By Alice Kane
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.
Chinese American Genealogy
Live broadcast: January 21, 2016
Presented by: Alice Kane
Level: Beginner - Intermediate Running Time: 55:29
Description: Chinese American family history research can be done using standard genealogical resources such as censuses, city directories, and land transactions. There are, however, other resources that can be especially helpful, such as grave markers, records produced from the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and jiapu (collected family histories). Learn what resources are available and gain a better understanding of the Chinese experience in America during the 19th and 20th centuries.
How-To and Other Guides
Asian American Genealogical Sourcebook edited by Paula K. Byers
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference E184.O6 A828 1995
China Connection: Finding Ancestral Roots for Chinese in America by Jeanie W. Chooey Low
NEHGS, 5th Floor E184.C5 L69 1994
Chinese American Names: Tradition and Transition by Emma Woo Louie
NEHGS, International Collection—1st Floor CS2990.L68 1998
In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames by Sheau-yueh J. Chao
NEHGS, Research Library CS1162 .C43 2000
At America's gates: Chinese immigration during the exclusion era, 1882–1943
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E184.C5 L52 2003
Raking the Ashes: Genealogical Strategies for pre-1906 San Francisco Research by Nancy Simons Peterson
NEHGS, 5th and 7th Floor Reference F869.S353 P48 2006
Paper 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 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.
|1882||Chinese Exclusion Act|
|1888||Scott Act||Prohibited all Chinese laborers (even those with certificates of residency) who were abroad at the passing of this act from returning to U.S.|
|1892||Geary Act||Extended immigration suspension of 1882 another 10 years (to 1902)|
|1902||McCreary Act (Extension of Geary Act)|
|1924||Johnson-Reed/National Origins/Asian Exclusion Act|
|1943||Magnuson/Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act|
|1945||War Brides Act||Allowed for immigration entry of alien wives of U.S. servicemen, however still limited by the Chinese quota|
|1946||Public Law 713||Allowed entry of Chinese wives of American citizens on a non-quota basis|
|1947||G.I. Fiancées Act||Allowed entry of betrothed of ex-servicemen|
|1952||McCarran-Walter/Immigration and Nationality Act|
|1959||Chinese Confession Program||Chinese who committed fraud to enter the U.S. on or before 11 Sept. 1957 could confess and adjust their status: |
|1965||Hart-Cellar/Immigration and Nationality Act|
|1966||Confession Program Ends|
Collected Family Genealogies, or Jiapu
Collection of Genealogies, 1239–2011, FamilySearch
This 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.
Chinese America: History and Perspectives
A publication of the Chinese Historical Society of America, its articles provide insight into historic, social, and cultural development of Chinese American communities nationally. Download an Excel list of available articles by selecting the publication title.
Chung Sai Yat Po newspaper
One of the longest published Chinese American newspapers with nearly all issues surviving, the Chung Sai Yat Po Newspaper Collection is available on microfilm at University of California, Berkeley. The Online Archive of California (OAC) offers a Finding Aid on this newspaper collection which includes a link to view select digitized issues from the early 1900s. Microfilmed issues from 1900–1905 are held at the Ethnic Studies Library, while those for 1906–1950 are held by the East Asian Library.
Articles & Blogs
“Unknown Angel” by Fern Glazer, FamilyTreeMagaine
Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, ccamuseum.org
Chinese Family History Group of Southern California, chinesefamilyhistory.org
Chinese Historical Society of New England, chsne.org
Chinese Historical Society of America, chsa.org
Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA), mocanyc.org
Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, wingluke.org
National Archives / Genealogy-Ethnic Heritage, Asian
Offers 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.
|一 or 弌, 正||one||日||day|
|二 or 弍 , 弐, 乙||two||月||month|
|三 or 丙, 弎||three||年||year|
|四 or 亖||four||里||village|
|五 or 伍, 戊||five||村||village-hamlet|
|六 or 陸||six||鄉||village-rural|
|七 or 柒||seven||閭||village of 25 families|
|九 or 申||nine||市||city|
|十一 or 戌||eleven||區||district|
|十三 . . .||thirteen||府||prefecture|
|二十 or 廿||twenty||生||birth|
|二十 or 廿||twenty||終||end|
|二十一 or 廿一||twenty-one||氏||family name|
|二十 . . . or 廿 . . .||twenty-two||公||father|
|三十 or 卅||thirty||母||mother|
|千 or 仟||one thousand||墓||grave|
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