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geneaology tips-decendents of toisan, guangzhou (Canton)

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Posted by J Chin on March 19, 2000 at 19:06:13:

For descendents of the Toisan area (about 85-100 miles southwest from Canton City) this is really a township; Toisan has sub-districts by name, and within each are a grouping of villages; for each village there are maybe 200 to 300 households. When I was growing up, my Dad always reminded me that he was from Yuk-hwai village, which is confirmed by the letters from cousins saying hello, and asking for occasional monetary aid. So, though your ancestors come from Toisan, your task is to try to find out which village unit s/he hailed from. In New York City's Chinatown, there are quite a few family associaitons arranged according to family surname, and then smaller groups, by village-town locality. Membership and some family archival history records are kept in annals.In some cases, your ancestors may have contributed moneys in support of collective gifts to the home village (e.g. to construct a gate from overseas Chinese, to a school, hospital, etc). For a list or phone number[s] to a Family Association, contact/phone the English Secretary of the 'Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association' 52 Mott Street, NYC 10007( which is the head group of all famiy associations and local Chinese chamber of commerce in NYC), or check the main associations in San Francisco, and other major port city where Chinese immigrants resettled. If you know the name[s] of deceased relatives, and think they were given funeral rites at a Chinese-run funeral service, you may be able to research some more info since records are usually well-kept. In NYC, there are only 5 major Chinese funeral homes, that have been around for a long time. The National Archives, and a Freedom of Information Request to the US Census Bureau might get you some results too. Correct spelling of the subject's names, and any alternative or maiden names used, will be important to get. Anyway, if you visit Toisan area the main city is Toisheng, a bustling place. The rural villages that surround it may or may not economically have benefitted. There are still many poor families, and drinking water is manually pulled from communal wells, out-houses and latrines exist, and maybe one home might have a phone to serve the whole village (rental fees). I was saddened to learn that rural residents who have had no overseas Chinese connections or have lost those contacts as people die or forget--well, some of the older people have no financial support. China's return to a market-based economy has brought the demise of the once-revered Socialist system of free education, health care, and housing, a safety net for so many. In October 1999, I went to visit for the first time ever my cousins (children of my paternal uncle who died two years ago at age 94?) in a still poor and very rustic village of Toisan. Many Chinese immigrants are from this area in the 1st thru 3rd waves of the "Chinese diaspora migrations". By custom, the oldest male inherits the plot of land. Siblings find their destiny elewhere, especially when famine and drought sweep the land. Women marry out and are no longer considered in the traditional family lineage. My male cousin maintained the family's geneaology tree in a soft-bound paper book. Brushwork with lines and names and dates show the births, deaths, marriages, of all the relatives. It seemed to date back to the legendary main ancester dynasties ago.
My dad left China with an older brother- both teenagers in the 1910's; they worked on the plantations of Trinidad. Later, my dad made his way to the US, settling in NYC. At age 49, he finally married mom in Hong Kong through a matchmaker's introduction; they married in HK, my mom immigrated to NY, and they made a family in NYC. Dad died in 1984 at age 77. By deduction, i know that Dad's brother married a native and stayed in Trinidad. I've never met or had contact with these descendents. You know that the history of US immigration laws and foreign policy impacted on the Chinese. For a longtime, Chinese men could not become naturalized Americans, and only a small quota of Chinese women were allowed to emigrate. Many thousands of Chinese men who geve up dreams of returning to China as rich men, just remained 'bachelors'; some inter-married in the US. For those of you trying to make contact or research your family past, it is instructive to learn more about Chinese geography, and kinship/social principles of organization. Elderly, abandoned family, and disabled people feeling desperation, or alone without recourse, due to their daily want choose to hang themselves (commit suicide) for lack of support. Neighbors can provide only so much occasional food and help. Thereafter, superstitious stories of bad luck hang over the suicide site and its surrounding neighbors..We don't hear or see this in the newspapers....If you visit or if you still have low-income relatives in China, try to donate a reasonable amount each year (for a family of 4 minimum $350 US is good). Inflation is on the rise, cost of living and food is increasing. Village children are not all getting a free education. Prosperity in China trickles down, and many rural and poor urban Chinese feel the dislocations and job loss that come from sweeping change and gloabalization. Good luck.

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