CHIN Pak Yick (1893 - 1958) & LEE Moon Yee (1893 - 1933) - Depression Era Struggles

CHIN Pak Yick, 1950

My grandfather CHIN Pak Yick 陳伯釴 was born in the Chazhou Liu Cun in Taishan County, Guangdong, China, 廣東省台山縣六村槎州 on June 18, 1893. He joined his father, CHIN Kee Ben 陳基彬, in the United States in 1912.

Like his father, Pak Yick was classified as a merchant under US Immigration Law and, therefore, was one of the few fortunate Chinese men who was able to establish a family in the US under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In 1919, Pak Yick’s wife LEE Moon Yee李滿意 immigrated from China. They settled at 615 Jackson Street, Oakland, California, where their first son was born.

CHIN Pak Yick's Application to Land as minor son of Merchant, CHIN Kee Ben
October 26, 1912

CHIN Kee Ben - First Generation American

Chin Kee Ben 陳基彬 

My Great-grandfather Chin Kee Ben (Kay Bin, Ghee Ben, pinyin: Ji Bin) was born in Cha Zhou Liu Cun in Taishan, Guangdong, China, 廣東省台山縣六村槎洲. Kee Ben was married to Leong Shee 梁氏 then later to Foong Shee 馮氏. They had five sons, my Grandfather Pak Yick伯釴, Pak Tou伯陶, Pak Hong伯衡, Pak Ho伯侯, and Pak Hei伯喜. Kee Ben likely came to the United States around the turn of the 20th century.

According to Kee Ben’s grandson William Chin, “Grandpa Ghee Ben may have immigrated with Uncle Chin Bok Lain in 1896. Uncle Bok Lain returned to China in 1905 to visit and then returned to San Francisco in 1906. So grandpa could have come in 1896 or 1906.”

He later brought two of his sons with him including Pak Yick and Pak Tou. Pak Tou died in the United States and is buried in Colma, California. His descendants ended up in Hong Kong, along with the descendants of Pak Hong. Pak Ho and his descendants remained in China. We do not know what happened to Pak Hei, or if he had any descendants.

CHIN Kee Ben, 1912 CHIN Kee Ben's Wife, Foong Shee

Kee Ben was in the 1st generation of his family to immigrate to the United States, the 23rd generation of Chins to born in Liu Cun, and a 62nd generation descendant of the Ying Chuan Chen family 頴川陳氏.

TSO Mee Shew (1917 - 2006) - Strength and Resilience

TSO Mee Shew 曹美秀, April 15, 1935

My maternal grandmother TSO Mee Shew
曹美秀 was born in Shek Doi Village 石嘴村 in Taishan County, Guangdong, China, on November 7, 1917. She was the second daughter of Tso Wah Sun 曹華申 and Yow Shee 丘氏.

Her aunt arranged her engagement to CHIN Pak Yick in 1935, and they were married on August 29, 1936. Pak Yick had returned from America following the passing of his first wife and was already father to eleven children.

Gateway to Shek Doi Village, 2014
(credit: Douglas Lam)

On June 19, 1937, they traveled to the U.S. aboard the SS President Coolidge and came to live at 326 7th Street in Oakland, California. Over the next eleven years she gave birth to two daughters then four sons (Mabel, Rose, Allen, Dennis, Fred, and Jimmy). 

To Mee Shew’s credit, all of Pak Yick’s older children came to know and love her as their mother, not as a stepmother. During their 22 years of marriage, Mee Shew and Pak Yick faced many challenges. Jobs were scarce during the depression. They had to grow their own vegetables and raise chickens, ducks, squabs, and rabbits. News of the war with Japan and starvation in China were hard for all of them to hear.

HONG Chew Yook and CHIN Shee - A Lifetime under the Chinese Exclusion Act

Chew Yook, 1899

My great-grandfather, HONG Yin Ming 湯恩明, was born in San Francisco, CA in 1873, according to official US documents.

Hong Yin Ming returned to China with his mother when he was very young and returned to U.S. in 1888. At that time, he had to sue in Federal court to be allowed to land.

This was six years after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 passed prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers, with exceptions for diplomats, teachers, students, merchants, and travelers. However, U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ruled “In the Matter of Hong Yin Ming on Habeas Corpus,” case no. 6514, that HONG Yin Ming was a native-born American citizen and he was allowed to land. 

These court records are the first documented evidence of the Hong Family in the United States. While the records refer to his birth in 1873, we do not have his birth certificate or information about his parents from any US documents.

Thru Revolutions and World War: HONG Hock How (1900 - 1979) & CHU Tui Goon (1909 - 2005)

My grandfather HONG Hock How 曾學厚 was born on July 19, 1900 in the waning days of the Qing Dynasty in Dong An Village, Taishan County, Guangdong Province 廣東省台山縣東安村. He spent his boyhood years in the village, entering school at age 7 where he spent his first four years memorizing books and learning how to write.

The Chinese Revolution of 1911

In 1911, the Chinese Revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty, and the Republic of China was established on January 1, 1912. The revolution signaled the end of 2,000 years of dynastic rule in China and the start of China's early republican period. The revolution accelerated the modernization of daily life in China, and for Hock How, it meant his school was re-organized and divided into different classes. He continued to study there until he was 15 years old.

Hock How, 1915

In February 1915, Hock How’s father, Hong Chew Yook, returned to their village from America. At Hock How's grandmother's insistence, he married NG Chau Hai, “a very pretty girl", in April 1915. Hock How returned to America with his father on October 27, 1915. He was detained on Angel Island while his citizenship status was investigted. After the initial interrogation, Hock How's case was reject, and he faced deportation. Chew Yook hired a lawyer who petitioned the Labor Department in Washington DC. Eventually, his petition was granted, and on February 23, 1916, Hock How was admitted to the U.S. as the son of a native-born citizen.

Once in Palo Alto, Hock How spent a month teaching himself to read English with the help of friends and was eventually placed in 4th grade at the Lytton Primary School. In 1918, his wife, NG Chau Hai, had a heart attack and died while traveling to her younger brother’s wedding. According to Hock How “that news knocked me off my feet, but thereafter I determined to put all my energy into study.” He continued his studies at Palo Alto Union High School and went on to qualify for admissions to Stanford University’s School of Engineering.

From the time he started Primary School, Hock How worked for families as a house boy, doing odd jobs in the house including cooking and cleaning. This work earned him “a room in the back barn, breakfast, and evening meal, and $20 per month.” He first worked for Mr. Nagle, then Professor Fish, and finally Mrs. J. F. Newsom at 1129 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, eventually earning $40 a month.

Chen Family from Huangdi to Cha Chau Toisan

This document traces the history of my maternal grandfather's family from it's beginnings in China's mythical past to the founding of the Ying Chuan branch of the Chin clan 潁川陳氏 in Henan Province, through to settling in Chachau Village 六村槎州 in Toisan County, Guangdong 廣東省台山縣 at turn of the 18th century.


February 18, 2022: Added paragraph on page 11 about Feng Tai’s sons scattering to places with the water radical in remembrance of their home town Sha Shui. (Source: Gene M. Chin

11/17/2021: Minor corrections to table of contents formatting. Corrected generation numbering for Chen Wen and added Hanson Chan's ancestor Chen Zhi-tong.

6/18/2021: I have made the following updates to this document to more closely match the family tree in Hanson Chan's book Finding the Direct Bloodline of My 111 Ancestors in China:

    • Added entries for the cadet branch of Marquises of Chen that moved to Qi and adopted the name Tian.
    • Removed entries for the Emperors of the Chen Dynasty, which has been republished in a separate article.
    • Added entries for the Fujian branch of the family. 

See Oops! Mistakes in the Book for the reasoning behind these changes.

Where my Mother comes from...

This is the follow-up post to "Where I'm really from...". There I write about where my father's side of the family is from. This is where I get to tell you about my mother's side:

  • To recap, I live in the suburbs outside Philadelphia, PA.
Philadelphia City Hall (credit: Kenneth Hong)

  • But, dude, I'm like totally a native Californian, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.
sea, bridge, golden gate bridge, san francisco, suspension bridge, usa, america, california, places of interest, cable stayed bridge, nonbuilding structure, Free Images In PxHere
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco (credit: public domain)

[I know that. What about your mother and her family?]

Zeng Family from Huangdi to Toisan

The document below traces the history of my family 曾氏 from to our forbearers in Chinese mythology to our family founder, the Confucian Sage Zengzi 曾子宗聖公, and his descendants who over many generations migrated from Northern China to the Sheung Gok in Toisan County, Guangdong 廣東省台山縣上閣.

Where I really come from...

If you want to know where I'm from, well, I hope you have some time, because it's complicated.

  • I'm from Philly. I live outside Philadelphia, PA. [But you don't have that cool Philly accent, like Kate Wislet in Mare of Easttown.]
Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA

  • Okay, dude, I'm from a native Californian, born and raised in San Mateo, CA. But I have lived and worked all over the US and around the world.

[Well, what about your parents or their families?]

  • Alright, Dad, he grew up in San Francisco where went to high school and college.
  • Grandpa, he wasn't from San Francisco. He grew up way out in the country in Palo Alto where he went to high school and college.
  • His father, my great-grandfather, spent over half of his life living in Palo Alto as well. But he first came to the US in 1888.
  • So, we've been Californians for generations.

Researching Your Chinese Roots

Here' s a short primer for Americans interested in researching their Chinese Roots. First of all, there are a lot of English language resources, especially for people with Toisan roots. Online resources in English include:

If you don't have any records or genealogies, start with interviewing your elders, to get names, dates, places (villages), and relationships. Try to get as much as possible in Chinese characters. Be aware of multiple names and aliases. Chinese might have different birth names, married names, paper names, etc... as well as different English spellings. Look at tombstones which will often have village names, birthdates, and actual family name if they had been using a paper name. Look at photos and letters for similar information.