Ah Soon’s Chinese Exclusion Act case file starts in 1899. His affidavit, sworn on 12 April 1899 to the Honorable Collector of Customs in Port Townsend, Washington, states that he was a laborer applying for a certificate of departure. Ah Soon was a cook living in Helena, Montana when he applied.
He returned to the U.S. on 14 March 1900 with the status of laborer and was admitted.
By 1907 Ah Soon’s life had changed. He was now living in Seattle, Washington, and a merchant at the Ah King Company. In April 1907 he started the process of obtaining the necessary documents to make a trip to China. He swore in an affidavit that he was a bona fide merchant for the Ah King Company and that he had been a member of the firm for one year and did no labor except that was necessary in the conducting of business. He was visiting China to bring his wife, Louis She, and his seven- year-old daughter, Ah Keo, back with him. He would retain his interest in Ah King Company. His photo was attached to the affidavit.
On 26 April 1907, G. W. Upper testified concerning the application of Ah Soon for a certificate of departure and return. Upper lived at 213 18th Avenue, Seattle. His business was in the Colman Building at West and Wheeler. He had been living in Seattle for seventeen years. The Ah King Company was formerly called Wah Yuen Company and Ah King had always been the head of it. Ah Soon managed the company while Ah King was in San Francisco on business. Soon did not do manual labor. Upper was formerly a teller at the National Bank of Commerce where Ah King Company did business and Ah Soon had the authority to sign checks on the company account. Upper did not know the amount of capital stock of the company but Ah King owned the building and paid more than $30,000 for it. They had a wholesale business and supplied Chinese camps throughout the West and Northwest.
The next day, witness Charles I. Lynch was interrogated. He had been living in Seattle for twenty-two years and was employed at the Post Office for the last eight years. He recognized a photo of Ah Soon and identified him as a member of the Ah King Company. He had known him about nine months. Some of the members of the firm were Ah King, Charley Sing, Ah Foon, and Ah Soon. Besides selling Chinese merchandise, they took contracts for cannery help for five canneries. They also sold produce from a 30-acre farm south of Seattle at Duwamish Junction.
Ah Soon was re-interviewed on 2 May 1907. He said he was 44 years old; born at Har Pong Village, San Ning, Canton, China. His other name was Hock Fong. He first came to the U.S. in KS 8 (1882), arriving in California. He was married and had one daughter. He was a laborer working for his brother, Ah King in Seattle for about two years. He was in Helena, Montana before that for over ten years working as a cook at French Charlie’s. He had a $1,000 interest at the Ah King Co. which sold Chinese groceries and general merchandise. He named ten of the members of the firm who each owned a $1,000 interest in the company.
Ah Soon said there were two other people in Seattle who were from his village, Har Pang. They were Hock Hung, in Wah Yuan’s store and Ah King. He said they were cousins. [In other interviews Ah Soon said that Ah King was his brother.] Ah Chung, a farmer, was another cousin from Har Pong living in Waitsburg, Washington.
G. W. Upper was recalled to testify on 6 May 1907. He swore that he had known Ah Soon at least four years and that he still believed that Ah Soon had been a member of Ah King Co. for more than a year. Although he had known who Ah Soon was for four years, he knew him more intimately on a business level for the last two years.
A few days later, Ah Soon was recalled to testify. He was asked how long he knew Charles I. Lynch (about two years) and G. W. Upper (about five years). The Inspector pointed out that in his previous statement, Ah Soon said that he had only known Upper for two years. Ah Soon agreed that two years was incorrect; it was about five years.
Charles I. Lynch was also recalled on 9 May. Lynch was asked about his earlier statement that he knew Ah Soon for about nine months. Lynch said that was incorrect. He knew Ah Soon for more than a year. [To qualify as a reliable witness, the witness was required to know the affiant for one year or more.] He was sure Ah Soon still had an interest in the Ah King Co.
On 10 May 1907 Ah Soon’s Application for Preinvestigation of mercantile status for his trip to China was approved. Two days later Ah Soon left on a train for Vancouver. BC to start his trip.
Ah King, manager of Ah King Company, testified on 16 June 1908 that Ah Soon was still a member of his company. Ah Soon’s re-admittance application was approved.
Ah Soon’s 1909 Application for Admission as a Merchant included the following information: Ah Soon, Hok Fong (marriage name), age 46, height 5 feet 3-3/4 inches, scar on back of left hand, wife and two children born in Har Ping, Sun Ning, China; residence at Ken Chung Lung Company, Seattle, member of company for one and one-half years, $1,000 interest in company, twelve partners, position in firm: “traveling man;”
Mar Hing, a merchant for the Ah King Company, testified that Ah Soon was a member of the company with $1,000 interest whose name appeared on the partnership books. Ah Soon was a temporary salesman, assistant to Ah King, and sometimes a traveling salesman for the store.
Ah Soon returned to the U.S. on 13 March 1909 and was admitted at Seattle as a returning domiciled Chinese merchant.
[Ah Soon’s file from 1912 to 1915 will continue in the next blog entry.]
Arthur was a professional wrestler. He was 27 years old and 6 feet 1-1/2 inches tall in August 1933 when he applied for his Native Return Certificate to leave the U.S. to wrestle in Vancouver, British Columbia; and Honolulu, Hawaii. He planned to stay in Honolulu about three months before returning through San Francisco.
“Arthur Henry Wong Dock, Return Certificate photo,” 1933, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Arthur Henry Wong Dock (Wong Bock Cheung), Portland case file, Box 96, file 5017/739.
Arthur (Wong Bock Cheung) was born on 11 January 1906 in Chicago, Illinois, to Wong Dock and Anna Josephine McGarry. His mother was Caucasian and he had twin sisters, Victoria, and Gladys.
He married Margaret Chipley, a Caucasian, in Chicago in June 1929. He used his mother’s maiden name on the marriage certification, so he is listed as Arthur McGarry. They had a daughter, Victoria about 1930.
When interviewed, Roy J. Norene, the examining immigration inspector in Portland, Oregon, commenting on an article about Arthur that appeared in the Sunday, May 14, 1933, Oregonian. The article said that Arthur was born in China. In Arthur’s interrogation, he said he was born in Chicago. Arthur told Norene that it was all publicity, just a publicity stunt. [According to the Cook County, Illinois birth certificate index on Ancestry.com Henry Wong Dock was born in Chicago.] Nothing in the file indicates that the inspector verified Arthur’s place of birth.
Arthur testified that he made a brief trip to British Columbia, Canada in 1932 for a wresting exhibition. He had a Boston file #2500/9543 from 1932 when he made a trip to Montreal, Canada; and a Seattle file 7030/5432 for his trips to Vancouver, B.C.
Arthur must have been very charming. He did not have any problem getting his immigration papers. The Immigration Inspectors all gave him favorable recommendations.
In this excerpt from The Sunday Oregonian, Portland, Oregon from 14 May 1933, that was included in the file. The author of the article comments on (Arthur) Wong Bock Cheung’s attractive personality and keen sense of humor. How many of the details in the article are true? Could he really speak four or five languages beside English and Chinese? Was his father an interpreter for the Chinese and United States governments and weigh 250 pounds? His case file does not mention any of these details.
[The National Archives is still closed because of COVID-19. This file was copied before March 2020. thn]
In early October 1925, Julian M. Thomas, Counsellor at Law in Paris, France, wrote to the U.S. commissioner of Immigration in Seattle, Washington, requesting the necessary papers to allow Chin Wah to return to the United States. Chin Wah claimed that he was well-known in Seattle, Washington in 1904 by both the Wa Chong Company and the Quong Tuck Company and many other residents of the city including A.W. Ryan, a policeman; Charles Phillips, a detective; Fred Lyson, a lawyer; and Lee Hoey, a Chinese person.
In June 1904, L. Dan swore in an affidavit that he had lived in the U.S. for more than twenty years and that he knew Chin Wah’s parents when their son, Chin Wah, was born. Dan testified that after Chin Wah’s parents died, Chin lived with him. L. Dan’s wife, Wong Sine, was a sister of Chin Wah’s mother. A. W. Ryan and Charles Phillips, both white citizens of the U.S., and residence of Seattle for more than fifteen years also swore that Chin Wah was born in Seattle. These affidavits were drawn up to prove that Chin Wah was a native-born citizen of Chinese parentage.
“L. Dan, affidavit,” 1904, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Chin Wah case file, Seattle RS Box 222, file RS 30543.
In 1913 in his pre-investigation interview to make a trip to China, Chin Wah testified that he was living in Salt Lake City, Utah, and working at the Grand Restaurant at 47 West 2nd South Street as a cook and sometimes a waiter. He said he was born at North 512 [414 in 1925] Washington Street, Seattle, Washington on 15 January 1890, the son of Chin Chung (Ching/Gin/Gen} [the spelling varies throughout the documents] and Wong Shee. His father died in Sitka, Alaska in 1899. He and his mother moved to Portland, Oregon about 1901. She died a year later. After her death, he went back to Seattle and lived over the store of Quong Gwa Lung Company with his uncle, Ng Yee Loots (L. Dan) and his aunt, his mother’s sister. He attended the Methodist Mission school on Spring Street for about two years. Other places he lived in Washington state were Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Yakima, and Pasco before going to Salt Lake City, Utah about 1910. While in Salt Lake City he worked for U.S. District Judge John A. Marshal, Mr. William H. Childs as a cook, and Captain Burt at Fort Douglas.
D. A. Plumly, the examining inspector at Salt Lake City, sent Chin Wah’s application and the original affidavits of the witnesses to Louis Adams, Inspector in Charge at Denver, Colorado. Adams sent everything on to Immigration in Seattle and requested that they re-examine the witnesses since they were residents of Seattle. Adams noted that Inspector Plumly did not expect a favorable report. [There is no explanation of why the documents were sent to Denver.]
J. V. Stewart, the Seattle Chinese Inspector, interviewed all the 1904 witnesses again in 1913. He thought the witnesses only knew someone they thought was Chin Wah as a small child but since they had not seen Chin Wah for many years they could not be sure of his identity. Stewart thought Lee Hoey was a “manufactured witness” and the other witnesses’ information was so vague they could have been talking about several different children. Stewart noted that Chin Wah’s parents did not appear in the 1895 Seattle census of Chinese and rumors said that Ah Dan was known as a gambler and connected with other fraudulent cases. Based on this information Stewart did not approve Chin Wah’s application.
L. Dan was also known as Ah Dan or his married name Ng Yee Yin. He was fifty years old and was born in China. He did not have a certificate of residence. He was living in Port Townsend, Washington and was a merchant with the Yee Sing Wah Kee Company when he was required to register in 1894. [According to the Geary Act of 1892,Chinese who were not registered for a certificate of residence could be arrested and sent to China even if they were born in the United States.] L. Dan lived in Tacoma, Washington, for a year before moving to Seattle where he got to know Chin Gin and his son Chin Wah.
Witness Charles Phillips testified that he was 48 years old and had live in Seattle twenty-six years. He was a city detective. He knew Chin Wah when he was a young child and after being cross examined, he said that he could not state unequivocally if Chin Wah was the son of Chin Ching/Gin.
Witness Lee Hoey, also known as Lee Tan Guhl, stated that he was 66 years old and born in China. He showed the interrogator his certificate of residence. He had lived in Seattle fifteen or twenty years and remember the big fire in June 1889. He identified a photo of Chin Wah although he had not seen him in over ten years. The interrogator asked Lee Hoey how much he was being paid to testify in this case. Hoey denied the charge.
A.W. Ryan, another witness, testified in 1913 that he was 56 years old and a sergeant for the Seattle police force for about twenty years. Although he swore that he knew Chin Wah in 1904, he could not be sure that this was the same person in 1913. Ryan said that at the time of Chin Wah’s birth in 1890 there were only four or five Chinese women in Seattle and maybe twenty-five children. It was his impression that the person he testified in behalf of in 1913 was Chin Wah was the same boy he knew in 1904 but he could not swear to it. Therefore the immigration commissioner, Ellis deBruler, did not approval Chin Wah’s return certification because he did not believe that Chin Wah was born in the U.S.
In October 1925, based on the information and witness statements in Chin Wah’s file, the documents were not approved so were no papers to forward to Paris so Chin Wah could be allowed to return to the U.S.
[This file does not tell us when Chin Wah left the U.S. or why he left when his application for departure was not approved. Without the approval, he would have known that it would be extremely difficult to re-enter the U.S. There are no clues about what he was doing between 1913 and 1925 or why was he investigated in Denver, Colorado, or what was he doing in Paris, France, in 1925. If he had been allowed to arrive at a port in the U.S. and then interrogated, some of these questions may have been answered. Unfortunately, we may never know the rest of Chin Wah’s story.]
CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 (1900 – 1918) by Kevin Lee, guest blogger [Thank you Kevin Lee for summarizing this massive amount of information on your family and explaining many of the complicated nuances of the Chinese Exclusion Act file.]
CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, the minor son of a merchant (5 September 1900 – late 1918)
His Chinese Exclusion Act (CEA) case file RS 28104, National Archives-Seattle, was marked on the front “M/S/Mcht”: Minor Son of a Merchant.
His life – and death in Seattle – were a complete mystery. The existence of Wing Quong榮光 was unknown to the descendants of the Chin or Chan family until I read a duplicate copy of a Boxing Day 1925 affidavit in 2009, which had been kept amongst personal papers by my 2nd cousin Julie of Covington, Washington (WA). The original copy of the 26 December 1925 affidavit, with United States seal, was found at the National Archives-Seattle facility in November 2019.
The CEA case file was difficult to locate until I, as a grand nephew, pointed out to National Archives-Seattle staff, from an earlier file I obtained of another great uncle, CHIN Wing Ung 陳榮棟 AKA Donald Ung CHIN (# 7031/325) that quoted an older brother’s immigration file number.
Discovery of an Immigration & Naturalization Service file #28104 belonging to CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, during an interview with his father (CHIN Cheo 陳超) on 17 April 1926, held inside the National Archives-Seattle file of his brother (Donald CHIN Wing Ung 陳榮棟), #7031/325
CHIN Wing Quong陳榮光 was the first-born child of my great grandfather, CHIN Cheo 陳超 AKA CHIN Gon Foon (# 39184/2-12, previously 682, 15844 and 30206), who was the sales manager / partner of the Wing Sang Company, which was a partnership equally divided amongst 12 owners. The Wing Sang Company sold Chinese and Japanese merchandise, rice, tea and herbal medicines. It was located firstly at 655 Weller Street, Seattle, King County, Washington State, then at 412, 415 and 420 7th Avenue South.
With multiple CEA bills being passed, it became increasingly difficult, for any Chinese person to migrate to the United States. The law, at the time, allowed an unmarried son under 18 years of age to live in the USA if it could be proven that the father ran an active business, was not engaged in labouring work, and had 2 white witnesses to vouch for his business and identity. As part of investigating whether to allow 11-year-old Wing Quong 榮光 to be released into the Seattle community from immigration detention and quarantine, an inspector and an interpreter visited the Wing Sang Company. They found the Wing Sang Company to be a bona fide mercantile establishment, and recommended favourable endorsement of the application of Wing Quong 榮光, as the minor son of CHIN Cheo 陳超
His short life of just 18 years was pieced together from three CEA files (his own one #28104, his father CHIN Cheo’s 陳超, his brother Donald Ung CHIN’s) and from family folklore (his sister CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍, who featured in the 17 May 2021 page of this website).
Names known by (either because of the spoken dialect or a misunderstanding): – CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 (in the Toisan dialect), CHAN Wing Kwong (in the Cantonese dialect), Wing Gwong (in Cantonese), Wing Quong <Gong> (poorly handwritten by an Immigration inspector in his CEA file to become mis-transcribed onto an affidavit as: Wing Bong), Quang Wing (Ancestry.com ship passenger manifest).
Date of Birth: Year KS 26, 10th month, 5th day. The Chinese Emperor (Kwang-Su) began his reign from 12th January 1875, therefore in Wing Quong’s 榮光 CEA file, it stated his Gregorian Date of Birth as being 5th September 1900. His father – knowing that his mother Love SEETO 司徒愛 / SEE TOW shee/shi 司徒氏 was carrying him in her womb – had already left China to head back to his workplace in Seattle before he was born.
Place of Birth: Mi Kong village, in the town of Hong Gong Lee, Hoi Ping district (part of the Sze Yup – the 4 Districts), Kwangtung Province, Imperial China.
1st time meeting father: From mid-1903 – mid-1904, CHIN Cheo 陳超 left Seattle for no more than 365 days, and was in China for the first time in 3 years, where he was able to see his boy Wing Quong 榮光. In addition, CHIN Cheo 陳超 spent some time with his wife to conceive another baby, who would become my future grandmother, CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍. He would again, as he did in 1900, leave China before the baby was born. This would become the 2nd out of a total 3 occasions, where due to time pressures (the 365-day limit of leave of absence from the USA to maintain residency under the CEA law) meant CHIN Cheo 陳超 would not witness the birth of a child (which was normal practice for a man, at that time). The connection between a parent and child has always been important in society, yet Wing Quong 榮光 – whilst living in China – never really felt that he knew his US-based father. His younger brother, Donald Ung CHIN, also did the same thing – fast forward 3 decades to 1932 – by getting his young wife pregnant in China, and departing for the USA before his only child, Kent Ying Keung CHAN, was born.
Education: From mid-1910 – mid-1911, Wing Quong 榮光 was a 10, almost 11-year-old student in the British Colony (BRC) of Hong Kong (HKG), learning Chinese and English, in readiness to migrate to the USA. CHIN Cheo 陳超, as a Seattle merchant, earned the average 1911 annual income in the United States of $500, was committed to educating his first-born son in the English language by sending US$200-$300 p.a. to him in HKG. He consulted with an immigration lawyer and had mapped out a plan to sponsor him to the United States.
Long journey: On 22 July 1911, the Irish-built steamship the S.S. Bellerophon sailed out of Liverpool, England, and arrived in HKG on 10 September 1911 to pick-up many Chinese passengers, including Wing Quong 榮光 and his fellow villager / companion, 24-year-old CHIN Foo. Wing Quong 榮光 was passenger # 24A and by far-and-away the youngest person on board – all males – as he was the only one with the column “Less than 14 years old” ticked by the purser on the shipping manifest. In cramp conditions and suffering seasickness, the passengers arrived in Tacoma, WA, USA on 29 September 1911.
Mood: After enduring a gruelling 3-week voyage across the North Pacific Ocean, Wing Quong 榮光 would have been quite scared and nervous as a 11-year-old boy coming into a strange land, where the landscape appeared different (such as the snow-capped mountains and luscious green trees), where people looked and dressed differently, and who spoke in a different language. He underwent quarantine for any possible diseases and was subjected to an interview / interrogation by U.S. Immigration officers before being released – after a marathon 1 week on U.S. soil – into the arms of a relieved father on 6 October 1911. Both father and son underwent similar interview questions regarding family members, the layout of Mi Kong village, letters that were written, and photographic likeness , to ascertain whether this was a genuine application of a minor son of a merchant. Wing Quong’s 榮光 clear recollection of people’s names, dates and places, and his sentence structure in answering U.S. Immigration questions was remarkable. The interview he underwent indicated a highly intelligent, articulate young boy with great potential.
Physique: Wing Quong 榮光 was “4 foot 10 inches” (147 cm) tall with a “small mole left side of ear” – a very intrusive physical inspection. His facial features were inherited from his mother.
Love SEETO 司徒愛 , also known as SEE TOW shee 司徒氏 – the mother of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 – in Hoi Ping city [photo courtesy of Kevin Lee]
Occupation: After a period of adjustment in a new country, Wing Quong 榮光 began learning on-the-job to be a salesman or storekeeper at the Wing Sang Company. He would have finished his full-time education in the summer of 1911 in HKG, which during that era, was limited to primary school, meaning age 12. He continued night-time English studies in Seattle.
Sudden death: Aged only 18 years old, CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 passed away in late 1918 in Seattle. No WA Death Certificate could be found to ascertain the exact causes, and where he was buried.
Wing Quong 榮光, according to Kent Ying Keung CHAN, had died at the Wing Sang Company, after attempting to self-medicate for some type of ailment. This was at the time of the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed millions around the globe. He had swallowed some herbs from the drugs section of the store, suffered a negative reaction, and most likely went into cardiac arrest. He was taken immediately to the nearby Nippon Hospital – originally named as the Reliance Hospital – on the corner of 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street, where chest compression was performed to resuscitate him, however, sadly he was pronounced dead.
With a heavy heart, total shock and self-blame at the death of his first-born son, CHIN Cheo 陳超 urgently rang from Seattle to Hoi Ping city to leave a message for someone to quickly retrieve his wife from Mi Kong village, and they finally spoke a short time later. CHIN Cheo 陳超 broke the news to Love SEETO 司徒愛 / SEE TOW shee 司徒氏, which broke her heart, and she never fully recovered. It was as if a second death occurred in the CHIN family.
My grandmother – CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍– then 14-years-old spoke to her future children and grandchildren (when they were old enough) about the grief, waling and anger that great grandmother went through.
CHIN Cheo 陳超 organised a small funeral for Wing Quong 榮光 in Seattle, which was most likely a cremation by a crematorium, with his ashes returned in an urn. A few months later, in April 1919, CHIN Cheo 陳超 departed Seattle via a steamship to HKG, and arrived in Mi Kong village to personally explain what occurred, and presumably to bring back his ashes for a proper, final burial in the Too Ngui (in the Toisan dialect) or Foo Ngo(in the Cantonese dialect) foot hills, about 4 – 5 blocks behind Mi Kong village.
Consequences of his short life:
It damaged the mental and physical health of his mother, Love SEETO 司徒愛 / SEE TOW shee 司徒氏, which contributed to her death;
It meant no direct descendants of Wing Quong 榮光 – particularly for his father’s intention to leave a legacy in the US. Had he lived a long life like his siblings, he would have most likely – being the No. 1 son – left behind children, grandchildren and great grandchildren;
He could have made a fortune, as he appeared to be a highly intelligent, young man with enormous potential;
CHIN Cheo 陳超 might never have brought out his No. 2 son, Donald Ung CHIN to the United States, but left him in China to inherit the village house.
CHIN Cheo 陳超 would almost certainly never have adopted a No. 3 son in 1919/1920 from the markets – similarly naming him as Wing Gong – with the intention to become a U.S. paper son to replace Wing Quong 榮光.
CHIN Cheo 陳超 spent so much time, money and effort to plan a future for his first-born, to create a dynasty, to leave a legacy, but it was all wasted in a moment of madness. The hopes, dreams and aspirations of a Chinese man who came to America in 1880 had all but vanished…
First photo of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, taken in Hong Kong, aged 10 years old in 1911, attached to a 26 May 1911 affidavit by his father (CHIN Cheo 陳超), held in the National Archives-Seattle file of CHIN Wing Quong #28104.
U.S. Certificate of Identity (C.I.) #4573 of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, dated 19 October 1911, held in the National Archives-Seattle file of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, #28104
“Kwan Duck Hing, Passport Identification Affidavit,”1931, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Kwan Duck Hing case file, Seattle Box 325, Seattle file 7022/6-49.
Today’s blog entry was brought to you by Alex Jay. Thank you Alex!
[The National Archives is still closed because of COVID-19 but the staff is working on a limited basis. They are taking requests for copies of files so get on their waiting list. If you would like a file, call or send your request to Archival Research, 206-336-5115, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Kwan Duck Hing was a member of San Francisco touring opera troupe and star of one of the world’s first Cantonese talkies in the 1930s.
See the complete article on Kwan Tak-hing (Kwan Duck Hing) (Guan Dexing 關德興) on Alex Jay’s blog, Chinese American Eyes: Famous, forgotten, well-known, and obscure visual artists of Chinese descent in the United States
Alex Jay obtained the Chinese Exclusion Act (CEA) file for Kwan Tak-hing from the National Archives at Seattle. Alex has hundreds more articles about Chinese artists on his blog. This article gives us an example of the several names one Chinese individual may have been known as over his lifetime. Those names could be misspelled or spelled phonetically in various documents making the search for someone or their file even more difficult. Alex Jay’s article shows the variety of records that can be used to reconstruct someone’s life after starting with the CEA case file.
A big thank you to Kevin Lee of Australia for today’s blog post. Kevin summarized about 150 pages from three family Chinese Exclusion Act case files to give us a peek into his family history.
[The National Archives is still closed because of COVID-19 but the staff is working on a limited basis. They are taking requests for copies of files so get on their waiting list. If you would like a file, call or send your request to Archival Research, 206-336-5115, email@example.com – THN]
She was the daughter, the granddaughter, the wife, the sister, the aunt, the great aunt, the grandmother, the great grandmother of Chinese Americans.
One of the significant consequences of Congress passing the 1875 Page Act and multiple Chinese Exclusion Act (CEA) bills in 1882, 1892, 1902 and 1904 was that Chinese women were kept out of the United States. Female immigration to the U.S. was made extremely difficult, and it resulted in families being kept apart for years or decades. Without women, there would not be family, progeny, children, lineage – the Chinese population in the U.S. would just die off, which was the intention of the laws.
I learned more about my grandmother’s life 40 years after she passed away, than when she was alive, by visiting the National Archives at Seattle in November 2019, prior to the Coronavirus shutdown. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) operates similarly to the National Archives and Records Administration in the U.S., and Australia also had the ignominy of slavery (where the Indigenous / Aboriginal population suffered) and the White Australia Act (which excluded non-Europeans from immigrating; a policy just as discriminatory as the CEA).
Chin Cheo 陳超 and his family details, including daughter Chin Hai Soon, on an affidavit dated 26 December 1925, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, National Archives-Seattle, #7031/325.
From these 3 important CEA files in the National Archives facility at Sand Point Way, Seattle:
Great grandfather, CHIN Chear Cheo AKA CHIN Gon Foon (22 August 1871 – 6 March 1939 Seattle), case file no. 39184/2-12 (previously 682, 15844 and 30206)
Great uncle, CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 (5 September 1900 – 1918 Seattle), case file no. 28104
Great uncle, CHIN Wing Ung 陳榮棟 AKA Donald Wing-Ung CHIN (28 October 1913 – 5 September 2005), case file no. 7031/325 (previously 4985/10-3, 4989/10-3)
I was able to revive family members who had been long forgotten about or completely unknown, by constructing a family tree.
Chin family tree based on three Chinese Exclusion Act case files, National Archives-Seattle
By virtue of these 3 files at Seattle, I was able to establish my grandmother’s:
Real name / birth name: CHIN Hai Soon (pronounced in the Toisan dialect as ‘Ah Soon’) or CHAN Tai Shin (in the Cantonese dialect). She was a member of the Chin or Chan family; the different spellings are used interchangeably.
Mother’s name: Love SEETO, also known as SEE TOW Shee.
Adolescent name: CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍 meaning treasure, valuable, precious, rare, which she certainly was.
Place of birth: in the village of Mi Gong, also spelled as Mai Kong, in the town of Hong Gong Lee, in the county of Hoi Ping, in the province of Kwangtung, Imperial China
Conception date: December 1903. This was based on CHIN Cheo’s file, as he departed Seattle on 31 October 1903, to sail 3 weeks onto Hong Kong, and then a further day to travel to the village near Canton City, Kwangtung Province, to meet-up with his wife, Love SEETO / SEE TOW Shee, whom he had not seen for over 3 years.
Date of birth: September 1904
CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen did not see her father when she was born, since he had already left Mainland China, travelled onto British Hong Kong in July 1904 to do business, as he was a merchant / co-owner / manager of Wing Sang Company, 412 Seventh Avenue, South, and Sang Yuen Company, 660 King Street, both in Seattle.
CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen grew up with her paternal grandfather CHIN Gin Heung (in the Toisan dialect) or CHAN Yen Hing (in the Cantonese dialect), as the only male influence in her life, because her father CHIN Cheo 陳超 lived 59 out of his lifetime of 67 years in the United States. Her grandfather CHIN Gin Heung / CHAN Yen Hing had come back to Mi Gong village from Seattle, 10 years prior to her birth. He had lived in the USA continuously for 12 to 13 years, firstly in San Francisco, then in Seattle, working as a laundryman from 1880 to 1892/1893, and heading back to the village in China prior to his 50th birthday, to celebrate with his family using his hard-earned wealth, and prior to the law requiring him to hold a U.S. Certificate of Residency. No CEA case file of CHIN Gin Heung / CHAN Yen Hing could be found in either San Bruno, California nor Seattle, Washington, as his arrival and departure dates from the USA were too early for Customs and Immigration to have kept records.
1st time meeting father: 1912 as an 8-year-old girl, when CHIN Cheo sailed out of Mi Gong, via Hong Kong, to procreate again with Love SEETO / SEE TOW Shee to produce a future brother and future Seattle resident CHIN Wing Ung (case file no. 7031/325).
2nd and final time meeting father: 1919 as a 15-year-old adolescent when CHIN Cheo came back with a heavy heart from Seattle to Mi Gong to announce to Love SEETO / SEE TOW Shee of the death of her older brother CHIN Wing Quong (case file no. 28104) in Seattle, and to bring back his remains. CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen remembers the hysteria and grief felt by her mother Love SEETO / SEE TOW Shee over the loss of the number 1 son from accidental poisoning at the drug store co-located within the Wing Sang Company, a business managed and part-owned by her father, CHIN Cheo in Seattle.
Date of marriage: 1925, as a 21-year-old, to YU Fu Lok AKA YEE Wing Hon, of Num Bin / Nom Bing Chuen, who was a resident of Ohio and Michigan (case file not yet found). CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen, being in China, only met her U.S.-based husband 4 times during their marriage, and 3 of those occasions were to conceive a child, with the last pregnancy being the birth of my mother, YU Siu Lung (later known as Siu Lung YU LEE 李余小濃) in 1936.
Date of death: CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen died on 29th March 1982 in Num Bin / Nom Bing village, Hoi Ping county, surrounded by close family members, but separated by distance and time from her U.S.-based father CHIN Cheo, two U.S.-based brothers, CHIN Wing Quong and Wing Ung, and her U.S.-based husband, YU Fu Lok / YEE Wing Hon.
Living in China sadly meant my grandmother did not see these 4 U.S.-based family members for many years:
Father, CHIN Cheo from mid-1904 – January 1913 (the first 8 years of her life); from September 1913 – May 1919 (a gap of 5½ years); from mid-1921 – 6 March 1939 death in Seattle (the last 17½ years of his life)
Older brother, CHIN Wing Quong, from mid-1910 – late 1918 death in Seattle (the last 8 years of his life)
Younger brother, CHIN Wing Ung AKA Donald Wing-Ung CHIN, from September 1932 until late 1981 (a separation of 49 years or almost ½ a century, caused by firstly the Japanese invasion of China, then World War II and then the Communist regime in China closing its borders).
Husband, YU Fu Lok / YEE Wing Hon, from 1938 – 1961 (not seen for 23 years until his death in Detroit).
1982 letter sent from China to Donald Wing Ung CHIN in Seattle to advise of the death of his older sister, CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen (courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Seattle, item no. 2001_030_001b)
The damage of 60-plus years of the Chinese Exclusion Act was irreparable, as it split Chinese males living in the USA from their families back home in China. It meant daughters and wives did not have strong male influences, and family sizes were kept small. It was only by uncovering the CEA files at the National Archives that I learnt of the many facts that had been kept secret about my family for 140 years.
[The National Archives is still closed because of COVID-19. This file was copied before the closure in March 2020. I will let you know when the Archives reopens. THN]
Rose Chin had never been out of the United States and in 1927 she and her husband wanted to make a trip to Canada. Rose applied with immigration services to make a temporary visit abroad.
In her application, Rose Chin Kee testified that she was born on 15 April 1911 to Mr. and Mrs. Chin Kee of 219 Washington Street in Seattle. Rose’s father, Chin Kee, was a merchant and interpreter at Immigration Service at Seattle. He died in China about 1920. Her mother was born in San Francisco and had been to China sometime before Rose was born in 1911. Rose’s birth certificate says her mother was born in China, but the interviewer did not ask her about the discrepancy. Evidently Rose was comfortable with the English language; she approved of her interview being conducted in English. Rose had five brothers and four sisters who were all born in Seattle, and one adopted sister. Her oldest brother, Tom Chin Kee, was the only one of her siblings to visit China. He left and returned when Rose was a small child.
Rose married Pong Mon on 15 May 1927 at home in Seattle. They obtained their license from the county clerk and a white man performed the ceremony. Mr. Lysons helped them get their license.
Rose Chin lived in Seattle all her life and knew Inspector Mangels, Interpreter Quan Foy and Mr. Monroe from Immigration Service. She attended Main Street and Pacific public schools. She provided her birth certificate for inspection.
Although the inspectors verified Rose’s birth certificate, knew her family, and knew her since she was a small girl, they could not approve her application. Her husband, a Chinese native, could not prove that he was a U.S. citizen. According to the 1922 Cable Act, Rose Chin lost her U.S. citizenship when she married a Chinese native.
Rose Chin’s application was disapproved.
Additional information not included in the file: The Expatriation Act of 1907 stated that women assumed the citizenship of their husbands. U.S.-born women lost their citizenship when they married non-citizen immigrant men.
The Cable Act of 1922 said that an American woman who married a non-U.S. citizen would no longer lose her citizenship if her husband was eligible to become a citizen. However, if she married a Chinese ineligible for citizenship, she would lose her U.S. citizenship.
The 1931 amendment to the Cable Act allowed women to retain their American citizenship even if they married a person ineligible for naturalization.
“Lee Chung, Form 432 photo,” 1912, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Lee Chung case file, Box RS 215, file RS30227.
In Lee Chung’s December 1912 application for a laborer’s return certificate he testified that he was single, had no other names, and was 46 years old, a cook in Ashland, Oregon for Mr. Wolf, Mr. Hardy and Wah Chung. He was born in China. Lee presented a Chinese memorandum book to R. P. Bonham, the examining inspector, which showed an entry for a loan Lee had made to Wong Gon Szue.
Wong Gon Szue, marriage name Leong Jee, was a witness for Lee Chung. Wong was 60 years old, born in China and a railroad labor contractor in Ashland, Oregon. He arrived in San Francisco in 1871 and had never been back to China. His wife, Jin Shee, age 29, had released feet, and was born in San Francisco. They had a son, Wong Gim Men, born in 1910 in Ashland and a daughter, Wong Loy Hai, born about 1892 at Happy Camp, California. He owed Lee Chung $1,000 in gold coin with an interest rate of 4%. The loan was made at his store, Wah Chung Company, in Ashland and was to be paid to Lee Ching when he returned from China. Wong Sheh Hen and Ng Dock were witnesses to the loan.
[The Scott Act of 1888 “…forbade the immigration of all Chinese laborers for twenty years, including prior residents unless they had parents, wives, or children living in the United States or property or debts worth at least $1,000.”]1
Lee Chung 李昌 arrived at the Port of Seattle on 1 December 1913 on the S.S. Titan and was admitted the same day, as a returning registered laborer of Ashland, Oregon. His certificate of residence was No. 130341. While in China he married a 24-year-old woman from the Ng family with bound feet. His marriage name was Sing Jock. They had a son born four days before he returned to the U.S.
[There is no more information in the file. The interrogation of the witness is longer than the interview of the applicant. THN]
“Tong Chun Choy, Form 430 photo and business card,” 1943, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Tong Chum Choy (Thomas C. Tong) case file, Seattle Box 828, file 7030/13667.
In January 1943 Thomas C Tong, age 33, of San Francisco, CA, applied for approval of his Form 430, Application of Alleged American Citizen of the Chinese Race for Pre-investigation of Status, so he could spend a long weekend in Canada. The San Francisco immigration office forwarded Thomas’ file 14726/11-23 and his Certificate of identity #63178 to Seattle for review.
Thomas Choy Chun (Tong Chun Choy 唐春才) was born in Lung Gan village, Yin Ping District, China on 16 January 1912 and arrived in the U.S. in 1915. He married May Chin, a native of San Francisco. They had a son, Byron Tong, born 27 November 1935. Thomas was a radio engineer and manager with “Chinese Hour” at KSAN, 1420 kc, 846 Clay Street in San Francisco.
Tong presented his permit to depart from the United States for a period of 30 days, Order No. 4128, Serial No. 4997, Local [Draft] Board No. 76, San Francisco, dated, 27 January 1943 to San Francisco Immigration; the permit was noted and returned to him.
According to R. P. Bonham, Seattle Immigration District Director, Tong Chun Choy left San Francisco on 9 Feb on the SS Princess Alice, destined for Canada only. Tong returned and was readmitted at Blaine, Washington on 13 February 1943.
In 1913 Wong Yook Yee 黃玉瑜 was a student applying for a Section 6 certificate to allow him to come to United States through Seattle, Washington. He was eleven years old, born in Chung Hen Lee village, Hoy Ping district, China. His father, Wong Lon Seong, died in China in 1910. His mother, Jew Shee, was living in their native village. He had a younger brother, Nook Nay, and two younger sisters, Chuey Cit and Fong Gay. Wong Yook Yee attended school in his village for five years before going to Hong Kong for two months to study English. He planned to attend Ng Lee school in Oakland, California. His cousin, Ngong Suey, a merchant at Kwong Yuen Co. in Hong Kong, would be paying his expenses. Ngong gave Miss Ida K. Greenlee five hundred dollars in gold to cover the cost of school expenditures. Wong’s local contact was Know Ong Sow, a merchant at Chung Lung Co. in San Francisco. Wong was cautioned that if he did any manual labor during his stay in the United States he could be returned to China. Wong was admitted and started attending school at Pierpont School in Boston, Massachusetts. [change of schools explained in 1929 testimony] He was directed to confirm his school attendance to Mr. Monroe at the Seattle Immigration office via a post card signed by his teacher every three months.
Wong wrote to Mr. Monroe at Seattle Immigration and asked him to help get his Certificate of Identity. He adopted the Christian name of Perry Wong.
In 1929 Wong Yook Yee applied for a return certificate as a laborer. He was 29 years old and a draftsman in Boston. He married Lee Sue Doy (Boston file No. 2500/7819) on 11 March 1929 in Boston. During his interview there was some confusion about the place Wong was born. His family moved when he was three years old.
Wong testified that after he arrived in Seattle in 1913 he went to Ng Lee School in Oakland for six months then about six months in San Francisco before moving to Boston to attend Quincy School until 1917. He went to Northeastern Preparatory School for one years, then served one year in the U.S. Army at Camp Eustis in Virginia. He worked at an architectural firm and attended Tufts College in structural engineering, then Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he graduated in 1925. He then went back to work at Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch & Abbott (called Coolidge & Shattuck when he worked for them previously)
In March 1929 Wong Yook Yee was granted his laborer’s return certificate. There is no more information in his file.
Alex Jay’s maternal step-grandfather was Wong Yook Yee. Alex has a blog, Chinese American Eyes about visual and performing artists. It includes links about Wong.