A story of two orphan Jenji’s

Jenjiro Ikuta was the adopted son of the Keeler family here in Skagway in 1900. Frank Truman Keeler was a wealthy man in Skagway – a moneylender, optician, jeweler and landlord of brothels on 7th Avenue. Jenjiro was born on this day, November 14, 1881 or 1883 in Japan but said that he came to Skagway from Oakland, California in the gold rush. He may have come to Skagway with family who died, but who knows.
Anyway, he learned jewelery from Frank Keeler and started his own store, Totem Jewelery which was here until about 1920. He married Lena Estella Worth from Michigan and they had three kids, Carol a son born 1918, Edna a daughter born 1910, and Truman a son born 1915. In 1920 Jenjiro and his son Truman decided to go back to Japan while Lena took Carol and Edna to Oregon. (Both Truman and Carol married and their descendents have posted most of this information on genforum and rootsweb). Lena remarried and later died in Kennewick, Washington. Perhaps Jenjiro stayed in Japan, as no one seems to know and their are no records of him back in the states.

When I was down south we went to a funeral service for my father in law, Bill McCluskey, who went to Japan right after the war ended. The story was told that when he was on a train he found a child curled up in a pile of rags. He asked where the parents were and was told by the train personnel that he was an orphan. So Bill “adopted” him for a year and fed and paid for him to go to school. At the end of his service time in Japan, he collected money for little “Jenji” to continue in school. He never was able to reconnect with him. I wonder how many times he wished he could have found out what happened to little Jenji!



3 Replies to “A story of two orphan Jenji’s”

  1. Hi! I’m a descendant of Zenjiro Ikuta (sometimes called Jenjiro) looking for more information on my great-great-grandfather. My family lost touch with him and his son after they moved to Japan. I was wondering if the owner of this site could point me in the direction of where he/she got their information. Thank you so much!

    1. I wish I could help. My great-grandmother (Edith Feero) was from Skagway and when I was looking at the census records I came across his name. I currently live in Japan (Narita) and have a BA in Japanese. Funny enough, I also share a birthday with Zenjiro (this is most likely the correct spelling of his name as Jen is not really a combination of sounds that Japanese would have used for a name). Have you seen the book by Catherine Holder Spude? It has info on Zenjiro.

      Strangely, although Japanese city halls keep detailed records on family registries it seems that most Japanese don’t know much about their families more than a couple generations back and are not as interested in genealogy as you would think. I don’t know of an ancestry.com-type website for Japanese.

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