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Liverpool’s Chinese Family Tree

30 June 2011 by Lucy

How much do you know about your parents and grandparents?

Bernie, Denise and Sun Yui worked with us to find out more about their families who feature in a new interactive Family Tree displayed in East meets west – The Story of Shanghai and Liverpool, part of the new Museum of Liverpool opening on July 19th.

Copies of marriage certificates, passenger lists and trade directories have been put together in a visual log that will provide visitors with plenty of ideas on how to track down family members past and present. These personal stories took us to archives in Shanghai where researchers tried to trace the participants’ Grandfathers – Sow Loo, Ching Ming and Leung Ngau.

For Bernie Gibson (nee Loo), the project meant exploring the family she never knew and celebrating the Chinese heritage she is proud of. Bernie’s search for her birth family began with a letter to Social Services in 1995 and the reply confirmed what she was always vaguely aware of – that her Mother’s father was Chinese, and Bernie’s surname Loo came from him.

Liverpool has one of the longest established Chinese communities in Europe, all thanks to Alfred Holt and Co’s momentous launch of the first direct steamship from Liverpool to China in 1866. Recruiting men from across Shanghai and Hong Kong, the Blue Funnel Line, as it became known, brought thousands of Chinese seamen to Liverpool, and many made the city their home. Sow Loo, Bernie’s Grandfather, was one such seafarer who arrived in Liverpool on board a Blue Funnel Ship in the late 1910s.

From looking at their marriage certificate from Liverpool’s Registry Office, we know Sow Loo married Catherine Johnson in 1922, and that he was working in a laundry at the time. By checking trade directories in the Liverpool Record Office we found out the business was actually his, and that the Sow Loo Laundry also housed the family at 230 County Road, Walton. The laundry disappears from the directories in 1928, the same year that the story of the family moving to China emerges. Passengers lists for the Kashima Maru in 1929 records Catherine returning to Liverpool with two of her four children, without Sow Loo, in time for the birth of Bernie’s mother – pictured kneeling down to the right of the photograph. Very little is known about the family at this time (1950s) and this is the only photo Bernie has of her mother.

These family trees show how documents, old photographs and oral testimonies can unlock the secrets of family members past, and show us the many ways Liverpool has grown as a Global city.

Photograph of people enjoying a party in Stanhope Street

Do you recognise anyone at this Christmas party in Stanhope Street? Courtesy of Bernadette Gibson

Global Families – Discovering our roots, appears in East meets west – The Story of Shanghai and Liverpool for the Global City Gallery, part of the new Museum of Liverpool opening on 19 July.

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