Genealogy Records (系譜)
Aside from ascertaining your ancestor’s Chinese name and the name of the village in China where he came from the next most important task is to locate a copy of the family or clan genealogy records. You may not likely possess a copy unless your family has kept close tabs on the family history through the ages. So, your next task is to find one. In most cases you will need to visit your ancestral village to try and locate one. When you do find it you will need to copy it and bring it home for further analysis.
You may ask why do you need the genealogy records? Your ancestor who went overseas invariably left behind in China an extended family with a long history dating hundreds or thousands of years. You need to tap into that clan database to find your ancestry. These records were mostly handwritten and in some instances a clan may have collected a variety of records and produced printed versions (block printed in the old days) for wider distribution. In most cases when you do find something in your ancestral village it will be a handwritten copy.
Do not be disappointed if you cannot find one during your China visit because the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s saw the destruction of many such items as they were considered by the radicals as relics of the archaic past that needed to be purged from the then new vision of China.
There are two kinds of genealogy records, one is called a Family Record and the other is called a Clan Record.
A family genealogy record is called a Jiapu (家譜) in Chinese. In this kind of record only the particular family’s pedigree is shown to the exclusion of others who are not directly related. This type of record is very easy to read since the generations are clearly laid out and there is no real searching required because everything is identified in descending sequential order. These are the kinds of records normally found today because individual families have risked death during the Cultural Revolution to preserve them from the Red Guards who were bent on destroying everything deemed “old” and hence considered decadent.
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A common term for a clan genealogy record is called a Zupu (族譜) in Chinese. In this kind of record there is no single family pedigree but contains records of the different families residing in the village. The entries are not in sequential order but recorded haphazardly depending on when each family’s entry was made. This was the type of record I obtained from my ancestral village. Consequently, it took quite a while to sift through it to find the names of the ancestors in my family lineage. However, there is one great asset with clan records because you can also find the branches of other families who came from the same village; hence it is a very powerful tool.
While Zupu (族譜) is the most common term encountered to mean genealogy record, there are however other terms used in the Chinese language to mean the same thing, for example:
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