Adam: A real, historically tangible connection to the past
My China Roots
This is where I discovered My China Roots, and they seemed perfect for the task. The manager Mr Huihan Lie explained to me that his company offered comprehensive, reliable and nuanced genealogical research based within China for overseas Chinese. I was particularly attracted by the fact that Huihan was an overseas Chinese himself who had returned to the homeland to learn about his own roots, culture and family stories, and thus had an authentic personal interest and motivation – something that only a true family historian can understand!
With this in mind I gave the My China Roots team their task: to research the lineage of my mother’s paternal grandfather Zhou Jucai, who came from a remote village in southern Jiangxi province. Since my great grandfather came from an area not normally associated with overseas Chinese migrations I thought that this would provide a true test of the research capabilities of My China Roots – I was not disappointed.
The research process
From the beginning I was impressed with the professionalism, scope of knowledge and sensitivity displayed by Huihan and his team. After they presented me with a comprehensive and costed research plan they conducted several months of research, keeping me updated and consulting with me regularly about developments on the ground and promptly answering all my questions. The correct village of my great grandfather was verified, contact was made with distant relations, and a 3 day research trip was conducted at the village which culminated in the ‘Holy Grail’ of Chinese genealogical research, the discovery of the Zhou clan genealogical record which traces our line back over two thousand years! The team also obtained hundreds of photographs and footage documenting their visit to the village and went so far as to organize a live Skype call from the village. This made the experience much more real and personal.
Hungry for more!
I was extremely pleased with the integrity of their detailed and nuanced approach that Huihan and his team took when trying to discover my particular lineage among several competing sources. At the conclusion I have to say that the results truly meet, and indeed, exceeded my expectations. As romantic as it sounds, I am so pleased tobe able to have a real, historically tangible connection to the past that runs in my own bloodline.
Huihan and his team went out of their way to involve myself and enliven this journey offamily discovery. One day I hope to be able to take the next step and travel to Yangjiao village and discover more of my cultural roots, and in the meantime, I shall be commissioning Mr China Roots again to find out what mysteries await with my father’s family!
Nio S.G.: Seven generations outside of China
It was no less than seven generations ago that my ancestors left Zhangzhou in Fujian and sailed south. I grew up in Indonesia and the Netherlands. Through my own family history research, I was “only” able to dig up information from the last few hundred years of our stay in Indonesia. Our background in China remained a mystery, hidden too far away in history for anyone to find. Consequently, I was very skeptical about hiring a firm to trace my Chinese ancestry.
Hesitations about genealogy companies
First, how do you know whether the company is trustworthy? Secondly, I did not want to pay money and then end up empty-handed because the company may not be able to find anything.
However, My China Roots’ flexible attitude regarding fees, payment models, and research approach, combined with Mr. Lie’s background (he left a high paying corporate job in order to pursue his passion!) set my mind at ease.
Finding the village
After I had emailed pictures of family grave tombstones, an ancestral portrait, and a family tree that covered our time in Indonesia, My China Roots went to work. They discovered and traveled to my ancestral village in Fujian, interviewed villagers from my clan and took numerous pictures that gave me a good impression of what the village looks like today.
Finding the jiapu, 4000km away…!
Unfortunately, our village clan’s jiapu was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. With it, the documentation of my family’s long history in China had vanished. However, My China Roots did a great job in discovering that other ancestors had moved to Singapore many generations ago, and they were able to retrieve a copy of my clan’s jiapu through their network in Singapore!
Nicholas: Exhilarated and grateful to have traced my Hainan heritage
I have always been interested in learning about my ancestry but being Australian-born meant that my Chinese cultural and language competencies were limited. With whatever information I had from my family, I made various posts on genealogy forums hoping to find the link between myself and my grandfather’s ancestors in Hainan. Eventually, I came to a dead end.
It was by pure chance that I stumbled on the website of My China Roots, which remains one of the few professional companies that deal with Chinese genealogy. My lack of success made me doubt what could be achieved but I was put at ease as Lie Huihan explained the historical context of my grandparents’ lives and the possible outcomes of my case. I was impressed by his expertise and so I commissioned My China Roots with my project.
After a month, Huihan informed me that he and Hai Miao were in contact with my relatives at my grandfather’s ancestral village through a government source (My China Roots has relations with a range of organisations, including Chinese government institutions). However, in order to find out more information they would need to travel to the village. Most worrying for me was that I would have to reveal myself! But the genealogists advised me of how to deal with the situation and so I agreed to the travel research trip.
A true experience
Although I was not able to visit the village in person, I was still able to experience it. I received many photos and videos, and regular skype updates – I even saw and spoke to relatives live on skype. Yes, I was apprehensive about “meeting” my relatives but by this stage it was just the natural thing to do. Seeing my grandfather’s cousin in real-time was a highlight of this research trip. During these meetings, both Huihan and Hai Miao translated between us; this is something that an ordinary genealogist would not be able to do and I feel privileged that I was given this opportunity.
One of the aims of the travel trip was to find information directly from the jiapu (family history book) of my relatives. I was given several options as to what I needed from the book. The jiapu linked my family in Hainan to a long list of ancestors stretching over 2000 years. It also included details of some famous and infamous relatives! This information was included in the final report that was given to me …
And how could I forget the report! It was written in an engaging way, covering everything that had been investigated from the research trip. After (re)-reading the report, I feel that I can really appreciate my heritage and the struggles that my forefathers went through for the good life I am living now. I am thankful to My China Roots for this blessing.
Lesley: Traveling to my grandfather’s village in Kaiping, Guangdong
My grandfather died when I was 13. He was born in China and emigrated as a young man to the Dominican Republic. He rarely spoke, let alone about his past. His house in the Dominican Republic was white and empty; unassuming, like himself. Iʹm only part Chinese, my other three grandparents are Dominican. ʹHomeʹ has always been the Dominican Republic and the US, where I was born and raised. However, I wanted to visit the place my grandfather was from, and so I commissioned My China Roots. I just wanted to see the place, nothing more.
The start of two journeys
From the moment the research started, I found myself on a wonderful, personal journey that unfolded along with the search for my grandfather. I met up with Huihan several times and My China Roots wrote a great report about the time and environment of my grandfatherʹs upbringing. This gave me a better grasp of the historical context and made me curious about questions I never thought I would be interested in. I started to wonder: ″Why did he choose the Dominican Republic? Why did he never return? Why would he have deserted his life like that?″
Visiting Kaiping, Guangdong Province
Our long-awaited trip to Kaiping was personally guided by Huihan, who bridged the language and cultural gaps between us and our Chinese family in a sensitive manner. Because of Huihanʹs cultural and historical knowledge, we found more answers than we would have ever found with a standard guide. We saw the house that was built with the money my grandfather had made overseas, we prayed at my great grandmotherʹs grave, went through the family history book, and chatted with family I never knew I had. It was wonderful.
A surprise ending
Lesley family chinaFrom the start, the search for my roots had been an intellectual process; I never saw it as anything emotional. This changed completely, strangely enough after I came back home from the trip. Somehow, all the things I had seen in Kaiping fell into place and the whole experience turned intensely emotional. For the first time, I felt connected with China. I felt: ″this is also my country now″. My roots are somehow real now, they are part of me. Home isnʹt just the US or the Dominican Republic anymore; home is now also this little hidden place in Kaiping.
Anne: Tracing the woman who saved our adopted daughter
In 2003 we, a Dutch family, travelled to the Sheraton Hotel in Xi’an to pick up our lovely Chinese adopted daughter Mila Jiang, aged 18 months. We were all exhilarated to have her and fortunately, Mila directly felt at home in our family.
In May 2011, we were suddenly alarmed by a newspaper article: the Chinese government was planning mass migration to stimulate industrial development in northern Sha’anxi province, exactly the area where Mila spent her first 18 months.
We felt that swift action was needed if we wanted to locate and visit Mila’s finding place and former foster family. So we informed ourselves about organizations that could help us and My China Roots was one of them. Already in the first email contact with Huihan it was clear that his company could offer the skills, personal touch and flexibility needed to make the roots journey for Mila and ourselves a success.
After handing over all our pictures from Mila’s time at the foster family in Yulin, our notes from the 2003 visit and sharing all our contacts, Huihan’s organization was able to trace the foster family and the exact location (street and building) in Jingbian where Mila was found. This was not an easy task because some of the information was conflicting and incomplete, and the Children’s Welfare Home in Yulin was not very informative.
My China Roots, delivering much more than expected
What absolutely made this roots trip so very special was the personal touch provided by Huihan, the interesting information on China’s rich culture and history that he shared, and the possibility to tailor the trip exactly as we wanted it.
During the visits to the foster family, Huihan pro-actively supported us, the foster mother, and other foster family members, in exchanging very detailed information about the period that Mila was handed over to them, was taken care of, and then needed to be separated from again because she was joining our family.
Because of his involvement, integrity, and translation skills (take notice that not everyone speaks Mandarin…), we really felt no barrier existed between them and us. During our visits, we learned that Mila was literally saved by her truly exceptional foster mother, who gave Mila all the love and care she needed. Mila was severely ill and weak during the first 6 months of her life, as she was abandoned outside at a temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Other interesting activities arranged
Also worth mentioning are the multiple other interesting activities during our trip to Beijing, Yulin, Jingbian and Xi’an. The activities included visiting a family with a Chinese peer of Mila’s age, Mila visiting and experiencing a school-lesson, visiting Yulin University, a Tai-chi lesson with a qualified teacher in the Temple of Heaven Park, and a lot more. Also, the program was flexible enough to make possible that interesting or useful people we met during our travelling, could travel with us to add useful local information. During our trip to Jingbian, an English teacher who lived in Jingbian when Mila was born joined us, telling us all about Jingbian and what it used to look like.
Huihan, My China Roots, thanks again very much and you made at least two families very happy by re-uniting, using your valuable skills and professionalism!
Warren's Journey: health, family and love
On September 7th, 2015 our son Warren was diagnosed with cancer at a very tender age of 14.
Life takes on a different meaning when confronted so suddenly with its limitations of a promising future for your children. What were the things that still mattered? How could we give Warren what he needed and deserved if he’d been now faced with such a test that would call from within the very depths of himself to show fortitude, grace, resolve, and acceptance in such humility of a disease that threatened his promising future?
Warren, an old spirit and mature beyond his age (and a huge fan of kung fu movies!), had but one wish: to visit China, the land of his ancestors. With the financial help of the Make a Wish Foundation and the research and travel guidance from My China Roots, Warren’s dream became reality when he got to see the place his great-grandfather William was born.
The mystery of Warren’s great-grandfather: William Yee
When William Yee arrived in Jamaica, he was around the same age as Warren. A century before Warren made it to the east, young William made it to the west. William never spoke good English, not even till his death in the 1970s. He never said much about himself or where he came from – all we knew was that he arrived to work for an uncle, later opened a bakery, and had many children, though he was never married. It was clear from the start that tracking down Warren’s great-grandfather would be a difficult undertaking, but Warren was determined to go forward with it.
Travelling to the village
Warren’s journey to China began with his family in June of 2017. As it was our first time in China, we were grateful for having our very own My China Roots researcher-guides, who made our trip much more comfortable and worry-free, even when the weather prevented us from leaving our hotel for a day! With Lucy and Mr. Peng guiding us on the Beijing side and Helen on the Shenzhen/Hong Kong side, we were completely relaxed and overjoyed at the reception and care we received while in China. In addition, the culmination of our trip was to spend time with the My China Roots team at their office in Beijing. Without such a wonderful team, Warren would never have been able to locate William’s hometown, find our Yee family histories, or learn about our Hakka ancestry.
While the old village had been replaced with modern buildings and residential complexes, we were still able to see pictures of what it used to look like in the municipal office. It was a strangely moving experience, walking around this unfamiliar place with people that looked so much like many of our relatives!
Unexpected findings, across the world
One of wonderful surprises that came out of this experience was finding family in the most unexpected of places. To be connected with cousins that we never knew they had from so far away was a sight to behold and embrace! As we were collecting information from various relatives at the start of our search, we got in touch with distant relatives in England, who provided us with an old picture of the family in China, and key information when we needed it most. Even more incredibly, it was only after travelling all the way to China that we discovered that we have relatives back in Canada, and we had a video call with them right then and there, while visiting the village!
Health, family and love
With the help of God, and of our dearest friends and family, Warren has overcome his cancer and is in wonderful health today. Being grateful does not even begin to describe this journey and to know that all things are possible with a firm trust and faith in believing that the unimaginable can become a reality in the midst of sorrow and fear. We are living proof that dreams on every level do come true!
Thank you My China Roots team, we could have never done this without you!
Reconnecting our family to its heritage, a personal and moral duty
Growing up as a third generation Chinese-Australian, my parents often talked to my brothers and me about our family history, traditions and values. However, it was only after becoming a grandfather that what was said resonated, reminding me of my role and responsibility (as the eldest of the three brothers) for ensuring our respective families can stay in touch with their heritage. At a recent family gathering, I informed my brothers that I was committed to go to China to try and find the ancestral village, the family zupu and record the relevant information for future generations of our family in Australia; they committed to join me in the search.
As a starting point we had a small notebook entry in Chinese written by our grandfather outlining the earliest section of our family tree from our founding ancestor 21 generations ago in Maoming, Guangdong Province, China. In addition we had the oral accounts of the family history, but that information proved to be of limited use identifying our destinations due to inconsistencies in the transliteration of names (relatives and locations) into English.
I researched further on line, but no progress as there was little Chinese genealogical information available in English (none that was relevant to us) and I could not explore what was available in Chinese being unable to read, write or speak that language. However, I did come across the My China Roots website and contacted them to ascertain whether they could assist.
Planning the trip with My China Roots, each step of the way
Mr Huihan Lie at My China Roots responded to my enquiry and began a dialogue that resulted in arrangements set in March 2017 for a fully guided tour of the sites of family significance in Guangdong Province, China. From outset, Huihan was very thoughtful, flexible and attentive to our needs, offering us numerous options and recommendations on how we could organize our field trip. While we originally planned to visit China and go through the adventure of discovery in “real-time”, we accepted his suggestion to send a researcher beforehand to scope out our ancestral village in Gaozhou. This turned out to be a great decision.
When My China Roots visited the village, they located a newly edited zupu that at first glance, seemed to be my family’s as there was an entry corresponding exactly to our grandfather’s name. However, nothing else fitted; this gentleman had a different family (father, brothers and children) to our grandfather and so it was obvious that this zupu was of a different branch of the clan.
The next day, My China Roots went to investigate a different clan village in Maoming, that of our earliest clan ancestor in the province. It was a bit of a long shot as our ancestors had moved away from that village many generations ago. My China Roots found the keeper of the genealogy of the broader clan and lo and behold, the old man had in his care a copy of our clan branch zupu complete with the names of our grandfather and uncles.
A magical experience, all thanks to My China Roots
Because of My China Roots’ preparatory research, we did not waste any valuable time hitting brick walls during the trip. This allowed us more time to “soak up” all the little details while we were there and allowed us to imagine what life must have been like for our ancestors.
Our trip was facilitated by My China Roots researcher Ms Helen Lam, who looked after us, helped us communicate and provided timely counsel on local customs and appropriate behaviour; this was much appreciated as we are culturally Australian with very little past exposure to Chinese culture. With her help, we were even able to take the opportunity to look for and successfully find our mother’s remote home village south of Guangzhou.
To cap it all off, the report provided by My China Roots was a wonderful touch, and will serve as an important record to retain for future generations of this Australian branch of the clan.
The highlight of the whole trip though, was the one particular moment during our village trip when the elderly zupu keeper showed us our family zupu. When I saw the names of our father and grandfather right there on the page… it was, put simply, truly magical. The link to our family heritage was restored. That single breathtaking moment made everything, all the work, anxiety, and all the energy worthwhile.
And it was all due to My China Roots; I was impressed by the outstanding professionalism and care that Huihan and his My China Roots team put into arranging my family’s trip, in the guidance and care during the trip and by their perseverance in tracking down our family’s zupu. Even after our visit, we have kept in touch and are conducting on-going research into my family history, a true testament of their dedication to thorough research.
We knew nothing of his incredible “secret life”
More to the story
My grandfather, Zhou Gao Chao, left China in 1909 at age 33 and never returned. He was born in 1877 in Tianjin Village, Jiangmen City, Guangdong Province. He passed away in 1969 at age 92 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies.
I contacted My China Roots after discovering that there is far more to his story.
After his death, my grandfather’s handwritten autobiography was passed to my mother, then to me, his granddaughter. Since none of us spoke Chinese, we knew nothing of his incredible “secret life” until I had his autobiography translated into English.
No one knew that, in 1893, he joined the Hung Moon (Hongmen) secret society in Hong Kong, out of which sprung the revolutionary Chee Kung Tong secret society. According to disciplinary code – comprised of 36 oaths, 21 regulations, 10 rules and 10 punishments – the societies’ inner workings were never to be revealed, not even by a father to his son. If a sworn brother disclosed any esoteric secrets, especially for gain, “May he suffer lingchi, the lingering death of a thousand cuts.”
Winning wars from the West Indies
As it turns out, my grandfather joined the Chee Kung Tong’s fundraising efforts in North, Central, and South America, as well as the West Indian islands of Trinidad, Jamaica, and Cuba, to support Dr. Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911.
Once he left China in 1909, his first port of call was French Guiana. He went on to Brazil and other regions before finally taking up residence in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad, where he organised with friends to establish the first Chinese association in the country.
In 1915, he was authorized by Wong Sam Duck – leader of the Chee Kung Tong in San Francisco, the most powerful of all overseas Chinese secret societies – to establish a Chee Kung Tong branch in Trinidad. When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, my grandfather played a key role in raising funds from the Chinese business community in Trinidad to support the war against Japan.
Alive and well
It was in Trinidad where I grew up swimming in the sea, surrounded by a large extended family. Even in his old age, I remember my grandfather as a distinguished and handsome gentleman. Although he spoke no English, and I no Chinese, I was touched to discover my name as the last family member he mentions at the end of his autobiography!
And yet, I am far from the last. Thanks to the dedicated research efforts of My China Roots, I have discovered that I still have living relatives in my ancestral hometown.
Reunion in Tianjin Village
In 2018, my sister and I paid the first visit to Tianjin Village ever since our grandfather left in 1909. It was moving for us to meet our second cousin for the first time, along with his family and close family friends. Wonderfully proud, intelligent, and hardworking, our relatives live a contented and serene life as farmers. From the outset, I was astonished by their genuine love. All they wanted to do was give, wanting nothing in return. Their love felt priceless, as if I were a long-lost daughter.
Together, we visited family graves going back 22 generations and donated to the magnificent, newly completed Zhou ancestral hall. We met with a villager that My China Roots found who possesses the only edition of the Tianjin Zhou clan zupu to survive the Cultural Revolution. The zupu records our clan origins, migration history, and family tree – including my grandfather’s name!
For the final highlight, we visited the Sun Yatsen Museum, which recognizes the revolutionary contributions of the secret societies my grandfather belonged to. All of us left feeling immensely proud of my grandfather, a son of Tianjin Village, a “Son of the World,” for his significant role as the President of the Chee Kung Tong branch in Trinidad.
Treasuring our roots
Now, as I make my home in New Zealand, I am the keeper of the undisclosed treasures associated with my grandfather’s secret life, from rare Sun Yatsen Chung Hwa Revolutionary gold bonds originally issued in 1896, to the magnificent, hand-embroidered, silk-and-gold thread Chee Kung Tong altar banner that he was responsible for. I already cannot wait to bring my newfound relatives to New Zealand!
Thank you, My China Roots, for reuniting me with my grandfather’s ancestral village and family!