Archival Innovators: Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, “The Polynesian Genealogist,” and Pacific Islands Records and Oral Genealogies Analyst of FamilySearch.

This is the latest post in our new series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.

In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC interviews Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, “The Polynesian Genealogist,” and Pacific Inslands Records and Oral Genealogies Analyst of FamilySearch. Jensen is a professional genealogist specializing in Polynesian and Oceania genealogy. She works as a Pacific Islands Records and Oral Genealogies Analyst at FamilySearch. Her ancestry includes Samoan, Tongan, Hawaiian, Japanese, German, French, and English.

Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, also known as “The Polynesian Genealogist”.

RW: Please describe the work you do as the Polynesian Genealogist.

MLJ: My work as the Polynesian Genealogist consists of connecting individuals and families to their Oceania ancestors. My social media platform is used to share Oceania history, culture, and research methodology. I do this work because I enjoy teaching and assisting people in finding their ancestors. Along with social media, I do contract research work for clients.

RW: Where did the idea to be involved in Polynesian genealogy come from? What inspired it?

MLJ: I knew that I wanted to get involved with Polynesian genealogy when I tried to research my own family. With my rich Polynesian heritage, there was a lot of frustration and confusion as I tried to find my ancestors. I had no professional Polynesian genealogist in the field to turn to for help. Realizing this, I knew that this was my opportunity to really make a difference for my people. I am inspired everyday as I receive DMs from people all over the world saying that what I do has given them hope in their genealogy journeys. My son is also a major part of my inspiration because I want him to have a strong sense of his identity. What better way to achieve this than by knowing his family history?

RW: How does your work with oceanic records differ (or not?) from records found in the US, Western Europe, etc.? What are some challenges unique to the collections?

MLJ: The two most notable differences between Eurocentric and Oceania research are the cultural approaches to genealogy and the historical method of record keeping. Genealogies served as functions in Oceania societies. One’s ancestry determined the following:

  • Territorial organization
  • Land ownership
  • Inheritance
  • Marriage regulation
  • Social control
  • Political representation
  • Feud support
  • Ritual Observance

This is why genealogies were, and still are, viewed as sacred. They are heavily guarded and protected from anyone who may want to take advantage of ancestral lines for personal gain.

In Eurocentric cultures, facts and stories were mainly kept on paper. Oceania practiced and preserved their culture, heritage, and histories through the spoken word. Because of this, oral genealogies were passed down generation after generation until the arrival of foreigners to their homelands. This is when paper was introduced. Overtime, paper replaced oral traditions because of colonization. Now, oral genealogies are either completely lost or are generally not practiced as much in Oceania today.

RW: How does your work with Polynesian genealogy intersect with your work on ancestral trauma?

MLJ: My work has everything to do with ancestral trauma. Oceanians today are living and experiencing the effects of generational trauma. The very introduction of foreigners to Oceania brought forth diseases which destroyed much of the indigenous populations across the Pacific. Some peoples were completely eradicated because of it. Other cultures were forced to end their cultural practices; some were kidnapped and put into slavery in a foreign land; kingdoms were illegally overthrown; and now, the descendants of the trauma survivors are living with and feeling the heartache and pain experienced by their ancestors. This trauma, if left unchecked and unhealed, is passed down generation after generation. Family history is the means of identifying, addressing, and healing ours and our ancestors’ trauma.

RW: Can you tell us more about your work with ancestral trauma as a genealogist?

MLJ: I come across all kinds of families in my research. Some have many children, others don’t. Some have famous family members; others have common folk. No matter the background, I find traumatic experiences in every family. For me, it can be emotionally taxing to see and constantly be exposed to the horrific experiences of an ancestor – be it my own ancestors or another’s. Practicing my own self-care gives me strength to bare and endure my own emotional response to ancestral trauma. Ultimately, I feel like this work has transformed me into a better wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend.

RW: What barriers or challenges did/do you face?

MLJ: I think my biggest challenge is being a pioneer in this work. I only know of one other professional genealogist that is specialized in Hawaiian genealogy. I am working towards being a genealogy professional in every Oceania culture. I often feel lonely in my pursuits, but I know that I am never truly alone. I have so many people – both living and dead – coaching, cheering, and encouraging me on!

RW: What worked? What didn’t work? Were there any surprises in the process of developing your work, or lessons learned that you can share with us?

MLJ: What has brought me great success in this work is my understanding of Oceania culture. For example, I recently learned how my Oceania ancestors reckoned with time and space. Out here in the West, we believe that the future is in front and the past is behind. This was the opposite for my ancestors – the past is in front of us and the future is behind. Because the past has already happened, we can see it clearly and therefore, it must be in front of us. This is the past. If we cannot see something, then it must be behind us. This is the future. As we navigate through our lives, our ancestors are in front of us to prepare us for what we cannot see – the future. In the present, we are the embodiment of all of our ancestors in a living, breathing body. My ancestors had their hearts turned to their ancestors since the day the were born. This mentality changed the way I viewed myself and my own family. It also allowed me the ability to see how my ancestors saw the circle of life. I now know they are there guiding me every single day and it is my job to study their histories and to learn their lessons in preparation for my future life.

RW: In your own words, how would you describe the importance of archival records?

MLJ: Archival records either oral or written are shreds of evidence that we existed. It is our job to leave bits and pieces of us behind so that our posterity can hear us as we guide them through our pasts to prepare them for their futures.

Miya as an intern at the Hawaii State Archives. Summer 2017.

RW: What is your favorite part of the job?

MLJ: I love the “high” I get when I find records, stories, facts, and when I break through brick walls. It is extremely satisfying. I could chase this gratification all day and all night!

More than my personal gain, I love being able to connect the dots in family trees for those who could not do it for themselves. I feel honored and privileged to be given the trust and responsibility find families.

RW: What tips do you have for budding innovators?

MLJ: I would say to any budding innovators, find your niche and RUN WITH IT! It doesn’t matter if there are others who have done what you want to do or if there is no one (like me) who has done what you want to do. Just do it! You can do it! If you are willing to pay the price, YOU CAN DO IT.

I am 1000% dedicated to this work. I eat, think, breathe, sleep, dream, walk the walk, and talk the talk when it comes to Polynesian and Oceania genealogy. It is all I do and want to do. I am constantly reading and researching credible sources, consistently networking with other professionals, pursuing more and more education, writing articles, teaching classes once a week on my Instagram Lives on various Polynesian genealogy topics, investing in myself by attending classes, conferences, workshops, etc. You name it! I am putting in the work to learn more and do better 24/7.

RW: What’s next for you?

MLJ: My next thing step is to become a certified genealogist. That’s in the works. I am almost ready to submit my portfolio for review!

In the next two years, I plan on attending law school. I did not expect to be doing this at all, but after many promptings, I feel that this is the next best thing to do.

I want to also learn more about genetic genealogy. I recently binge watched Cece Moore’s show “The Genetic Detective” and it has inspired me to want to do what she does! I want to gain experience in unknown parentage and genetic genealogy research like Cece, but for all Oceanian people. And the terrible stories of many murdered and missing indigenous women in the United States has strengthened my resolve to not just learn, but become a master at genetic genealogy. I want to help those women and their families.

RW: How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?

MLJ: Y’all can find me at the following places:

When Miya isn’t researching, she is wishing she could be back home in Hawaii surfing the waves with her family!

Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!

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