On Monday May 8, 2017, ten members of the Roots Plus group for Spring 2017 met in Guangzhou to take the next steps on their long journeys towards connecting with their ancestral past, opening themselves to all the discoveries that awaited them.
The group consisted of two extended families:
The Lees: cousins Danny, Winston, Barbara, and a nephew on their mother’s side, Patrick Chew, along with Winston’s wife, Martha Chan; and Dennis and Celia Huey’s family joined with eldest daughter Trina, youngest daughter Jessica, and her husband Jason Phan.
Their ages ranged from early thirties to over eighty. Their co-leaders were John Wong, Walter Lim, and Jane Chin. The group was nicknamed “Shinkansen” (after the high speed Japanese railroad) because of the speed with which it formed – from initial inquiries to group formation, it took less than sixty days. This heightened eagerness to participate in the program followed months and years of extensive personal research into their families’ histories, documenting those early paths taken from China to Hong Kong and Myanmar, then eventually to the United States, where members of this group carried on up to the present.
During the next ten days, they visited over fourteen villages in Taishan mostly, but also notably, Xin Hui and Meizhou. At the villages, they stood in some of the actual homes where their ancestors lived. They paid respects at the family altars in those homes as well as in the village clan halls and at burial sites. They looked in awe at the genealogical books which surfaced – some were handwritten for generations, faithfully recording the lineages right up to their great-grandfathers/grandfathers. They also saw the same wells that have been used for hundreds of years and, in touching the waters, remembered the source. For the first time, they met close family members, sometimes not even knowing of them previously. One touching re-acquaintance was made with a childhood best friend after seventy years’ separation. Homecoming celebrations large and small provided moments of happiness and new meaning to the experience of family.
They traveled up to the mountain pass on the Guangzhou-Jiangxi provincial border and re-traced part of the route of their ancestors as they migrated from Central China to their eventual Pearl River Delta locations. They also experienced modern China urban life in the grand metropolis of Guangzhou, which was often the historical embarkation point for their ancestors. Perhaps they wondered if the same sense of adventure and buzz of hyperactive commerce existed a hundred or more years ago when their ancestors passed through. During the whole time, they consumed copious Chinese food and drink, often in a way they had never before experienced. Their Chinese language skills re-emerged or started from anew the more they engaged and tried communicating in the challenging Taishan dialect, Cantonese, or modern Putonghua. They were rewarded with smiles, laughter, and appreciation for their effort and love of their Chinese heritage.
In all, they met new family and friends, made incredible finds, experienced joy and sadness, discovered truths (or versions thereof) which enlightened but raised new questions. Knowing their journeys will continue, they recognize that through their efforts, a bridge to their past was made clearer and also a path forward became available to others following on their own journeys.
Enjoy the photos in this slideshow as a small representation of the May 2017 Roots Plus members’ experiences!