Genealogical Sources for Overseas Chinese

Genealogical Sources for Overseas Chinese
on Microfilm at the Genealogical Society of Utah 

Melvin P. Thatcher
Genealogical Society of Utah

The Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) is a private, non-profit organization.  Its headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.  The GSU was founded in 1894 by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the purposes of collecting, organizing, and preserving historical records of value for genealogical research.  Originally manuscripts and books were collected and stored in its office, but in 1938 the GSU became one of the first organizations in the world to adopt the new technology of microfilming as a means of collecting and preserving historical records.

Microfilming technology enabled the GSU to establish an international record preservation program.  Through this program, in cooperation with local government and private institutions, the GSU has made significant contributions to the preservation of the records of the historical population of many countries.  One set of microfilms created as the result of cooperation has been deposited with the local institutions, and one set has been placed in the Granite Mountain Records Vault of the GSU for permanent preservation.  In order to facilitate research by scholars and the general public, the GSU catalogs the microfilmed records which it receives, and it makes copies of all unrestricted records available for use in its international branch library network.

The collection objective of the GSU is to acquire and preserve records for the majority of the historical population of a country.  These records must contain data which can be used 1) to identify individual people or 2) to establish family and generational relationships.  The types of records microfilmed in each country vary according to local record keeping practices and conditions.  Consequently, the microfilm collection of the GSU includes compiled sources such as genealogies, family histories, collected biographies, and local histories.  And it contains a wide variety of primary historical documents such as church registers of baptism, marriage and death, government registers of birth, marriage, and death, population census reports, tax, land, probate, and burial records, and staff and pension rosters.

The GSU collects records in a variety of ways.  Patrons of its main and branch libraries occasionally donate the results of their research to the GSU.  Whenever possible books and microforms are acquired by purchase or exchange.  However, the most common method of collection is the cooperative microfilming of original records.  Cooperation with record keeping institutions takes many forms and is based on the principles of equality and mutual benefit.

Overview of Overseas Chinese Sources

The biggest problem confronting Overseas Chinese who desire to trace their ancestry is identifying the names of immigrant ancestors and the name of their ancestral home.  Without the Chinese characters for these two kinds of names, there is almost no hope of connecting to a genealogy or archival sources which has been compiled in China.  Therefore, the Genealogical Society of Utah is making a concerted effort to acquire immigration records and Chinese language documents and publications generated by the Overseas Chinese community.  These sources provide the required names of individuals and associated places for linking to sources originating in China.

As noted above, in the course of its general microfilming program the GSU acquires birth or baptism, marriage, and death or burial records which are kept by churches and governments. Because Overseas Chinese have historically been singled out by some governments for registration purposes, the GSU has acquired some vital records which are exclusively for Chinese populations in host countries.  Another important source microfilmed in countries with significant Chinese population are traditional compiled genealogies.  All of these records provide primary data for genealogical research.

Genealogical sources have been acquired on microfilm by the GSU for Overseas Chinese populations in Chile, Hawaii, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Marianas Islands, the Philippines, Singapore, Tahiti, Thailand, and the United States mainland.  The description which follows briefly introduces only sources that are not readily available through research libraries; therefore, published academic works in the GSU’s collection are not mentioned.  Annotations for western language archival sources are taken from the GSU’s catalog record.


The GSU has one title on microfilm for Chinese in Chile:  Certificates of registration of Chinese nationals by the Chinese Consulate in Antofagasta, Chile, 1925-1926.  The text is in Chinese and Spanish, and each form includes a photograph of the person registered.


With the cooperation of the Hawaii State Archives, the GSU has microfilmed Chinese immigration and death records from the last half of the nineteenth century.  A brief list of titles by agency follows:

Board of Immigration

Certificates of identification of Chinese immigrants,   1895-1897.  1 reel. Includes names, photographs, dates of arrival and names of ships.
Chinese located on different streets in Honolulu,  [1898?].  On 1 reel.
Death certificates of Chinese immigrants, 1898-1902.  On 1 reel.
Records of deceased Chinese contract laborers, 1898.  On 1 reel. Includes records of “Deserted Chinese.”
Chinese arrivals, 1847-1880.  1 reel.  Includes persons not listed in ship manifest lists.

Department of Foreign Affairs, Chinese Bureau

Chinese work permits, 1895-1897.  2 reels.  Arranged alphabetically. Includes immigration data.
Labor permits of Chinese persons who died in Hawaii,  1895-1897.  On 1 reel. Arranged alphabetically.  Includes date of arrival in Hawaii and name of ship.
Departures of Chinese from Hawaii, 1852-1900.  1 reel. Arranged by date and name.
Chinese entry permits, 1888-1898.  2 reels.  Arranged alphabetically.
Index to entry permits of Chinese minors, 1891-1898.  On 1 reel. Arranged alphabetically.
Card index to Chinese passports, 1884-1898.  1 reel. Consists of two alphabetized card indexes.  The first lists individuals for whom the original passports were still on file at the time the index was compiled and includes some individuals whose passports were not on file.  The second lists individuals whose passports were not on file and covers the years 1891-1893.  It also includes a file of names Chinese arrivals in Hawaii, arranged by date, 1854-1898.
Special residence permits, 1891.  On 1 reel.  Arranged alphabetically. Includes dates of entry and departure.
Certifications of Hawaiian-born children of Chinese parentage, 1893-1898.  On 1 reel. Arranged alphabetically.  Includes place of birth and age of child on date of certification; often gives names of parents.
Registers, 1888-1898.  On 1 reel.  Includes the following registers: Hawaiian-born children of Chinese parents, 1893-1898; permits for Chinese merchants and travellers, 1888-1894; special residence bonds of merchants and travellers, 1892-1898;  special bonds, 1894-1895; and Chinese minors, with index, 1891-1898.

            Collector of Customs

Ship passenger manifests, 1843-1900.  72 reels.  Includes separate alphabetical indexes for Chinese (13 reels), Japanese, and Portuguese passengers and a general index covering  passengers of other nationalities.

          Department of the Interior
Chinese immigration applications, 1890-1892.  On 1 reel.

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Chinese immigration permits, 1893-1898.  1 reel.  Includes partial index.
Chinese passports, 1884-1890.  2 reels.
Conditional emigration permits of Chinese laborers and domestics, 1893-1897. On 6 reels.  In English and Chinese.

 Indonesia            With the help of Dr. Myra Sidharta of the University of Indonesia and the cooperation of the Southeast Asia Microform Project (SEAM), representing a consortium of US research libraries, the GSU has microfilmed the Gong Guan archives in Jakarta.  These materials are what is left of the records created for the Chinese community in Batavia by the Chinese Council (Gong Guan) between 1778 and 1957.  The archives include records of births, marriages, divorce, deaths, cemeteries, census, court cases, hospital, donations, announcements, minutes, taxes and accounts.  The most complete record runs are marriage, 1778-1918, and cemetery, 1830-1955.   All of these records except account books, and possibly tax records and minutes of meetings, are available on microfilm in the GSU collection, while all of the records can also be accessed through SEAM libraries and Center for Research Libraries in the USA.

Data for Chinese can be also found in most of the other record types that the GSU is microfilming in Indonesia (civil registration, church records, notarials, inheritance records, etc.), but some are focused solely on the Chinese population.  For example, Chinese birth, marriage, and death registers have been microfilmed in civil registration offices (kantor catatan sipil) and federal courthouses (pengadilan negeri) in at least seventy-five localities scattered across Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and Bali.  These registers generally cover the period from 1919-1945.  Another source of Chinese data available for a few localities are registers of the adoption of Indonesian names (pengakuan nama Indonesia) during the period from 1928-1945.
One genealogy has been filmed outside of the country which contains information for Chinese in Indonesia with the surname of Chen.

Malaysia            The genealogies and community records of Chinese Malaysians in the microfilm collection of the GSU were acquired primarily through cooperation with the Library and the Department of Chinese Studies of the University of Malaya between 1981-84.  Professor Tay Lian Soo, who is now teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was responsible for locating and negotiating permission to film Chinese records which were then filmed by the university library.  Chinese community publications and documents were collected on the Malayan Peninsula and in East Malaysia.   Additional titles for Chinese in Malaysia have been acquired through microfilming in other countries.

Classified by type of record, the GSU’s holdings for Chinese in Malaysia are as follows:

Number of Titles on

Record Type                  Microfilm                 Microfiche
Clan Association                      3                                25
District Association                  1                                115
Other Association                    2                                 44
Biography                                                                   6
Temple                                                                       6
Cemetery                                                                  13
School                                     1                                 9
Genealogy                               4                                41
Other                                      6                                11

The titles for all kinds of associations, temples, and schools on microfilm and microfiche are primarily publications, such as anniversary commemoration volumes, but also include some institutional records.  The cemetery titles are copies of burial registers or permits for 11 Chinese cemeteries in Malacca (5), Penang (3), Muar (2), and Johore (1).

The genealogies in the collection represent 21 surnames:  Cai, Chen, Hu, Kong, Li, Liang, Lin, Liu, Luo, Pan, Ruan, Shen, Tan, Wang, Wen, Wu, Xu, Yan, Yang, Zeng, and Zheng.

 Mariana Islands

The Mariana Islands were a province of Philippines during Spanish rule.  In a cooperative microfilming project with the Bureau of Records Management in the Philippines, the GSU acquired Chinese tax records (padrones de Chinos) from the Mariana Islands for the years, 1889 and 1891-1892.  The language of the record is Spanish.


Cooperative microfilming projects with libraries in Japan have yielded four genealogies for Overseas Chinese with the following surnames: Nagasawa, Sai, Yamazaki, and Harada.


A number of Chinese Korean titles have been acquired through cooperative microfilming projects with the Central National Library and university libraries in the Republic of Korea and with the Harvard Yenching Library; these include one title detailing the origins of twenty-four surnames whose representatives have joined an association for the descendants of Ming soldiers who either stayed or were left behind in Korea (in Mandarin, the Mingihui) and twelve genealogies for the following surnames: Dong, Jin, Li, Liang, Ren, Zhang, and Zhao.


References to Chinese can be found in most of the records filmed in the Philippines by the GSU.  However, some Spanish language record microfilmed in the National Archives, relate specifically to the Chinese population.  Listed by creating agency, they are:

Gobierno GeneralChinos II, 1501-1901.  128 reels.  Includes censuses, passports, passenger lists and other documents regarding Chinese in the Philippines; primarily late 18th-19th Century.
Defunciones de Chinos, 1890-1897.  On 1 reel.  Mainly death certificates of Chinese in the old Province of Manila, but all of the country is represented.  Most files include residency certificates of the person with place of birth, age, marital status, profession and address.
Pasaportes II, 1758-1898.  5 reels.  Passports of individuals entering and leaving the Philippines including lists of Chinese.
Pasaportes de Chinos, 1892-1897.  On 1 reel.  Passports of Chinese in the old province of Manila, which corresponds to the present Metro-Manila and its environs.

Administracion Central de ImpuestosPadrones de Chinos, 1786-1897.  81 reels.  Register of Chinese immigrants to the Philippines with their physical description and the taxes they paid; filmed for 53 municipalities throughout the country.

Archdiocese of ManilaSolicitaciones de Chinos sobre bautismos, 1774-1900.  9 reels.  Catholic baptismal applications of Chinese immigrants to the Philippines.

An important finding aid created by the National Archives for part of these records was also filmed:

        Index to Chinos, 1801-1902.  On 2 reels.  In Spanish.

Another set of Chinese records available in the GSU microfilm collection is the Manila Chinese Cemetery registers, 1875-1985.  These records are held by the Chinese Benevolent Association in Manila.  Individual entries give the registration number, name of deceased, Chinese and Western date of death, location of grave, and, when known, the last residence, native place, and age at death.  In some cases the “paper name,” i.e., the name under which the deceased entered the Philippines, is recorded.  In such instances, this record provides a crucial link between Chinese community records and government records.

Through  microfilming projects in the Philippines and in Taiwan, the GSU has also acquired the following Chinese language records for Chinese in the Philippines:

Record type                  Titles           CommentClan association                25
District association              1
Other associations              4
Genealogy                          1                Xihe Lin
Other                                  7

The potential for further filming of Chinese community in the Philippines are currently being explored.


Most of the GSU’s Singapore Chinese materials have been acquired from the National Archives and Records Centre (NARC) and the National Library.  With permission of the custodians of the original records, the GSU has been able to purchase microfilm copies of the following types of Chinese records:

                                                 Number of Titles on

Record Type                   Microfilm             Microfiche

Genealogy                                8
Clan Association                      31                          3
District Association                  12                          21
Other Association                                                   3
Church                                      5
Cemetery                                 10
Other                                        9                            4

The genealogies are for six surnames: Fu, Sun, Yang, Wang, Xu, Yang, and Zhang.  Chinese clan and district association records on microfilm include the following types of documentation and publications:

membership applications
membership registers
deceased member registers
scholarship register
marriage register
burial register
tombstone inscriptions
ancestral tablet register
genealogical record
local history
association history
commemorative publications
committee member register
staff register

Since most of these records are written in Chinese script, they provide potentially valuable links between Chinese Singaporeans and their kinsmen in China.


The GSU has microfilmed three Overseas Chinese records in Tahiti.  These include the minutes of the annual meetings and membership lists of the Chinese Benevolent Association (Nam Hoi Kon On Woi), 1940-1956, the charter, by-laws, and membership list of for the Societe Civile Immobliers Philanthropique Chinois, 1923, and Genealogie de Jean Sun (1974).


The GSU has not yet begun acquiring records in Thailand.  However, it has filmed a number of titles for Overseas Chinese in Thailand as part of projects in other countries as follows:

                                        Titles on
Record type               microfilm              Comments

Clan association               15
District association             6
Other associations             5
Genealogy                         3                      Qiu, Wang, Xu
Other                                3

The GSU is currently investigating the potential for microfilming Chinese community records in Thailand.

United States

The GSU has not done any microfilming projects in the Chinese American community on the mainland. Nevertheless, it has obtained some materials from government and private sources.  Immigration and Naturalization Service records for Chinese immigrants in the continental United States have been acquired on microfilm from the National Archives as follows:

Case files of Chinese immigrants from district no. 4 (Philadelphia), 1895-1920.  51 reels.
Lists of Chinese passengers arriving in Seattle and Port Townsend, 1882-1916.  10 reels.
Lists of passengers arriving in San Francisco, 1882-1914.  32 reels.
Registers of Chinese laborers arriving at San Francisco, 1882-1888.  12 reels.  Includes name, age, occupation, last place of residence, date of original arrival, dates of subsequent departures and arrivals, and other information.

The GSU has also microfilmed Chinese exclusion cases, 1904-1925 on 1 reel at the Natioanal Archives Branch in Kansas City, Missouri.

Several private collections containing Chinese American materials have also been acquired on microfilm.  These include correspondence and news clippings collected by Nannie F. Escola for Chinese in Mendocino, California and a card index of Chinese community events there compiled by the Kelley House  Historical Museum.  Microfilmed research notes of the Rev. Carl T. Smith, an avid genealogist and doyen of the social historians of Hong Kong, include the following items for Chinese in America:

Chinese educational mission to the United States.  Lists Chinese students who studied in the USA during the 19th century. — 57 leaves.
Censuses of California, 1852, 1860, 1870, 1880: Chinese names in census rolls.  Abstracts of original records. — 260 leaves.
Extracts of San Francisco newspapers. — ca. 180 leaves.
Chinese in San Francisco.  Various materials on the history of Chinese in San Franciso. – ca. 500 leaves.
Settlement and early land records in San Francisco.  Notes on the locations of property owned by Chinese immigrants and others. – ca. 175 leaves.
Records of the American Missionary Association (Congregational) among the Chinese; principally in California. – ca. 600 leaves.
Chinese in Hawaii.  Records from various sources including the Hawaiian Archives, extracts from “The Friend,” cemetery inscriptions, and church records. – ca. 800 leaves.
Chinese in New York.  Notes on the history of Chinese in New York City, with names and addresses of Chinese residents.  Many names written in Chinese characters. – ca. 200 leaves.
Chinese in Cincinnati and other places in Ohio.  Includes newspaper items and names and addresses of Chinese residents. – 82 leaves.
Chinese in Dayton, Ohio.   Includes newspaper items and names and addresses of Chinese residents. – 68 leaves.
Chinese in Colombus, Ohio.  Includes newspaper items and names and addresses of Chinese residents. – 153 leaves.
Chinese in Richmond, Virginia.  Notes concerning the history of Chinese in Richmond, including names and addresses. – 58 leaves.
Baptist work among the Chinese.  Abstracted transcription of original records.  Includes characters for Chinese names. – 89 leaves.
Episcopal Church work among the Chinese.  Abstracted transcription of original records. – 58 leaves.
Methodist Church mission to the Chinese in the U.S.    Abstracted transcription of original records. – ca. 140 leaves.
Presbyterian missions to the Chinese in the U.S.   Abstracted transcription of original records. – ca. 200 leaves.
Miscellaneous records of Christian work among the Chinese in the U.S.  Abstracted transcription of original records. – 165 leaves.

Three Chinese language titles have been filmed; namely, one district association publication and two genealogies for the surnames  Shi and Song.


The GSU has not done any microfilming in Vietnam, but three genealogies have been acquired elsewhere for Vietnamese Chinese with the surname Chen.


All of the sources on microfilm or microfiche in the GSU’s holdings are readily available to researchers through its family history center network.  Films and fiche, as well as printed materials, can be viewed at the Family History Library at 35 West Main in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.  Films and fiche can be ordered and viewed at any family history centers in more than 40 countries.  A complete list of international addresses can be obtained by writing to:  Genealogical Society of Utah, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150, USA.  A partial list of addresses is also available on the Web at  The GSU’s Overseas Chinese collection is small but growing; so interested researchers are advised to periodically visit or the main library or a local center to consult the Family History Library Catalog for the most current bibliographic information for Western language materials.  The Chinese language catalog is available in only a few centers in Australia, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan.  If the center nearest you does not have it, write to the Asian Cataloging Section, Genealogical Society of Utah, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150, USA for assistance.

%d bloggers like this: