Chin Hai Soon AKA Chan Mei Chen (1904 – 1982) by Kevin Lee

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, seattle.archives@nara.gov – THN]

Chin Hai Soon, also known as Chan Mei Chen (photo courtesy of Kevin Lee)

Chin Hai Soon AKA Chan Mei Chen 陳美珍, home domestic (September 1904 – 29 March 1982)

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.

Ng Wing Yin – unable to prove he was the son of a U.S. citizen; deported

[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]

Ng Wing Yin arrived at the Port of Seattle on 28 January 1929 was deported after almost two months in detention. He could not prove his relationship to his alleged father, Ng Wah Lai, a U.S. citizen.

His attorney, Hugh C. Todd, wrote to the Bureau of Immigration in Washington, D.C. regarding Ng’s appeal. Ng Wing Yin was first denied admission in January 1927. His 1929 entry was his second attempt to enter the U.S. Todd argued that no one except a father would try to bring his son into the country twice. Anyone else would have given up. This application included a photo taken in 1921 of the father and son when the son was ten years old. Todd pointed out the resemblance between the two—their posture, eyes, nose, ears and chin, even the curl of the mouth. The photograph was not included in the 1927 earlier entry application.  

“Ng Wing Yin and Ng Wah Lai photo” 1921 , Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Ng Wing Yin case file, Seattle Box 1118, file 10346/10-12.

[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]

In 1929 Ng Wing Yin was seventeen years old and a student. He was born in Woy Lung Lee village, Sun Wei Ning District, China. He was attempting to enter the U.S. as the son of a native. His parents were Ng Wah Lai (marriage name Yuk Moon), and Mar Shee.  He presented an affidavit with a photo of him with  his father stating that his father was a United States citizen.

Ng Wing Yin was questioned about the first time he tried to enter the U.S. in 1926. He was denied, it was appealed, denied again, and he was deported. He was asked why he was trying to enter again since he was debarred the first time.  He did not reply. His only witness was his father.

Ng Wah Lai testified that he was born in Riverside, California and that he had lived in Durango, Colorado for four years and planned to go back there. He was currently working at the Kwong Man Yuen store at 701 King Street in Seattle. He showed his certificate of identity #4188 issued at Boston, Massachusetts in 1911. The only proof he had that Ng Wing Yin was his son was the photo of them together. The immigration authorities agreed that the people in the photo were Ng Wah Lai and Ng Wing Yin but that did not prove their relationship. They had no new witnesses or evidence except for the photo taken of them together in 1921. They asked Ng Wah Lai why he was going through this process again when nothing had changed. Ng said, “He is my son and is anxious to come to the U.S.”

Ng Wing Yin was unable to prove that he was the blood son of Ng Wah Lai so he was denied entry into the U.S. Their attorney appealed, it was denied, and Ng Wing Yin was deported, again.

[What do you think? Would you have admitted him?]

Rose Chin – Born in Seattle, lost her U.S. Citizenship when she married a Chinese Native in 1927

[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.

Rose Chin, form 430 photo,” 1927, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, national Archives-Seattle, Rose Chin case file, Seattle Box 22, #30-3706.

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 Chin, Birth Certificate,” 1911, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Rose Chin case file, Seattle Box 22, file 30-3706.

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.

For more information about the Cable Act go to:

Meg Hacker, “When Saying ‘I Do’ Meant Giving Up Your U.S. Citizenship,” Prologue, National Archives and Records Administration, Spring 2014, p.56-61.

Donald A. Watt, “Cable Act of 1922,” Immigration to the United States, Citizenship and Naturalization, Laws, Cable Act of 1922

Getting started in Chinese genealogy: a family historian’s step by step guide (even if you don’t speak or read Chinese) by Linda Yip

Getting Started in Chinese Genealogy Linda Yip
Linda Yip of Past-Presence.com has a new e-book, Getting started in Chinese genealogy: a family historian’s step by step guide (even if you don’t speak or read Chinese) 

Here are some of the subjects you will find in Linda’s book:
Top 15 tips for beginners in genealogy
What if the record is wrong?
9 Tips on reading Chinese when you do not read Chinese
How to find your surname in Chinese
Multiple wives
Things to know about Shee and Ah names
Exploring where you are from in China

Listen to a book review by Carly Morgan of Chinese genealogy 101 Family Tree Notebooks

Linda is giving away three copies of her new book. Enter and see if you can be one of the lucky three. The contest closes 15 March 2021. (Winners will be announced on the 16th!)

Happy reading!

Judge Blocks Sale and Closure of National Archives in Seattle

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour granted a preliminary injunction Friday morning to stop the sale of the National Archives at Seattle.

Coughenour said the feds could have avoided a “public relations disaster” if they had “displayed some sensitivity” to how the closure affected the Northwest.

See the complete article by Seattle Times staff reporter Erik Lacitis:

National Archives Closure Hearing – Friday, 2/12/2021 at 9 a.m. (PST)

National Archives at Seattle

There will be a hearing on the sale of the National Archives on Friday, February 12, 2021 at 9 a.m. (PST)
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and his team will be in federal court to ask for an injunction to immediately stop the sale.

The Zoom video version is only for the lawyers and the judge, but the public can listen in by calling (669) 254-5252, and at the prompt, put in the meeting ID: 161 786 3808.

See today’s Seattle Times article for more information.

 

Gold Medal Replicas for Chinese WW II Vets

Published on January 7, 2021 by NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY, Seattle, WA

The Chinese American Citizens Alliance-Seattle and community volunteers are planning a regional ceremony in the spring to present Chinese American World War II (CAWW2) Congressional Gold Medal replicas to each registered veteran or next of kin at no-cost. The Virtual Chinese American World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony was held last month. For more information, please contact info@cacaseattle.org.

The CAWW2 Project is continuing to accept registrations to capture, preserve, and aggregate the names of those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces—Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine—and creating the only database of its kind of the achievements and contributions of Chinese Americans during WWII.

Tagging and Transcribing the Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files

Some of the Chinese Exclusion Act case files that have been digitized and need to be tagged and transcribed and YOU can help.

See the link below to get started.

https://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist/missions/chinese-heritage

This is a great way to learn about the records and help make these records more accessible. The records are all in English.

Gee Moon Jew, farmer on Vashon Island, Washington

[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]

“Gee Moon Jew, Certificate of Identity” 1930, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Gee Moon Jew case file, Seattle Box 441, file 7030/1001.

Gee Moon Jew 朱文周 was 35 when he applied for a return certificate to allow him to make a trip to China. He was a poultry farmer in Vashon, Washington. He was born about 1897 in Hong How village, Sunning District, China. He came to the U.S. in 1909, at the age of 14, arriving in San Francisco. He was considered a U.S. citizen, the son of a native. His father, Gee Fee Yee, marriage name You Ming, was born in San Francisco. His mother was in China. He had three brothers and one younger sister. His older brother, Gee Moon Bin [sic] and his younger brother Gee Moon Taw, were both living in California. Gee Moon Jew married a Caucasian woman, Charlotte Irene Rogers in Vancouver, Washington in November 1918.  After marrying he took the name George W. Jenn.  George and Charlotte had six children; Mary Frances, born 1919; George Walton, born 1921; Alice Martha, born 1923; William Lawrence, born 1925; Eugene, also called Wee Jee, born 1927; and Helen Elizabeth Jenn, born 1927. Mary Frances was born in Seattle and the other children were born in Vashon.

Gee Moon Jew was taking his two eldest children, Mary Frances and George Walton, to China so they could attend a private Methodist school in Canton City. He was also going to visit his mother and other relatives and expected to be gone about three or four months. The children would probably stay three years.

Immigration authorities also interviewed Gee Moon Jew’s wife. Charlotte Irene Ward was 28 years old and born in Larned, Kansas. Her stepfather’s surname was Rogers. They could not afford to take the whole family to China, so she was staying home with the younger children. Her mother was coming from California to stay with her. There were short interviews for Mary Frances and George Walton. They identified their parents and their birth certificates were examined.

Roy M. Porter, the Immigrant Inspector, examined Gee Moon Jew’s 1909 San Francisco file. His father, Gee Fee Yee, had a Seattle file showing that he was admitted at Port Townsend, Washington in 1897. He also had a San Francisco file with a discharge statement showing that he was a native-born U.S. citizen. Porter approved the application for a return certificate for Gee Mon Jew and his children. A copy of Gee Fee Yee’s 1909 affidavit was included in the file.

“Gee Fee Yee affidavit with photos of Gee Fee Yee and Gee Mun Gew [sic]” 1909, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Gee Moon Jew case file, Seattle Box 441, file 7030/1001.

The reference sheet in the file included the case numbers for the files of Gee Moon Jew’s father, his brother, Gee Moon Ben; and Ben’s two sons, Gee Quong Sam and Gee Suey Gin.