Stories of Overseas Chinese: How they connected with their families

May 29, 2019  - by 

Nearly 46 million people are overseas Chinese—people with Chinese origins who live outside of Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. Many overseas Chinese feel ties to their homeland and ancestors but know little about their heritage.

Finding records outside a person’s present country presents a serious challenge. The difficulty is often compounded by language barriers and unfamiliarity with local record-keeping practices. However, research and dedication can help overcome these hurdles.

Wars, neglect, political turmoil, and natural calamities destroy old documents. In some cases, official records were not kept or were scattered. In China, political upheavals destroyed many records, but some escaped or were re-created. In some cases, excellent alternative records may exist.

Many families, such as the family of Sannie Phaik San Lewis of American Fork Utah, kept jiapu, or Chinese compiled genealogies. These compiled genealogies go back generations and represent vast numbers of family members. Even if a family’s own jaipu was destroyed, another family’s records may include a wide range of descendants of original families.

a closeup of a chinese jiapu.

Finding these records and reading them can be difficult, but FamilySearch and partner genealogical organizations are making it easier. They have been gathering China genealogies into their collections and translating and indexing them to make them searchable online.

Help is also available from China. At the end of the 1800s, the Chinese government realized that they needed to build a bridge to overseas knowledge by connecting with others of Chinese descent.  They established the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office to reach out. As part of that outreach, they helped people locate and make connections with their ancestral homes.

Through jiapu research, many overseas Chinese families have come to know their heritage. Some have found family members they might otherwise never have known. Their stories, found below, are inspirational and uplifting.

Discovering your heritage helps fill a universal human desire to know where you came from. By reading the stories of others who have found their families, you can learn how to start connecting with your family—whether through your family’s records or your own research.

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  1. I’m looking for my wife’s JAPANESE ancestors but find it difficult unless we go to Japan & her home town. Will you have a Japanese index to help us out?