Christine Chiang didn’t grow up knowing her extended family. Her parents, who were each single children, left all family records behind when they moved from mainland China to Taiwan before Christine was born. The only relatives she knew were her parents, sister, and brother.
After receiving a university degree in Chinese literature, she landed her first job as an editor with one of the largest publishing houses in Taiwan. She was making a name for herself, but by age 25, she wanted more.
“I had already accomplished a lot as an editor, receiving awards from the publishing world,” she said. “But I needed to learn more. I didn’t just want to be an editor, so I started applying to graduate schools.”
Discovering a New Life in a New Country
“In those days, my impression of the United States was either Gone with the Wind or a New Yorker,” Christine laughed. “My mother’s favorite movie was Gone with the Wind, so of course I chose the University of Georgia.”
One year later, with a master’s degree in hand, she flew directly to Silicon Valley to start a new career in instructional technology. She worked nonstop, consulting with companies from start-ups to large dotcoms. After several years, her professional reputation was well-established, and she could choose where to work.
But after getting married and having a child, she and her husband wanted to live in an area that was better suited to their family.
“Our motivation was our son. We needed to find an environment that would help him become a well-rounded person,” Christine said.
As she searched for a new job, she discovered that her church had available openings in her field. Out of curiosity, she applied, and after interviews and negotiations, she was offered a job that meant a move to Salt Lake City, Utah. With her husband’s support, she accepted a position in Information and Communication Systems.
Christine later transferred to work for FamilySearch as a Unix user experience designer and eventually was assigned to Chinese projects.
“It is such a miracle. It’s hard to find a job you really love, but God put me in a position that I am deeply passionate about. I didn’t know I’d be working on Chinese projects. I was just a regular Unix designer; I could work on any project. But it happened. Imagine! It’s not common to find someone who knows Chinese, is a Unix designer, and is also a Church member. Everything was just put together, and it was the right thing for me,” she expressed.
Unexpected Messages lead to Discovering Family
Working for FamilySearch, Christine often heard family history stories from team members, but she couldn’t share her own. She had submitted her first 4 generations to the Family Tree on FamilySearch, but her entries were the only records with her clan (ancestral) name.
One evening Christine received a shocking call from the police in China informing her that her oldest brother had died. She was in the United States, yet she was the only Chinese family member the police could find. Christine had never met her brother; he was estranged from his family for about 30 years. Saddened that he died alone, she went to China to arrange for his burial. She said it was painful to know that if she hadn’t been contacted, it would be like her brother never existed. From that experience, she longed to make a connection with her living relatives and to discover her jiapu, the Chinese genealogy book of her clan—if it existed.
The only clue she had was that her father was considered a celebrity in his tiny, extremely poor village. As a boy he travelled to a bigger town to attend a good school and then attained an influential military position. But she couldn’t find any records to verify the story.
Feeling discouraged, Christine confided to her co-worker and friend, Eric Leach, a Chinese experience manager, that she couldn’t find a way to expand her tree. Eric was familiar with the difficulty of finding jiapu but assured her it would be worth the search and suggested creating a specific plan.
Amazingly, before they could get started, Christine saw a message in her FamilySearch inbox from a great-niece in China. Though they were complete strangers, Christine’s great-niece found her name while using a promotional copy of FamilySearch and sent an inquiry to Christine. After several online discussions, Christine was overjoyed to be invited to go to China for a family reunion. She readily agreed.
Encouraged by Eric, Christine continued to search online for ancestral connections that she could share with her family when she visited China.
“I found that my father was recorded in a local gazetteer. I also found more relatives,” Christine said. “I began exchanging email and texts with one cousin. He actually told me he had our clan jiapu.”
When Christine discovered that her clan jiapu existed, she excitedly booked a flight to China for herself and her son.
“As a first-generation immigrant to the United States, I wanted my son to learn who and where he comes from,” she explained.
Upon meeting their Chinese relatives, Christine and her son were warmly greeted and immediately felt like part of the family. They spent a short week translating and helping her son learn some of the homeland traditions.
“It was really something way beyond genealogy. That was the best time for my son. He was raised in the U.S., so before we went, he didn’t really care. At the end he was so proud of his Chinese blood that now he wants to change his middle name to my Clan name,” Christine recounted.
Next, they traveled to meet her cousin who held the clan jiapu. He graciously presented Christine with a digital copy of her own.
Discovering Jiapu Expands Desire to Help Others
Christine couldn’t wait to share her success with her FamilySearch coworkers.
“Before, I was a loner on my [FamilySearch] team with only 4 generations. There was no way I could find my genealogy. One day I surpassed everyone. I’m the winner with 134 generations!” she teased. “If it’s not a miracle, I don’t know what it is. I can’t say how much I appreciate what I have. It’s like a dream come true.”
Her FamilySearch manager, Brian Edwards, couldn’t agree more.
“Christine had a happy, moving experience—one that might be helpful to others,” Brian said. “I think it shows that, even if you have roadblocks, don’t give up, keep trying, and sometimes heaven opens the doors we need.”
For her profession, Christine works on the cusp of expanding Chinese genealogical research. Her job is to talk to programmers and patrons of FamilySearch to find ways to improve the researching process.
“As Unix designers, we need to understand the patron users to create an experience they expect. I’m definitely an advocate for both sides—always trying to strike a good balance. We want users to be happy and feel right at home when they come to our site. We don’t want the process to feel awkward or hard to use. That’s the goal,” Christine explained.
Since discovering her own family and jiapu, Christine hungers to help patrons find the satisfaction she feels.
“The whole process of discovery was a miracle. The trip to my father’s hometown changed my mind about China forever. I found not only my family members and jiapu there, but also a newer and broader perspective that has been missing in my life,” she exclaimed.
With over 13 million digital images from mainland China, including more than 65,000 jiapu images and more to come, Christine’s work is never-ending. But she doesn’t complain.
“I’m passionate about my work. I tell my son ‘to find a job you really love so every day when you wake up, you feel energetic, and you have so much you can contribute.’ That’s how I feel about my job,” she stated.
Source: Family Search