The Temples of Penang, Malaysia and What Genealogical Records They May Hold
Penang has possibly as many temples as they have kongsis or clan associations. In many instances, a kongsi will have a temple on the same property. Although not quite as valuable a genealogical resource as a columbarium or a kongsi, temples are very sacred and important to the people of Malaysia, and thus one searching for his roots in Penang, may find pertinent genealogical records preserved in the temples of Malaysia. I found this to be true while helping Malaysians trace their roots in Penang in the year 2013. The following list reflects the kind of genealogical information that one might find in temples.
1. Labeled Photos of Trustees or Scholars or Other Important Persons—The Ong Kongsi on Penang Road, for example, has hundreds of photos lining the walls of their temple, which is attached to their kongsi office. Another temple in Balik Pulau has photos on the wall of deceased persons whose urns are in a nearby pagoda or persons who were associated with the temple, as well as stand alone photos of the deceased standing in amongst their ancestral tablets.
2. Ancestral Tablets—Every temple I visited had ancestral tablets; in fact, the tablets are a prized and main feature of nearly every temple. They form a sacred place where family members can pay homage to their ancestors. (See Wiki article, “The Ancestral Tablets of Penang, Malaysia.”)
3. Columbarium Boxes—Some of the temples have a section, a separate room, or a separate building in which to house columbarium niches for deceased persons. A good example is the Thai Buddhist Temple on Burma Lane in Georgetown, Penang, which has niches underneath the reclining buddha, on the back wall of the temple, and in an adjacent building on the same property.
4. Information About The Deceased Held by the Record Keeper of a Temple—The Heong Giam Si Temple on Jalan Air Item, is a great example of this category, for their record keeper has much relevant information stored in his computer for the deceased whose remains are kept in columbarium niches in that temple, and he is very willing to share that data with anyone who asks.
5. Donor Name Plaques and Information About the Donors—It is a common practice in Penang, to recognize the contributions made by donors. I have seen donor plaques or monuments with the names of the donors in cemeteries, in kongsis, and in temples. Sometimes the donor plaques will tell when donations were made or how much was donated, or will lead a researcher to valuable donor receipts, which may have important genealogical data. I have, for example, seen donor receipts that listed the donor’s name, the donor’s father’s name, and the donor’s grandfather’s name, all on the same receipt.
6. Burial Records or Other Record Collections—Sometimes a temple, because of its importance to the community, will end up being the keeper of other valuable genealogical records, such as cemetery or burial records. I know of one instance where a cemetery office had the current records of a Hindu Cemetery, but that a Hindu temple in Penang held the older records for that same cemetery.
Submitted November 6, 2013