According to audio recordings of my grandfather, he was from a village called Pung Wu, that he said was as large as the city of Vancouver and filled with many shops. I think that he means P'an Yu (Panyu District), that was incorporated into the megacity of Guangzhou.

This makes sense, since his father also came to Canada around 1884-85 to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and approximately 85% of the Chinese living in Canada at this time came from one of three counties: T'ai-shan, K'ai-ping and P'an-yu [source: Home County and Clan Origins of Overseas Chinese in Canada in the Early 1880s, by David Chuen-Yan Lai]. Also according to the above source, the Chinese displayed "chain migration" similar to other ethnic groups where multiple members of families or villages over the years would migrate to a new region or country. They then tended to follow in the professions of their village-mates or relatives. I have found mention of other Chinese with the same clan name as my grandfather coming in the 1870's to work for CPR. It is mentioned that they are from "Panyu".

So, it seems likely that there is some family migration happening starting as early as 1870 from Panyu to Canada and that these men were employed in the railroad.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of locating information on ancestors who worked on the construction of Canadian railroads is remote. This is true not only of the Chinese, but also of others who were employed in railway construction. There is a Canadian Pacific Railway Archives, but its holdings relate to the operation of the railway, not to its construction. The contractors who built the railway and the sub-contractors who hired railway workers on their behalf, were usually not Canadian, and it is doubtful that their records have survived. The genealogical search is further complicated because, in the case of the Chinese, labourers were not hired as individuals, but in large groups of perhaps one thousand men [source: Vancouver Public Library, Chinese-Canadian Genealogy].

Is it is possible to find BMD, emigration or other travel-related records for a Chinese village in English? How should I tackle this?

  • Do you know if he emigrated directly to Canada, or perhaps to the US first? I imagine that there might have been some movement of labor among the various railroad construction projects. Feb 18, 2013 at 22:35
  • It's possible that Great-grandfather was in the USA first, but I don't actually even have his name yet, just the audio recording of my grandpa. My most recent lead is that they all came from Panyu. Feb 19, 2013 at 0:21
  • I assume you've visited: familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Category:China
    – user104
    May 26, 2013 at 11:50
  • @ColeValleyGirl Yes, I'm thinking that the language barrier will make it necessary to hire a local researcher. May 27, 2013 at 20:01
  • I suspect you're right. Very little if anything is going to be available in English.
    – user104
    May 27, 2013 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


There is (or was) a village named Pong Woo in the old Upper Poon Yue (Panyu) County. In those days it was about 15 miles northwards from the city of Canton. It's population was about 20,000 in 1909 and about the same in the 1990s. Many young men from Pong Woo went overseas in the 19th Century. Some from Young and Soo clans were in Otago. One-third of the Pong Woo residents had relatives working in Otago in the early 20th Century! Good schooling. A famous High school. David Lange (NZ Prime Minister) visited there 1985. There were weirs on the river between Ah Woo (Crow lake) and Pong Woo (Mussel Lake). – McNeur 1902. Good book & the source of this info is: James Ng, Windows into a Chinese Past, Otago Heritage Books, vol.1, page.22.

On the internet there is an electronic version of an old book in which a NZ missionary, the Rev McNeur describes a visit to Poon Yue, including Pong Woo. G.H.McNeur, Feeling the Way in the Canton Villages, Dunedin 1902. Google it and you will find it. It may give you an idea about the history of the Poon Yue county. There are many parallels between New Zealand and Canadian Chinese and their experiences.


You're asking how to do Chinese genealogy - not an easy answer for any of us North Americans who are not experts in it.

If you want to do the research yourself, I sure hope you know how to read and speak Chinese. If not, it will be tedious.

The top two search engines in China are: Baidu and Google China.

You will have to make use of Google Translate to convert your English queries into Chinese, e.g. genealogy of P'an-yu. Then copy the translation into Baidu or Google China. When you get your results, go back to Google Translate and get the English translation of the results. ... As I said, tedious.

Of course, if you know someone who speaks Chinese and is willing to help you, that would be better.

You may want to pick up a Research Guide to Chinese Genealogy or even possibly contact the author of the book, May Yan, who happens to live in the lower mainland of British Columbia, and may be able to provide you with ideas, or may do research for you for a fee.

The Chinese-Canadian Genealogy site also has a lot of information and ideas of where and how you can do your research.

Then you'll need to do what all genealogists need to do: Find archives or libraries that might have the information you need, and contact them. The only difference is that in this case, you're looking for the archives and libraries in China.

I don't see any easy solution for you. It will be a challenge. But isn't that what makes genealogy so much fun?


Try the society organization of your clan e.g. In Vancouver there is the Yue Shan Society at 37 West Pender Street. They use to take $1 and record family members info on birth , death ,marriage etc. The people were mostly Poon Yu. Unfortunately this was done in Chinese & I was just a little kid in the 70s when I saw this. Developer Bob Rennie had some dealings with Yue Shan Society & he is quite interested in Chinatown history too. I hope you find out more because now I am interested.

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