Tag Archives: Ohio

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.

Floor plans for Schoolhouse in Gong Mee Village, China

Yee Tom Wing Schoolhouse F
“Floor plan for Schoolhouse in China, Exhibit F” 1939, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Ton Wing case file, Seattle Box 805,file 7030/12842.

This file contains nine floor plans for the schoolhouse and family home in Gong Mee Village, China and an affidavit with photos of Yee Ton Wing and his father, Yee Gim Cheow. Yee Ton Wing was coming to live with his father in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Additional information: 11/17/2018
Yee Ton Wing was 16 years old when he arrived in the Port of Seattle with his 12- year old brother, Yee Ton Yow, on 2 February 1940. They were students joining their father in Ohio. The transcript of Yee Ton Wing’s first interrogation was nine single-spaced typed pages long. (Eventually there were almost fifty pages of questioning.) Most of the inquiry pertained to his extended family and their village. He correctly identified photographs of his alleged father, grandfather, and uncles. He was asked things like: Where does your mother keep the rice that she cooked for your family? Who lives in the house on the first lot in the 4th row in your village? What are that person’s occupation, age, and the names of his children?
There were five diagrams of the floor plan of the schoolhouse in Gong Mee Village. They were made by the applicant, his younger brother, their grandfather, Yee Bock; their paternal uncle, Yee Gim Gin (Gane); and Yee Gim Cheow, a witness. The witness’ diagram looked considerably different than the other four. There were four diagrams of the floor plan of the 1st and 2nd floors of the family home. They were all in agreement.

Yee Ton Wing House Diagam I
“Floor plan of family home in China, Exhibit I” 1939, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Ton Wing case file, Seattle Box 805,file 7030/12842.

Yee Ton Wing and his brother Yee Ton Yow were interrogated on 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 March 1940 and finally admitted to the United States on 25 April 1940 as citizens and as the sons of Yee Gim Cheow, a citizen.
The reference sheet in the file contains the file numbers, names, and relationships for Yee Ton Wing’s bother, grandfather, four uncles, aunt-in-law, cousin, and his mother.

Look Fee – Columbus, Ohio

Look Fee Look Yuen Affidavit 1938
“Look Fee and Look Yuen, affidavit photos” 1938, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Look Fee case file, Seattle Box 794, 7030/12331.

In October 1938 Look Yuen 陸元 swore in an affidavit that he was a citizen of the United States who was admitted at the Port of San Francisco in October 1922 and granted Certificate of Identity 40415. His son Look Fee wanted to come to the United States to live with him. Photos of father and son were attached to the affidavit.

Look Fee 陸惠 arrived in the Port of Seattle on 23 August 1939 on the SS Princess Marguerite with the status of a son of a citizen. He was admitted to the U.S. almost two months later. He was a student, age 18 years Chinese reckoning; 16 years 9 months per American calculation. He would be joining his father, Look Yuen, in Columbus, Ohio. Look Fee was born in Sun Chong City, Toy Shan District, China on 4 January 1923. His family lived there one year and then moved to Sam Gong in Hoy Ping. His father was born in Look Bin village and had six brothers and one sister. During his interview Look Fee enumerated all of his father’s siblings, the names of their spouses and children and where they were living. He described his paternal grandfather and gave the names of his paternal great grandparents. His mother, Lee Shee, was the daughter and only child of Lee Wah and Chin Shee. Her parents both died prior to 1939. Look Fee was questioned about the village, the location of his neighbors’ houses and details about their extended families.

Some of the questions during the interview were: Who lives in the 8th lot, 3rd row from the east? What is his occupation? Who lives with him? What are their ages? Where do you get the water which you use for household purposes? Is there any space between the houses in the rows other than the cross alleys? Do you cross any streams or bridges going to the market? Which way does the door in the ancestral hall open? His interrogation was over seven pages long.

Look Fee’s father, Look Yuen, (marriage name Look Wing Bing) waited in Seattle almost two months for his son to be admitted. Look Yuen testified that he was a part owner of the Nan King restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. He first arrived in the U.S. though San Francisco in 1922 three months before Look Fee was born. He made one trip back to China in May 1929, returning to Ohio in September 1930. His other son, Look Wee, was born in March 1930 and was presently attending school in their home village. Look Yuen was asked many of the same questions as his son but in more detail about his siblings. Look Fee was called back to clear up some discrepancies. Although his father had left China sixteen years previously and had only spent one year there, six years prior to this interrogation, the interviewers expected their testimony to agree in most aspects.

Look Fee and Look Wee
“Look Fee and Look Wee photo” ca. 1934, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Look Fee case file, Seattle Box 794, 7030/12331.

Look Yuen gave the interrogators this photo of Look Fee and his brother Look Wee which was taken about 1934 or 1935. They wondered why Look Fee had a tennis racket and Look Wee had a basketball. Look Fee explained that their mother had a photographer at the Shung Sar Market take the photo. The props were just for fun.

After the interrogations the chairman of the immigration committee concluded that the relationship between the alleged father and his son was satisfactorily established. They were impressed that the father came from Ohio to testify for his son and stayed so long. They discounted the minor discrepancies because it had been so long since the father had been in China. They were satisfied that Look Fee knew when and where the photo of him and his brother was taken. Look Fee was admitted into the United States as a U.S. citizen.

Yee Shee, Chan Sheung and Chan Git Oy – Cleveland, Ohio

Yee Shee, Chan Sheung and Chan Git Oy
“Chan Sheung 陳相 Affidavit photos,” 1929, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Shee case file, Seattle Box 1155, 11627/3-3.

Yee Shee, age 27, arrived at the port of Seattle on the Princess Marguerite on 28 September 1929. Her admittance status was “wife of merchant.” She was accompanied by her husband, Chan Sheung 陳相, and daughter, Chan Git Oy, age three. Yee Shee’s paper work consisted of a U.S. Consular certificate, an affidavit with photos of her, her husband and daughter, signed by her husband and sworn by a Washington State notary public; a Declaration of Non-Immigrant Alien sworn by Kenneth C. Krentz, Vice-Consul of the U.S. at Hong Kong; and Visa No. 118.

Yee Shee was born in 1902 in Lung Tin village, Toysan District and lived there until she married Chan Sheung in November 1920. After marrying she moved about 3 or 4 lis [about a mile or a mile and a third] to Sam Gong, her husband’s village, Hoy Ping district. Her father, Yee Won Jung, died when she was young and her mother, So Ho Shee, raised her with money he had left them. Now Ngon, a marriage go-between, arranged Yee Shee and Chan Sheung’s marriage; they were married under the new customs. They did not see each other until their marriage day. Yee Shee’s dowry was a dresser table, dining table, two chairs, leather trunk, wooden trunk, clothes cabinet, and a wash-stand. Chan Sheung gave her a gold ring after they were married. Their wedding ceremony consisted of worshiping her husband’s ancestors and serving him a cup of liquor. Their red marriage paper shows three generations of Yee Shee’s family. [mentioned but not included in the file]

Yee Shee’s interrogation describes her family, her husband’s family, their village and home—six pages in all. When Chan Sheung returned to China from the U.S. in May 1929 he brought with him an American trunk, suitcase, sea bag, one box of laundry soap and some eatables.

Their first son died shortly after his birth. A woman doctor, Dr. Look Ooh, attended Yee Shee for the birth of her second child. Their daughter, Chan Git Oy, born 17 June 1926 was accompanying them to the U.S.

Yee Shee described their trip to the United States: they left the village about 7 a.m. and walked to the landing, took a row boat to Chung Sar market, transferred to another boat to Bok Gai, then boarded a steamer to Hong Kong. They were in Hong Kong a little more than two weeks at the Ung Nom Hotel, room number 13 before sailing for the U.S. While in Hong Kong they went to see a Chinese show and made several trips to the American consul to get the necessary forms and photographs.

The testimony of Chan Sheung (marriage name Chan Leung Park) was also six pages long. He stated that he was 31 years old, a salesman and member of the Wing Wah Chong Company in Cleveland, Ohio. He first came to the U.S. at San Francisco in July 1912. He had made three trips to China since then; once as a student, then as a laborer, and currently as a merchant. Chan Sheung described his family in great detail.

The village of Sam Gong had nine houses and one lantern house. Their home, which he inherited from his father, was “a regular five-room brick building; tile floor in every room; court is paved with cement; two outside windows in each bedroom with five iron bars, wooden shutters and glass door in each window.” There was an alarm clock on the table in the bedroom and several photographs hanging on the west side wall of the sitting room. The village had a brick wall about six feet high at both ends with bamboo trees in the back. A granite stone road ran in front of the village. Beyond the road was a stream where they obtained their household water.
After lengthy interviews of Yee Shee and Chan Sheung there were only a few minor discrepancies—the exact houses their neighbors Chin Yoon Ying and Chan Wee Lee lived in the village; the number of suitcases they had when they left their village; and Yee Shee forgot that her husband bought her a brown purse in Hong Kong. The inspectors asked Yee Shee about these inconsistencies and her new testimony agreed with her husband’s statements. They were admitted to the United States.

“Yee Shee Visa Application” 1929, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Shee case file, Seattle Box 1155, 11627/3-3.

Jung Ah Can – 1879 San Francisco Birth Certificate; 1904 copy

“Certificate of Birth for Jung Ah Can,” 1904,
“Certificate of Birth for Jung Ah Can,” 1904, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Jung Ah Can case file, Seattle, Box 1264, Case 36414/1/5.

According to the 1904 certified copy of Certificate D27299, Hall of Records, Office of the County Recorder, City and County of San Francisco, California, Jung Ah Can was born on 4 June 1879 at 745 Clay Street. His father, Jung Chong Ping, was a manufacturer of cigars. His mother was Jung Shee. On 25 May 1904, Edmond Godchaux, County Recorder, certified that the certificate was a true and correct copy of an original record as it appears in Book 6 of Register of Births, page 75. Affidavits were sworn by Lai Young Kow and Jung Book Sang.
Attached to the certified copy in Jung Ah Can’s Exclusion file was a current photo of Jung Ah Can and a stamp that is only partly legible. “from Malone, N. Y. [???] 16, 1907, signed F. M. Berkshim {???], Chinese Inspector.” Handwritten across the certificate in red ink,“Canceled May 2/19; C.I. 30663, signed G. H. Mangels, Inspr.”
Jung Ah Can went to China in 1907 and returned via Malone, New York in 1908. Jung was re-admitted in 1908 by Inspector in Charge Sisson using his birth certificate as proof of citizenship. At some point Jung moved to Cleveland, Ohio and from there he applied to visit China in 1912.
A 31 January 1913 memorandum in the file regarding an appeal for the case of Jung Ah Can, alleged citizen refers to the “utter worthlessness of the ‘birth certificate,’ is not an impressive one…” It notes that there was no evidence that a fraud had been perpetrated and Inspector Sisson in Malone was a careful officer. It states that there was no indication that Sisson made an error in his decision. The appeal was sustained. Jung’s application was approved and he received his certificate of identity. He made one more trip to China in 1919 to visit his wife and their four children in Mong San Village, Sun Woy District. Jung Ah Can died at Cleveland, Ohio on 8 March 1926.

Cleo Barnes & Ben J. Miller – Witnesses for Yee Jung Sam

Photo of Cleo Barnes
Photo of Cleo Barnes, 1926, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Yook Poy file, Seattle, Box 1019, Case 7060/17-19.

Photo Ben J. Miller
Photo Ben J. Miller, 1926, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Yook Poy file, Seattle, Box 1019, Case 7060/17-19.

It is unusual for affidavits in these files to include photos of witnesses. It is rare to see a photo of a woman included with her affidavit and it is extremely rare to have an affidavit from an African-American and have his photograph included. The affiants were swearing that they were personally acquainted with Yee Jung Sam, the father of Yee Yook Poy, the subject of this file. Yee Jung Sam had a Sec. 6 certificate as a merchant and was trying to get approval for his son to enter the U.S. as the minor son of a merchant.
Mrs. Cleo Barnes, age 40, a stenographer and saleslady, residing at 67 S. Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, had known Yee Jung Sam since 1924. He was a tea merchant at 148 East State Street in Columbus.
Ben J. Miller, age 30, a porter who cleaned the floors and washed the windows of the business was residing at 1400 Hawthorne Avenue, Columbus, Ohio.
Other affiants (photos not included):
Charles S. Boyd, Superintendent of the Capital City Laundry and Dry Cleaning company, residing at 75 Whitethorne Avenue, Columbus.
Thomas B. Johnson, engaged in the fish business at 116-118 S. Fourth Street, residing at 340 Northridge Road, Columbus, Ohio.
Yee Que Jock, also known as Yee San, was manager of Yee San Company.
The mercantile status of Yee San Company was investigated by Thomas Thomas, District Director, Immigration Service, Cincinnati, Ohio and found to be a bona fide mercantile establishment. Thomas was impressed by the reputable and creditable witnesses and recommended that the application be granted yet Yee Yook Pay’s was denied admission and was placed on board the S.S. President McKinley on 5 December 1927 for return to China.