Tag: maps

Taking my own advice: finding home villages using Chinese student records

I recently took my own research advice on how to identify a home village in China. I’ve written before about the early 20th-century Chinese student records found in the Department of External Affairs record series A1, mentioning that:

The files can be a useful way of finding information about the Chinese name and origin (in characters) of people or families already living in Australia.

But before last week I’d never actually needed to use them in this way.

At the moment I’m doing some research into Poon Gooey and Ham Hop, the couple at the centre of the well-known deportation case from 1913. I had previously confirmed from shipping records that Poon Gooey was from Kaiping. He made one journey to Australia as ship’s crew (stevedore) and the passenger manifest lists ‘Hoi Ping’ as his place of origin. Two other Poons on the same voyage were also from Kaiping, as were others who lived in Australia (like Peter Poon Youie).

The research I’m doing has also shown that while there were Poons (and Pons and Pongs) in Melbourne (centred around the Leong Lee store in Little Bourke Street), they seem to have lived primarily in western Victoria, around Horsham, Hamilton, Donald, Warracknabeal, down to Warrnambool and up to Mildura, and also across in Adelaide. All of which suggests that there was some pretty significant chain migration by Poons from Kaiping to southern Australia, perhaps stretching from as early as the 1850s into the 1920s and 1930s.

Armed with all this, I hoped to be able to narrow down Poon Gooey’s home town origins somewhat. First, I checked the Roots Villages Database, to look for Poon villages in Kaiping – there are four, all in Yuet Shan / Yueshan:

  • Chung Wo Lay / Zhonghe Li
  • Kiu Tau Fong / Qiaotou Fang
  • Nam Kong Lay / Nanjiang Li
  • Siu Lung Lay / Zhaolong Li

(Apologies for not including Chinese characters for these names; there seems to be a bit of a technical issue with encoding.)

Which, if any, of these villages might my Australian Poons have come from?

This is where the Chinese student records come in handy! The applications and student passports included in the files give personal details of the applicants and their Australian sponsors in both English and Chinese characters. Working on the assumption that the Poons in Victoria were most likely from the same clan, I figured that the files may well reveal which village they came from.

I identified eight Chinese student files relating to Poons, Pons and Pongs and set off to the National Archives, baby in tow. Half of the files weren’t relevant, either because the family surname was not actually Poon or because they were from New South Wales not Victoria.

But the half that were relevant told me some interesting things. The boys came from: Shoylungle (Zhaolongli) and Kew How/Quiutay/Kew Too (the same village, Qiaotou, just spelled differently), with ‘Nanjiangli’ also written in Chinese on the Kew Too application. With the names from the Roots Villages Database, matching them up was easy!

The application for the boy from Zhaolongli, Poon Bak Cheung, was made through Leong Lee in Melbourne, and as I know that Poon Gooey was connected to Leong Lee too, it seems likely then that Poon Gooey was also a Zhaolongli native. The images above and below are from Poon Bak Cheung’s file (NAA: A1, 1931/7483).

So, I’d found the names of my Kaiping Poon villages – but where exactly were they? After a bit of searching using both Google Maps and ditu.google.cn (the Chinese Google Maps), there they were. Three little villages all in a row, to the northeast of Yueshan town, with the fourth village listed in the Roots Villages Database also just across the way:

Sometimes it seems incredible that it was only a matter of hours from when I looked up the Roots Village Database to when I was looking at satellite images of what I’m pretty sure was once Poon Gooey’s home. The slowest part of the equation was waiting for the Chinese student files to be retrieved from the repository (which, in fairness to the National Archives, happened as smoothly and promptly as you could expect.)

I know that as a result of the federal government’s deportation action against Ham Hop, the Poon Gooey family returned to China in 1913. While Poon Gooey himself then returned to Australia for a period, in the early to mid-1920s he was back in China and living in Shanghai, presumably with his wife and daughters. After that I don’t know where they went. From what I’ve seen in the archives, I don’t believe that they returned to Australia again.

I visisted Yueshan last year, on the hunt for another family’s home village. I now just have to stop myself from wanting to make another trip to try and find out the fate of the Poon Gooeys.

US Army topographic maps of Guangdong

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, has a great collection of online maps of China, both current and historical.

One of the real treasures is the China – Topographic Maps [Scale 1:250,000] (China Series) U.S. Army Map Service, Series L500, dating from 1954. Using a map of the whole of China as a guide, you can click to bring up very detailed maps of particular regions. Place names are given in modified Wade-Giles with some Chinese characters (and it’s kinda fun spotting familiar places – a detail map of Macau, for instance, points past the Portas do Cerco to ‘Chi-Ta 5 km’, which would be Jida, now a bustling and ever-growing part of Zhuhai city).

The Chung Shan map (NF-49/8 on the big plan, and warning, it’s a big file: 6.4mb), shows the western part of the Pearl River Delta, from Kaiping in the west to the border with Hong Kong in the east, from Panyu in the north to Macau in the south. You can see the level of detail provided on the map below.

The maps that are likely to be useful for those interested in Chinese Australian history are the following:

The other very cool thing about these maps is that they correspond to the map references in the Chinese Villages Database. So, for instance, the villages database gives the map reference ‘GQ 4394’ for Shek Kay Chun in Chung Shan (Shiqi in Zhongshan). This means you have to look for the area marked as GQ, find line no. 4 and go in 3/10 of the way to line no. 5, then find line 9 and go 4/10 of the way to line no. 0. A somewhat daggy illustration of how to do this is below (click on the image to get the full-size version). There you can see, circled in blue is Shekki.

Finding a connection to China

On 13 September 2008, I spoke at a gathering of the Chinese Australian Historical Society in Sydney. The workshop was called ‘Stepping ashore: How to research your Chinese family history’. It was attended by about 30 people – some just embarking on their family research, some struggling with particular research problems, some well into it and perhaps more knowledgeable than the speakers! Here’s what I talked about, with links and references as promised.

Most people doing Chinese family and community history research start in Australia, with what they know from families and from Australian records. But the lives and journeys of Chinese ancestors began before they stepped ashore here. While not without their challenges, Australian sources can help us find connections back to China – from clues in how Chinese names were romanised to working out what’s written on a Chinese headstone…

The talk focused mostly on how Chinese personal and place names appear in Australian records. Because there was no standard form for romanising Chinese until the 20th century, and because people spoke in different dialects, there is lots of variation in how personal and place names are recorded in English-language sources. Only rarely are Chinese characters included.

These romanised versions of personal and place names can tell us helpful things however. For instance, personal names written with a ‘sl’ or ‘shl’ sound at the beginning (like Dang Bown Sluey or Slit Schin) suggest that these people were likely to be from Taishan, as this sound is particular to Taishanhua rather than Cantonese. Or, a woman’s name that includes a ‘See’ or ‘Shee’ usually gives their father’s family name, and indicates that the woman was married. Ham See, for example, would be a married woman who was born into the Ham family – Ham would be her father’s, not her husband’s, surname.

The native place of many, many Chinese is recorded in Australian records as Canton – which usually means the province of Guangdong, not the city Guangzhou. More occasionally county or city or town or even village names are recorded: Sunning, Sun Wui, Heung Shan, Amoy, Shekki, Kongmoon, Lee Yuan, Bak Shek… Sometimes it’s easy to identify these places, sometimes it’s not. The smaller the place, the harder it can be to identify.

Finding Chinese characters for personal and place names can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but is very helpful if the goal is to locate and visit an ancestral village in China. There are Chinese-language sources, such as newspapers and clan or association records, that could provide these details; Chinese characters are also often found on gravestones and in certain types of government records.

The following are some websites, articles and books that might provide more clues to understanding personal and place names, or might help in locating Chinese characters.

Personal names

Chinese personal names, as they appear in English-language sources, are slippery things. They were written down in many different ways, often with the one person’s name recorded with multiple spellings or multiple variations.

American Emma Woo Louie has written on Chinese American names, much of which applies in the Australian context. Her book is Chinese American Names: Tradition and Transition (McFarland & Company, 2008). A preview of the book is available from Google Book Search. She has also published articles on the subject in the Chinese Historical Society of America’s journal Chinese America: History and Perspectives.

Also see:

Chinese names on the Chinese-Canadian Genealogy website

Kate Bagnall, Golden Shadows on a White Land, PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 2006 – Section 4: Belonging (starts on p. 196)

Janis Wilton, Golden Threads: The Chinese in Regional New South Wales 1850–1950, New England Regional Art Museum, 2004

Places

Like personal names, Chinese place names were written down in various ways. The trick is to be able to ‘translate’ back from the romanised version to how a place is known today. Today’s Jiangmen, for instance, might have been written Quong Moon, Kong Mun, Kongmoon.

The Chinese Genealogy forum is an excellent place to read up on locating and visiting ancestral villages.

You can also browse or search the Surname and Village Database, which provides access to information from the Index of Clan Names By Villages published by the American Consulate General in Hong Kong in the 1970s.

Have a look at Google Maps, or if you’ve got Chinese characters for the place name and can read a bit of Chinese, you can look for it in the online map at ditu.sogou.com. Smaller villages aren’t likely to be there, though.

Gravestones

Headstones in cemeteries can be a great place to find Chinese characters for personal names and native villages. Work on transcribing and interpreting Chinese headstones is happening more and more.

Doris Jones’ Reading Chinese gravestones, on the Golden Threads website, is an excellent introduction to understanding the information written on Chinese headstones.

Also see:

Doris Jones, Remembering the Forgotten: Chinese Gravestones in Rookwood Cemetery 1917–1949, Invenet, Sydney, 2003

Linda Brumley, Liu Bingquan and Zhao Xueru, Fading links to China: Ballarat’s Chinese Gravestones and Associated Records 1854–1955, on the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website

and

Kok Hu Jin’s numerous books describing and translating Chinese gravestones around Australia, published by the Golden Dragon Museum at Bendigo