This is a page of resources for Chinese genealogy in Canada, the USA, and China that I have been collecting since the 1990s. Updated 22 Apr 2023. [NOTE Nov 2022: Due to the major changes at the national archives, the hundreds of LAC-related notes may be outdated. They will be updated as they were created: one at a time. Please bear with me.]
How to navigate this page
There is quite a bit to read on this page. I keep it all on one page for this reason: so you can use CMD+F (Mac) or CTL+F to search for keywords. (This trick works on any page with lots of text.) Otherwise, feel free to browse through the headlines.
Hear the sound of the word in Cantonese with Cantonese Tools.
How to count the number of strokes in a Chinese word – Chinese Converter
A lot of fun and you can count along as the character is created.
How to translate Chinese characters into Cantonese
This tool from Hong Kong will romanize Chinese into seven languages and styles. I think the style called Guangdong Romanization is Sam Yup.
How to type Chinese characters using a keyboard – Yoyo Chinese
The video I watched at least three times to figure this out.
How to type Chinese on a Mac – Fluent in Mandarin
Helpful how to video I used to learn how to type Chinese on my computer.
Listen to Cantonese text – Cantonese Tools
If you’d like to hear any Chinese word in Cantonese, try the jyutping (Cantonese words spelled in English) feature too (works best on Google Chrome).
Pleco (Translation software for smartphones)
Available for Android and iPhones. Uses the camera to recognize characters and find the translation. Fees for download, and for the extra dictionaries. Works better on Android than iPhones.
Translate with Google Translate (pinyin and Mandarin).Please note: when you ask Google or any translation tool that does not specify a language other than “Chinese,” you are asking for an English/Mandarin translation. When Mandarin is translated into English, it’s called pinyin. When we want Chinese characters in English for Cantonese speakers, it’s called jyutping. Don’t worry if you’re confused. I was for years. Example (horse): 馬 (Chinese) = “Mǎ” (pinyin) = “maa5” (jyutping).
Wade-Giles romanization – Brittanica
Background on the Wade-Giles Romanization format for writing Mandarin in English.
Write Chinese using a Mac: see my post Finding the Chinese names of my family.
Genealogy resources for China
A catalog of catalogs, or metadata by another name. This is a site that searches the catalogs of archives. It’s heavily weighted in favour of the USA and Europe, however, it also has a few collections in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Use the “Find archives near you” function (if you can – this feature didn’t always work for me).
China genealogy – Family Search
If this is your first time looking for records from China, start here. Using Family Search is free, requiring only an email address. [Pro hint: Keep this information handy – if you need to sign into your account while at a Family History Centre, it’ll be good to remember what it is.]
China collection of genealogies, 1239-2014 – Family Search
FamilySearch is doing a MAJOR amount of investment around this collection. As of Jan 2020, there are over 13M (yes, million) images here, all of them family jiapus (Chinese family genealogies). Just the first page – a listing of names in pinyin and classical Chinese characters, is a huge resource in that it can be used as a lookup table for matching pinyin / transliterated Chinese names with their Chinese matches.
To use this collection, you MUST have an idea of the area in China from whence your ancestors originated. The collection is organized this way: NAME (pinyin & Chinese), then COUNTRY (currently only China, but could be many other countries in the future), then PROVINCE (e.g., Guangdong, Shandong, and please note also that Taiwan is listed here), then COUNTY (e.g., Panyu, Zhongshan), then the jiapu. In other words, you’ll need the Name, Country, Province and County to navigate this collection.
There is currently no search function. That might come later, if we get lucky.
Chinese calendar [converter] by Yuk Ting Liu
Have you ever needed to convert a historic date into the Chinese calendar to understand your ancestor’s decisions? Or needed to plan Chinese New Year? Or your cousin’s birthday? This is a wonderful site which explains all you need to know about this complex subject.
Chinese Genealogy (forum)
A forum for people seeking specific questions about their Chinese genealogy, moderated by the very knowledgeable Phillip Tan. Try searching for your last name – chances are someone else is also looking for information on it and might just be related to you.
Chinese Surname Queries (forum)
Similar to the Chinese Genealogy forum above, this is an older RootsWeb site begun in 1996 by Ron Young, for people seeking information on their Chinese roots, and still has questions and answers from ~1996-2011.
Historic Directories – Internet Archive
To find these and others, search “subject: “Directories” AND “China””. Spellings below are taken from the original guides. All guides are in English.
- 1850 – HongKong Almanack and Directory, General Directory for Canton, Shanghai, Amoy, Ningpo, Fuh-Chau-Fu, Macao and Manila, 112 pages
- 1856 – Shanghae Almanac, 541 pages; “Shanghai”
- 1874 – The China Directory, 402 pages
- 1879 – Chronicle and Directory for China, Japan, and the Phillippines, 966 pages
- 1882 – The Hong List for Shanghai and the Northern and River Ports, 68 pages
- 1884 – Desk Hong List for Shanghai, 74 pages
- 1889 – Chronicle and Directory for China, Corea, Japan, The Phillipines, Cochin-China, Annam, Tonquin, Siam, Borneo, Straits Settlements, Malay States, & c., 1266 pages
- 1892 – Chronicle and Directory for China, Corea, Japan, The Phillipines, Cochin-China, Annam, Tonquin, Siam, Borneo, Straits Settlements, Malay States, & c., 1189 pages
- 1894 – Chronicle and Directory for China, Corea, Japan, The Phillipines, Indo-China, Straits Settlements, Siam, Borneo, Malay States, & c., 1197 pages
- 1899 – Chronicle and Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Siam, Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, The Phillippines, & c., 1382 pages
- 1905 – Chronicle and Directory for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Siam, Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, The Phillippines, & c., 1810 pages
- 1905 – Educational Directory for China, an account of the various schools and colleges connected with Protestant Missions, 226 pages
- 1908 – Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Siam, Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, The Phillippines, & c., 1918 pages; left hand side damaged
- 1917 – Chronicle and Directory for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Siam, Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, The Phillippines, & c., 1855 pages
- 1919 – North China Hong List, 369 pages (“hong” – businesses)
- 1920 – Directory of Protestant Missions in China, 412 pages
- 1920 – Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Siam, Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, The Phillippines, & c., 1725 pages
- 1922 – Peking Who’s who, by A. Ramsay, 146 pages
- 1922 – China Who’s Who, a biographical dictionary by Carroll Lunt, 323 pages
- 1985 – China Report, Science and Techology, 189 pages; names and institutions in China in the science and technology education field
- 2004 – Doing business in Beijing, book, 422 pages
Generation Names in China: Past, Present, and Future – ResearchGate
A 2002 paper by Li Zhonghua, Ocean University of Qingdao, China, that I reviewed while thinking about the “correct” placement of a generational name: 2nd or 3rd? Free paper, great resource.
Historical photos of China – University of Bristol
A sister site to My China Family. Over 20K photos of China, providing a rich visual resource to what life was like 100 years ago in China.
Origin of Chinese Family Names
A table with the most common Chinese names. My name, “Yip,” is the 49th most common, according to this site. To find your name, try CTL-F (PCs) or CMD-F (Mac) to quickly find it on the page. Once you’re there, you’ll see the spelling variations, historic meaning, and – here’s a nice touch – the number of strokes in the character.
My China Family – University of Bristol
To be clear, this is mainly for Europeans and British people who sojourned in China. From their site, “On this site you can find a growing body of information about men and women of many different nationalities, professions and ages, who lived and worked in China between the 1850s and 1940s.” A truly astonishing collection of links and information. Very well done.
My China Roots
A for profit site run by Chinese genealogists. Check out their Resources link for database lookups on surnames, villages, and clans.
Village Database Search – Toi Shan, Hoi Ping, Sun Wui, Chung Shan
Bare bones and hasn’t been updated in many years, but if you have some idea of where your ancestors came from, you may be able to find some village information here. If you’d like a how to video, the House of Chinn did one here.
Genealogy resources for Canada & USA
Here is what you will find in this section:
- Timeline of Asians in Canada
- Birth, Marriage and Death
- Chinese names
- The Chinese Family
- Geography: where are they?
- Immigration information
- Oriental Missions
- Newspapers and periodicals
- My blogs on Chinese Canada
- General Chinese genealogy resources
- Prominent Chinese Canadians
- Facebook for genealoy
I’ll order entries by order of importance so that if you were starting from scratch, you’d start at the top and work your way down. Remember that the Chinese in Canada were not permitted to vote from 1872 to 1948, so there will be no voters lists for this period.
- the sections on British Columbia and
- Chinese Canadians in WWII
Timeline of Asians in Canada
A brief chronology of Asians in Canada – Chinese Canadian Heritage Fund and Simon Fraser University
Interactive timeline of Chinese in Canada from 1788 onward.
Timeline – Asians in Canada
From 1788-2008, this timeline is by Professor Imogene Lim of Vancouver Island University.
Birth, Marriage, and Death
Ancestor Search – Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
If you haven’t been on LAC lately, it’s worth another look. In 2019, LAC rolled out my three favourite words in the English language: centralized database search. Bearing in mind that the usual spelling issues still apply, you can now search all the collections at once.
Royal BC Museum Genealogy Search
One of my favourite sites for vital statistics (records of birth, marriage, and death). You’ll find that Ancestry.com has links to this site, but if you want the actual record, you’ll have to do some digging. Here are some tips for finding that elusive record:
- Try the full name first, then start subtracting letters. For example, if you are looking for Elizabeth Mary Jane Smithe, try the whole name, then Elizabeth Smithe, Mary Smithe, Jane Smithe, or even just Smithe. You might have to get creative with searches: try Smithe, Smith, Smit, or Smi* (Boolean search).
- There are date limits. Make sure the records you want are within the years provided. The upside is that BC regularly and efficiently adds to its archives as soon as the restrictive period is over.
Mortuary Records of Chinese Decedents in California, July 1870-April 1933 – San Francisco Genealogy
It occurs to me that the Canada/USA border is really just a border in my head when it comes to genealogy. Our ancestors were mobile. My own great grandfather is rumoured to have worked in San Francisco in the late ~1860s before settling in BC. I also learned that the Chinese in Victoria and Vancouver intermingled with the Chinese all along the west coast of the USA, meaning I have cousins in OR, LV and CA.
Chinese personal names, Central Intelligence Agency – FamilySearch
This 1968 monograph is well written and clearly organized. Click through until you can grab a PDF download.
Understanding Chinese Names – House of Chinn
It seems the HouseofChinn.com site is now offline, but you can still get there with the Internet Archive. Type “HouseofChinn.com” into the WayBack Machine and choose any of the site captures.
A good explanation of Chinese surnames, generational names, married names, and nicknames. Ever wondered why so many Chinese women have the middle name Shi or Shee? See my post here. Chinese names rendered in English may be a wide variety of spellings, and still surprise me. For example, I only recently learned that these are the same name: Chu, Chew, Choo, and Joe.
Legacy Tree Onsite: Chinese Genealogy Research at the Family History Library
This is an article that discusses what’s available at the family history centre in Salt Lake City, with very helpful hints on identifying the key Chinese words that will help those of us who don’t read Chinese. Thanks to Bobby Swampcat Stelly at the Africa, Asia, & Pacific Genealogy Research Community on FB for this link.
The Chinese Family
100 Most Common Chinese Family Names – Mandarin House
Chinese Family Tree, Off the Great Wall
A must see. Explains the complicated rules governing Chinese family relations, and helped me understand – finally – why my cousins and I were supposed to be using different names to address our aunts and uncles. (Who were not our aunts and uncles but rather our cousins. Sheesh. That’s not confusing at all.)
In depth explanation of the extended Chinese family structure.
Chinese last names: a history of culture and family – FamilySearch
Good article, with a paragraph on finding Chinese American family.
List of Common Chinese surnames – Wikipedia
For an extensive list of Chinese names in Chinese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Min Nan, Hakka, Gan and more.
Most popular names in China – The World of Chinese
A list of the most common given names.
What to call your relatives in Cantonese – Little Chinese Things
In this post, Odette writes a wonderfully helpful post, complete with Chinese characters and pronounciations in English (in jyutping, if you want to get technical).
Places in Canada
Chinatown: Past, Present & Future – INSTRCC
A good intro video of Vancouver’s Chinatown through its buildings and history, tracing the past century of Chinese Canadian history. About 15″. Produced by the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian studies (INSTRCC) at the University of British Columbia.
City Directories 1913 and 1914 (Kamloops, Vernon, Okanagan, and Nelson – Vancouver Public Library
The publisher W.A. Jeffries of Kamloops BC produced a directory that was unusually modern in its treatment of the residents of Kamloops: it included everyone. A little known fact about city directories in the period is that Chinese were all but excluded: not listed at all in the Names section, and relegated to a small sample of Chinese businesses after all other white businesses were listed, usually in a section called “Chinese Directory.” Every publisher of the time followed this convention but one – WA Jeffries – who published for what appears to be two years only in Vernon, Okanagan, Kamloops, and Nelson.
The link will take you to the City Directories main page. From there, use the dropdown menus to find the year, then select the directory. For most pages, you will be able to download a high resolution image in TIFF or PDF format (look at the top of the page for the downloads).
Historic Places of BC – Royal BC Museum
Interactive map of significant places in Chinese Canadian culture. Very, very well done.
Click here for Japanese Canadian and here for South Asian, or here to see all the maps available.
Prisoners of British Columbia 1884 – RootsWeb
A series of lists of prisoners in Lytton, Nanaimo, New Westminster, Victoria, and Yale. The names for non-white detainees are predictably hopelessly racist (“Ah Sam,” “Ah Yee“, or “A chinaman“) and show a disproportionate number of non-whites to whites, but there’s something about reading the lists of offences and fines that I find compelling. I may do a bit of digging into this data at some future point to see what else I can glean.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss Canadian sources for American Chinese, and American sources for Canadian Chinese. The two jurisdictions worked in tandem, and while I hesitate to say there was full cooperation in this matter, I’d be comfortable to say the two countries had an understanding.
David Lai at the Immigration Building – Royal BC Museum
(2015) This 3.5 minute video follows renowned scholar and historian Dr. David Chuenyan Lai as he tours, films, and researches the Chinese Immigration Building, aka the Federal Immigration Detention Hospital on Douglas Road, Victoria. Note that Victoria was the primary landing port for incoming Chinese to BC – and therefore Canada – and this video gives some stark visuals as to what that experience was like for tens of thousands.
13 Databases for Chinese Ancestry on Ancestry.com
I review all the Chinese ancestry data on Ancestry.com and give an example of how to use the information. Don’t be put off by the American-leaning data – I give an example of a woman born in Vancouver, BC, Canada and take you through the process of finding her immigration records. If you’ve never seen a Chinese Case file, you need to read this.
1923 Chinese Exclusion – Catherine Clement
Never before seen images of a wide variety of Chinese Immigration Act (aka “Head Tax”) certificates, this site is a wealth of knowledge about these certificates, and the basis of the coming exhibition in 2023. If you have a head tax certificate, please consider contributing a scan – you keep the original – to the exhibition. Contact Catherine Clement by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
97 years of history in 6 minutes
If you’d like a quick primer on the immigration laws affecting the Canadian Chinese, see my post above.
Order in Council Lists
Judging from the 200K hits, this is an immensely valuable site by Joanna Crandell and Elinor Sullivan. Joanna and Lynn have photographed the Orders in Council (OIC) approving immigration to Canada from the 1930-1950s. Of the 60K names in this database, 10K are from China, 5K from Poland, 3K from Germany, 2500 from France, 1800 from Czechoslovakia, 1500 from each of Italy and Morocco, 1400 from The Netherlands, 1300 from Hungary, and the list goes on. You can look on the site for a matching name. The fee for a copy of the file is a very reasonable $20.
Register of Chinese Immigrants to Canada – UBC Open Collections
Related to Immigrants from China, below, this is a project undertaken by UBC to transcribe all 97K+ entries of the Register of Chinese Immigrants to Canada. There are several resources available at this link. Be sure to see:
- The 52383-Register of Chinese immigrants to Canada 1885-1949.xlsx (under Downloads)
- The 52383-Register_of_Chinese_Immigrants_description.pdf (also under Downloads)
- Mapping the Villages & Towns Recorded in the Register of Chinese Immigration to Canada from 1885 to 1949 (under Description)
Many thanks to reader “TL” for the hint.
Once you’ve got the download, there are oh, about 100 ways to slice and dice the data. I’ll do a post on this later, after I’d had some time to play with it.
Register of Chinese Immigration to Canada, 1885-1949 – FamilySearch
The FamilySearch collection “Register of Chinese Immigration to Canada, 1885-1949” is odd. Normally there’s a wiki showing how to use a collection by film number but not in this case. I found these film numbers with research: by guessing the next film number in a reel and recording it here. You can’t access the films directly but you can use the film numbers I’ve provided by using “Advanced Search/ Image Group No. or Film No.” On the upside, you can use this collection to go through the registers page by page.
Key: GRCI (General Register of Chinese Immigration).
|Desc||Years||Film No., Image Nos.|
|GRCI||1903-1911||no apparent films for these years|
|CI28||1912-1947||008639170, images 579-734|
|CI36||1913-1949||008639170, images 737-827|
Immigrants from China, 1885-1949 – Library and Archives Canada
This standalone collection at LAC was absorbed by Collection Search in about 2022. To find it now, use the Advanced tools, then select Database / “Immigrants from China, 1885-1962.” Note the years have been updated from 1949 to 1962.
Chinese Heritage – National Archives and Records Administration
The administrations of Canada and the USA together applied the Chinese Immigration Act and Chinese Exclusion Acts to monitor the Chinese in detail. The Chinese were not only mobile but flowed through American ports to and from Canada. A Chinese genealogist needs to be aware of the porosity of the CA/USA border and its implications to records pertaining to Chinese on both sides. For an illustration, see my post on this subject here.
Chinese immigration certificate of identity, California, 1908-1943 : NARA, RG 85 – FamilySearch
This is a hugely detailed listing of Chinese who landed at the port of San Francisco, 1909-1938, and were issued identity certificates. All these files are digitized and available to view online. (NARA RG = National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group). Note the films contain both indices and images of the certificates themselves, and I count forty-eight microfilms here.
Chinese immigration records – Héritage Canadiana
Here is a sample keyword list to search:
- Chinese immigration
- Chinese immigration + Vancouver
- Chinese immigration + Toronto
As of Apr 2023, there are at least three reels of C.I. 9 certificates that are on HC but not indicated at LAC:
- Records of entry and other records : T-16603 and Records of entry and other records : T-16604 – both of these reels were discussed in my Feb 2022 post Over 5K new Chinese Canadian records are now online at Héritage Canadiana
- Records of entry and other records : Records of entry and other records – Department of Immigration and Colonization – T-16609 – C.I.9 nos. 82100-84949, Vancouver, 14 Dec 1933 to 31 Oct 1935; learn more about this collection here at the LAC finding aid
CI 5 / 36 / 28 certificates for Chinese from Toronto
Here is the small collection (88 images of front and back scans of certificates, plus lists) for the Chinese immigration records: C.I.36 register. For a description of each of the different types of certificates, see the Vancouver Public Library’s Guide to Chinese Immigration Certificates.
A C.I. 36 is the same as a C.I. 5 – both are effectively receipts for immigrants who paid the head tax. You’ll also see lists of names for people who applied for C.I. 28s – these are replacement CI5s / 36s.
- Image 13 – List of CI5s by name; followed by images 15-~34 which are the digitized certificates
- Image 36 – List of CI28s by name; images 37-44 are the digitized certificates
- Image 45 – List of a CI30, followed by digitized images
- Image 48 – List of CI30s, followed by digitized images; images 49-58 are the digitized certificates
- Images 59–83 – appears to be a complete copy of the General Register of Chinese Immigration, a registration list of residents from Toronto who applied for CI9s between 3 Dec 1923 and 20 Feb 1950
- Images 84-86 – General Register of Chinese Immigration; “native born registration”; mostly Toronto but others as well; random dates of departure
Immigration of Orientals into Canada, with special reference to Chinese – S. Andracki, McGill University
In this 1958 thesis which predates his 1972 book Immigration of Orientals into Canada with Special Reference to Chinese (Arno Press, 1978), Stanislaw Andracki reviews the four phases of Chinese immigration to Canada. For his source material he uses original records from the Canadian parliamentary House of Commons, the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, and the Royal Commissions into Chinese activities. It’s a good introduction to the twisting nature of laws and gives just enough background explanation to explain the changes. I was looking for information on the expiry of Chinese Immigration Certificates No. 9 (CI9s) and it seems this was – as usual – not a simple answer. Special thanks to reader CL for the conversation and sharing her discoveries of Andracki’s work.
Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property. Vancouver Office: Office files – Canadiana
There are 25 reels comprising tens of thousands of documents on people the Canadian government considered suspicious by reason of race: Chinese, Japanese, Germans, etc. This period began in the midst of WWI and lasted until 1985. I found the collection by searching for the name of my grandfather’s company “Wing Wah Company” and found a hit on Library and Archives Canada. Note the files are not with LAC but they may be here with Héritage. Try using the microfilm reel number on LAC for searching on Canadiana.
From the site:
The Canadian Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property existed between 1916 and 1985. It derived its authority from the War Measures Act of 1914 and the Trading with the Enemy regulations. It dealt with the property of Canada’s enemies in both World Wars as well as with the seized property of Japanese Canadians. Generally, during the two World Wars, the office’s functions included the seizure and liquidation of enemy property. Between 1919 and 1939, it served the function of administering war claims and reparations. After the Second World War, the Custodian had the responsibility for resolving Canadian war claims.
This collection consists of textual records.
Canada, Immigrants Approved in Orders in Council, 1929-1960, Ancestry
Many Asians had to be approved with an OIC after immigration was reopened in 1947. Check here for the index and if you are successful, request the file itself from OrderinCouncilLists. I have. The fee is $20 – well worth it for the work Joanna and Elinor have done.
Index to Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files – Trish Hackett Nicola, Blog: CEA Case Files
There are 8 downloadable Excel files listing thousands of Chinese names with incredible detail. Use the case file information to request a copy of the case file. Ports of entry include Vancouver, BC; Seattle and Port Townshend, WA; and others along the western USA/Canada border.
Index to Chinese Immigration – Hawaii State Archives
Even today, when travelling to China, Japan, or Australia, we might touch down in Hawaii. So too with our immigrant ancestors travelling west. This index is very well organized, and is more than a basic index. Each name contains the immigration card. The downside is the clerks taking the names were none too careful nor attuned to the sounds of the Chinese language, so expect the names to be misspelled at minimum.
I also note the unusually high number of names beginning with “A.” This is disheartening because names beginning with “A” are most likely “Ah [name]” and they are nicknames. For example, Ah Cyr means lovely. Also see below for the collection at Family Search.
Departures of Chinese from Hawaii 1852-1900 – Family Search
Related to the above, I found this one. I’ve been looking for an original immigration record for my great-grandfather, who is said to have immigrated first to San Francisco in 1864. It’s challenging to find records for Chinese around that time period. This is a collection of 3039 index cards of Chinese departures from Hawaii. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that most of the cards do not give the ages of the passengers, and many of the records do not have the full formal names. My advice is to collect any record that may be your ancestor, and keep your list of name variations handy. Unfortunately, there are no Chinese characters on these cards.
Bamboo Shoots – Chinese Canadian legacies in BC
In 2014, the BC government apologized for its treatment of the Canadian Chinese. As a part of that apology, the BC minister for multiculturalism led this initiative to provide educational materials for the BC school curricula for grades 5 and 10. The materials include datelines and profiles of Chinese families. Worth a view.
Chinese passengers bound for the USA from China: Vancouver, British Columbia, Manifests of Chinese Arrivals, 1906-1912, 1929-1941, Ancestry
GREAT database. If only it was for Chinese passengers arriving at Vancouver and staying in Canada. Sigh.
British Columbia, Canada, Border Entries and Passenger Lists, 1894-1905 – Ancestry
Japanese and Chinese passengers who arrived at Vancouver and Victoria, with final destinations in the USA and pre-screened in Canada.
Chinese Heritage – National Archives of the United States of America
Your ancestor may have done a lot of travel before settling in Canada. The story in my family is that Yip Sang first went to California before BC. Worth a look.
Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files – National Archives of Seattle, WA
If your Canadian Chinese ancestor crossed the border from Vancouver, BC into the United States for even a weekend between 1882-1943, there are records for you here.
If your Chinese ancestor’s initial trip to the United States was through the Port of Seattle, his file is probably at the National Archives facility in Seattle. He may have ended up living in another part of the U.S. but his file would remain in Seattle. The Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect from 1882 to 1943 so thousands and thousands of case files were created during this time period.
Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files – The Blog
For years, genealogist Trish Hackett Nicola has been analyzing and writing about the Chinese Case files held at the Seattle Archives. Now her blog is a deeply rich genealogy source in itself. If your ancestor is profiled in her series, you’ve hit the jackpot. Note: Check this blog even if your ancestors were Canadian and never lived in the USA. If they crossed the Canada/USA border, there is very likely a file available for them.
Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files – Aileen’s Chinese Case File
In this post, I take you through the process of finding a Chinese Case file index from the Chinese Family History Group (below), requesting a file from the Seattle Archives, and describe what sort of information you may find in a Case File by using the example of Aileen Cumyow, actress, born Vancouver BC on 1 May 1901 and travelling through the USA 1925, 1928, and 1930.
NARA Case Files, Case File Index – Chinese Family History Group
In years past, this excellent resource has been freely available online. Now it’s members only. Even if you’re Canadian, consider joining.
Mass Capture – Chinese head tax and the making of non-citizens, York Centre for Asian Research, York University
This is a beautiful site – the efforts of a team of researchers dedicated to one class of Chinese Immigration Certificates: “C.I.9s.” When the Chinese in Canada left the country, they were required to apply for these certificates in order to be readmitted on their return. The C.I.9s are highly detailed, containing information on date of departure, date of return, method of travel, age, address, occupation, witnesses, and photographs. If you’ve never before seen a C.I.9, this is a great place to begin.
British Columbia Naturalization Records 1859-1926 – FamilySearch
If your ancestors arrived to Canada before 1923, you may be able to locate naturalization files. Yes, even for Asians. There are files for Chinese and Japanese here. (Citizenship for Chinese was revoked by The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, which came into effect on July 1st, 1923.)
Oriental Missions Directory (1923) – FamilySearch
1923 directory for “Oriental” (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and S. Asian (formerly called “Hindus”)) missions for Canada, the USA, Mexico and Cuba. Religious organizations ran missions to help the needy. This umbrella term encompassed needs such as orphans, language instruction, education, and helping women cease work as sex workers. Before we can find the fonds relating to these missions, which may or may not contain lists of names, we first need to determine which mission was the most likely one to be used by the people we are researching, and where.
Newspapers & Periodicals
Simon Fraser University Digitized Newspaper Collection
Check out the English language Chinatown News for lighthearted reporting of the comings and goings of the Canadian Chinese. While focused on the news of Vancouver’s Chinatown, Chinatown News included other Chinatowns in Calgary, Toronto, and San Francisco.My grandparents had a subscription to the News, which was easily recognizable by its single-colour covers in green, orange, red, blue, etc. I found news on weddings, parties, births, celebrations, and other social events – a total goldmine for the genealogist. Currently available as of January 2018 are the years 1953-1966. (If you read Chinese, you’ll also be able to see The Chinese Times, the Chinese Express, and several other periodicals.)
The British Colonist 1858-1970 – University of Victoria
A tremendous free resource of the history of BC with an excellent search engine. Don’t be put off by the Victoria emphasis – the British Colonist reported on the news of the day.
My blogs on Chinese Canada
An uncertain homecoming (May-Jun 2017)
My three part, 6000 word essay exploring the fight for civil rights in Canada, beginning from before WWII until 1967. See part I, WWII, the Chinese, and the fight for civil rights 1939-1967. Part II continues with Fight the enemy overseas, then fight the government at home – 1945-47. Part III concludes with Equal rights for all.
The right to be a Canadian: Irving Himel, K. Dock Yip, and The Committee for the Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act (18 Apr 2017)
I explore the story of the franchise through the eyes of Irving Himel and K. Dock Yip.
Putting the “British” in British Columbia, or I get the funny feeling you’re trying to tell me something (7 Nov 2017)
BC looks at its racist past and decides to say sorry. Vancouver does too.
Dating, circa 1885-1947 (20 Dec 2017)
I draw a funny diagram to compare what dating was like for Chinese men and women in Canada before the immigration laws eased up.
We’ll tell you where you can live – BC’s Land Titles Act (27 Jan 2018)
I explore the concept of restrictive covenants in British Columbia: laws that prevented the undesirables from buying houses in good neighbourhoods.
The history of my grandparents house (2 Feb 2018)
The story of my grandparents house is the story of the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant, Vancouver, where Chinese folks lived, its near-death and rebirth.
The Chinese Detention Shed (19 Aug 2018)
From about 1890-1922, when Chinese landed in Vancouver, BC, they were kept in the Detention Shed until released. Even if they were coming home. A sad and dark but true piece of history.
The James Bonds of Chinatown: meet Force 136 (31 Dec 2018)
I take a decade’s worth of research to bring you the story of my uncle’s secret life as a real life James Bond – a member of the Special Operations Executive.
How to find your surname in Chinese (18 Mar 2019)
It’s a little known fact that many Chinese in Canada don’t know their Chinese name. Here’s how to find that info.
The uncle I didn’t know I had – Finding Yim (8 Sep 2019)
I look for my father’s missing brother in Vancouver, BC.
What would it be like not to have the right to vote in Canada? (13 Oct 2019)
Voting. We take it for granted. We shouldn’t.
Travels in China (Nov 1-12, 2019)
I travel to China in October 2019 to look for the home of my ancestors and find so much more.
- The Beginning (1 Nov 2019)
- Introducing Dr. Selia Tan (3 Nov 2019)
- Introducing Dr. Henry Yu, UBC (4 Nov 2019)
- The Overseas Chinese (6 Nov 2019)
- The Food (8 Nov 2019)
- The Heritage of Cantonese Migration Tour (10 Nov 2019)
- The Tech (12 Nov 2019)
13 databases for Chinese ancestry on Ancestry.com (28 Feb 2020)
I explore what’s on Ancestry for Chinese ancestry.
Women’s History Month: Lily’s War (1 Mar 2020)
I look at the life of my great-aunt Lily before she was married: growing up on the Musqueam Lands and her top-secret WWII job at the Boeing Assembly Plant at Sea Island, Vancouver, BC.
Women’s history month: Aileen’s Chinese Case File (8 Mar 2020)
I show you what an American Chinese Exclusion Act Case file may contain, using the example of a Canadian woman in the 1930s.
Exploring Chinese Genealogy on Ancestry (4 May 2020)
My webinar on Facebook Live for Ancestry.ca where I explore what may be found for Chinese genealogy, focusing on immigration and travel.
The Chrysalis: the early life of Susanne Yip Gim Ling (5 May 2020)
The companion article to my webinar for Ancestry, where I tell the story of the documents I found.
Our families in WWII: the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (6 May 2020)
Liz Braun of the Toronto Sun asks me about uncovering the story of aunt Lily, who worked for the Boeing plant in WWII.
Getting published in the Sing Tao Daily (24 Jun 2020)
Abby Wang of the Sing Tao Daily interviews me to ask about Yip Sang and my trip to China.
Yip Sang, the Patriarch – Reflections on a true Canadian pioneer (1 Jul 2020)
My article for Ancestry.ca which looks at the genealogical research published to date and works to i) corroborate previous findings; ii) correct and update some earlier stories; iii) support and solidify other conclusions; and then iv) provide new findings. I provide a Sources and Endnotes list of 43 sources and comments, laying a documentary bread crumb trail for anyone following behind me.
Finding the Chinese names of my family: 葉
In this post, I learn how to type Chinese on a computer, and then find out the meanings of my family’s names. Then I show you how I did it so you can do it too.
General Chinese genealogy resources
Bay Area Resources – Bay Area Chinese Genealogy Group (California)
A collection of resources on topics from Handling and Studying Chinese Characters to Researching Chinese documents and Tombstones, and lots more.
Challenging racist British Columbia: 150 years and counting – University of Victoria
A multi-disciplinary and cooperative project by a stellar list of names in the Indigenous, Chinese, and Black members of the community, this is a free, downloadable book published in 2021 detailing the experiences of BC’s non-white settlers and tracing the overt policies in favour of white settlers. It also considers the impact of a racist legacy in how politics and polices are formed in 2021. “An open source publication of the University of Victoria research project Asian Canadians on Vancouver Island: Race, Indigeneity, and the Transpacific and The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC Office).” Sponsored by the University of Victoria and The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Chinese Canadian Archive, Toronto Public Library
A growing digital collection for Chinese Canadians in the Toronto, Ontario area. Thanks to Margaret Dougherty for the head’s up.
Chinese-Canadian Genealogy, Vancouver Public Library
A great source of information on Chinese Canadian history, including the library’s Chinese Canadian Genealogy section. If the search functions fail you, a call to the librarian might do the trick.
Chinese-Canadian History in Burnaby Resource Guide – Heritage Burnaby
See this free, downloadable, 48-page resource guide published in 2022.
The (Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H.) Chung Collection, UBC
In 1999, Drs. Wallace and Madeline Chung bequeathed their vast collection of CPR and Chinese Canadian memorabilia to the University of British Columbia. Today, the Chung Collection is a rare find of digitized artifacts, an excellent search engine, and a rich trove of artifacts that are free for public viewing. The site hosts thousands of digitized records, but there is much more available for the serious researcher.
For example, Canadian Pacific Steamships agent’s stubs, Yip Sang Company: a collection of ticket stubs for OUTBOUND journey, usually to China via Hong Kong. Generally, there are no outbound passenger lists for Canada full stop, but these books of tickets are the next best thing. I reviewed them all, and there are stubs for the years 1926, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938 1939, and 1940 that include the name of the passenger, destination, and date.
Chinese Canadian Historical Project – UVic
Formerly the Chinese Historical Wrongs Legacy Initiative, this is an ambititious endeavour to collate all Chinese Canadian resources located in British Columbia. Funded by the province, the University of Victoria (UVic), and the BC Museums Association.
Heroes of confederation – Kamloops
This is a website devoted entirely to the history of the Chinese in Kamloops, British Columbia. I will provide a better review after I have a look around. Huge thanks to my friend Geoff W. who suggested the site.
Chinese Canadian Women, 1923-1967
From the site: “Explore over 1,000 digitized items documenting Chinese Canadian women’s history between 1923 and 1967, including oral history interviews, historical photographs, memorabilia, documents and artwork.”
Chinese Canadian National Council “Our Stories”
A labour of love of a whole host of CCNC volunteers, with some good links.
Chinese American Genealogy – Alice Kane, American Ancestors
Setting aside the US-specific documents, Alice Kane details good research techniques applicable to Canadian research.
Chinese Genealogy Resources – Chinese Family History Group of California
The Chinese Family History Group of CA is a very active and knowledgeable group. We might be Canadian Chinese or American Chinese, but we’re all working with common issues such as translating Chinese into English, and trying to trace ancestors before they arrived in Gold Mountain. One of the most helpful links I’ve found on the page is a transcribed index of Chinese who have Case Files.
If your ancestor crossed the border from Canada into the United States even once during the Chinese Exclusion Act period (1882-1943), chances are good to great there is a detailed case file available for you.
Museum of Chinese in America Online Collections, New York, New York
A growing collection of epherma from Chinatown, NY. Browsable and searchable in English. I tried it with a few Chinese characters and wasn’t successful but it may be that the words I searched are not in the database too. There are three archives here – try the finding aids first before dipping a toe into the collection.
The Chinese Community at the Alaska – Yukon – Pacific Exposition of 1909 – Trish Hackett Nicola
Written by genealogist Trish Hackett Nicola, CG, this is a blog series profiling prominent and not-so prominent members of the Chinese community who were involved in or attended the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expo. I was surprised and pleased to see my great grandfather Yip Sang on this page. Trish also writes the Chinese Exclusion Case files blog – see above.
Survey on Race Relations (1924-27) – Institute of Social and Religious Research
The survey was a multi-year anthropological project studying social and economic factors of Pacific Coast Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and other minorities in Canada and the United States. First person interviews and some nine-hundred files are available at Stanford University Library and at the Online Archive of California. Of seeming interest to the surveyors were interracial relationships. There is an interview for Nellie Yip Quong. Cecil Lee, who married Grace Cumyow, was interviewed in 1924 (perhaps because he thought his origins so very different from hers).
If you dive in, fair warning the materials can be disturbing. The preamble of this $55K study said, “To the people of North America, the race problem is of tremendous importance in all their foreign and domestic relations; because whether we wish it or not, this continent has become in some sense a “melting pot” for all the races… the Pacific Coast is the racial frontier of the North American, as far as the Oriental is concerned. It is here that this problem is most keenly felt and best understood.”
Prominent Chinese Canadians
Noteworthy Historical (Asian) figures – Canadian Heritage
A quick who’s who of Asian-Canadians, from Shaun Majumder (This hour has 22 minutes) to Douglas Jung (Canada’s first Chinese Canadian MP). (In other words, it’s Asian, not only Chinese.) It was last updated May 2020 and has more Canadians that at first were listed, among them Kew Dock Yip and the Chinese students soccer team of 1933 (where cousin Robert Yip had a hand in persuading the government to add more folks).
Ballad of Old Yip Sang – James Flath, YouTube
A project of James Flath, a student at the Department of History, Western University, ON, in Feb 2018, this is a ballad celebrating the life of a Canadian who helped found Canada. The unique part – at least to me – is that this is the first ballad-style tribute I have ever heard about a Chinese person. Right now, I’m trying to think of all the cheesy camp songs, Westerns, movies, and music I’ve heard, and there is not a single one about an Asian of any stripe: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian. The fact that it is about Yip Sang is humbling.
Facebook for genealogy
Did you know that Facebook is the ideal platform for genealogy? I’m a member of a few genealogy groups that pique my interest. Check out this incredible list of Canadian Facebook groups courtesy of Gail Dever and Genealogy a la carte.
I highly recommend you try joining a few groups that interest you, and ask a question. Or just follow the conversations as they evolve as others ask and answer questions. It’s like a realtime classroom. If you’ve already got a Facebook account, here’s the link to the Africa, Asia, Pacific Genealogy group, and here’s the link to my own group Genealogy for Asian Canadians, where we try to answer research questions on the fly.
This is a work in progress. Is this layout helpful or is it more confusing? Is there a link to something I should be including? Please send me a message.