48. Genealogy book – jiapu 家譜

James Mar presented with the Mar Family jaipu

Family history is a prime source for much history and for Chinese Australian history in particular it is the history contained in the jiapu (家譜) or clan genealogies (aka zupu 族谱) that can be a great source of information. This value is doubled given the relative rarity of Chinese Australian voices in the form of memoirs, letters or novels before the 1920s.[1] Until very recent times jiapu’s were always kept and maintained in the family’s village of origin or qiaoxiang (僑鄉). For family members overseas this has meant trips back to the village to consult with relatives and increasingly to obtain their own copy of their family’s jiapu as was the case with James Mar in 2015 when he and other members of his Australian-born family visited their qiaoxiang of Sar Chong (沙涌) in the Pearl River Delta district of Zhongshan (中山).

A modern jaipu

These jiapu often stretch back many generations. James Mar for example is recorded in the Mar (馬) Jiapu as being of the 24th generation, meaning the family can nominally trace its ancestors back some 800 years or so. Unfortunately, traditional thinking means that only the male members of these many generations were recorded, something modern versions of the jiapu are beginning to remedy.

Jiapu of the Confucius family

While the records of female members of the family were not maintained, a remarkable feature of many jiapu is that they carefully record all male members of each generation whether born in the village or not. That is to say those family members scattered in places such as Borneo, Vancouver or Sydney are also recorded. Even more remarkable, this is often the case even when the Australian born family has lost contact and in at least one case even when a descendent did not even discover the Chinese side of his family until their teenage years. When Queenslander Warren Kinne, for example, visited the village of Nam Wen (南文), also in Zhongshan, as a young traveller, he was surprised to find himself and all his Queensland family dutifully recorded in the jiapu. (See A Family Shrine)

See here for a copy of the Mar Family jiapu (and an account of a visit to Sar Chong village.


[1] The exception that proves the rule here being The Poison of Polygamy – see object No.11 and also No.22 concerning “What Happened to Riley”. See here for a listing of “Chinese Australian voices”.

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