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Geni.com is going down the drain

I have long enjoyed using Geni.com to host my family tree online, but recently, they have made changes that render Geni.com near completely ridiculous. They have restricted basic/free account holders to a limit of 100 profiles. Now, anyone serious about family history is going to have a LOT more than 100 family members, dead or alive. They have removed monthly membership options for their so-called “Plus” and “Pro” level accounts, leaving one to fork out a hefty fee for annual, bi-annual, or lifetime membership. Keep in mind, Geni.com does not actually give anyone something they did not already have — it’s not a record center. It’s a platform to build a tree, enter the info you already know, and hopefully connect your tree to long distance relatives or ancestors (but you have to pay for that too!) and it’s only as useful as the number of connections you can make, unless you are satisfied at capping your tree at 100 entries, which IMHO is not worth the time to even start the tree. By contrast, Ancestry.com allows people to start family trees for free, no limit to number of entries, and then when you want to find records for your relatives, you can start paying, and you will get actual sources. You can start and stop, month to month, whenever you need. You can search other member trees for clues. No one can hijack your tree, and you can make it “private” if you like, no questions asked.

Why is this related to Chinese genealogy? I can find things on Ancestry for Chinese relatives and ancestors that give me immigration, residence, names changes, citizenship and naturalization, and death information. Geni does not have this. If you are trying to find clues on Geni, you will only luck out if you have Chinese relatives who have also entered their family tree information on the site, and even then, neither of you will be able to connect or even see each other to verify the connection, unless you shell out $119.40 at the minimum for a one-year membership, which comes out to $7.95 a month (but they don’t let you purchase it month to month). That’s right, you cannot use all the features of the site unless you hand over $119.40 for a one-year Geni Pro membership. At Ancestry.com, the lowest single payment you could make is $19.95, which gets you one month of U.S. record searching and downloading, and ability to get clues from other member trees. Comparing one-year rates, you can also choose to buy a one-year Ancestry membership for a flat fee of $155.40, which comes out to $12.95 a month. If you are choosing to pay for a service and expecting actual service or results, Ancestry wins my credit card payment by a landslide.

Sorry Geni.com, you have indulged yourselves enough, time for a reality check.

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Hoisanese homecoming song

I absolutely love this song, 返家鄉/新民歌. Hoisanese speakers, learners, yearners, wahkiew, and whatever else your Hoisan connection might be, this is our theme song, a reminder to savor our roots.

Lyrics in Chinese (you can paste them in to Google translate for a rough translation):

當年離鄉背井,漂泊到外洋
苦況有誰體諒,全憑意志強

今日重返家鄉,感受不一樣
童年的朋友都變了樣,見到了親人我講不出聲

家鄉的飯菜特別香
家鄉的水啊特別甜
家鄉的土地我日思夜想
家鄉的的親人對我特別情長

今日重返家鄉,感受不一樣
童年的朋友都變了樣,見到了親人我講不出聲

家鄉的飯菜特別香
家鄉的水啊特別甜
家鄉的土地我日思夜想
家鄉的的親人對我特別情長

家鄉的飯菜特別香
家鄉的水啊特別甜
家鄉的土地我日思夜想
家鄉的的親人對我特別情長

僑鄉人啊,心系家鄉
僑鄉人啊,自立自強

僑鄉人啊,心系家鄉
僑鄉人啊,自立自強

自立自強

FREE Ancestry.com collections available October 1-15, 2011

15 collections from Ancestry.com will be opened for free searching for the first fifteen days of October. One new one will open each day and will stay open through the 15th. Yesterday was social security death records. Today is something about Ireland, but maybe going forward they will offer more that can be utilized for Chinese-related records, such as census records, passenger lists, naturalization indexes, etc. Take advantage by clicking here!

Bruce Lee’s NARA file available online!

I love the National Archives, and you should too. It is one of the absolute must-go-to resources for Chinese American genealogy research if your ancestors immigrated around 1950 or prior. This is a treasure trove. One of the most interesting files to review at NARA is the revered Bruce Lee. Though he was born in San Francisco, making him an American citizen, the former INS kept extensively detailed records on anyone of Chinese descent traveling in and out of the country during the Exclusion Act era. Now, you can download and read Bruce Lee’s file and read testimony from both his parents, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration’s website here.

One thing that is always apparent after viewing this file is the fact that Bruce Lee was not 100% Chinese – did you know that? His mother was of Chinese and Caucasian ancestry, and it is clear in her photos in the file (as a hapa person, I am easily entertained by learning about other hapas, especially those who have become as widely known as Bruce Lee). Sometimes hapas get flack from inside and outside their communities for being different, not Asian or Chinese enough, definitely not white enough, and once we get over this identity crisis hurdle, we finally realize (or at least I did), I have a lot of different genealogy I can be researching! And that in itself has helped me become a better researcher, just being open and interested in all my ancestors, wherever they came from. You can view one version of Bruce Lee’s family tree here.

Bruce Lee may not of Hoisan ancestry, but this is still fun to share. Lee’s father was of Shude/Sundak, Guangdong, China. Lee’s mother’s ancestry is unclear and numerous rumors abound. Here is an article that has some interesting ideas about Grace.

Bruce Lee and his mother, Grace Ho, as shown in Return Certificate Application Case File of Chinese Departing — Bruce Lee (12017/53752), 03/05/1941 – 04/01/1941, http://research.archives.gov/description/5720262, retrieved 9/22/2011 :

US military resources for Chinese research

Thanks to the smarties at Harvard and the University of Texas, we can view some pretty decent digital versions of some old US military maps of China. These are collections of maps produced during the 50’s and going forward. They are useful for getting snapshot of names and places over half a century ago, when a lot more immigration to the US started happening thanks to the lift of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Basically, a snapshot of how your parents’ or grandparents’ China was laid out. You may or may not be able to find place names that have since changed or are no longer in existence, but may still be remembered by your immigrant ancestors.

Here, on the “Chungshan” map, you will find Hoisan down in the southwest corner.

Harvard’s collection, which has a nice zoom/pan feature: http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/maps/collections/series_indices/China_Index.html

University of Texas’ version, which has great high resolution images: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ams/china/

Secondly, one of my favorite Hoisanese resources I’ve ever come across is another product of the US military, the Department of Defense’s Defense Language Institute’s textbook for it’s old “Toishan dialect” basic course. It is a lengthy and practical guide to spoken thlay-yeep 四邑 dialect, which is generally what we call the group of the dialects of Hoisan, Hoipen, Yinpen, Thleenwoi, and Hoksan counties/cities. This guide is the only instruction manual or textbook I have ever come across that teaches non-Chinese speakers how to speak Hoisanwah. There are thousands of classes and books that will teach you Mandarin and standard Cantonese, but so far only this one that will give you some good ole’ thlay-yeep country chops. A lot of people from the non-thlay-yeep spoken world regard Hoisanwah and related dialects as barbaric, too loud, unrefined and indicative of uneducated “hick” type of people. To those people, I say, well I’m not gonna say it because it’s way too vulgar in Hoisanwah, but to put it lightly, Hoisanwah is a rich and emotional, dare I say beautiful language (yes I really do consider it a language) that has deep roots in Middle Chinese and must be learned and spoken to be appreciated. It has more tones than many other Chinese dialects, and the vocabulary is amazing; one single syllable in Hoisanwah can have so much meaning — for those of you who are familiar, just think of the word 胺 “ngaht” and you can smell it! And if you get a verbal lashing in Hoisanwah, you have really felt the effects of a force that comes from somewhere deep within. Download the full guide HERE.

For a taste of thlay-yeep dialect, check out this awesome kid singing, what great tones and clarity he enunciates with:

Genealogy + online skills + teamwork = ???

So, while this post is not specific to Chinese genealogy, as I am writing it as part of an exercise for my grad program, I realized after a little thought that it is absolutely relevant to Chinese genealogy.

Some background: I am beginning a graduate program in Library and Information Science. As a newbie, I am getting acquainted with all sorts of electronic and online communication tools, and learning how to be present without being face to face in a physical classroom.

Soooo, am I a good online student? Yes and no. According to online student readiness assessments from San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science and San Diego Community College District, I am in the mid to high range of readiness for online studies. The two assessments vary. SJSU’s is an open-ended questionnaire meant for reflecting honestly on not only my technical skills but my personality characteristics, while SDCCD’s is a quiz that has multiple choice answers yielding a score. I believe SJSU’s is a more accurate way to gauge one’s online student readiness, due to two particular characteristics that no amount of technical skills can infuse: time management skills and self-motivation. These two are my weak spots, to be honest. The SDCCD quiz did not pick up as keenly on these necessary characteristics. I do get my work done, but I have been known to be quite a procrastinator. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to avoid this behavior. Time management and self-motivation are parts of the same animal, one must motivate oneself in order to manage time well and not slug off until it is too late. I tend not to be the greatest self-motivator, and that adds to my spending my time doing less important tasks while deadlines loom ahead. My husband tries to give me pointers to correct this bad behavior (he is a teacher and an anti-procrastinator), and I take a while to get used to consciously changing my behavior. Slowly but surely.

The other aspect of the online student environment is teamwork. On this point, I love teamwork, when it works. I enjoy contributing to a group of equally driven and knowledgeable individuals to create something larger and more dynamic than what we could do individually. I don’t believe in the kind of teamwork that achieves the same product as something I can put out myself, I think the point of teamwork is to produce something greater. That being said, I know that not all people feel the same, and that is when I think teamwork does not work. In a lecture given by Dr. Ken Haycock, I recognized the aspects of teamwork that I enjoy that he attributes to successful teams. These include clarity of expectations, good communication, productive use of conflict, and commitment, among others. I tend to go in to teams with high expectations of everyone, and the unspoken idea that we should all be committed to an excellent product. I realize now that this is not something I can expect, rather it is something that needs to be vocalized and agreed upon by all team members. I’ve been disappointed on many occasions in the past when I’ve worked in a team and I could not understand why certain members seemed perfectly content with minimal contribution and blasé attitudes about what we were trying to achieve. This was because we did not clarify our expectations when we started our project, and so our sense of commitment was all over the place, and we had no way to control our product or keep each other accountable. I have found that (usually), when I work with more mature individuals (as in more experienced their fields of work), I tend to have better teamwork experiences. I tend to become frustrated when working within a team of extremely varying skill levels; I feel like “I’ll just do this myself rather than trying to explain it to you.” This is also a trust issue, which Dr. Haycock also points to. Teammates must trust in one another to do their individual tasks in order to have a successful team. When I don’t trust my teammates, due to their lack of experience or any other issue, I feel like being in the team with the person is verging on useless, as I feel compelled to pull more weight or insert myself in to more tasks than necessary in order to maintain a quality product. I think this is largely the perspective Enid Irwin takes in her lecture about teamwork, as she calls it a “monster.” Teamwork can be a monster when not everyone in a team is collaborating equally, and taking a backseat, or if one or more members of a team are afraid and let it affect their attitudes toward the team and project. Ms. Irwin emphasizes the need for each teammate to take the attitude of pro-activeness. If a person is not contributing, he is destroying, according to Dr. Phil. I can see this to be true, because lack of pro-activeness and lack of contribution makes dead weight in my book, and no one like pulling dead weight. I’ve realized that in order to be a better teammate, I should vocalize my own goals and expectations, ask my teammates for theirs before I start any project, and this will save a me a lot of stress in the long run.

So, how does this all relate to genealogy? Well, genealogy, especially Chinese genealogy, is not something that one should do on his/her own. Genealogy always works better when one has collaborators, or teammates. And genealogy tends to work very well if you utilize online tools and hone electronic/technical skills as well. Sure genealogy gives me plenty of work to do on my own, but I can get it done a lot more quickly when I use other people’s help. Online forums are a great example of this; if I am stuck on a genealogical brick wall and I’ve tried all my old tricks to no avail, I will ask a public online forum for help. The key to getting good results is knowing who and where to ask. One of the best, most knowledgeable and respectable “teams” of people that help others with genealogical research questions is the Siyi Genealogy forum. I absolutely love the contributors to this forum. It is comprised of people from numerous countries, all with varying degrees of expertise or curiosity, different language skills, and different backgrounds in terms of their relationships to their individual Chinese histories. The members of the Siyi forum are respectful and very willing to teach those who have little or no experience in the realm of research, as well as help people who have done all they can but are still stumped.

Another example of collaborative genealogy is Geni.com. While I used to like this site much better, it is still decent. Geni is place for hosting your family tree online and inviting your family members to join the tree and build it together. Many times, when I have added more relatives as I dig further back in time, I will get a message that the person I’ve added is also present in another member’s tree, and ta-da, I can tap in to a whole other source of research. At that point, one can choose to compare similar or matching profiles, and if they are indeed the same person, the trees can be “merged.” Because this is still the internet, and there is no way to know for sure how accurate everything really is, you will want to do your own source-checking before just merging anyone. There are plenty of inaccurate trees on the web! However, when you get in touch with someone whose tree is backed up with legitimate first-hand sources, you will be happy you’ve found a potential collaborator or teammate, and genealogy becomes more than a search for dead people, it can be a new relationship with long lost relatives or otherwise enthusiastic researchers. The one aspect of Geni that I do not care for at this point are the differences between “Pro” account holders and regular/free user accounts. Pro accounts cost money, kind of like a subscription. Pro users are able to use more tools than regular users, including infinite possible additions to trees, while regular users are restricted to certain number of generations out, and the ability to merge matching profiles, something regular users cannot do. This point is anti-collaboration, in my opinion, but Geni wants to make money somehow, so there you have it. I have found a few amazing people on Geni, who are really on the same boat as me in their desires to create and fill in a deep and valuable record of our families’ histories.

Teamwork and collaboration, no matter what the subject matter is, can make for unexpectedly rewarding experiences.

A day at the cemeteries

A couple days ago, I met up with a few like-minded individuals at a cluster of cemeteries in Colma, California, which is a town that goes by the slogan “It’s great to be alive in Colma.” Supposedly there are about 2,000 residents in this town and 2 million buried there, what a hoot. Why so many dead people? Well, nearby San Francisco decided they would no longer have dead bodies buried within city limits once upon a time over 100 years ago, and so the existing cemeteries moved their internments out to the ‘burbs that are Colma, and a slew of new cemetery land was established.

We chose three cemeteries to visit, each having a different variety of Chinese headstones on display.

First up was Woodlawn, which is not exclusively Chinese but sure is popular for a lot of Chinese families. Woodlawn is well maintained, looks like a mini castle upon arrival, and has an office onsite where staff can be found for help (or to sell you a plot). Woodlawn is interesting as a sort of pan-Chinese resource. It contains burials of Chinese with many different backgrounds, Cantonese and non-Cantonese, Vietnamese-Chinese, and various other backgrounds different than what you might see at an older or Chinese region-specific cemetery. These different headstones gave us an opportunity to see the many different transliterations or Romanizations of a single Chinese surname character. Depending on the background of the deceased and his/her family, a character can be pronounced and spelled using the English alphabet in ways that are not mutually understandable or even recognizable. You can also view a map of Woodlawn here.

Next was the new Hoisan cemetery, known as Hoy Sun Memorial Cemetery. They don’t have a website, but their map is here, and you’ll recognize this cemetery from the lions guarding the Chinese gate entrance. This is a relatively new cemetery, established in the 1980s, after plots at the original/old Hoisan cemetery (next on our list) were sold out. Hoisan is a place, a county/very large “city” in Guangdong, China, known in pinyin/standard Mandarin romanization as “Taishan” but I prefer “Hoisan” because that is how Hoisanese dialect speakers actually pronounce it. Accordingly, this cemetery is home to Taishanese folks who have immigrated and carried out their lives in the U.S., and the descendents of these immigrants.  This cemetery is organized by surname, which is helpful and interesting, and is well maintained since they still have many plots to sell. What is interesting here and at other Chinese burial locations is that you can see evidence of how Chinese Americans have endured a history of complicated and discouraging immigration policies. The history of Chinese entering the U.S. illegally using “paper names” is evident when reading headstones. You will find the English names and Chinese names as written in characters are sometimes completely mismatched. That is because many people have kept and passed down their paper names, and never changed them, but the entire Chinese-speaking and Chinese-literate community will know them by their true Chinese names, and both can be read on headstones. Yet another reason headstones are such good clues when researching genealogy as complicated as that of Chinese Americans; Chinese people don’t just have nicknames, they can have entire alternate identities that can yield a very interesting research adventure. There is currently a new building being built near the entrance of Hoy Sun Memorial, which I am unsure of what it will be used for, either office or crypt. For now, the office is located in San Francisco’s Chinatown HERE.

Finally, my personal favorite, the original Hoy Sun Ning Yung cemetery, located HERE. This is a very old cemetery. It is different than the two above, in that it is very hilly (old Chinese folks believe in the power of Feng Shui and placement of the deceased up on a mountain), and there are many old tombstones that are inscribed in Chinese only. I believe there are still internments being made here if a plot was purchased back before they were sold out, but for the most part this cemetery is full, and is run down in a sense. It feels more like an old creepy cemetery, with more unique, varied, colorless headstones than many other places. It is surrounded by very tall trees and it is secluded behind a cul-de-sac. To me, it’s a historic place and represents some the earlier Chinese American local history. There are some people that visit their great-great-grandfathers here; many people don’t have any clue of who their great-great-grandfathers are, much less where they are buried. This reflects the essence of what the Ching Ming festival is all about. Ching Ming is an event that happens every year amongst the Chinese community. It involves gathering your relatives up and going out to your family’s grave sites. You clean the tombstones, remove weeds or overgrowth, place fresh flowers, and for many people, offer food and drinks to your deceased ancestors. You may burn incense, say a prayer, or light firecrackers as well. Everyone does this a little differently. This ritual is what keeps ancestors remembered and revered in Chinese families, and is part of why headstones are so detailed for us. We look at them all the time. At least once or twice annually. They are there for every generation of descendents to see, read, and understand. If not for Ching Ming, many Chinese headstones would be insignificant, overgrown, or otherwise forgotten after a cemetery has been filled up. The office for this cemetery is the same as Hoy Sun Memorial above.

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