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:
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