My mother's side is entirely Chinese. They immigrated to Canada in the 1950's from Guangdong province. I only know the Americanized spelling and pronunciation of her family name 'Young' and have not been able to find any records of her or her family members. I have checked immigration lists, telephone directories of the places they lived in, etc. ...Some of the challenge may be because some of them are are still living, but my grandfather passed away in the '80s and I still cannot find any records for him under the names my mother gave me. I do not have access to his passport and she is unwilling to give me any more information.

I've heard that many Chinese people go by multiple names, nicknames, 'milk names', etc.

Obstacles arise when the ancestor's name has been changed, either officially or unofficially, or recorded incorrectly. While such problems are common in genealogy, the challenge is greater for genealogists of Chinese origin. Chinese individuals often used several different names. For example, Chan Toy was a Chinese immigrant who became a leading merchant in early 20th century British Columbia. Many sources refer to him as Chang Toy, although how and when this change occurred is unknown. He may simply have invented the new version of his name himself. Chan Toy is also cited in some sources as Chan Doe Gee, a probable Cantonese romanization. Other forms of his name include Chan Chang-Jin and Chen Chang-Jin. In Mandarin, his name has been romanized as Chen Dao-Zhi. However, he was generally known as Sam Kee.
In a similar vein, the surname of C.D. Hoy, a photographer in the Cariboo area, was actually Chow. It can be very difficult to track an individual through the records when there are many variations on his or her name. http://www.vpl.ca/ccg/Names_Introduction.html

How can I find out if the name my mom calls him is even the same name that he used to register to get into the country?

  • Is there a chance they did not immigrate to the US directly from China? Could they have left China for say, Australia (just as an example) and then immigrated to the US?
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 20:34
  • I assume you have been able to obtain his SS death index.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 20:35
  • @GeneJ Hi, no - my mother will not give me any information. I have his name from his grave stone (not the Chinese characters, but in English)... but this does not seem to be leading me anywhere. I find this quite baffling and very different from any Caucasian ancestors I research. Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 21:23
  • 2
    (cont.) A funny note, my grandfather's father bought him a ticket to go to the USA, but somehow the boat went to Canada instead. It took a long time before he finally understood that he was not in SanFrancisco! Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 21:28
  • So, you have warm and wonderful family stories. +1
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 21:30

1 Answer 1


Going it alone can mean traveling some pretty rough ground. This is especially so when the records you want are more recent, recent enough that they may not be open to the public.

Some suggestions:

  1. Begin with your grandfather's death. Work backward in time learning all that you can about him and the events that shaped the post-immigration years of his life. Much of this might not come from records. You may find articles or information about how Chinese immigrants were welcomed (or not) in the place where he settled. Continuing from the story you mention above, how did he actually come to settle in the places he lived post-immigration. If he attended a local church, perhaps you can learn about that church.
  2. Learn about Chinese emigration. Lucky you, there is a StackExchange group with that focus about to open. Perhaps members there will have or help you locate information about Chinese emigration in the 1950s. I don't doubt that what you learning about Chinese emigration in the 1950s will ultimate pay a dividend when you are actually able to conduct a search.
  3. Work to develop a set of genealogy and personal/privacy boundaries around which you and your mother can establish some trust. Your mom is not alone in believing somethings are off limits when it comes to posting/sharing, especially in the Internet world. I have participated in one genealogy study group where we all agreed we would not inquire about or share information regarding our parents/grandparents.
  4. In conjunction with no. 3, consider a creative approach to convey a genuine interest in your heritage. While she may have taken it over the top, one friend mocked up a family tree from images of flowers, insects, fish, birds, etc. For each of the images, she had written out a line or two about how the flower fell in love with the insect, married and they had six cats, etc. I don't know what she titled it, but I could envision today something like, "Who do you think I really am?" (take off on the series, Who do you think you are?)

If it helps, the concept of someone's name changing at immigration isn't uncommon. My ancestors from Norway are found in the records there as Olson (the patronymic) ... or Vik (the farm name). The ship index has them as "Wiig" but the name became Vig.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.