Tracing Chinese Americans
Sue Fawn Chung
Professor Emerita of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Dr. Chung discussed her process for tracing Chinese American ancestors. Dr. Chung has published numerous articles on Chinese and Chinese American history. She received the 2013 Bancroft Honor Award for her book, "In Pursuit of Gold: Chinese American Miners and Merchants in the American West." She will speak on strategies and resources for researching family members including illegal entries from the Chinese Exclusion Era (1882-1943).Speaker: Sue Fawn Chung, Professor Emerita, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
In tracing ancestors, it is important to know the Chinese village and province they came from. Most of the earlier immigrants to the United States came from Guangdong Province- Taishan, Kaiping, Enping or Xinhui – “4 counties”.
Push Factors: Economic decline of Guangdong; expansion of overseas business; banditry & rebellions in Guangdong; weak Manchu government, natural disasters, such as floods, famine, locusts, etc.; clan leaders wanted members abroad to send money home; recruitment of workers by American companies; letters from America telling of gold lined streets, etc., prosperity of returned Chinese.
Pull Factors: Jobs in mining, railroad, laundry, restaurants, lumbering, fishing, and support services-medicine, servants; ability to support clan and immediate family, contribution to community welfare (schools, trains, hospital, land); new adventure, persuasion by clan leaders; chain migration of clan members.
Other Factors: wartime and oppressive regimes.
Who gets counted? Immigration Bureau approached people on the street who spoke English and asked them. Women? Children? Adopted? Multiracial? So Chinese are undercounted.
1) Gold Rush 1848-49;
2) Central Pacific Railroad and other rr lines 1868-1920;
3) Exclusion Act of 1882 and its repeal in 1943;
4) War Brides Act- 1945 Walter Mc Carron Act 1952;
5) open immigration to all Chinese
RR workers- Collis P. Huntington gave $1.25/day stipend to all for life. Salary was $1/day.
Unusual occupations: cowboy, China Doll Revue- Frances Fong
Few Chinese women emigrated- bound footed women were admitted more easily because of perception of wealth.
Chinese children: males sent back to Chinese for schooling and brought back to U.S.; Chinese language schools in cities; regular school was segregated and then integrated in 1921.
Documents to Trace Ancestors
- Records keeping by Chinese Six Companies- San Francisco
- Family Associations
- Angel Island interrogations archived at NARA facilities. Questions about village, relatives, marriage ceremony, etc.
- Ship documents also at NARA.
Chinese names: last name first; generational names; baby names; “ah”; “shee”+ maiden name for women; transliteration by sound by American immigration officials was variable due to different dialects; knowing the Chinese character is important because of various spellings when Romanized; business names; 100 family names that are common.
6. NARA cross reference sheets in back of file can tell you which other files are related- travel companions, business partners, relatives.
7. Partnership papers- will tell amount of investment in the company.
8. Certificate of Identity and Certificate of Residence beginning in 1892-1894
Applications for duplicates- 1890-1924, if originals were lost or destroyed. Attorney needed to file, so attorney records
9. Newspapers- Chinese language and local
10. Business records
11. County and City records (taxes, property)
12. School records
13. Clan records from home county/village
14. Payroll records
15. Paper sons/daughters “coaching books”
14. Military service records- led to citizenship
1943 Repeal of the Exclusion Act, quotas were enforced. Families were reunited. (1875 Page Act) Women had to prove they were not prostitutes.
1950s Confession Program- Few released documents because of privacy. Amy Chen’s film on Effect of McCarthyism on Chinese Community- on You Tube
15. Birth notices of Chinese babies (red card and banners)
16. Cemeteries- information on head stones; bone removal. Ching Ming April and 9/9
Answers from Q and A Session
Certificates of Identity/Residence at NARA, Washington DC- not organized by date, name, etc. have to go through one by one.
Immigration records NOT cross-referenced with naturalization records.
A files- only accessed by immediate families; files of people suspected of violations; 100 years before they can be accessed; if any government wrong doing, they are not released even to family members.
Why did so many Chinese emigrate in 1882 just before the Exclusion Act? They were warned of it before hand.
In 1881 Crocker contacted Huntington who rented ships to transport 8000 Chinese. 0 records of them- One was Y.C. Hong’s father to went to Barstow.
1890- one woman to 33 Chinese men.
1970 –equal numbers of women to men.