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Family Tree


“Family tree” (or “pedigree chart”) is a special chart representing family relationships and important events of family members in a conventional tree structure.

Family tree is a special cultural legacy of China, being one of the 3 important documents (history of the nation, local chronicles and family tree) of Chinese nation. Family tree is a precious human culture document, which is irreplaceable for the further study of history, folkloristic science, demography, sociology and economics.

The Origin of Family Tree

The origin of family tree has always been controversial. According to the inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells, bronzes, stones and other early inscriptions of China discovered, as well as some historical records, the history of family tree can be traced back to before Qin period at the latest.  The officials of history wrote Generation Book – on Emperors in Zhou dynasty. The Generation Book written before Qin Dynasty has already been lost, and the one we are reading today is written by people in Qing dynasty. However, from the menu we can see that Generation Book has concluded all the family trees of emperors, kings and chancellors from Huang Emperor Period to Spring and Autumn Period, being a general pedigree chart of the comprehensive blood –related groups of previous and contemporary times.

The Form of Family Tree

There are many forms of family tree. Before the emerging of written family there have been oral family tree and knotting family tree. Then people mount the chart with paste and put in the middle hall. Some people book-bind their family trees. In the past, family trees of bureaucrat families were usually book bound, while common people, merchants and rich families often use pasted charts.

The Contents and function of Family Tree

In ancient times, family trees were only owned by kings and nobles. The function of family tree was the evidence of blood relationship, which served for the inheriting of title and property. The content of family trees in this period was simple, being only instruction of lineage.

After Wei and Jin Dynasty, the chosen of officials and marriages or even the social contacting was depended on family status. The importance of family tree in political, economic and social living had increased, and the contents of family tree had become more than the past.

During Song Dynasty, the rule that family trees could only be made by official was broken. Making family trees became more popular among common people. In this time, family tree had hardly any use in political life. The function of family tree had changed to the worship of ancestors and harmonizing the relationship of family members.  Family tree was often edited, which was an important thing for people in the same clan.

The structure of family tree was basically set in Ming and Qing Dynasty, There’ were lots of family trees passed down until today.

The content of a family tree includes mainly 3 parts: The first part is the chart of lineage, describing the generation and father of clan member. The second part is the main text, which is written according to the order set in the chart of lineage, introducing the name, title, father, generation, time, post, title of nobility, life time, posthumous name, marriage and so on of each member. The number of words of the instruction ranks from more than 50 to 2-3, being a brief biography.  The third part is an appendix.

The order of generations is set in some family trees when they are being made. The generations are marked ahead of time. This is called “generations order” in folklore, which is actually assigning priority according to seniority. Because of the value the male child only formed by history, a character decided in advance has to be one of the characters of the “full name” of a male. This character should be in the middle or the last of the three characters of the name. The generations may be different, but the rule is accepted through common practice.