This guide provides a list of resources helpful in your Chinese family history research. Keep in mind that your search will not be linear. Some finds will be discovered through dedicated hard searching and others by serendipity or a stroke of luck.
Tips For Getting Started:
1. Gather as much existing information you have from relatives or old documents. Start with what you already have, for example, interview older relatives, find old photographs and documents, letters and family stories you may have heard as a child. Some documents commonly found in Chinese American families are government-issued identification documents including Certificates of Identity, Certificates of Residence, and Permanent Resident Cards ("green cards"). Also look for wedding and Baby Month-old invitations and Red banners, letters from China and other legal documents such as birth and death certificates, deeds and military records.
2. Search passenger lists to find records of your family's immigration and travel to the United States. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are two examples of genealogy databases that have digitized and transcribed ship passenger manifest lists. These online sources also make available many marriage, death, birth, military and federal and state census records.
3. After you have searched for information about your family's immigration and travel to the United States, contact federal government archives to see if there are additional immigration-related records. Chinese immigrants and Chinese American citizens traveling in and out of the United States after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 were monitored by the federal government. Nearly all immigrants and travelers from the Chinese Exclusion Act era have case files containing interview transcripts, correspondence, government forms, photographs, and other records about individuals and families. These case files are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
4. Research family history in China by using your family's true surname to find your ancestral village and look for jiapus, Chinese genealogy books.
The following chapters provide more detailed information on how to research the resources for Chinese family history:
- How to Access Government Records (NARA and USCIS)
- How to Find Public Documents for a Paper Son or Paper Daughter
- Chinese Genealogy Books: Jiapu and Zupu
- How to Visit and Find Family Information at Chinese Cemeteries
- Chinese District and Family Associations
- How to Find and Visit your Ancestral Village
- How to Interview Chinese Family Members and Others
- Tracing Chinese Family History Through DNA Testing/DNA Testing Privacy and Security Considerations