China Compiled Genealogies
In the history of the Chinese people, there are three important elements that are significant. They are China's history, the local gazette, and a clan's genealogy. Among these three elements, genealogy has the longest history and is the most influential.
Clan or lineage genealogies constitute the major source material for Chinese family historians and genealogists. Scholars have shown that clan genealogies can be a valuable source for research into Chinese history.
The size, generational depth, and type of information included in clan genealogies vary a great deal. Most orf the genealogies microfiled in various library collecitons are printed books that average ten volumes per title. However, most of the genealogies collected in special projects from private individuals in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, and the Untied States are single volume manuscripts.
Jia Pu (translated as genealogy record), also known as Zu Pu, is a record of a clan's history and lineage. It documents the origins of the surname, the migration patterns of the clan, the family lineage, the ancestral biography, the story of the locality, etc.
The origin of Jia Pu spans many eras and has been found as early as the Shang Dynasty (1523 to 1028 BC). The family trees of the clans then were written on turtle shells, cow bones, and bronze. Prior to the invention of writing, Chinese genealogical information was recorded by tying knots on ropes. Objects (such as miniature arrows, shoes, cradle, bronze coins, and kneecaps of goats and pigs) were tied to the knots to show the number of generations, number of members (male and female), etc., in a family. This information was also verbally passed on to the later generations. These were the earliest forms of Chinese genealogical record.
The written Jia Pu contains entries about the migrations of the people and social evolution. It tracks the growth of the clan members by recording in detail their political, military, and academic achievements. It also eulogizes the clan's ancestors and encourages the future generation to do worthy causes to maintain the good name of the clan.
A Jia Pu usually begins with the primogenitor that first settled or moved to a place and started his family there, and should end with the contemporary generation that draws up the genealogy. The intermediate ancestors are to be enumerated in between. The primogenitor's sons and descendants compose the first six generations, and are tabulated on one form. The primogenitor's first-born son and subsequent first-born grandsons are listed vertically downwards on the right, while the brothers of the first-born are listed laterally on the left. Descriptions of each generation are confined in relatively narrow, horizontal divisions of the form. These spaces contain additional information, such as the ancestor's name and aliases, dates of birth and death, and official rank. The proceeding generations are recorded in a similar manner.
Jia Pu usually does not have prominent records of the women in the family. This is because in Chinese families greater emphasis is placed on the sons who will carry on the family name. When daughters marry, they are considered a part of their husband's family. Although their names are mentioned in both their family and in-law's Jia Pu, their significance is usually marginalized since they are unlikely to extend the family's lineage.
The objectives of Chinese genealogical research has tremendously changed over time. Researchers are now studying Chinese genealogies as a supplement to other research areas, such as social economic history, geographical history, history of law, population history, religion and culture, history of overseas Chinese, inheritance practices, and biography of historical figures.