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Kung Hei Fat Choy :: Tracing your Chinese ancestors in Australia

Kung Hei Fat Choy! Happy Lunar New Year – Year of the Snake. Are you researching your chinese family history? Here’s some useful links for doing just that.

Top tips for beginning your research into your Chinese ancestor, from Kate Bagnall:

  • Living in Australia, your Chinese ancestor is actually quite likely to crop up in the same sorts of records as other family members. Dig into the familiar records (BDMs, local newspapers, local historical collections) first. These provide an important base from which to start working your way back to China.
  • In Australian records, Chinese people’s names were written down in many different ways. Keep a list of each different spelling of your ancestor’s name you find, to use in keyword or name searches. Be on the look out for anything written in Chinese characters and take a photocopy.
  • Keep track of any other Chinese families you find living in the same area as your ancestor, or who have the same family name. It’s very possible that they were connected to your own family. If you want to trace your ancestor before they arrived in Australia, you will need to know their proper Chinese name (preferably in characters) and their home district (just ‘Canton’ isn’t enough).
  • Try the Chinese Genealogy list for more advice – click to go to the forum / notice board
  • Information about many Chinese Australians, including those born in Australia, can be found in early 20th century immigration and naturalisation records held by the National Archives of Australia. For more information on their resources, including research guides to Chinese records, visit and search for ‘Chinese’

And Kate Bagnall offers some reading suggestions to get you started, see below:

  • Kate Bagnall, Golden Shadows on a White Land, PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 2006. Available online – click here to read
  • Dinah Hales, ‘Local histories: Chinese-European families of central western New South Wales, 1850–80’, Journal of Australian Colonial History, vol. 6, 2004, pp. 93-112
  • Morag Loh & Christine Ramsay, Survival and Celebration: An Insight into the Lives of Chinese Immigrant Women, European Women Married to Chinese and their Female Children in Australia from 1856 to 1986, Melbourne, 1986
  • Sandi Robb, ‘Myths, lies and invisible lives: European women and Chinese men in North Queensland’, Lilith, vol. 12, 2003, pp. 95-109
  • Pauline Rule, ‘A tale of three sisters: Australian-Chinese marriages in colonial Victoria’, in K. Pookong, C. Ho, P. Macgregor & G. Presland (eds), Chinese in Oceania, Melbourne, 2002, pp. 65-76

Remember your local library can help with interlibrary loans, or you can use the National Library’s Copies Direct service. And you can read Kate Bagnall’s article on Chinese-Australian families in the 1800s in issue 5 of Inside History – we’ve included an Issue 5 sneak peek for you below:

Featured image, courtesy of The Tiger’s Mouth –

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