By Sophie Couchman (Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria)
To get the most out of any online resource when searching for Chinese Australians you need to be smart in how you search for names. Every situation is slightly different but here is an example of how I went about searching for ‘Fong Jow Sang’ in the Victorian CEDT Index. All I was told was this was the name of my informant’s father, Fong Jow Sang, who had lived in Melbourne and travelled to China during the White Australia period.
If you search for ‘Fong Jow Sang’ in the database you get no results. A search of ‘Fong’ brings up 135 results and ‘Sang’ 61 results. However if you scan through the 15 results for ‘Jow’ there is a ‘Tong Jow Sang’.
Being familiar with errors in reading cursive script I was suspicious and checked the photograph of the original page.
I also checked the linked record in the National Archive of Australia’s RecordSearch. This confirmed my suspicions that this was ‘Fong’ and not ‘Tong’.
No matter how careful we might be transcribing records and checking them it is easy for errors slip in. Having found the error I reported it using the ‘Report a correction’ link at the top of the Search page on the Victorian CEDT Index website.
Fortunately the record for ‘Fong Jow Sang’ has been digitised. When I examined the file there were other clues to travel undertaken by Fong Jow Sang. Although the file only contains one page it states that Fong Jow Sang also travelled to China in 1925.
A search of all the people who travelled in 1925 brings up 323 results but if we search for all those with the name ‘Jow’ or with the name ‘Sang’ who travelled in 1925 only one result comes up – ‘Jow Sang’.
Having noticed that Fong Jow Sang was a described as a ‘merchant’ I also undertook other searches using ‘merchant’ to limit results. I don’t find any other likely results.
If I was really determined I might try other misspellings or parts of the name with ‘Ah’ in front it but I would probably want to know a bit more information about Fong Jow Sang’s life to try and match with this information. I could also try using the his age to try and limit search results and match other records. The ages provided to officials are, however, often inconsistent and unreliable.
There is no corresponding NAA file for this record but looking at the shipping information for Fong Jow Sang in 1925 and 1932 on the page we see that he travelled out of and into Australia via Sydney rather than Melbourne. This means that as well as records created by immigration officials in Melbourne there might also be ones created in Sydney too.
A search of ‘Jow Sang’ as an exact phrase in RecordSearch brings up four records. Two of these have been digitised. The one we’ve already seen and also a second one which is a large file describing how when Fong Jow Sang left Australia he arranged for another man, Fong Shoue, to come in as a ‘replacement worker’ to take his place in his fruit business, ‘Sang Goon & Co’, while he was away.
Then if we go back and look back at the original document we found above we see a small file note on the side of the letter that mentions this and also the file number 31/1249. Note that this number matches the B13 control symbol, 1931/1249 (to learn more about C&E numbers in the Victorian CEDT Index see ‘Using Victoria, CEDT Book and C&E Numbers and Passenger lists: Mrs Lup Mun‘).
One last search I did in the Victorian CEDT Index was for ‘Sang Goon’, the name of Fong Jow Sang’s firm. No results came up but sometimes you can find that people travel under the name of their business rather than their actual name.
We do however have many more historical leads to follow up should we wish to. Given they both appear to share the family name ‘Fong’, Fong Shoue who came into Australia to replace Fong Jow Sang when he left was probably related to him. We could also try to confirm Fong Jow Sang’s travel into and out of Sydney in NSW Passenger Lists (for more on using Passenger Lists see ‘Linking CEDT Registers and passenger records‘). We can examine the undigitised files – one in Melbourne and one in Sydney. We could also do some more creative searching of RecordSearch for further results, including by the firm name and by Fong Shoue’s name.
Finally it is also valuable to look very closely at the historical sources you discover. Sang Goon & Co’s letterhead in one of the files, for example, tells us that Sang Goon & Co, the company Fong Jow Sang worked for, was based at the Wholesale Fruit Markets with an office at 327 King Street, Melbourne and also had branches in Hong Kong, Manilla and Fiji.