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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.


Living parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends and others are an invaluable source of information for your genealogical research. In many cases, they can provide information and clues that you will not find anywhere else. Older family members may remember events that occurred as much as 80 years ago or longer. They may even recall family members who lived in the nineteenth century. If your grandmother was born in 1920, it's possible that she remembers grandparents born as early as the 1860s.

People can tell you much more about a person than documents and records will ever reveal, such as details about their personal history, personality, habits, or hobbies.

It's crucial to interview family members as soon as possible. One of the most common mistakes made by genealogists is to start too late, after elderly relatives are no longer around. These Interview Techniques and Interview Questions may be useful.

In the case of a distant relative, you might be curious about exactly how you are related. Is he or she your first cousin once removed or your second cousin? For an explanation of family relationships and a useful chart, see Understanding Relationships.

  • Prepare for the interview ahead of time by deciding what questions you want to ask. Try to give the person you are interviewing an idea of what you hope to find out.

  • For each person you plan to interview, prepare separate interview forms to record the details you are expecting or hoping the interviewee will be able to provide.

  • Read about Chinese-Canadian history, culture, and geography in order to bring some background and context to the interview.

  • Try to be systematic. Focus on the interviewee herself at first. Then ask about her parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great-aunts and great-uncles.

  • Ask simple, direct questions, for example:

    Aunt Eva, can you please tell me when and where you were born?
  • Where appropriate, encourage the interviewee to expand on his or her answers. Ask "how", "why", and "what happened"?

  • Be careful not to badger or overwhelm the person you are interviewing. Try not to ask questions that start with "Do you remember. . . ?" Take a short break if the interviewee seems to lose interest or becomes tired.

  • Ask for spellings of names and surnames.

  • If the family member is vague or uncertain about dates, try to frame events within personal or historical events. For example, your aunt may recall shopping in Chinatown with her grandfather when she was around 10, which would have been in 1928. She may also recall that he died before her wedding in 1942. This means that he died between 1928 and 1942.

  • Ask to see any letters, diaries, certificates, or heirlooms the interviewee may have in his or her possession.

This section lists sample questions that could be asked when interviewing a relative about himself or one of his ancestors. For more information about interviewing family members, see Interview Techniques. (Note: For convenience, "he" and "his" are used generically).

Questions About Names

  • What was his Chinese name?

    • Clan name or surname

    • Generation name

    • Given name

  • Did he have other names, such as a milk name or school name?

  • Did he use any other names?

  • Did he adopt an English name?

Questions About Vital Details

  • When and where was he born?

  • When and where did he die? What was the cause of death?

  • When and where was he buried?

Questions About China

  • Where was his ancestral home in China?

  • How did he describe his town or village in China?

  • How did he describe his experiences growing up in China?

  • Did he send money back to China after moving to Canada?

  • Are there any family members still living in China?

Questions About Immigration

  • Why did he leave China to come to Canada?

  • When did he leave?

  • Who sponsored his passage or paid for his head tax?

  • From what port did he leave and by what route did he come to Canada?

  • What was his port of arrival in Canada?

  • When did he arrive?

  • What was the name of the ship?

  • If he returned to China, either permanently or temporarily, when and why did he go back?

  • Did any branches of the family go to other parts of the world?

  • Where did he live when he first arrived in Canada?

Questions About Parents

  • Who were his parents?

  • Did they have other Chinese or Western names?

  • When and where were they born, married, lived, died, and buried?

Questions About Siblings

  • Who were his brothers and sisters?

  • Did they have other Chinese or Western names?

  • When and where were they born?

  • When, where and who did they marry?

  • Did they have children? What were their names, and when and where were they born?

  • When and where did they die?

  • When and where were they buried?

  • If they are still alive, do you have their addresses?

Questions About Marriage

  • What was the name of his spouse?

  • When and where was she born?

  • Who were her parents?

  • When and where did she die?

  • When and where was she buried?

  • How did he meet her?

  • Why did they get married?

  • When and where did they get married and by whom?

  • Was he married more than once? (if so, collect details of all marriages)

Questions About Children

  • What were his children's names?

  • When and where were they born?

  • When, where and whom did they marry?

  • When and where did they die?

  • When and where were they buried?

  • If they are still alive, do you have their addresses?

Questions About Employment

  • What kind of work did he do?

  • If he changed jobs, why did he change?

  • Do you know the names of any businesses which he owned or where he was employed?

Questions About Residence

  • Where did he live (city or town)?

  • What was the address or approximate location of his home?

  • If he moved, why did he move and when?

  • Did he own his home?

Additional Questions

  • How did he describe his experiences growing up?

  • Do you know the names of any schools or colleges that he attended?

  • Did he attend church? If so, what denomination and where was it?

  • Did he go to Chinese school?

  • Did he have any special hobbies, interests, or habits?

  • Did he belong to a clan association, district association, the Freemasons or any other Chinese organization?

  • Did he serve in any wars? If so, do you know where he served?

  • What was his personality like?

  • What did he look like?

Questions About Sources

  • Do you have any photographs of him? (Ask to make copies).

  • Do you have his head tax certificate or know where it is?

  • Do you have any other documents such as birth, marriage or death certificates, head tax, will, employment records, etc.? (Ask to make copies).

  • Do you have items such as newspaper clippings, etc.?

  • Has anyone produced a family genealogy or a family history? If so, where is it

As you explore Family Sources and study Documents and Records to learn more about your family history, you may identify - and in some cases come into contact with - individuals to whom you are distantly related.

If you are interested in determining exactly how you are related to another person - or how any two people, living or dead, are or were related to each other - use this Relationship Chart [PDF].

When using the relationship chart to determine the relationship between two individuals:

  • Identify the common direct ancestor. For example, if Kenneth Mah is the grandfather of one person and the great-grandfather of another, he is their common ancestor.

  • In the top row of the chart, find the relationship of one of the two people to the common ancestor, for example "great-granddaughter".

  • In the left row of the chart, find the relationship of the second person, e.g. "grandson".

  • Follow the columns down and across to where they intersect. The box at which they intersect will show you the relationship (in this case, First Cousins Once Removed).

In Chinese, the names given to different family relationships differ according to the exact relationship. For example, whereas in English, both your father's mother and your mother's mother are your "grandmother", paternal and maternal grandmothers have different relationship names in Chinese. Full details and a listing of relationships, with both Cantonese and Mandarin spoken versions, are provided on the Chinese Kinship Terms web page.