Historically, there has been a considerable amount of Chinese transmigration between the U.S. and Canada. It is possible that your ancestors spent some time in the U.S. or that a branch of your family settled there. This section provides basic information on Chinese-American history and genealogical resources.
This brief overview of Chinese-American history provides a context for U.S. genealogical research.
Documents and Records for Chinese-American Genealogy
Information about resources for Chinese-American genealogical research at the Vancouver Public Library, National Archives and Records Administration, and on the Internet.
Books for Chinese-American Genealogy
An list of useful books for Chinese-American historical and genealogical research.
Websites for Chinese-American Genealogy
Links to a wide range of websites related to Chinese-American heritage.
As in Canada, the roots of the Chinese community in the U.S. date back to the mid-19th century. Most 19th-century immigrants from China similarly originated from the Pearl River Delta area, and came to the country's west coast. In 1890, 107,488 Chinese were recorded in the California census, mostly men.
The first pioneers were attracted to California by gold discoveries in 1848. U.S. railroad companies imported Chinese labourers in the 1860s, and the Chinese also worked in the mining industry and in service occupations, such as laundries and restaurants.
While many Chinese labourers eventually returned to China, some settled, and their growing numbers eventually sparked a backlash leading to discriminatory legislation. The Naturalization Act of 1870 made Asians ineligible for citizenship. It was followed in 1882 by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which froze Chinese immigration, limiting it to diplomats, scholars, travelers, and merchants. The Scott Act of 1888 barred Chinese labourers from re-entering the U.S. once they had left.
San Francisco had a very large Chinese population, and the destruction of many birth records in the earthquake and fire of 1906 provided an opportunity to circumvent the Chinese Exclusion Act. In many cases, fraudulent records were created and "paper sons" invented.
In 1943, Congress repealed the exclusionary laws and Chinese could once again become naturalized citizens. However, immigration was restricted to a small annual quota of 105, although after the war, Congress passed legislation allowing Chinese war veterans to bring their wives to the United States.
The restrictions on immigration had encouraged the use of fraudulent identities, but in 1959, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service implemented a Confession and Amnesty program which allowed individuals to clear their immigration status. It wasn't until 1965, however, that Chinese immigration was placed on an equal basis with that of all other nations.
For more information on Chinese-American history, see:
- Books for Chinese-American Genealogy
- Websites for Chinese-American Genealogy
Information on Chinese ancestors in the United States is found in many sources used by genealogists to trace their roots in the U.S., regardless of ethnic background. These include records such as civil registration, census, directories, and others.
In addition to sources of common interest to Chinese and non-Chinese researchers, there are a number sources of genealogical information that specifically relate to the Chinese in the United States. Many are government records resulting from paperwork generated by exclusionary laws (see Chinese-American History).
FINDING THE RECORDS
At the Vancouver Public Library
The Vancouver Public Library collection includes a large number of books that introduce, explain, and explore techniques and tools for U.S. genealogical research. Use the Library's online catalogue to check for items of interest. For search tips, refer to Using the Library Catalogue. Information staff at any of VPL's branches will also be pleased to assist.
Vancouver Public Library users can also find a large amount of information relating to U.S. genealogical research, including Chinese-American roots, in the Ancestry Library Edition database. This database is available for free at all VPL locations. For more information on Ancestry Library Edition resources, see Online, below.
Records of Chinese passengers arriving by ship at Vancouver, British Columbia from 1906 to 1912 are available on microfilm. The immigrants were destined for the United States and were examined by U.S. immigration officials at the two Canadian ports. The microfilms contain records for over 13,000 Chinese passengers on 12 reels. Information contained in the records include name, gender, birth date and location, year of arrival, port of departure, port of final destination, name of ship, and last place of residence. Other information that may be available in the records include the passenger's age, marital status, physical description, occupation, citizenship (nationality), and next of kin. Records from January 3, 1906 to June 23, 1912 include additional information on passengers according to several categories: labourers, domiciled merchants and their wives and minor children, Chinese who had been born in the U.S., transits (passengers travelling through the U.S. to foreign destinations), and exempts (passengers exempt from provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act and other laws and treaties). These records are also available online through Ancestry Library Edition (see Vancouver, British Columbia Passenger Lists - Chinese Arrivals, 1906-1912, 1929-1941 below).
The resources listed below provide direct access to specialized databases of records specific to Chinese individuals in the United States. Many additional genealogical records for Chinese-Americans are found in other sources, such as U.S. census records. For basic information and key links, see the Vancouver Public Library's quick-reference guide to U.S. genealogical research. Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956 includes many records of Chinese entries and is available at all Vancouver Public Library locations through Ancestry Library Edition (or to individual subscribers through Ancestry.ca). For links to websites of Chinese-American historical societies, museums and heritage projects, see Websites for Chinese-American Genealogy.
Chinese Case Files for District No. 9, Chicago, 1898-1940 (RG 85)
Free browsable list of personal names corresponding to Chinese case files for District No. 9, Chicago, held by the NARA Great Lakes Region office in Chicago.
Chinese Case Files for District No. 10, St. Paul, 1906-1942 (RG 85)
Free browsable list of personal names corresponding to Chinese case files for District No. 10, St. Paul, held by the NARA Great Lakes Region office in Chicago.
Chinese Immigration Records
Listing of Chinese immigration documents available through the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
The Chinese in California, 1850-1925
A free collection of about 8000 images illustrating nineteenth and early twentieth century Chinese migration to California. Includes a wide range of original source material, including letters, extracts from diaries, business records and many others. Subject, Title, Name, Group and Theme indexes are included.
Free access to indexes and digitized images corresponding to two sets of NARA records. The first comprises 245 documents from Chinese Exclusion Acts Case Files, 1880-1960 held by the NARA Northeast Region (New York City) office. The second is made up of 163 Immigration Investigations Files Relating to the Enforcement of the Exclusion Acts, 1882-1943, held by NARA Pacific Region offices in San Bruno and Laguna Niguel in California and Seattle, Washington.
Hawaii Chinese Exclusion Index
An index to over 16,6000 "Chinese Exclusion" case files created by the Honolulu District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, from approximately 1903-1944. Available for free through Ancestry Library Edition at all Vancouver Public Library locations or to individual subscribers through Ancestry.ca.
New York Chinese Exclusion Index
An index to over 18,500 "Chinese Exclusion" case files created by the New York District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, from approximately 1882-1960. Available for free through Ancestry Library Edition at all Vancouver Public Library locations or to individual subscribers through ancestry.ca.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chinese Arrivals, 1900-1923
An index to over 18,500 descriptive lists of Chinese seamen arriving at the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between 1900 and 1923. Available for free through Ancestry Library Edition at all Vancouver Public Library locations or to individual subscribers through Ancestry.ca.
San Francisco Chinese Exclusion List
An index to over 5000 "Chinese Exclusion" case files created by the San Francisco District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, from approximately 1903-1944. Available for free through Ancestry Library Edition at all Vancouver Public Library locations or to individual subscribers through ancestry.ca.
U.S. Chinese Immigration Case Files, 1883-1924
An index to 3,504 court case files regarding the U.S. Chinese exclusion and other strict immigration laws against the Chinese that were enforced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Available for free through Ancestry Library Edition at all Vancouver Public Library locations or to individual subscribers through ancestry.ca.
Vancouver, British Columbia Passenger Lists - Chinese Arrivals, 1906-1912, 1929-1941
Records of 13000 Chinese passengers arriving by ship at Vancouver, British Columbia from January 3, 1906 to June 23, 1912 (excluding January 22, 1910 to January 20, 1912). For the period of June 22, 1929 to January 10, 1941, records also include passengers who arrived at Victoria. The immigrants were destined for the United States and were examined by U.S. immigration officials at the two Canadian ports. Records may include: name of passenger, gender, birth date and place, final destination, name of ship, date of arrival, port of departure, and place of last permanent residence. The database is available for free through Ancestry Library Edition at all Vancouver Public Library locations or to individual subscribers through Ancestry.ca
The books listed below focus fully or in part on Chinese-American genealogy and history. Titles owned by the Vancouver Public Library are linked to their full bibliographic descriptions in the online VPL Library Catalogue. Publisher information is included for titles not owned by VPL, which may be available through interlibrary loan.
General works on U.S. genealogy and history may also be useful for Chinese-American genealogical researchers. For assistance locating these materials, please contact or visit your local library.
Asian American Genealogical Sourcebook (1995)
Byers, Paula K., ed.
Ref. 929.373 A83b
China Connection: Finding Ancestral Roots for Chinese in America (1994)
Low, Jeanie W. Chooey
Ref. 929.351 L91c
The Chinese in America: A Narrative History (2003)
Chinese Newspapers Published in North America, 1854-1975 (1977)
Lo, Karl and H.M. Lai, comps.
Washington, D.C.: Center for Chinese Research Materials
The Chinese of America (1980)
The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas (1999)
Pan, Lynn, general editor
See "The United States", p.261-273
A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Immigrant & Ethnic Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage (2000)
Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo
A History Reclaimed: An Annotated Bibliography of Chinese Language Materials on the Chinese of America (1996)
Lai, Him Mark
Ref. 973.04X L15h
Los Angeles: Asian America Studies Center, University of California
How and Where to Research Your Ethnic-American Cultural Heritage: Chinese Americans (1979)
Reed, Robert D.
Saratoga, California: Robert D. Reed
Linking Our Lives: Chinese American Women of Los Angeles (1984)
Asian American Studies Center / Chinese Historical Society of Southern California
A Student's Guide to Chinese American Genealogy (1996)
Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press
Companion website to a PBS series focusing on the Chinese immigration experience in the U.S.
The Asians in America Project - Chinese Directory
The goal of the web-based Asians in America Project is "to be a central source of information for all things of interest to people of Asian Pacific descent living in the United States." The Chinese section of the site's online directory includes links to a wide range of organizations encompassing a variety of interests (historical, political, etc.)
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience
Companion website to a Bill Moyers Special on Chinese-Americans. Includes personal stories contributed by individual Americans of Chinese descent.
The Chinese American Experience: 1857-1892
From Harper's Weekly's Explore History site. This page explores Chinese-American history through extracts from Harper's Weekly dating back to 1857.
Chinese American Museum
Based in downtown Los Angeles, the Chinese American Museum recently launched a Family History Scrapbook Program.
Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco
Among its many activities, the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco runs an annual In Search of Roots program, involving a year-long commitment to researching one's Chinese-American family history and genealogy. The program culminates in a root-seeking trip to China.
Chinese Historical and Cultural Project
Based in Santa Clara County, California, the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project is dedicating to promoting and preserving Chinese-American and Chinese history and culture through community outreach activities.
Chinese Historical Society of America
The Society, based in San Francisco, California, is the oldest and largest organization dedicated to the study, documentation and dissemination of Chinese-American history.
Chinese Historical Society of Southern California
The purpose of the Los Angeles-based Society is "to bring together people with an interest in the important history and historical role of Chinese and Chinese Americans in Southern California." Contents of the Society's journal, Gum Saan, are posted on its website. Some articles may contain information about individual Chinese ancestors.
The Chinese in California, 1850-1925
This Library of Congress website illustrates 19th- and early 20th-century immigration to California through thousands of images and pages from primary source materials, including photographs and other illustrations, letters, excerpts from diaries and much more.
Chinese-American Museum of Chicago
The museum is dedicated to promoting exhibitions, education and research relating to Chinese-American culture and history in the midwestern United States.
Chinese-American Contribution to the Transcontinental Railway
This online exhibition developed by the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum commemorates the vital role of Chinese labourers in constructing the railroad linking the east and west coasts of the United States.
Introduction to the Chinese Exclusion Act Files
Based on a solo show, "Paper Son", written and performed by Chinese-American Byron Yee. Includes examples of immigration documentation relating to two individuals and containing valuable genealogical information.
Museum of Chinese in America
The New York-based Museum, dedicated to reclaiming, preserving, and interpreting the history and culture of the Chinese and their descendants in the Western Hemisphere, is an important repository of archival materials about Chinese life in America.
San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
The Museum's mission is "to collect, preserve and share the Chinese American experience and Chinese history, culture and art to educate the community and visitors."