In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Resources on Chinese Surnames


Author: Chao, Sheau-yueh J.
Publication Date: 2000
Reprint Date: 2006
Pages: 323 pp.


Sheau-yueh J. Chao, a librarian on the staff of the Newman Library of Baruch College, has prepared a groundbreaking treatise on the related topics of Chinese-American genealogy and Chinese onomastics. In fact, her new book is the first basic tool in English that traces the origins of Chinese surnames.

The Chinese possess one of the oldest genealogical traditions in the world, extending back to the Shang Period (1700-1122 B.C.E.). The author honors this tradition and provides context by including a glossary and a chronology of Chinese history to help readers in finding terms and the dates of imperial time periods referred to in the volume. Also included is a Pinyin to Wade-Giles Conversion Table for the benefit of readers who are less familiar with the Wade-Giles system of romanization of Chinese sounds adopted by the Library of Congress and utilized throughout the book.

At the heart of the work are three principal chapters. Chapter 1 describes the history of Chinese surnames, the research on Chinese surnames in literature, and reasons surnames have changed in Chinese history. Chapter 2, by far the largest of the chapters, delivers a genealogical analysis of more than 600 Chinese surnames. Typically each surname sketch depicts the founder or other originating influence upon the name, the various locales associated with the surname, reasons behind alterations in the name, and so on. Chapter 3 consists of an annotated bibliography of Chinese and English language sources on Chinese surnames. The work concludes with separate indexes to family names, authors, titles, and Chinese-character stroke numbers (one mechanism used for grouping Chinese characters).

The preparation of Genealogical Resources on Chinese Surnames was the result of a prodigious effort. Among other things, the author translated and analyzed nearly 200 books in ancient Chinese literature housed at Columbia University’s East Asian Library, the Harvard-Yenching Library at Harvard University, and the Library of Congress. Its publication at this time is guaranteed to be a boon to East Asian researchers, librarians, bibliographers, students, and, of course, genealogical researchers working on their Chinese forebears.

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