Lee Shee, wife of Gum On of 937 Race Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, arrived in Seattle on 20 July 1924 with their two sons, Yue Dok, age 16; and Yue Bun, age 10 years. The sons were admitted to the United States as sons of a U.S. citizen but Lee Shee was detained at the Immigration Quarters in Seattle for six months. In December she was nine months pregnant and Immigration allowed her to land temporarily. A bond for $1,000 was taken out to assure that she left at the required deadline. Eventually the bond was extended until July 1929. Lee Shee, her husband, and children returned to China in April 1929.
During the interrogation the immigration inspectors asked Gum On if he could provide any evidence to show that he was married. Gum On gave them his Red Marriage Paper. It stated that he was married to Lee Shee and listed four generations of his family–his parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great, great grandparents. A translation of the document is not included in the file and the inspectors did not comment on it.
[Hao-Jan Chang, a volunteer who works with the Chinese Exclusion Act case files at NARA-Seattle, reads and writes Chinese. He translated the Red Marriage Paper and verified that it contained the marriage information for Gum On and Lee Shee.]
[The USCIS History Office had a webinar on Chinese Exclusion and Certificates of Discharge on June 30, 2016. They will repeat it at a future date. https://www.uscis.gov/HGWebinars. There are many McGettrick files at the Seattle facility of the National Archives.]
The Chinese Exclusion Act went into effect in 1882 and severely restricted the legal immigration of Chinese migrants, specifically laborers. There was an exemption for students, merchants, government officials, and travelers with proper documentation. U.S.-born Chinese laborers could reenter the U.S. after a trip abroad if they could prove their U.S. citizenship.
In the late 1890s and early 1900s many returning Chinese would arrive at a port on the west coast of Canada, travel by train to the east coast and enter the U.S. through the New England area. They tried to slip into the U.S. unnoticed but if they were caught and arrested they would demand a hearing to prove their citizenship so that they could obtain a “Certificate of Discharge” to be use as proof of citizenship. Word got around about which judges were sympathetic to their plight. Arrested Chinese tried to go before Commissioner Felix W. McGettrick at St. Albans, Vermont. McGettrick tried and discharged over 1,100 cases between late 1894 and 1897. Because of his high volume of discharges the Bureau of Immigration started keeping track of his certificates. McGettrick denied any misconduct and was never charged with a crime; he may have just been a poor records keeper. McGettrick stated that over 300 records from discharge cases were stolen from him but this was hard to assess because he didn’t keep a docket of his cases. So many Chinese files included McGettrick’s discharge certificates that by 1905 the Bureau of Immigration decided to keep track of the certificates with his signature. This would make it easier for the Bureau to investigate suspicious files with his signature.
Bow Tank was arrested on 4 April 1896 at Richford, Vermont. His hearing was held 24 October 1896 before Commissioner Felix W. McGettrick. He was issued a Certificate of Discharge. Witnesses: Moy Loy; E. S. Harris; Back Fook, Back Lee, New York.
The total cost for the hearing was $26.70. That included drawing the complaint, issuing the warrant of arrest, subpoena for two witnesses, etc.
Because Bow Tank had a McGettrick Discharge Certificate from 1896 the immigration authorities were suspicious of his credentials when he left the U.S. in 1916 and when he returned in 1919. Eventually his paperwork was approved. In 1919 he was a salesman for Quong Hing Lung Chong Kee and Company at 114 Park Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland.
[More about McGettrick Certificates in the next post.]
[Most Section 6-Travelers files for Chinese actors do not contain a photo of the individual or an interrogation. This file is unique because it includes an 8 x 10” group photograph of the troupe. Some of the names on the photo are slightly different than the names listed in the correspondence in the file. Instead of individual files the troupe is all in one file. ]
Photo: Sun Shing/Sun Fong Ching (brother), Choy Dsee Show/Choy Dsee Poo (cousin), Sun Fong Lin (manager), Sun Fong Cling/Sun Fong Lin (brother), Mrs. Sun Fong Lin (manager’s wife), Chang Ding Poo/Chong Den Foo (cousin).
The troupe was on the Pantages Theatre Circuit. They played in Minneapolis, Minnesota then went to Canada for engagements in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary. They re-entered the United States at Sweet Grass, Montana about 19 January 1919 en route to Great Falls, Montana.
According to Sun Fong Lin, the manager, all six performers were born in China. Three of them arrived in New York in 1914 and the other three landed at San Francisco in 1917. They were originally working for Barnum & Bailey Circus.
On 1 March 1919 Charles W. Seaman, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration Service in Minnesota, frustrated by a lack of guidelines, wrote a letter to the Commissioner in Washington, D.C. in behalf of the inspector in Sweet Grass saying they had no official instructions for the handling of Chinese performers leaving the country temporarily for engagements in Canada. He asked for specific instructions for handling all future cases involving Chinese performers crossing the border to Canada.
The Troupe was re-admitted to the U.S. on 2 March 1919 and by 5 August 1919 all the proper paperwork was in the file.