Out of the Archives: Your Canadian Side

Asian American genealogy is difficult. My experience is mainly with Chinese American genealogy, so I’ll start there. As Chinese Americans immigrated, their names were changed to approximately English phonetics. Or they immigrated under false names, like the paper sons. Or the records were lost in the San Francisco fire, or the Chinese Revolution. Family records were destroyed in the 1950’s as the US government scoured Chinatowns for communist sympathizers.

Asian American genealogy is difficult, but not impossible. For some Chinese Americans, the Canadian government is here to help. The Library and Archives Canada have digitized a good number of immigration records through something they call Ancestor Search. To search for a Chinese Canadian, you can use their special database, aptly called “Immigrants from China, 1885-1949”.

Less genealogical, bust still wonderful is their digital image archive. A search for “Chinese” or “Chinois” brings up pages and pages of picture, like this orpailleur Chinois, vers 1875:


Chinese man panning for gold

Bilingual equivalent: Chinese man washing gold

Date(s): Vers 1875

Place: Rivière Fraser, C.-B.

Place of creation: No place, unknown, or undetermined

Extent1 photograph

Graphic (photo)
90: Open
Graphic (photo)
Copy negative PA-125990
90: Open
Item no. (creator)
Graphic (photo)
90: Open
90: Open
Other accession no.
1981-219 NPC

Terms of use: Mention : Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / PA-125990; Restrictions on use: Aucune; Droit d’auteur : Expiré

Additional name(s): Photographer: Inconnu.

Additional information: Described by the MSTRCAGE project.

Signatures and inscriptions: (Recto:) — /(Verso:) Chinese Man washing gold Fraser River.



2 thoughts on “Out of the Archives: Your Canadian Side

  1. Dear Molly,

    I’ve subscribed to your blog for just a little while, having stumbled on it by accident once, and thought your posts thoughtful. I was just struck by the substance of your post about the difficulty of Asian or Chinese American genealogy research, and wondered what resources you’ve been able to access. This one http://www.archives.gov/san-francisco/genealogy.html is a gateway into a lot. Thirty and forty years ago, my mother was able to navigate with persistence for our own family, and it has only gotten better for all the folks who have made this such a popular endeavor. http://www.immigrantships.net/ is one site that offers transcribed ship passenger registries based on port of entry and years but there are others. And, in a shameless plug for my mom, you might be interested as a librarian in her book, *Chinese American Names, Traditions and Transition, *which is published by McFarland. It was her avocation for decades, and although names research are definitely a niche interest in academia, her treatment is based on the origins of Chinese American names within their (our) historical context. In any case, I enjoy your blog and wish you well,

    Steve Louie

    • Thank you, Steve, for your genealogical tips and your kind words!

      I’m familiar with Canada because that’s how my own family came to North America. Persistence is definitely key in this kind of research. I’ll definitely check out the resources you’ve mentioned, including your mom’s book!

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