This section is intended to help overseas born non-Chinese-speaking descendants of Chinese immigrants' search for their Chinese roots. Some of you may today be classified as ethnic Chinese, while others could very well be 3rd, 4th, or 5th generation descendants of mixed parentage from past Chinese ancestors who migrated to an overseas country somewhere in the world. The overseas country could be as close to China as Vietnam, or elsewhere in neighboring Southeast Asia. Others could have gone much farther to North, Central or South America. Some went to Europe, Africa, or South Asia. In fact, descendants of Chinese immigrants can be found in some of the most remote and unexpected places in the world.
Why bother with genealogy you may ask? To the uninitiated it is just a waste of time because it only deals with the past, after all who cares about the past? However, to those who are infected with this desire to know, the past can reveal much about your family history and as the adage goes “If there is no past, then there is no future”. Even in this scientific age of the 21st century, especially in the medical field, the past can reveal much about your own personal medical history yet to unfold in the future.
Great Wall at Badaling 八達嶺長城
In the past, the majority of Chinese immigrants who ventured forth beyond the seas came from two coastal provinces in Southern China — Guangdong (廣東省) and Fujian (福建省). Large concentrations of people from each of these provinces tended to congregate in certain parts of the world, for example, in most areas of South East Asia, Hokkien speakers from southern Fujian Province (福建省) predominate, while further afield (North/Central/South America, Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, South Africa) the people are generally Cantonese speakers from Guangdong Province (廣東省). In today's parlance, most of these people were economic migrants who left the turmoil and hardships of China to seek opportunities overseas as indentured laborers. They were not refugees in that only the men went overseas, and left their wives and family behind in China. They fully intended to return home when they made sufficient funds to enable them to retire in China to a life of comfort in later years. However, often times they barely made sufficient to subsist, and yet had to remit money to their families' back home in China. The tragedy was most never returned home to China and lived out their lives in extreme hardships in foreign lands.
Great Wall at Juyongguan 居庸關長城
Chinese genealogy is not a simple task due mainly to the language barrier for some of you. At one stage or another in your search you will be faced with the task of having to deal with the Chinese script once you commence the undertaking to track down your ancestor who arrived in the country where you were born. However, let not the language factor deter you from pursuing your family genealogy as you might be able to find somebody who is Chinese literate to help you, or obtain the services of an interpreter.
For some of you your ancestor may have a Chinese sounding name but sometimes it might not be enough to trace his lineage back to China. In certain cases you will have to find his proper Chinese name as it may not even contain a proper Chinese surname, especially those with pseudo or hybrid “surnames” coined through the lack of past cultural awareness. After you determine your ancestor’s real Chinese name, the other chore is to find the location of his home village in China. These two tasks can be a major undertaking. Some are lucky in their quest while others are less so.
Genealogy is quite different from other undertakings; you do not start from the top and work your way down. In this case, the procedure is reversed because at the top of the family tree is your progenitor, an unknown person, and right at the bottom somewhere near the roots will be you. It would make sense to start with what you already know and proceed towards the unknown. So the logical procedure is to start from the bottom where the roots of the tree are and work progressively upward to the top. How far you will be able to climb up the family tree will depend largely on the quality of information you will be able to ferret out during your genealogy search.
Great Wall at Mutianyu 幕田峪長城
Start with yourself first and write down all the data you know, such as your date and place of birth, schools attended, university, etc. Next, proceed to your sisters and brothers. Then ask your parents for information about themselves, and through them you will be able to find more about your grandparents. If your grandparents are still alive, ask them to fill in any blanks you may have about them and don't forget to ask them about your great-grandparents. Failing that you will have to start looking for all sorts of documents— like church records, government records, school records, university records, birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, naturalization certificates, etc. And, so the process moves along one step at a time until you come to a dead-end, which normally will be about the time of the arrival of your Chinese ancestor in the country where you were born.
Genealogy can be a very tedious process demanding copious amounts of time, much frustration, ingenuity, imagination and a lot of patience. Results come sporadically, most times none at all but when you do find something it will be well worth the effort. Above all, do not give up once you begin your search!
Your genealogy search begins by tracking down the following two items:
- The proper Chinese name of your ancestor.
- The name of the village in China where your ancestor came from.
Where would one look for this information? If you can find the tombstone of your ancestor it may have Chinese inscription with his Chinese name as well as his village name on it. So, that should be the first task in your genealogy search.