and request the profound privilage of interviewing them and recording it. Our blokes were told that no-one would beinterested and that it was best to say nothing. So many of them took their stories to the grave. Some of the stories told to me I will never forget- stories of courage, sharp humour and survival.

    Australia please!

    That would be great!,

    margaret Kirby, Australia

  3. Lucille N Elsberry. York

    My Uncle Earl May was on a ship the Japs sunk in WW2 in the Pacific. He was in a Prison camp all during the war. I thank the name of the ship was The Huston.He was belived died until the war was over.

  4. Marcie Moller

    Thank you for these records. My uncle Robert Dow (Bob) was also a Japanese prisoner and was on the Death March. He was fortunate to make it home and had a full life passing away only 4 yrs. ago.

  5. MikeF

    Another wonderful 1900s resource for researchers stuck on their parents and grandparents. Who needs more state vital records or early 1800s military records for the Mexican War and War of 1812?

  6. Virginia

    My grandfather was captured in Guam and held POW in Japan for 4 years. He was a civilian. There is a great website with the rosters of all the POW camps called It has listed all the names of the camps and the people that were held. I have letters from the state department to my family telling of his capture. Also mentioned is a recording of his message home to the family. What would have become of the recordings?

  7. I dont know why you always have to post such amazing posts, to be true, I love the way you show us different techniques, although some of them quite hilarious but some are very efficient.

  8. Sharon

    Anyone else having this problem. I’m saving my census records and again their not showing up on the left side under residence. This takes so much time when something like this is always happening. It also takes extra time when the new tree pops up instead of the the last person you worked on. I have looked for a way to stop this from happening but have not found it yet.

  9. sheilajones131

    To 10. SHARON
    Hi Sharon, I use FTM No 11, and have checked out your problem. To use the RESIDENCY field which comes up on the Right side of the screen you have to use the Customize button at the bottom and add the Residency option. The software then puts in the Residence field so that you can fill it in using text only. Same as filling in BMD details. Because Census records are images (.jpg) they are saved in your FTM Media folder. You then attach them to the individual concerned by using the Media icon and click New and it goes to the Media folder for you to choose the correct image record.
    Hope that helps.

  10. Sharon

    Thanks sheilajones131 for trying to help guess I didn’t explain very well what my problem was.

    I’m not worried about my FTM I have no problems with that.

    My problem is with my tree on Ancestry. I finally figured out when I download a census record and it doesn’t go into my RESIDENCY field on the left side I have to remove it again from that person then download it once more it will finally go into the residency side. Which takes lots of time and work.

  11. carol gohn

    You think you’ve got problems. The only way I can access my tree is to request a new password then go back to my tree. I even got a cancellation message which I never requested. I’ve phoned 3 times and all they say is you have to wait until the account business of updating my credit card expiration date kicks in which I updated 2 months ago and they take the money out of my account okay.
    If I loose the 20,000 people on my trees I’m going to be writing many emails. I’ve been on ancestry for two years…..and this is what I get.

  12. Sharon

    carol that’s terrible I would be very upset.

    I wish ancestry had a way of locking photos added to trees so everyone couldn’t take them. I don’t mind information taken off my trees but I hate it when photos are taken as fast as I put them on. I guess I just should not add them but it looks nice for my family members to see the tree with family pictures. I know ancestry could give us that choice because they lock photos of living people.

  13. Velma Bump

    I have two trees online. The names of these trees were accidentally crossed. what do I do to change this.
    Thanks for any help

  14. long time user

    # 17 Velma:

    Back up each tree before you start for safety. The name changing is simple, though. Just go slowly.

    Basically you just need to rename each tree.

    1. From “Family Trees” dropdown, select “Manage tree” under the tree name you want to change.
    2. Select “Tree info” from tree settings
    3. Highlight tree name
    4. Change/edit tree name
    5. Click orange button “Save changes”

    You can do the same for the other tree. Just be sure to use different names so you won’t get confused and then you can go back and rename them again the way you want. You could use a dash 1 (-1) or something like that.

  15. Jeannie

    My Dad was an escapee from the Death March on Bataan and a prisoner of war in Japan at the end of the war.

    There are a couple of books that might be of interest to those with family in similar circumstances: “1051, An American POW’s Remarkable Journey Through World War II” by Millard E. Hileman and Paul Fridlund. It is published by Words Worth Press in Walla Walla, Washington.

    There are photos in the center of the book including, Millard Hileman, Wally Kinder, Orlo Heinsman, Peter Calyer, Fernando Esquibel, Joe Cheesman, Wendell Morgan, Paul Vacher, Bill Main, Henry Patton, Hank Winslow, Earl Oatman, Pierce Wade, John Scott, Bill Ostrander, Alvis Loveless, Hugh McCoy, John Chernitsky, Bill Snyder, Jack Finley, PeeWee Stanlee, Tom Coleman, Monty Montgomery, Johnny Kratz, Edward Masse, Walt Helhowski, Major Winnefred Dorris, the hospital at Camp 3, Cabanatuan, Bilibid Prison and other prison camp sites.

    The second book is: “From Bataan to Safety: The Rescue of 104 American Soldiers in the Philippines” by Malcolm Decker and is available from Amazon.

  16. Patty Wellman

    My granduncle, Denzil Shores, was a prisoner on this list. He too was able to come back home and live a full life. I do not know much about him, except that he was, I believe in the National Guard and was a Sgt.

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