Philippines Cultural Groups

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It is important to learn the history of the ethnic, racial, and religious groups your ancestors belonged to. For example, you might want to study a history of the Chinese in Manila or a cultural survey of the Muslim Filipinos. This historical background can help you identify where your ancestors lived, when they lived there, where they migrated, the types of records they might be listed in, and other helpful information. Ethnic groups include 70% Filipino (Indonesian/Malaysian, Polynesian), 10% primitive Malaysian and Negritos, 10% Chinese, 5% East Indians, 3% Europeans and Americans, 2% Arabs and others.[1]

Present-day Filipinos come from a variety of backgrounds. The following important points will help you understand the modern Filipinos ethnic, cultural, religious, and social backgrounds. This information could give some clues to help you in your genealogical research.

The isolation of the Philippine islands has produced cultural, social, and linguistic diversity. There are over 87 spoken dialects and social patterns. Over 350 years of Spanish rule and years of American administration affected cultural and social life and contributed to a mixing of races. The Chinese, Japanese, British, and others also lived in the Philippines and contributed to its culture. Hence, the “average” Filipino, unlike his or her pure Negrito and Malay-stock ancestors, is a "Proto-Malayan"—a mix of various bloodlines and cultures. The following four groups of peoples produced unique records valuable for genealogical research: the Chinese, the Spanish, the Americans, and the Muslims.

Chinese[edit | edit source]

The Chinese were in the Philippines when the Spanish arrived, and in spite of Spanish fears and suspicions, they managed to grow and flourish. When the Spanish colonized Manila in 1571, there were only 150 Chinese residents; 30 years later, there were 30,000. Most of these Chinese immigrants were from Fukien Province in the region of Amoy.

Several record types give information about the Philippine Chinese. Spain’s desire to control the Chinese led them to take many Chinese censuses (padrón de chinos). Most of these censuses were taken in the 1800s. See the Locality section of the FamilySearch Catalog, under the provincial entry. For example, approximately 80 rolls of Metropolitan Manila Chinese census registers dated from 1786 to 1901, are found under:


The library also has Chinese baptism applications (FHL films 1037502–1037510) and some Chinese cemetery records (FHL films 1407481–1407491). Besides these Spanish documents of Chinese peoples, the Chinese produced several major published genealogies, such as:

  • Gamboa, Marina L. Locsin, 1750–1980: Genealogy. Negros Occidental, Philippines: Not published. 1981. (FHL book 929.2599 L819g; film 1148801.)

Other references are:

  • Ch’en, Ching-ho. The Chinese Community in the Sixteenth Century Philippines. Tokyo, Japan: The Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies, Tenrijihosha Printing Company, Limited, 1968. (FHL book 959.9 F2c.)
  • Amyot, Jacques. The Manila Chinese. Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University, Institute of Philippine Culture, 1973. (FHL book 959.9 F2a.)
  • McBeath, Gerald A. Political Integration of the Philippine Chinese. Berkeley, California, USA: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, 1973. (FHL book 959.9 F2m.)
  • Colorado University. Institute of Asiatic Affairs. Directory of Chinese Personal Names in the Philippines. Washington DC, USA: Reproduced and distributed by External Research Staff, Office of Intelligence Research, Department of State, 1953. (External Research Paper no. 110.)

In addition, the Philippine Chinese publish an annual journal:

  • The Annals of Philippine Chinese Historical Association. Manila, Philippines: Philippine Chinese Historical Association, 1970–. (FHL book 959.9 B2p.)

An example of emigration from Fujian Province, China, to the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaya can be found on the Internet at:

East Asian records are not listed in the FamilySearch Catalog. They are listed in the Asian Microfilm Card Catalog at the Family History Library, which can also be ordered on microfiche to a branch library (FHL film 1148276–1148281, 120882–1208872).

Spaniards[edit | edit source]

There were never more than 4,000 Spanish leaders in the Philippines at any one time, but in the early years (1521–1762) they provided the secular and ecclesiastical leadership. An index of all Spanish officials and employees who lived in the Philippines is in:

  • Magdaleno, Ricardo. Catálogo XX, Títulos de Indias. Valladolid, Mexico: Not published, 1954. (FHL book 946 N23m; fiche 6001595.)

Biographies of some of the Spanish nobility may be found in:

  • Retana, Wenceslao Emilio y Gamboa. Indice de personas nobles y otras de calidad quehan estado en Filipinas desde 1521 hasta 1898. Madrid, Spain: Librería de Victoriano Suarez, 1921. (FHL book 959.9 D32r; film 962157 item 1 or 1329150 item 8.)

Americans[edit | edit source]

The Americans occupied the Philippines from 1899 to 1935. In 1992 they still had two military installations there, Clark AFB, and Subic Bay Naval Station. These bases have since been abandoned by the American Military, and are now being developed as commercial and manufacturing centers. Most records made by the Americans remain in the Philippines in the U.S. Embassy. Many vital records created during the U.S. administration were stored in Philippine facilities; many of these were destroyed during World War II. See Philippines Archives and Libraries for the address of the U.S. Embassy Library. Look for service records for civil servants (mostly Americans) for 1898 to 1950 in the Locality section of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Muslims[edit | edit source]

The Muslim Filipinos (Moros) have remained distinct and comprise about five percent of the total Philippine population. The only primary information for the early Muslims comes from written genealogies called tarsilas. The tarsila, also called salsila, sarsila, or salasila, was derived from Arabic silsilah meaning chain or link.

A tarsila supports the claim of an aristocratic family that it descends from sultans or lesser nobility called royal datus or datos back to the prophet Muhammad. Tarsilas give information about the early history of the Muslim Filipinos and the ruling clans. They primarily served political purposes and were used to strengthen the legitimacy of the ruling class. Although limited in number and coverage, they are important for researching Muslim Filipinos. These records are usually written in Arabic script and in a local dialect. An in-depth study of the tarsilas of the Moros and several sample tarsilas are in:

  • Saleeby, Najeeb M. and Antonio Martel deGayangos. Study in Moro History, Law and Religion. Manila, Philippines: The Filipiniana Book Guild, 1976. (FHL book 959.97H6s; film 0795893.)

These histories by Peter G. Gowing also provide information about Muslims in the Philippines:

  • Muslim Filipinos–Heritage and Horizon. Quezon City, Philippines: New Day Publishers, 1970. (FHL book 959.9 H6g.)
  • Mosque and Moro: A Study of Muslims in the Philippines. Manila, Philippines: Philippine Federation of Christian Churches, 1964.

Native Minorities[edit | edit source]

There are few significant records for local native minorities, but some helpful reference materials are described in:

  • Antonio, Celia M. A Preliminary Bibliography of Philippine Cultural Minorities. Quezon City, Philippines: Commission on National Integration, 1967. (FHL book 959.9 F23a.)

For more information on these and other minorities, see the FamilySearch Catalog, under:


References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Philippines,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1986-1999.