How to Find My Chinese Ancestors by Sunny Morton
Chinese families have been recording genealogy for nearly a thousand years. Their unique records may help you trace your Chinese ancestry into the distant past.
What Chinese Genealogy Records Exist?
Before people had tools to write their family lines in books, family histories were recorded on shells, bones, and even in bronze. Some people kept counts of their generations by tying small objects into knots on ropes.
By the mid-1600s, Chinese genealogy began to be recorded in manuscripts called Jiapu (家譜) and broader clan records known as Zupu or Zhupu (族譜). Nearly all families in the Han ethnic group and many families in minority ethnic groups created these genealogy manuscripts. Those who reverenced their ancestors as part of their religious practice considered it critical to maintain these records. While wealthier families had more resources to preserve and print Jiapu, poorer and rural Chinese clans kept them too.
Today, about 85% of surviving Jiapu are publicly available but are scattered throughout libraries in Asia and the United States. These records cover up to a quarter of Chinese people who have lived since the 1600s. Some have been published as multivolume book series. The rest are mostly original manuscripts that remain in private family collections. Unfortunately, many Jiapu were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.