|Note: When recording a Chinese surname as part of a genealogical project, always include the Chinese character.|
Study Chinese name resources or consult individuals familiar with Chinese language and names to determine possible name variations based on dialectical or romanization differences.
Whether searching for Chinese names on microfilm or in printed and electronic sources, begin by looking up or entering the most specific form of the name that you know, for example, Won Alexander Cumyow.
If you do not get useful results, expand your search by removing one or more of your terms, e.g. Alexander and / or Won. Focus on the name(s) that would seem to be less common - in this case, Cumyow.
Some search engines allow soundex or approximate searches. (Soundex means that the search engine will search for names that sound similar to the name that you enter). For example, Won Alexander Cumyow is recorded in an 1881 census transcription as Won Cumyou. If you enter Cumyou and use the default mode when searching on the B.C. Archives' online Marriages index database, you will get no results. However, if you select Approximate Match from the drop-down box at the right, the search will retrieve a record of the marriage of Wan Alexander Cumyow and Ye Chan in 1889.
When searching for Chinese names, try reversing name order. For example, as described above, Won Alexander Cumyow's surname was actually Won, but in more than one database, Won (or Wan) appears as as his first name.
Also, try searching only in the surname field or only in the first name field. As suggested above, begin with a specific search and then expand your search by removing terms if you are not getting good results.
Wildcards, truncation, Boolean operators and exact phrase searches may help considerably when searching for Chinese names in electronic databases. The characteristics of these features vary from one database to another. The following is a general overview. Check each database's Help pages for specific instructions:
- Lim Joe
- Mow Lim
- Soon Chung
- Gim Soon
If your ancestor owned a business, it is possible that he used the name of the business as a personal name. Try searching for the name of the business too.
In all cases, do not depend solely on information found in indexes. Whether it is a birth, census or other type of record, always look up the original source. This will help verify your findings and may provide further clues about your family.
Bear in mind, however, that soundex and approximate searches do not always pick up all possible matches, and this may be more likely to occur with non-European names. For example, although the Approximate Search feature on the B.C. Archives' website picks up Cumyow for Cumyou, it does NOT pick up Wan for Won, even though both names are normally pronounced the same way.
Wildcard characters can be substituted for any single character at the beginning, end or within a search term. For example, the B.C. Archives online Vital Events indexes search engine uses # as a wild card. A search for Ch#ng retrieves references to people named Chang, Cheng, Ching, Chong and Chung.
Note, however, that wildcard symbols do not replace absent characters. For example, a search for #ng will pick up the names, Eng and Ong but not Ng.
Truncation symbols are characters added to the end of a search term (the stem), which cause the search to pick up occurrences which begin with the stem and end with any number of characters. For example, in a database with ? as the truncation symbol, a search for Quon? will retrieve both Quon and Quong.
However, depending on the name you are searching, wildcard and truncation symbols may pick up irrelevant results.
For example, a truncated search for Ma? will collect hits for the common Chinese surname Mah or Ma, but will also pick up names like Maguire, Martin, and Maxwell.
In this case, it might be helpful to do two searches - an exact search for Ma and a wildcard search for Ma#. In addition to Mah, the wildcard search (Ma#) will pick up some irrelevant results (e.g. Max, May), but fewer than Ma?, because only 3-character names will be retrieved.
Boolean operators are sometimes called AND / OR operators. Databases that allow you to Match All Words or Match Any Words (or something similar) are based on the Boolean approach. To search for the given names Lim Soon using the Boolean operator AND, you would enter the search strategy Lim AND Soon. This would retrieve any records in which both Lim and Soon appeared as given names, for example -- Lim Soon Wong or Soon Lim Mah.
A search for given names using the Boolean operator OR (Lim OR Soon) would retrieve any records in which either Lim OR Soon appeared as the given names, for example:
Exact phrase searches retrieve only records in which the information is exactly the same and appears in exactly the same sequence as entered in the search strategy. This type of search often uses quotation marks. For example, an exact phrase search for the given names "Lim Soon" would only retrieve records in which the individual's given names appeared exactly in sequence as Lim Soon. It would not retrieve Soon Lim or any records in which only Lim or only Soon appeared.