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Chinese-Canadian Genealogy

Resources for Canadians of Chinese origin who wish to learn more about their personal connection to Chinese-Canadian history.

Your Ancestral Home

The majority of early emigrants from China to Canada came from the Pearl River Delta in southern China's Guangdong Province. This section provides more information about the geography of Chinese emigration (below) including maps and information about the county origins of emigrants. It also offers tips on locating your ancestral home (below).


A majority of early Chinese immigrants to Canada came from Guangdong Province in South China's Pearl River Delta . The emigrants came mainly from two districts in the province, San Yi (the Three Counties) and Si Yi (the Four Counties) as seen in the maps and table below. The provincial capital city, Guangzhou (Canton) was located in Panyu County, San Yi District.

Map image - map of China Map image - map of Guangdon Province, China
Map image - map of Pearl River Delta region Map image - map of Pearl River Delta counties
Map image - map of Hong Kong and Macao  


The table below lists the two districts and their constituent counties. There were also significant numbers of immigrants from counties in other districts. The Pinyin names are based on the preferred system used today to romanize Mandarin. However, people who lived in the Pearl River Delta spoke Cantonese. Due to dialectical variations, occurrences of county names in historical records may not always completely match the local Cantonese forms shown below. Moreover, attempts by Canadian immigration officials to record place names on documents such as head tax certificates may have produced results of questionable reliability. When examining place names associated with your family, therefore, do not expect absolute consistency in spelling and romanization.

  Pinyin Mandarin Local Cantonese Form Chinese characters
  Traditional Simplified
Province Guangdong Kwangtung
District Si Yi Sze-Yap
(4 Counties Group) Xinhui Sun Wui
  Kaiping Hoi-Ping
  Taishan Toi-Shan
  Enping Yin-Ping
District San Yi Sam-Yap
(3 Counties Group) Nanhai Nam-Hoi
  Panyu Poon-Yue
  Shunde Sun-Dak
Other Districts
In addition to the counties situated in Si Yi and San Yi Districts, significant numbers of Chinese immigrants came from counties in other districts:
Counties Zhongshan  


For detailed information on the geography of Chinese emigration, see:

The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas
Pan, Lynn, ed.
Ref. 325.251 E56p

  • Part I: Origins (p. 20-43)

The Perry-Castañeda Map Collection (University of Texas at Austin) has digitized the China AMS Topographic Maps. On the index map, Guangdong Province is located at the South East corner of the grid.


Chinese immigration certificates and Records of the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration include the district and village of origin of Chinese immigrants to Canada.

However, even with these details, locating your ancestral village on a map may be challenging. As in the case of personal names, village names were frequently recorded idiosyncratically by Canadian immigration officials. Moreoever, the construction of roads and factories, land reforms, and the establishment of communes under the communist government resulted in many changes to political and administrative land boundaries. In some cases, villages or hamlets were eliminated or put into groupings with others. This continued a tradition of rearranging and renaming local administrative units dating from imperial times.

The romanized spelling of the names has also resulted in changes to the names of villages. As well, the spelling of the names of Chinese villages has changed under the modern administration of the People's Republic of China (PRC). A further complication: some early 20th-century maps used place names based on a unique romanization system used by the Chinese post office of the time -- neither Wade-Giles nor Pinyin.


  • Gather as many clues as you can regarding the location and name of your family's ancestral village. It may have been recorded on tombstones or in other sources. If possible, identify Chinese characters for the village's name.

  • Speak to older relatives who may have heard or recall the name of the village. Ask them to write it down in Chinese characters if possible.

  • Study maps of China and of Guangdong province so that you can ask the right questions and put new information into context.

The following resources may be useful:

At the Vancouver Public Library

An Album of Chinese Maps (198-?)
CHI 912.51 A34a

Atlas of the People's Republic of China (1989)
Ref. 912.51 A882a

China: A Provincial Atlas (1995)
Ref. 912.51 H87c

Chung-hus Min Kuo Ti T'u Chi, 5 vol. (1963-67)
Ref. 912.51 C45n

The International Map of the World, at a scale of 1:1,000,000, includes maps of China. Sheets NF49, NG49, NF50 and NG50 cover Guangdong Province. These four map sheets are filed alphanumerically in Filing Cabinet Drawer 1.3 in the map area on Level 6 at the Central Library.


[Chinese Map Website]
This website, available in both Chinese and English, comprises maps of Chinese provinces and cities.

Village Database
This database of Chinese village names is derived from an Index of Clan Names By Villages originally published by the American Consulate in Hong Kong in the 1970s. Data entry for Taishan (Toishan) County is complete and Kaiping (Hoiping) is underway. The database allows searching on individual names, to identify districts, sub-districts and villages in which people with those names lived.