China Compiled Genealogies
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Lineage Genealogies (Jia Pu)
In the history of the Chinese people, there are three important elements that are significant. They are China's history, the local gazette, and a clan's genealogy. Among these three elements, genealogy has the longest history and is the most influential.
Clan or lineage genealogies constitute the major source material for Chinese family historians and genealogists. Scholars have shown that clan genealogies can be a valuable source for research into Chinese history. Since most genealogies continue into the early or mid twentieth century, a researcher who can connect into a lineage genealogy can often determine their pedigree quickly and accurately back to the 1600s and, typically, much further.
The size, generational depth, and type of information included in clan genealogies vary a great deal. Most of the genealogies microfilmed in various library collections are printed books that average ten volumes per title. However, most of the genealogies collected in special projects from private individuals in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, and the United States are single volume manuscripts.
Record Type: As a society that practices ancestor veneration, the Chinese have traditionally kept genealogies. These include zongpu (general genealogies), zupu (clan genealogies), jiapu (extended family genealogies), shipu (branch genealogies) and jiacheng (family records or annals). Printed and manuscript genealogies differ in scope. Those that are printed (usually in only small quantities) cover the broader family; manuscripts cover more narrow lineage and more immediate generations.
Time Period: Few genealogies were kept before the Song dynasty (960), though some date from the time before Christ. Most date from the Qing dynasty (1600s to present).
Contents: Records show lineage structure and cite achievements of family members. They show male descendants in linked patrilineal sequence from founding ancestors, indicate generation order and the pertinent branches. Standard entries include generation order, surnames and usually multiple given names of males, death date or burial date and place, patrilineal lineage and often the surname of the wife's family. Other entries may include the name of the wife's father, titles and honors for more noteworthy individuals, and more recently the given names of women. Specifically, tables begin either with the ancestor who is believed to be the founder of the clan or lineage (often in early periods) or with the first ancestor who immigrated to a specific locality in the more recent past and became the founder of the lineage that sponsored compilation of the genealogy. In either case, information is more detailed for members of the localized lineage. The maximum amount of information that may be recorded for individuals appearing in the tables is as follows:
- personal names, style and literary names;
- relationship to father (natural offspring or adopted), order of birth, name of father;
- education and government service-degree and date of highest successful examination (or university degree in recent times), highest official appointment, titles and honors;
- birthdate (year, month, day, and hour);
- date of death (year, month, day, and hour);
- burial location and exact situation of grave;
- age at death, if the deceased was especially long-lived;
- surname of wife, often her personal name and native place, exceptionally the names of her father and other notable male relatives;
- titles of merit conferred on wife, especially widows who did not remarry;
- birthdate of wife (year, month, day, and hour);
- date of wife's death (year, month, day, and hour);
- age of wife at death, if exceptionally long-lived;
- all or part of above data for additional wives and/or concubines;
- location and situation of grave(s) of mate(s);
- sons sired, sometimes according to natural mother, by name and order of birth (with special notation of biological fathers of adopted sons, sons adopted out to collateral lineages, heirship agreements, and occasionally sons who died in infancy or childhood);
- daughters sired may be listed simply by the total number of female births, or by order of birth, or omitted entirely (occasionally husbands of married daughters will be identified by village, surname and personal name, and complete names of their fathers);
- individuals who entered monastic orders may be omitted from the record altogether or merely identified as having “left the family” with no further information given.
Location: Genealogies are scattered in libraries throughout mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and in the United States. These public collections consist chiefly (some 85%) of published genealogies with about 15% as manuscripts. Many genealogies are in private possession of families. Of these, an estimated 85% are manuscripts and 15% are printed genealogies. Many genealogies in mainland China were destroyed during the cultural revolution. These were kept in ancestral halls, few of which now exist. Existing manuscript genealogies are likely in private possession of senior family representatives.
Population Coverage: Existing published and manuscript genealogies may cover as much as 25% of the historical population since the 1600s. This figure would be closer to 60% of the post-1600 population if the preservation ratio was higher. Published genealogies include those families with resources to organize, edit and produce genealogies. Manuscript genealogies were likely created for nearly all extended families in the dominant Han ethnic group and to a lesser extent for many national minorities, especially those who practice ancestor veneration. Individuals who brought shame to the family by criminal or other disreputable behavior, female children and children who died young may be omitted from the genealogical record. Wealth and prosperity may indeed be critical in regard to the ability of lineage members to print and distribute genealogies. However, recent studies have shown that the keeping of genealogical records was widespread among the less well-to-do lineages and families in towns and villages away from rich urban centers. The results from Taiwan reveal that among such populations most genealogies are handwritten documents, not published.
Reliability: Very reliable in recent generations, especially those subsequent to the “first ancestor who moved” to the present site of the lineage in question. There is general agreement that pedigrees may have weak generational links in very early generations, especially before the Tang Dynasty.
Jia Pu (translated as genealogy record), also known as Zu Pu, is a record of a clan's history and lineage. It documents the origins of the surname, the migration patterns of the clan, the family lineage, the ancestral biography, the story of the locality, etc.
The origin of Jia Pu spans many eras and has been found as early as the Shang Dynasty (1523 to 1028 BC). The family trees of the clans then were written on turtle shells, cow bones, and bronze. Prior to the invention of writing, Chinese genealogical information was recorded by tying knots on ropes. Objects (such as miniature arrows, shoes, cradle, bronze coins, and kneecaps of goats and pigs) were tied to the knots to show the number of generations, number of members (male and female), etc., in a family. This information was also verbally passed on to the later generations. These were the earliest forms of Chinese genealogical record.
The written Jia Pu contains entries about the migrations of the people and social evolution. It tracks the growth of the clan members by recording in detail their political, military, and academic achievements. It also eulogizes the clan's ancestors and encourages the future generation to do worthy causes to maintain the good name of the clan.
A Jia Pu usually begins with the primogenitor that first settled or moved to a place and started his family there, and should end with the contemporary generation that draws up the genealogy. The intermediate ancestors are to be enumerated in between. The primogenitor's sons and descendants compose the first six generations, and are tabulated on one form. The primogenitor's first-born son and subsequent first-born grandsons are listed vertically downwards on the right, while the brothers of the first-born are listed laterally on the left. Descriptions of each generation are confined in relatively narrow, horizontal divisions of the form. These spaces contain additional information, such as the ancestor's name and aliases, dates of birth and death, and official rank. The proceeding generations are recorded in a similar manner.
Jia Pu usually does not have prominent records of the women in the family. This is because in Chinese families, greater emphasis is placed on the sons, who will carry on the family name. When daughters marry, they are considered a part of their husband's family. Although their names are mentioned in both their family and in-law's Jia Pu, their significance is usually marginalized since they are unlikely to extend the family's lineage.
The objectives of Chinese genealogical research has tremendously changed over time. Researchers are now studying Chinese genealogies as a supplement to other research areas, such as social economic history, geographical history, history of law, population history, religion and culture, history of overseas Chinese, inheritance practices, and biography of historical figures.
Genealogies of the Imperial Clan Court and Genealogical Personnel Records
Research Use: These are lineage genealogies of elite families and a primary research source. A researcher who can connect into these genealogies can determine their pedigree quickly and accurately. These serve as vital records for imperial descendants and collateral imperial relatives. Usage varies depending on the specific record type.
Record Type: These are compiled genealogies of the emperors, their descendants, and collateral lines. These include the small and large imperial genealogy (1644-1911), the horizontal imperial genealogy (1796-1911), and the genealogies of the Imperial Household. Collateral and related lines are included in the red name register (1847-1898), the blue registers (1851-1911), and genealogies of officers of the Imperial Household with considerable information about them, their family and their lineage. Other genealogical records and rosters of imperial relatives include: Eight Banner generation lists (1816-1911); pedigrees for estate heads of the office of rent collection (1877-1910); genealogies of the office of rent collection, the imperial chancery, department of household guard and imperial hunt, and department of works (1736-1911), the blue roster of names and offices of officials (1798-1911), the 3-generation rosters and name list (1723-1911), census rosters of estate heads and bondservants of the Three Banners (1828-1910), records of bestowal and transmission of hereditary honorific titles and offices (1736-1911), and the donation list and 3 generation roster (1853-1885). The emperor’s kin and officers of the Imperial Household were a privileged class and these genealogies document relationship to the emperor and rights to privileges and entitlements.
Time Period: 1644-1911.
Contents: Information in the imperial genealogies is organized into pedigrees, including names of family members (lineage linked), with dates and places of birth, death, and marriage. Names of children and grandchildren, adoptions, positions held, official titles. The red name registers are a type of census of collateral imperial relatives (those descended from siblings of previous rulers). By regulation, births were registered once every three months. Afterwards, all vital events in the life of the individual were recorded as they occurred. These provide sub-divisional banner affiliation, names of parents and grandparents, names of children, generation name, birth dates and mother's of children, marriages, name changes, death dates, and gains or losses of inherited ranks. Adoptions are also noted. The Blue Registers include reports of births, marriages, and deaths of children of household officials as reported to captains. The imperial genealogy was compiled based on these registers. Many of the personnel records of the imperial household provided considerable genealogical information including often 3 generations or more of ancestry.
Location: First Historical Archives, Beijing, China.
Population Coverage: Estimated at 90% of the imperial elite, ruling class, less than 3% of the general population.
Reliability: Very reliable. The red name registers, for example, contain more information and more important data than was extracted and recorded in the imperial genealogy.
Chinese in South Pacific
For Chinese genealogies from the South Pacific see this article: Samoan, Tongan and other Polynesian Genealogies
Histories of Chinese Surnames in Wikipedia
Wikipedia has a number of very useful articles about Chinese surnames, detailing their origins, histories, and distribution in present-day China and sometimes beyond. You can view this example to see what one of the articles may have in it.
Many other pages about Chinese surnames can be found on this category listing page on Wikipedia.
Not all the pages have (surname) after them, since it is more obvious that the article is about a surname. There will be no specific genealogical data in these articles, only details of how the surname developed, and other historical matters.
To find a page for a surname that for some reason is not listed there, type the URL shown for the Yuan surname as shown above, substituting the surname you wish to see if there is an article about it where you see Yuan in the URL above. If that does not turn up any results that look right, take off the _(surname) part of the URL, and it is possible that it might be found that way. However, it is possible that articles about some surnames are not on Wikipedia yet.
Online Genealogical Resources
- China GenWeb
- Chinese Roots wiki
- DistantCousin.com resources for Chinese genealogy
- "华人家谱世纪大收集," a news article
- 河南省姓氏文化研究会家谱委员会, a research group
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: China,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1997.