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Wing Ung CHIN 陳榮棟 AKA Donald Ung CHIN (1913 – 2005) by Kevin Lee

Wing Ung CHIN 陳榮棟 AKA Donald Ung CHIN (1913 – 2005) by Kevin Lee

[Thank you Kevin Lee for sharing your family story.]

Note the English spelling variations of the same Chinese family name 陳 of Chin, Chinn, Chan, Chen.

It was eerily quiet in the reference room of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Seattle, as the bound manila folder of # 7031/325 was handed to me by staff on 7 November 2019. There, in front of my eyes, laid 100 years of history, which was of my great uncle (kauh gung) – the younger brother of my maternal grandmother CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍 (who featured in this website on 17 May 2021).

Donald CHIN was the minor son of a merchant (where “M/S/Mcht” was marked on the front of his file) when he arrived in Seattle, from Hong Kong, on 5 April 1926.

Donald was also the grandson of a laundryman Gin Heung CHAN, also known as (aka) Yen Hing CHIN, who arrived in 1880 at the port of San Francisco, and who then lived in Seattle until 1894, however, no NARA file could be found for this gentleman because paperwork generally kept by the U.S. Immigration Service prior to 1895 was sparse.

Donald was named CHAN Wing Dung at birth, and was born on 28 October 1913, in the village of Mi Kong (also spelt Mai Gong), in the town of Hong Gong Lee (also spelt Hin Gong Lee), in the county of Hoiping 开平市 (also spelt Hoy Ping, now Kaiping, one part of Sze Yup – one of the 4 Districts), in the province of Kwangtung (now spelt Guangdong), in the Republic of China – 2 years after the overthrow of the Qing / Manchu Dynasty.

He was the 3rd child of Love SEETO 司徒愛 also known as SEE TOW shee 司徒氏,who lived in China throughout her entire life, and (Chear) Cheo CHIN 陳超 aka Don Foon CHIN (NARA file # 39184/2-12, previously 682, 15844 and 30206) – “a well-known domiciled merchant of the city (of Seattle)” as described by Henry A. Monroe on 26 April 1926, a Seattle immigration lawyer and notary public.

Donald was only 5-years-old and living in China when his older brother, CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 (who featured in this website on 31 July 2021), died in Seattle at the tender age of 18, in late 1918, from an accidental drug poisoning at the Wing Sang & Company premises co-owned by their father, Cheo CHIN 陳超.

Cheo CHIN 陳超 most likely brought the cremated ashes of Wing Quong CHIN 陳榮光 back to China for reburial, during his lengthy trip abroad from May 1919 – September 1921. This was the first time that young Donald had ever met his father.

Donald’s mother, Love SEETO 司徒愛/ SEE TOW shee 司徒氏, was distraught at the loss of the number 1 son, Wing Quong 榮光, and never fully recovered. She was a broken woman and “divorced” Cheo CHIN 陳超.

Cheo CHIN 陳超 wrote to her in 1925 requesting that their 12-year-old son, Donald, join him in Seattle. She relented, knowing that she would never see her son again.

As the Chinese New Year celebrations lasted for 1 week from Saturday 13 February 1926, Donald would have travelled in mid-February 1926 from Mi Kong village to the terminal at Sanbu 三埠 (meaning “ the 3rd district”) for a 4-hour river ferry to British Hong Kong with his cousin CHIN Yin Duk. He was both excited and nervous at what the future lay ahead…

Signed & sealed page 1 declaration of a non-immigrant alien, that also serves as visa no. 130, granted on 16 March 1926 by the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, in readiness for his departure to the United States the following day and to reside at the Wing Sang Company, Seattle that his father co-owned, held in the National Archives-Seattle file of Wing Ung CHIN 陳榮棟, #7031/325
Signed & sealed page 2 declaration of a non-immigrant alien & visa no. 130 granted on 16 March 1926 by the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, with a photograph of 12-year-old Donald Wing Ung CHIN, held in the National Archives-Seattle file of Wing Ung CHIN 陳榮棟, #7031/325

He obtained U.S. immigration visa no. 130 from the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong on 16 March 1926. The next day, he boarded the U.S. steamship “S.S. President Grant” and arrived in Seattle, Washington, 19 days later on 5 April 1926. He then spent 15 days locked-up in quarantine because he had hookworm disease, in a room he shared with 20 other people, and also underwent questioning by Immigration officials – with the assistance of a translator – to verify his status as the son of a merchant. Belatedly, after an arduous trip and then being put in detention, he was finally released into the waiting arms of his relieved father Cheo CHIN 陳超, whom he hadn’t seen for 4½ years, on 20 April 1926.

As a teenager in a new land and to fulfill the huge ambitions/investment by his father, he gradually adjusted to the different language, culture and way-of-life. He began attending English classes at Broadway High School on the corner of Broadway and East Pine Street in Capitol Hill with distant cousin Anne Wing (née Chinn). Anne later became President of the female auxiliary branch of Gee How Oak Tin – the oldest and largest family association in north-west America. Donald also continued his Chinese (Cantonese) studies whilst growing-up in Seattle, as he never forgot his roots.

He resided with his father firstly at 412 (and later across the street at 415) 7th Avenue South, Seattle, in an upstairs apartment of the Wing Sang Company (Wing Sang Tong). He occasionally helped behind the counter, or in the storage basement to unpack boxes of items for sale, in-between his studies.

Nearing adulthood and desiring to get married, as well as desperately missing his mother, sister and (adopted) brother after 5½ years in America, Donald and his father Cheo CHIN 陳超 sought legal advice for a trip back to China. They again approached immigration lawyer Henry A. Monroe, who wrote to the Commissioner of Immigration on their behalf on 5 October 1931. They faced interviews with U.S. Immigration Service inspectors on 13 October 1931 to determine their status. Two days later, the U.S. Immigration Service favourably granted Donald a re-entry permit, enabling him to depart for China but to come back within 365 days.

Sworn affidavit on 9 October 1931, made on his behalf by his father Cheo CHIN 陳超 seeking an indorsement from the Immigration and Naturalization Service so that the nearly 18-year-old Donald Wing Ung CHIN could obtain a U.S. return visa if he was allowed to visit his mother, brother and sister in China and also to get married, held in the National Archives-Seattle file of Wing Ung CHIN 陳榮棟, #7031/325

On 17 October 1931 he sailed out of Seattle on the steam ship “President Taft” to head towards Hong Kong, and onto then a smaller ferry to Sanbu 三埠 in Hoiping / Kaiping city 开平市.

Aged 18-years-old, he married someone whom he had only just met – 17-year-old Suey Tong YEE – at his father’s Mi Kong village house. Donald knew that he had to spend as much time with his new wife as possible, hence they conceived a child quickly. With Chinese Exclusion Act (CEA) restrictions in place, he didn’t know when he could return to China, or if/when the law could be amended to allow him to sponsor his wife to America.

He arrived back in Seattle on 12 October 1932 – just days before his return visa expired – after being on-board 2 steamships (the Empress of Canada and the Princess Alice) over the past 19 days. It was a long, exhausting, cramp journey and he felt reluctant to ever go through this again.

Two months after arriving back, he received the joyous news that his one-and-only child – a son – Ying Keong CHIN aka Kent Ying Keung CHAN was born in Mi Kong village on 19 December 1932.

During that moment in time, with a severe economic downturn worldwide – the Great Depression – leading to high unemployment, he had to put his head down and work very hard in America, to save and send money back to his wife and child in China. He worked as a houseboy for a white family in Seattle, at a fish cannery/processing plant in Bellingham, in Chinese laundries, grocery stores, chicken farms, and as a waiter in restaurants.

Meanwhile, at his father Cheo Chin’s 陳超 Wing Sang & Company, business was very tough, and the partnership unravelled/dissolved. However, Cheo Chin 陳超 was a silent partner in another mercantile business called “Sang Loon Co.”, also known as Sang Yuen Company, since 1923. Cheo Chin 陳超 then became an active partner on 2 June 1930, which operated from 660 King Street, where they both lived in an apartment above the store.

Donald, sometime later, moved into his own apartment within Chinatown.

Other than his father, who lived nearby him in Seattle until dying of bowel cancer on 6 March 1939, Donald wasn’t able to see any other family member for an extremely long time. The following events, one-after-the-other, made it impossible for Donald to visit his family in China:-

  • the 1882 – 1943 Chinese Exclusion Act / strict U.S. immigration laws,
  • the 1929 – 1933 Great Depression,
  • the 1937 – 1945 Sino-Japanese War which meant that China and Hong Kong were occupied, and thus travel was very dangerous,
  • the 1966 – 1976 Chinese Communist Party’s Cultural Revolution which tightened border controls.

These aforementioned events greatly impacted his life:-

  • He couldn’t obtain U.S. citizenship based on race and had the threat of deportation hanging over his head, and he couldn’t buy a property or a place to call home but constantly rented.  He was a law-abiding resident of the U.S. for a very long 27 years, until he was finally naturalised at the Western District Court of Washington in Seattle on 30 September 1953;
  • He hadn’t seen his 83-year-old mother Love SEETO 司徒愛/ SEE TOW shee 司徒氏 for 26 years, when she died in Mi Kong village on July 1958;
  • He had been “separated from my bride for 32 years” (in a speech to family and friends at his 80th birthday party on 12 July 1992), and thus robbed of the prime of their lives together, consequently only producing 1 child. As a U.S. citizen, he still had to wait many years before he could sponsor his wife, Suey Tong YEE, who was 50-years-old when they reunited in 1964.
  • He hadn’t met his then 33-year-old son before, nor his daughter in-law, and 5 small grandchildren aged between 1-9 years, until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1 December 1965 (the Hart-Celler Act) became effective, and they all arrived in Seattle, from Hong Kong, via plane – not ship like he previously did – on 8 January 1966;
  • In late 1981, he made his 1st trip back to China in 49 years – almost half a century – to visit his cancer-stricken and beloved 77-year-old elder sister, CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍. Donald loved his sister immensely, as they were both linked by blood, but separated by time apart, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and the tight border controls in both the United States and China. She died exactly 40 years ago, on 29 March 1982.
74-year-old Donald Wing Ung CHIN 陳榮棟 visited his late sister CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen’s 陳美珍 matrimonial house in Num Bin Toon/Chuen (the Yee village), October 1987 on what would have been her 83rd birthday.
Standing from left to right are: Hon Ming YU (grandnephew), Donald (himself), Hon Hung YU (grandnephew), So Chung SEETO (niece-in-law), Mrs Suey Tong YEE CHIN (wife), Anne Yim Man YU (grandniece, now in Columbus, Ohio), and Kwong King YU (nephew) [photo courtesy of Kevin Lee]

Conclusion:
Donald managed/owned the Riceland Café for many years, located firstly at 606 12th Avenue, South Seattle, and then moving it to 4144 University Way, Seattle. Early morning trips to the fresh food markets, preparation of ingredients, managing his staff, and cleaning-up after the last diners left late at night, became his regular routine.

He was a pillar of the Chinese community in Seattle, and an active member of the Gee How Oak Tin and Suey Sing Chinese Benevolent Family Associations for almost 80 years.

Donald Wing Ung Chin 陳榮棟 passed away peacefully on 5 September 2005 at the Swedish Medical Center, Providence Campus, 500 – 17th Avenue, Seattle, only 1 block away from where his father died 66½ years earlier at the Providence Hospital. He was just a few weeks short of his 92nd birthday, living 79 of those years in the United States, having not gone back to China for 49 years, and despite many hardships and sacrifices, he was determined to prove himself as an inspirational immigrant success story and a proud family man.

CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 (1900 – 1918)

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

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.