The Things We Know We Do Not Know

Unidentified Japanese American teenagers on stage, Poston War Relocation CenterWhile there are many things in an archive like Swem Library’sSpecial Collections that the archivists and staff know we know, there are also the known unknowns. There are some things we may never know, and a person can accept that, but sometimes there is something that you think must be known by someone and it is just a matter of finding the person who knows it – or a person who is persistent enough to do the research to find the answer.  One of the things I will sometimes do as an archivist is take under- or unidentified diaries, correspondence, scrapbooks, or other material to students and other researchers to turn them loose on finding further information. In the best case scenario, the researcher’s work will pay off in identifying a previously unidentified diarist or correspondent.

With one eye on the calendar (knowing families will be visiting each other this time of year) and another on the actuarial table (the reality of life expectancy an older gentleman I know is fond of reminding me about) I want to draw attention to the Colorado River Relocation Center Scrapbook, 1943-1944. This scrapbook includes items from the Poston War (Colorado River) Relocation Center and its contents have been digitized and made available in the W&M Digital Archive.  Poston was a War Relocation Authority internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II located in southwestern Arizona near the town of Parker. Poston’s population at its peak was 17,814 men, women, and children.

The Colorado River Relocation Center Scrapbook, 1943-1944 was acquired by Special Collections in 2008 and we believe it was created by a white female federal employee who worked at the camp. It was in pieces by the time it arrived here and includes photographs, correspondence, programs, and other material. The photographs in the collection include white women (including the presumed compiler of the scrapbook) and photographs of Japanese American internees including teenagers performing on stage as well as some groups of those presumed to be employees and internees. Of the over forty photographs in the collection, only one photograph is labeled and it identifies simply "Marie and Dorothy."

Unidentified Japanese American man, Poston War Relocation Center

Fully identifying these photographs may not be possible, but I am hoping that with the assistance of just the right people out there, it can happen. So, if you will soon be seeing your parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles who were sent to or worked at Poston during World War II or know someone who was, maybe you could show them these photos? I will send you a big thank you from Special Collections if you would. More description of the items in the Colorado River Relocation Center Scrapbook, 1943-1944 as well as all of the images and most of the documents are available online. Contact Amy Schindler ( or 757-221-3094) with any identifying information.

Unidentified Japanese American teenagers on stage, Poston War Relocation Center


We usually reserve this blog for posting work from some of Special Collections’ students and volunteers, but this post may start an irregular series highlighting material in Special Collections whose creators are unidentified. While the creator of a collection may not be identified, the collection may still have a great deal of useful information available to researchers and the curious. The material is here in Swem (and sometimes online) just waiting for the right person to make use of it.