Banner image:The Gar sisters, Zelma and Elsie, whose father was a Filipino diver on Thursday Island.

  Why are there so many Chinese names in the government                                                                                                                    records starting with "Ah"?
When officials recorded the name of the Chinaman entering Australia, they asked the question "What is your name"? This question was commonly interpreted by the immigrant as "What are you called"? So he/she answered "Ah ....." which is the name they were known by to other Chinese. In most cases, it was their given name. So what the offcial recorded was not a surname or clan name but a friendly way of saying the given name. Hence the surname has become lost to future generations of their ancestors.
Here's an example: when this person embarked in Darwin in 1872 at age eleven he gave his name as "Ah Kim". His great- grand children in Meekathara, W.A. use this as a surname. In Chinese their surname is actually Fung. We know this because one of his sons was called Fung Lay - the Chinese naming system has the surname first. 

If you are searching for an ancestor with a name beginning with "Ah" your search will be difficult, if not impossible. There are hundreds if not thousands of people with the same name. Unless there is another record with their Chinese name (e.g. their signature in Chinese characters on an application for a CEDT), your search is likely to be fruitless.

Using the National Archives Australia to find your ancestor's C.E.D.T:

Answer these questions to find out if your search is likely to be successful:

**Did he ever journeyed back to the place of his birth? 

If "yes" or "don't know" continue.

**What does the name sound like?

  • For example the name "Yip Hoy" as pronounced by its Cantonese owner sounded like "Yet Hoy" or "Yet Foy" or "Yat Hoy" or "Yah Foy" to the recording official. Maybe the sound of the name has been preserved within your family, by Cantonese speaking members of the family. If not, try all possible variations of the sound of the name of your ancestor to retrieve his travel permit and photo if it has been archived. When the ColouredColonialsGenealogy database opens in 2019, specially developed software will help you do this.
  • Go to then RecordSearch then Advanced Search, then insert the  name etc in the Item section. SEE Searching for Certificates at the National Archives for simple step-by-step instructions.

**Where did he work? 

  • when nominating town where he lived and workednote that border towns in adjacent states used the closest port 
  • e.g Port Melbourne, Victoria includes NSW towns Deniliquin, Mildura, Moama, 
  • Brisbane includes NSW towns Mullumbimby, Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah

Using the Aliens Registration database:

The War Precautions (Aliens Registration) Regulations provide an information snap shot of coloureds living in each State during the World Wars. Only Queensland has a compiled Index. Go to to download the Coloured labour and asiatic aliens Index. Ancestory now has a copy of this Index as well. Here is an example

: C.E.D.T. photo of Tommy Chong Fung

Tommy Chong Fung registered in 1916 (at the local police station) as an alien giving his full name, place and date of birth, place of residence, occupation and date of entry into Australia. Each time he moved during WW1, he had to update his address and job description. Extract from the Index:

Family Name

Given Names





Year of Arrival in Queensland


Police District

Police Subdistrict











The following documents are available in the reading room of Brisbane NAA, or they can be ordered online. They provide additional useful information. For instance, Tommy wrote English well and his general physical description is provided.

This Queensland index is not complete. Cairns and Thursday with large Asian populations are not included. If your ancestor lived in Queensland during the Great War and is not included in the index the alien registration details can be ordered from Brisbane NAA.

For other States, use the National Archives RecordSearch. Be aware that the police recording this information may have spelt your ancestor's name differently.

Searching for the Sou Kee family of Burketown, Queensland

Annie and Tommy Sou Kee applied to travel to Canton. She, as a half caste Chinese born in Queensland, with an indigenous mother, had to register as an alien. Her husband (Willie) Sou Kee traveled back and several times and each time he re-entered he registered as an alien. She never returned to Australia. Her son Tommy's permission to return was extended until he was 9 and he also never returned.

From Ancestry Library Edition: Tommy Sou Kee b. 16 Jul 1917 in Queensland Parents Willie Sou Kee &  Annie Ge Ety 

Her alien registration tells us that she was born on Wondoola Station 20 April 1895, North Queensland and lived and worked at Lawn Hill Station as a cook's help. She was 21 when she registered as an alien on 10 December 1916 and 22 when she received approval to travel to Canton and re-enter Australia if she so desired

Willie Sou Kee was also known as Sow Kee or See Poy

facebook & LinkedIn: anthony ah kee

35A Hall St Bondi Beach N.S.W.

mobile 0420 641 456

Artist’s Statement

The lives of ordinary people of colour in late Colonial and early federated Australia were, unlike the rest of the population, regulated by re-entry restriction, alien registration and native protection. We now see that this mix of East and West had its own particular joys and sorrows. My art creates imaginary scenarios and tableaux which capture the emotions of these times:

The research for this genealogy site has allowed me to develop these art installations: 

Federation Penny Arcade Installation
about the effects of the administration of the Chinese/Immigration Restriction and Pacific Islander Labourers Acts on coloured workers & peasant farmers in Queensland and other states using a simulated, interactive Federation penny arcade with re-imagined games                          

The Invading Hordes Installation  3D animated heads and shoulders of marines, convicts, settlers, police and native police, projected sequentially onto 3 walls, suddenly changing to pig-tailed heads of Chinese indentured labourers which turn yellow (jaundiced) with some faces becoming leperous and melting to be slowly replaced by Afghan, Indian, Japanese, Kanaka etc monochromatic brindle faces, then suddenly the distraught, anonymous faces of today's illegals.

Researching future art installations 
(1) on the use of coloured labour in north Australia coastal communities from Broome to Thursday Island: the effects of the administration of federal Immigration Restriction; the Pacific Islanders' Labourers Act; the various state aboriginal protection Acts and the War Preparation Regulations on the coloured peoples of the coastal north Australia.
(2) Black Slaves in White Australia: the abuse of indigenous and pacific island labourers in the coastal, inland and island Missions and enterprises of colonial Australasia

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