Chinese Footprints Across Canada


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Presented on October 5, 2013. Presentation examines how one approaches Chinese Canadian genealogy research.

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Chinese Footprints Across Canada

  1. 1. Chinese Footprints Across Canada May P. Chan Prairie History Room, Regina Public Library Presented on October 5, 2013 SGS Conference, Moose Jaw, SK © 2013
  2. 2. Overview Introduction Perceived Challenges Starting your family history research Understanding Chinese Names Researching Chinese Canadian history Brief Timeline of Chinese Immigration to Canada Tracking down specific records Recommended Resources – Online and Print Conclusion
  3. 3. Introduction The majority of genealogical resources and services are geared towards those researching British, American and even Western European roots Researching other “ethnic” roots can be extremely challenging As our communities globalize, there is now more attention directed towards “ethnic” genealogical and historical resources  “Mini-splurts” of historical information that are available online – eg. Immigrants from China database and the Chinese-Canadian Genealogy website
  4. 4. Perceived Challenges  Language Barrier Chinese – 7 major dialects (includes Mandarin and Cantonese) and 4 writing systems (includes pinyin)  You do not necessarily need to know Chinese to begin your research but knowing the language will be extremely helpful  Lack of Direction or Guidance  Where does one begin? China? Canada? Vancouver?  Lack of Available Records  For example, CPR railway employee records  Lack of Cultural Understanding
  5. 5. Starting Your Family History Research 1. Gather what you know about the family 2. Talk to relatives 3. Write it down!!! 4. Focus your search 5. Discover your local resources – libraries, archives, museums, genealogical societies, etc. 6. Search the internet 7. Organize your research 8. Rethink your search strategy 9. Plan your next step
  6. 6. Understanding Chinese Names Western Naming Convention: May Chan Chinese Naming Convention: Chan May (Mie Ping) Important Tip!!! Like many ethnic immigrants, some Chinese immigrants “Westernized” their names or had their names “Westernized for them by government officials. It is very important to record all name variations. Example: Yut Aung Mak (my paternal grandmother) Mak Yut Hung Mai Yuen Ying
  7. 7. Understanding Chinese Surnames Tip #2: Determine the Chinese character for your family name. For example, according to In Search of Your Asian Roots, “Chen” is represented by 5 different characters, each representing different areas of China and time periods. Chen = Chan, Chin, Tan, Zen, Jin (Korean), and Tr n (Vietnamese)ầ 5th most common surname in the China!
  8. 8. Understanding Chinese Surnames Original Map Source: http://  Like many Chinese immigrants to Canada, my family originated from Guangdong province (Southern China). My family speaks Taishan (Toisan), a regional dialect of Cantonese. Taishan was the predominant Chinese dialect of many North American Chinatowns up until the late 20th century.
  9. 9. Brief Timeline of Chinese Immigration to Canada – Part 1 1st Arrival of Chinese Immigrants to Canada Chinese Settlements Chinese and the Canadian Pacific Railway. 1st Chinese Head Tax Chinese in Saskatchewan Increased Chinese Head Tax 1788 1858 1880 to 1885 1885 1889 1903 50 Chinese carpenters and craftsmen first arrived in Canada as part of John Meare’s crew. The first Chinese gold-miners arrived in British Columbia from San Francisco. Almost all of the early Chinese “pioneers” settled in British Columbia. The construction of the western section of the Canadian Pacific Railway employs thousands of Chinese workers. Many of these workers came from Guandong province in Southern China. After the completion of the CPR and the lack of need for Chinese workers, the Canadian Government introduced the first head tax to stem the immigration tide. The tax forced Chinese immigrants to pay a tax of $50 per person. First Chinese- owned and operated business in Moose Jaw was Mr. [Tim or Him] Lee’s Lee Kee’s Chinese Laundry. By 1910, Moose Jaw was home to the largest Chinese settlement in Saskatchewan. To stem the ever- increasing Chinese immigration to Canada, the federal government raised the head tax to $500 per person.
  10. 10. Chinese Head Tax (1885 – 1923)  Tax fixed on all Chinese entering Canada. The Chinese were the only ethnic group to be taxed by the federal government in this manner.  Exemptions to the tax were given to Chinese students, teachers, merchants and diplomats.  Between 1885-1923, there were 10,000 Chinese listed as having paid the head tax (source: The federal government collected approx. $23 million in head taxes (source:  Note: Canada was not the only country to impose a head tax on Chinese immigrants. Can you guess which other country imposed a head tax on the Chinese?Image Credit: Original Document: Trail City Archives/1253
  11. 11. Brief Timeline of Chinese Immigration to Canada – Part 2 Chinese Immigration Act (the Exclusion Act) Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act. Right to Vote. Introduction of the “Chinese Adjustment Statement Program” Increased Immigration from Hong Kong Increased Immigration from China Federal Government Officially Apologizes for the Head Tax 1923 1947 1960 1996 2000 2006 The act effectively prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. Many wives and children in China were unable to join their husbands/fathers in Canada. This act essentially created a forced “bachelor society” for many Chinese men. The Chinese Immigration was officially repealed by the federal government on May 14, 1947. Chinese Canadians were also given the right to vote in federal elections. By 1959, there was a growing concern about the number of illegal Chinese immigrants in Canada. The federal government introduced a program that eventually granted amnesty to over 12, 000 paper “sons” and “daughters”. With the hand over of Hong Kong to China in 1997, many Hong Kong residents opted chose to emigrate to Canada. Between 1991-1996, it is estimated that 20, 000 Hong Kong residents immigrated to Canada annually. According to the 2002 Statistics Canada, immigration from Mainland China accounted for 15% of all immigrants to Canada. After decades of Chinese groups lobbying the federal government, on June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a public apology and $20, 000 compensation for those who paid the head tax. 
  12. 12. Concept of Paper “Children” Even after the Exclusion Act was repealed in 1947, restrictions on Chinese immigration continued and led to a growing black market for illegal birth documents. Immigrants (paper “sons” or “daughters”) would purchase these bogus documents stating they were children of Chinese already living in Canada. Between 1960 and 1973, over 12, 000 paper “sons” and “daughters” were granted amnesty by the federal government and naturalized as citizens  Note: there maybe reluctance by family members to admit that this practice may have occurred
  13. 13. Where NOT to Look for Chinese- Canadian Ancestors… …at least when it comes to Saskatchewan Local History Books Unfortunately, very few Chinese families are mentioned in the over 2,000 community and church books published for Saskatchewan Homestead Files Chinese were not allowed to own land. Even though many early Chinese immigrants were farmers, they were forced to worked as labourers. Instead of land, they often owned businesses such as laundries and restaurants. CPR Employee Files  CPR Archives only holds records pertaining to the development of the company. It does not hold HR records!
  14. 14. Where to Look for Chinese- Canadian Ancestors…  Vital Records Check with the appropriate provincial agency (e.g. Vital Statistics, eHealth, etc.)  Census, includes Federal (1851 onwards) and Prairie (1906 & 1916)  Directories – phone, city, businesses, etc. Tip #3: Be on the look out for Chinese directories & telephone books!  Immigration Records – includes Head Tax files, passenger lists, and naturalization records  Newspapers - Birth, marriage and death announcements  Cemeteries Note: Chinese tradition of burying bodies twice can make it difficult to locate burials of earlier Chinese immigrants
  15. 15. 1985 Saskatchewan Chinese Directory Be careful! Not everyone listed in the directory were actually Chinese!
  16. 16. Recommended Online Resources The best starting place for your Chinese-Canadian genealogical research is… Vancouver Public Library’s Chinese-Canadian Genealogy Website (http:// - FREE Also features the Chinese-Canadians: Profiles from a Community Project Wiki (http://
  17. 17. Recommended Online Resources  Canadian Genealogy Centre, Library and Archives Canada (census returns & passenger lists; http:// – FREE  Immigrants from China Database – 1885 to 1949 ( – FREE  Contains the names of over 98 000 Chinese immigrants to Canada, including the Port of New Westminster Register of Chinese Immigration (1887-1908) and Newfoundland Register of Arrivals and Outward Registrations (1906-1950)  Tip # 4: Read over LAC’s helpful resource guide that explains the how the records were created and organized ( chineseguide) - FREE
  18. 18. Immigrants from China Database Miss Rohda Clow – [Victoria] – [January 2, 1913] – Registration #13347 – Certificate 75478 – File 560326 - $500 – Female - Age 1
  19. 19. Recommended Online Resources  Multicultural Canada (Chinese newspapers, newsletters and association records; http://multiculturalcanada. ca) - FREE  Can search by keywords Files are either in English or in Chinese
  20. 20. Recommended Online Resources  Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia: An Electronic Inventory (portal; - FREE Tip # 5: Besides the documents/records, do not overlook the list of associations that could also provide additional information for your research!!!
  21. 21. Recommended Online Resources  ( - FREE  Cemetery Records 1820-1983 ( - Images ONLY!  Collection of Genealogies 1239-2011 ( - Images ONLY! Chinese Genealogy – Trace Your Family Tree in China ( - FREE Chinese/Siyi Genealogy ( – FREE
  22. 22. Recommended Print Resources  Boey, Danny. Basic Guide to Chinese Genealogy. Singapore: Chinese Roots, c2002.  Chao, Sheau-Yueh J. In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Clearfield, 2000.  Tompkins, Janet. “Chinese-Canadians in Search of Immigrant Ancestors - Current and Potential Resources.” In International Genealogy and Local History: papers presented by the Genealogy and Local History Section at IFLA General Conferences 2001-2005, edited by Ruth Hedegaard and Elizabeth Anne Melrose, 203-229. München: Saur, 2008.
  23. 23. Recommended Print Resources  Luk, Lordson W. The Assimilation of Chinese in Saskatoon. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: L. W. Luk, 1971.  Project Integrate: An Ethnic Study of the Chinese Community of Moose Jaw. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan: [s.n.], 1973.  Smith, Heather (curator) and Soo Wen Lee (essay). Crossings: A Portrait of the Chinese Community of Moose Jaw. Moose Jaw, SK: Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery, 2005.  Marshall, Alison R. Way of the Bachelor: Early Chinese Settlement in Manitoba. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2012. Check your public library for additional information on Chinese immigration and settlement in Canada.
  24. 24. Conclusion Researching Chinese genealogy is no more challenging than researching other ethnic roots You need to employ more than one research tool and a variety of research strategies You do not need to read and write Chinese to begin your genealogy but it will be helpful down the road READ!!! Researching past immigration policies, socio-economic conditions and local customs are all useful in helping to locate and understanding how records were created and what records maybe available for your family history research.
  25. 25. Thank-you! Contact: Email: