Frequently Asked Questions

This website page was updated on 23 July 1999

Re: History

H1. Why were the Chinese immigrants called "Coolies?"
The word "coolie" originates from India and during the 19th century it referred to wage earners, particularly those who worked for low or subsistence pay. Large numbers of indentured labourers were initially introduced to the West Indies from India and the term was then extended to Chinese labourers when the latter were obtained a few years later. In official contracts and correspondence, from the British administrative point of view, the word was a general designation for all Asian immigrant workers. However, in British Guiana (and even in today's Guyana) the word "Coolie" became associated with the much larger numbers of people who originated from India while the Chinese became known as "Chinamen."

H2. My ancestor is said to have arrived in 1876 but there is no boat shown for that year. What gives?
There were a limited number of Chinese who arrived in the colony from neighbouring countries and who were officially recorded as "casuals." There may also be the possibility that recollections of the date may not be accurate or that the handwritten records may have been misread.

 

Re: Genealogy

G1. My ancestor's name appears as an immigrant on one of the ships but why are no descendants shown?
Each list of descendants is entered only after receiving confirmation of the ancestor and the ship. There are similar sounding names and spellings for some Chinese immigrants and in these cases the ancestor cannot be correctly identified without additional documentation. For example there were two persons named Chan-A-Shing on the
Chapman and the names Li-A-Tak and Wong-A-Fook appear on the records of several different vessels.

G2. There seems to be a lot of surnames with "-A-" in the middle. Why is that?
In Chinese the prefix "A-" is added to a person's given name as a familiar way of addressing a person. In English this practice is comparable to adding the suffix "-y" or "-ie" to a name thereby producing Annie, Bobby, daddy, mommie, etc. In most cases the familiar term of address then became part of the surname so that Fung Gong-fat became known as Fung-A-Fat. In some other cases the "A" is an authentic Chinese name (meaning second place, runner up, junior) which became a part of the hyphenated family surname.

G3. It seems that quite a few of the names are for Trinidadians. Any comments?
After completing their term of indenture the Chinese labourers were permitted to stay in the colony or could apply for passports to emigrate elsewhere. From the 1870s onward a significant number chose to go to Trinidad where the prospects for advancement appeared to be better.

G4. How can I get a copy of the full names of descendants for an immigrant?
Databases are being maintained by several genealogists who have more than 10,000 names on file. In order to retain privacy, lineage charts and descendants charts can be sent only to those persons who appear as descendants (or their spouses). Some of the lineage charts occupy only one page while others require up to 18 pages to list 4 generations. A charge for the cost of copying and mailing is requested.

G5. Why are the names shown for only four generations?
It would be a never-ending task to maintain records for the latest additions to the various families and the main objective is to trace back to the roots and immigrants who came as indentured labourers in the period 1853 to 1979. However, some genealogists do have compilations beyond the fourth generation, particularly for their own family trees.

G6. On which boat did my ancestors arrive?
The answer to this question is one of the major objectives of the website creator and other genealogists. Passenger lists for only a few boats have been found in the archives and it is not alway easy to pinpoint the correct ancestor (see
G1). In some cases the answer may lie hidden away in records kept by a family member. See Rooting to get some ideas on how to follow up on this.

 

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