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Family History Success Stories
Great-grandmother links 173 generations of the Tseng clan
March 4, 2004 Today News
By Raymond Andrew
Imagine painstakingly compiling a 4,000-year family history, with information trickling in a few pages at a time.
This was a labour of love that took Mrs Sheila Hsia six years to finish.
Between 1979 and 1985, the 78-year-old great-grandmother pieced together the history spanning 173 generations of her family — the Tseng clan — in the form of documents recording thousands of names, dates and places.
Born in China in 1926, Mrs Hsia recalled, as a little girl, seeing a book with a red cover. 'My father reverently told me that the book recorded the names of our Tseng ancestors,' she said.
She left for Hong Kong in 1949 and lived in Singapore between 1968 and 1985. On her first visit home in 1979, she was 'very disappointed' to find that the red book had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
Undaunted, Mrs Hsia persuaded her younger brother, Shao-qiang, to go to her grandfather's province to search for a similar set of records.
He found a distant cousin who had inherited a set of nine thick books in the 1920s. Miraculously, these had survived — the cousin, an illiterate farmer, had placed the records in a clay pot and buried it under his bed.
Shao-qiang was allowed to see the books only after agreeing to throw a three-day feast for the cousin. For the gala event, the cousin arrived with fanfare atop a tractor, holding the records packed in a red cloth, and with musicians and villagers in tow.
In 1983, Shao-qiang finally persuaded the cousin to allow the books to be photocopied. He then posted the copies to his sister, one book at a time.
But the fifth and sixth books were intercepted by Chinese Customs officials. Such records were not allowed out of China, the siblings were told.
So, they resorted to mailing several pages at a time — a process that lasted from 1983 to 1985.
Mrs Hsia, who was living with her daughter in Canada by then, finally completed the compilation in late 1985 — an impressive record of her family tree all the way back to 1950BC.
She told Today that subsequent research done at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver linked her family tree to Huang Di, China's first emperor.
Today, the Ontario resident — who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which places great emphasis on family history — helps others trace their family roots.
Mrs Hsia, who was in Singapore to visit her daughter, has assisted Chinese families in Los Angeles and Toronto and, in the 1970s, helped microfilm all the family records available in Singapore clan associations.
One of her ancestors, Tsan, was a student of the sage Confucius. Tsan wrote a sixth book in addition to Confucius' five — fittingly, about honouring one's parents and ancestors.
Said Mrs Hsia: 'This revelation made it clear that my brother and I had done the right thing.'