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By Alice KaneGenealogist
| How-To | Immigration Records | Exclusion Acts | Genealogies | Periodicals | | Articles & Blogs | Organizations | Websites | Language Notes | Need Help? |
Chinese-American family history research can be conducted using standard genealogical resources such as censuses, city directories, military service records, probates, and land transactions. Grave markers are exceptional finds because they often record the ancestral district and village from which the deceased came. It should be noted, however, that grave markers for married females traditionally record the ancestral location of her husband's family. Records produced from the Chinese Exclusion Acts (see below) can also be extremely helpful. A note about recording Chinese names (historically): While there are established systems of transliterating Chinese characters to English, American record keepers often did not have access to such information and many Chinese names are spelled phonetically, in many different ways. The native dialect of a given individual providing personal information will also affect the English spelling of Chinese names. In addition, traditional naming practices place the family or surname character at the beginning of a Chinese name, and Chinese males may have more than one name, for example: he may adopt a new given name to mark his marriage or other significant achievement.
Asian American Genealogical Sourcebook edited by Paula K. ByersNEHGS, 7th Floor Reference E184.O6 A828 1995China Connection: Finding Ancestral Roots for Chinese in America by Jeanie W. Chooey LowNEHGS, 5th Floor E184.C5 L69 1994Chinese American Names: Tradition and Transition by Emma Woo LouieNEHGS, International Collection—1st Floor CS2990.L68 1998In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames by Sheau-yueh J. ChaoNEHGS, Research Library CS1162 .C43 2000At America's gates: Chinese immigration during the exclusion era, 1882–1943NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E184.C5 L52 2003 Raking the Ashes: Genealogical Strategies for pre-1906 San Francisco Research by Nancy Simons PetersonNEHGS, 5th and 7th Floor Reference F869.S353 P48 2006The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America by Mae M. NgaiPaper Son: One Man’s Story by Tung Pok Chin with Winifred C. Chin (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000)Paper Families: Identity, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion by Estelle T. Lau (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006)
Ancestry.comAncestry has a growing collection of Chinese-specific databases to access passenger manifests, exclusion case files, and registers of admission for San Francisco and other entry points into the U.S. Use "Chinese" in the title field of Ancestry's Card Catalog search to quickly bring up a list of these databases.NARA Early Arrivals Record Search (EARS)This databases indexes about 90,000 case files.
The Chinese Exclusion laws enacted from 1882 to their overall repeal in 1943, plus other relevant immigration legislation, created a body of federal records specific to documenting Chinese in America. Chinese exclusion case files can be found in NARA branches around the U.S., but most particularly in San Bruno, California, where records covering those entering at the port of San Francisco are held. Investigating local and state legislation for references to Chinese residents may yield record sources specific to Chinese in these jurisdictions. Below is an overview of significant legislation affecting Chinese in America from the late eighteenth to the mid twentieth centuries.
Collection of Genealogies, 1239–2011, FamilySearchThis collection is not searchable by individual name. Images of titles held by the University of Hong Kong and other repositories are organized first by the family surname, then by the region/country described in the jiapu.All Chinese Surname Index for Jiapu Collection, Ancestry.comSearch results will give details about the publication and the specific record will provide a catalog number in the Shanghai Library collections.Note: Your computer must have East Asian fonts installed to see the Chinese characters displayed in the search results.
Chinese America: History and PerspectivesA publication of the Chinese Historical Society of America, its articles provide insight into historic, social, and cultural development of Chinese American communities nationally. An articles list is available at their website.Chung Sai Yat Po Newspaper Collections on microfilm at University of California, BerkeleyFinding Aid. Issues from 1900–1905 are held at the Ethnic Studies Library with selected issues digitized and available online. The 1906–1950 microfilmed issues are held by the East Asian Library.
“Unknown Angel” by Fern Glazer, FamilyTreeMagaine
Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, ccamuseum.orgChinese Historical Society of New England, chsne.orgChinese Historical Society of America, chsa.orgMuseum of Chinese in America (MoCA), mocanyc.orgWing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, wingluke.org
Chinese GenealogyPart database, part blog, part message board, this website has a little bit of everything to assist people interested in researching family from the Siyi, or Four Districts area of Guangdong Province.National Archives / Genealogy-Ethnic Heritage, AsianOffers an overview of records related to Chinese Americans held in the National Archives.
Below are common Chinese characters you may encounter during your research. You will find many of these on gravestones.
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