Your Ancestors in Asia


The largest, most populated continent, is roughly 30% of the worlds total land area and was the area of some of the very first human populations. Today Asian humans constitute 60% of the total human population. Government systems, historical ties, economies, environments, cultures and ethnic groups vary greatly across the region. There are in total 48 countries. If you have Asian ancestors then this blog can help you get started with tracing them.

I’m taking just 8 of these 48 countries to give you a flavour of what genealogy records may exist across the continent:

  • China
  • Cyprus
  • Indonesia
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Russia
  • Thailand

For India see my previous blog

Check out for my 5 steps to discovering your ancestors.

Great Wall, Mutianyu


Many records will be in Traditional Chinese wherever the record was created. Simplified Chinese was introduced in the mid 20th C.

Births and Deaths for Chinese families were recorded in a Jiapu; a family history book, detailing the social evolution and migration of the clan. These are generally held by the clan or Temple in the ancestral village and can be hard to track down as many were destroyed in the cultural revolution. Families who emmigrated may have saved a copy of their Jiapu.

British migration is described in detail on the website and includes that of the Chinese. UK Passenger lists are explained on The National Archives website. A useful guide to Chinese Immigration records (North America) can be found on FamilySearch. Ancestry has an extensive set of Immigration records.

It is estimated that up to 50 million Chinese ancestors left China for new lives across the world. The largest Chinese population in the UK is in Manchester.



BMD records are created and maintained by the civil authorities in Cyprus following the introduction of civil registration by the British, after 1878. Before this Church records fill the need for BMD, just like the UK.

Birth records can be more detailed than the UK sometimes having in addition:

  • hour of birth
  • name of father’s father
  • mother’s birthplace
  • mother’s father’s name

Birth and death records can be located at district offices. Marriage records are held at the Ministry of Interior (Nikosia).

A useful guide to church records.

A useful guide to Census records.

Further Cyprus resources:



BMD records dates from 1828 when the Dutch were in Indonesia. However there are some civil marriages and deaths recorded as early as 1750. Some records were destroyed during WW2. These records can be found at the National Archives and local civil registry offices.

The earliest Church records survive from 1579 and are usually located in Diocese and parish archives or at the local church.

Four census’s have been taken in Indonesia, with the first in 1961.

Further Indonesian Sources:



Jewish families have migrated across the world and Jewish communities can be found in most cultures. Family heirlooms have travelled with them and remain as treasured items in family collections. Documents may only be preserved in the families memory; treasure these if you come across them.

The State of Israel; Israel for short is a Country in the Middle East. It was formed in 1948 by the Jewish Agency declaring independence, although Arab Leaders had rejected the plan by the United Nations (Partition Plan for Palestine) in 1947.

BMD Records can be tough. Garri Regev on FamilySearch writes “Smaller communities may have some records but the official path for obtaining Birth or Death Certificates in Israel is through the Ministry of Interior. The process is not simple and there are specific requirements – and it may not be possible for everyone. You can now access all the information that it is necessary for you to have before beginning the process…” BMD registers can be researched on FamilySearch.

Census information can be located here

Emigration and Immigration records

Further Jewish Sources:



Family History (Genealogy) records for Japan are kept at a local level. Like States or Provinces in Europe, Japan is divided into Prefectures created by consolidating feudal domains after the Meiji Resoration in 1868. The Meiji Restoration was an event that restored practical imperial rule to the Empire of Japan.

Koseki are the registers of Japanese families reporting birth, deaths, marriages, divorce, adoption and paternity since 1872. The city or town hall is the place to locate these records. Ideally you will know the name and home-town of the ancestor you are researching.

Joseki are registers of family members withdrawn from Koseki. This maybe due to death, marriage or the removal of citizenship. Again the city or town hall is the place to locate these records.

BMD records for Christian Churches were kept. The records will include Roman-Catholic and protestant from 1873 to date. A visit to the church in the community of your ancestors would be required to access these records.

Census was taken nationwide and updated regularly (see Koseki above). The first was started in 1872 and completed a year later. Class distinctions (nobility, samurai, commoners and outcasts) weren’t recorded from 1898 onwards. After 1947 the household (with a head of household having legal responsibility for all family members) was abolished as a legal entity and replaced with an emphasis on the individual (the nuclear family).

Around 2.5 million Japanese live in countries across the world. In 1868 widespread emigration began with the movement of labour to Hawaii for work on sugar plantations. This was followed by work in Peru and Brazil. About 1,480,000 people of Japanese decent now live in South America. The number for North America is estimated at 1 million. For further information including passenger lists please access FamilySearch.

Further Japanese Sources:

How To Find Family In Japan



Malaysia, physically split between west and east was united into one country in 1963. Twenty three million people live within its boarders, and it remains sparsely populated relative to its land area. Malaysia emerged out of territories created by Britain, who had been interested in the reserves of tin and rich soil for growing rubber trees. Malaysian Family History records are generally kept at a local level.

BMD records are generally available from 1859 onwards, however it isn’t until 1961 when civil registration becomes compulsory (except for Muslims). The National Archives or local civil registration offices are the location of these records.

Church records for Malaysia are available. The usual baptism, marriage, burials and confirmations are available, from as early as 1642 (Dutch Reformed), through 1820 (Anglican) to 1895 (Presbyterian).

The census in Malaysia is available from 1891 onwards and is available from the National Archives.

A record of immigrants, foreign residents and citizens from 1800 to present is available detailing names, ages, occupation, birth date, birthplace, former residence plus other information suitable for your family history research. The National Archives or municipal archives are key repositories for this information.

Further Malaysian Sources:


Saint Basil’s, Moscow


Russia (or the Russian Federation) is the largest country in the world by area. It covers over 1/8th of the Earth’s inhabited land area. Over 144 million people inhabit the country as of 2018.

Imperial Russia (pre 1917) was divided into governorates (gubernias or provinces); which were sub-divided into uyezds or districts. Russia and Ukraine and other former Soviet republics were (and still are) divided in oblasts or provinces; sub divided into raions or districts. Aim to note the old and new jurisdictions for the places you are interested in researching.

Civil registration (BMD) began after the Russian Revolution. Zags (civil registration offices) were established by 1919. Gaps in civil registration can be found up to 1926. Many offices hold earlier records back to the beginning of the century. The transfer of vital records should take place to Regional Archives 75 years after their creation; this hasn’t always happened for a number of reasons to check carefully the location of these records. FamilySearch holds the following records:

  • Birth and Baptism index: 1755 – 1917
  • Marriage index: 1793 – 1919
  • Death and Burial index: 1815 – 1917

Church records are available. In 1722 Peter the Great requested birth, marriage and death records to be kept by the Orthodox Church. Marriages include the names of witnesses (two from each side of the family). Like many countries forms were filled out, filed and bound into books. Catholic Church books exist from 1826, Lutheran from 1832, Jewish from 1835 and Baptists from 1879. For further information please refer to the sources section below.

Census records are rare in Russia. Only two complete Census’s have ever been taken; the Russian Empire Census in 1897 (Imperial Russia) and the Russian Census in 2002 (Post Soviet Russia). For further information please refer to the sources section below.

Emigration and Immigration records begin in the late 19th C. Passenger lists exist for ships entering Russia. There are border crossing records for those leaving Russia for foreign destinations.



The Kingdom of Thailand (Siam) comprises of 76 provinces. Over 68 million people live within its borders. Family History records are kept at the province level in Thailand (76 provinces make up Thailand, known as Changwat).

Civil Registration records (birth, marriage, divorce and death) exist from 1902 to the present. These are either stored at National Archives, National Civil Registration Office and / or local prefecture civil registry offices.

Church Records are available, usually in Public Record Offices or Church Archives from 1782 onwards (Anglican) through to Catholic (1826) and Presbyterian (1895).

The Census in Thailand is available from 1909 and can be found at the National Archives, National Civil Registration Office or local prefecture archives. A census was taken in 1919, 1929, 1937 and 1947.

Immigration records record immigrants, foreign residents and citizens from 1850. These can be located at the National Archives and municipal archives.



Research ancestors in other countries
















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Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

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Further links

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