Study Chinese name resources or consult individuals familiar with Chinese language and names to determine possible name variations based on dialectical or romanization differences.
Whether searching for Chinese names on microfilm or in printed and electronic sources, begin by looking up or entering the most specific form of the name that you know, for example, Won Alexander Cumyow.
If you do not get useful results, expand your search by removing one or more of your terms, e.g. Alexander and / or Won. Focus on the name(s) that would seem to be less common - in this case, Cumyow.
Some search engines allow soundex or approximate searches. (Soundex means that the search engine will search for names that sound similar to the name that you enter). Bear in mind, however, that soundex and approximate searches do not always pick up all possible matches, and this may be more likely to occur with non-European names.
When searching for Chinese names, try reversing name order. For example, as described above, Won Alexander Cumyow's surname was actually Won, but in more than one database, Won (or Wan) appears as as his first name.
Also, try searching only in the surname field or only in the first name field. As suggested above, begin with a specific search and then expand your search by removing terms if you are not getting good results.
Wildcards and exact phrase searches may help considerably when searching for Chinese names in electronic databases. The characteristics of these features vary from one database to another. The following is a general overview. Check each database's Help pages for specific instructions:
Wildcard characters can be substituted for any characters at the beginning, end or within a search term. For example, the B.C. Archives online Vital Events indexes search engine uses * as a wild card. A search for Ch*ng retrieves references to people named Chang, Cheng, Ching, Chong and Chung.
Note, however, that wildcard symbols do not replace absent characters. For example, a search for *ng will pick up the names, Eng and Ong but not Ng.
However, depending on the name you are searching, the wildcard symbol may pick up irrelevant results.
For example, a search for Ma* will collect hits for the common Chinese surname Mah or Ma, but will also pick up names like Maguire, Martin, and Maxwell.
In this case, it might be helpful to do two searches - an exact search for Ma and a wildcard search for Ma*
Exact phrase searches retrieve only records in which the information is exactly the same and appears in exactly the same sequence as entered in the search strategy. This type of search often uses quotation marks. For example, an exact phrase search for the given names "Lim Soon" would only retrieve records in which the individual's given names appeared exactly in sequence as Lim Soon. It would not retrieve Soon Lim or any records in which only Lim or only Soon appeared.
If your ancestor owned a business, it is possible that he used the name of the business as a personal name. Try searching for the name of the business too.
In all cases, do not depend solely on information found in indexes. Whether it is a birth, census or other type of record, always look up the original source. This will help verify your findings and may provide further clues about your family.