Starting Point

There are two important pieces of information that will get you started on your search for Korean ancestors.  The first is the name of a Korean ancestor written in HanJa characters.  The second is the name of the clan associated with that ancestor’s family name.  These two pieces of information are needed to find an individual in family genealogical records available online.  If that information is not available for the clan, then turn to government records related to family registries, clan websites, or even request to obtain access to the records from the family directly.

If an ancestor’s name in English or HanGul is known but the HanJa version is unknown or if the clan is unknown, then the search will be more challenging, but it is not impossible.  Use the table of family names from chapter 2 to find the all of the possible HanJa versions of the family name.  Note that there are a variety of English spellings for each HanGul version of a family name, but it is generally not difficult to find the right HanGul version of a Korean family name from the English version.  Next, take each possible HanJa version of the name and find all of the online records associated with each of those as a good starting place.  For some HanGul family names with many HanJa versions this may result in several volumes to start with, but at least it is a good starting point.

The following example is from the YeoSan clan of the Song family.  This older edition of the Song records is divided into two books.  Of course, newer editions could include information about living people that could cause privacy concerns – a genealogist should always respect the privacy and wishes of individuals when researching.  Clan records broken into more than two books will often number the volumes.  In this case there are only two books, so they are identified as the “above” (上, 상, Sang) and “below” (下, 하, Ha) books (卷, 권, Gweon).  In the following picture from the Family Search website, you see the title of the two family registry volumes (in HanGul and HanJa) followed by the volume identifier.  The table after the picture breaks down the title of the family registry.

Picture 5.1 Locating a Family Registry Online



Table 5.5  Family Registry Title Translation

HanJa HanGul Pronunciation Meaning
礪山 여산 YeoSan Yeo Mountain (the location where the YeoSan Song family clan originated)
宋氏 송씨 Song SShi Song Family
族譜 족보 JokBo Family Registry
卷上 권상 Gweon Sang Scroll/Book Above/Before
(First Volume)
卷下 권하 Gweon Ha Scroll/Book Below/After
(Second Volume)


Family registries follow the traditional book orientation by starting from the back and working forward as you read the book.  The front cover is where western books would have placed the back cover, and the book is read in the opposite direction of western books.  Accordingly, in the YeoSan Song family registry below, you’ll notice that the cover page has the binding on the right.  Family Search correctly designates this as page or image 1.

Picture 5.2  Viewing a Family Registry Online



The genealogical record is primarily written in HanJa characters.  Some modern records also translate portions of the record into HanGul, but the bulk of the records are still in HanJa.  Pages of traditional records are read back-to-front, top-to-bottom, right-to-left.  In the example above, “礪山宋氏族譜上” (YeoSan Song Family Registry, First Volume) is written top-to-bottom on the cover page, in traditional style.


One thought on “Starting Point

  1. In October 1951 my father, a US Army officer, was given a gift by a Korean man named Kim Sang Soon or Kim Song Soon. There was a letter with the gift. In the letter Kim stated his grand grandfather had been an envoy to China and had met with Chinese Viceroy Li Hong Chang. I am trying to trace the ancestry of Kim to (1) see if he has any living relatives and (2) to learn the name of his grand grandfather, the Korean envoy. Any help will be most appreciated. Thank you very much.

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