Family Research in Shanghai

Patricia Cleveland-Peck finds out how family historians can research the lives of their ancestors in the fast-changing city of Shanghai.


The prosperous way of life adopted by these ‘Shanghailanders’ continued until the 1930s, becoming increasingly decadent. In 1937, however, the Japanese won the Sino-Japanese War and in December 1941, on the same morning they bombed Pearl Harbor, they took over Shanghai’s International Settlement. All the foreigners who could, left. Then, with the coming of Communism in 1949, prosperous Shanghai was expected to help to subsidize the rest of the country’s economic development and in 1953 all companies were confiscated and henceforth ‘owned by the people’.  At which stage the last Western hangers-on left.

Many ‘Old China Hands’  found it impossible, however, to forget the city. They regaled their children and grandchildren with tales of the fabulous opportunities Shanghai had offered them and painted vivid pictures of the glamorous lives they enjoyed.

This now results in a number of people making the journey to Shanghai each year  to search for the places where their ancestors lived, worked and played. Their search is made difficult, not only by the fact that more old buildings have been torn down in Shanghai than in practically any city on earth but also by the fact that the streets have been renamed in Chinese.

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