At the beginning of the Lunar New Year people with Chinese ancestry across from the world celebrate the new year with family visits, abundant food and red lanterns. Decorations are hung on the walls and front door wishing luck and prosperity. According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, this year will be the Year of the Tiger.
Do you have Chinese ancestry? Are you interested in identifying your Chinese ancestry? The first steps in identifying your Chinese ancestry are to collect information from the Elders in the family. Interview them, asking questions about what they know and remember about the family. Preserve this information, by writing it down, using video or audio to record interviews and by scanning documents and photos.
When speaking with the Elders in the family, ask them for the names of family members, and also have them write the names in Chinese characters for you. Something that will be helpful to understand is that in Chinese, the family surname is spoken first followed by the given names. Additionally, a woman keeps her surname throughout her life and does not change it. When asking about dates, the dates are listed from largest to smallest. The year is listed first, the month and then the date. However, when speaking to the Elders in the family they may not remember these details. If so, you could ask, what zodiac year was a person born. They are more likely to remember this detail.
The best Chinese genealogical record is the clan or family genealogy book, called a Jiapu (家譜). A Jiapu will contain a written record of generations of ancestry back to the founding ancestor. This book may contain 20 or more generations of the family, with a biography of the founding ancestor, a list of family rules to live by, and of course details about the ancestral families.
Ask your family if they know who has possession of this book. If the location of this book is unknown, there are still ways to find this record or a copy of it. In order to do so, you will need to identify the family surname character and the name of the ancestral village in China. The original family genealogy book will likely be found in the ancestral village.
Records that may contain the surname character and ancestral village name are tombstones, immigration records, and naturalization records. Other records that may contain clues about your family are passenger lists, business directories, US federal and state census records, military records, vital records, Social Security records, cemetery and funeral home records.
Begin now, while the family is gathered together and ask questions, collect stories and identify clues about your Chinese ancestry.
Possible questions to ask family members:
- What is our Chinese family name character? Please write it for me.
- Where are our Chinese American ancestors buried?
- Where is the Ancestral Home in China located? What is the nearest Market Town or City? Please write it for me.
- Where is the Ancestral Hall located?
- Where are our ancestors buried in China? Is there a family cemetery?
- Do we have a family genealogy book (Jiapu 家譜)? Who has this book?
- Who was the first person in our family to leave China?
- About when did this person come to the United States or Canada? Where did he arrive?
- Do you have any letters or photos of the family?
- What is your full name, including alternate names? When were you born?
- What were the names of your parents, including alternate names? When and where were they born?
- What are the names of your siblings, including alternate names? When and where were they born?
- Who were your grandparents? Do you know their names and name characters? When and where were they born?
- Does our family use generational names? Where is our generational poem?
- Has our family been associated with a Benevolent Association in America? If so, which one and where?
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