African American Woman Finds Her Chinese Roots

Paula Williams Madison

Paula Williams Madison grew up in New York with a half Chinese, half Jamaican mother, Nell Vera Lowe. Her mother’s Chinese father, Samuel Lowe, went to China in 1933 when Nell was 15 and never returned to Jamaica. Nell left Jamaica for New York to start a new life, but her Asian features set her apart, which contributed to her feeling of loss and loneliness.

Nell Vera Lowe, Paula Williams Madison’s mother

When Paula retired, she decided to fulfil her childhood promise to her mother and find her grandfather. Her search into her family history took her from New York to Jamaica to China. Following a lead from a paternal cousin, who noted the significant Chinese-Jamaican community in Toronto, Paula attended a conference about the Hakka, a Chinese minority who is known for migrating overseas. There she found the first clues regarding what happened to her maternal grandfather. In just a few months, she found herself on a plane to China to meet her Chinese relatives. Once there, she found genealogical records for more than 150 generations. Her documentary and memoir, Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem are based on her journey to discover her roots.

Samuel Lowe, Paula Williams Madison’s grandfather

Selected Sources:
The Root, A Black Woman’s Search for Her Chinese Roots“, August 14, 2014.
Los Angeles Sentinel, “Retired Black Exec Finds Her Chinese Family,” January 20, 2016.