Chin Pak Yick (1893-1958) & Lee Moon Yee (1893-1933) - Depression Era Struggles

Chin Pak Yick

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 to Chin Gay Bin 陳基彬 and Fung Shee 馮氏.

Chazhou village was founded by a father and son pair of imperial scholars, Chen Yu Fu and Chen Ben Shen, who placed first in provincial-level imperial exams in 1690 and 1714, respectively.

During his youth in China, Pak Yick spent most of his time studying. In 1911, Pak Yick received money from his father who was in the United States to pay for his marriage, and on April 4, 1911, he married Lee Moon Yee 李滿意. She was born on April 22, 1893 in Leong How village a bit more than one Po* away from Pak Yick’s home. The marriage was arranged by their parents, and the first time they met was in Pak Yick’s home the day they were married. Pak Yick married name was Oon Sik or Don Ing 敦鼐.

During their first years of their marriage, Moon Yee stayed in the Chin family home in Chazhou. Meanwhile Pak Yick stayed at the Sung Sin school in Lok Mee village 乐美 (about 2 li away) only coming home on Sundays and during school holidays. He attended the Sung Sin school for all of 1911 then attend the Ming Yung high school in Taishan City for six months before stopping to leave for the United States.

Chin Pak Yick's Application to Land as minor son of Merchant, CHIN Gay Bin
October 26, 1912

Chin Gay Bin - First Generation American

Chin Gay Bin 陳基彬 (1864-1916) and Fung Shee 馮氏 (b.1869)

My Great-grandfather Chin Gay Bin (Kee Ben, 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. Gay Bin was married to Leong Shee 梁氏 then married Fung Shee (b.1869) 馮氏 on January 7, 1887 (Guangxu 12-12-14). According to immigration records they had six sons and a daughter, Long Ngook, who died when she was 8 months old. However, family ancestral  records only name five sons, Pak Tou 伯陶 also known as Don Born 敦本,  my Grandfather Pak Yick 伯釴, Pak Hong 伯衡, Pak Ho 伯侯, and Pak Hei 伯喜.

Chin Gay Bin, 1912 Gay Bin's Wife, Fung Shee

According to Gay Bin’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.” According to immigration records, Gay Bin first arrived in the United States on November 26, 1910 on the S.S. China. These records also give alternative spellings for his name as Chen/Chan Ki Pun.

Two months after arriving, Gay Bin became a new partner at Wah Chong Co. which was located at 311 8th Street in Oakland, California. He contributed $500 to the partnership and worked as a salemsman at the store which sold watches, jewelry, and other merchandise.

He later brought two of his sons with him including Pak Yick and Don Born. Don Born died in the United States and is buried at the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Cemetery in South San Francisco, CA. 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.

According immigration records for Pak Yick and Pak Yick's wives, Gay Bin had one daughter who died as a baby and six sons. The English spelling of their names varied from interview to interview, and I was only able to match four names. One of the names may be an alternate pronunciation or name for the remaining son in our village records. Both unmatched names may also have been for paper sons. Interestingly, Pak Yick's 1937 immigration transcript indicates that all of his brothers had died and that none of them had been the the US. The contradicts the fact that Don Born died in the US on February 17, 1937, and is buried in South San Francisco.

Gay Bin's grandson William, who was born in 1931, remembers that Gay Bin lived on 8th or 9th street in Oakland in the 1930's while working at Hang Far Low. William recalls his older sister Mary telling him that Gay Bin would take Helene and Henry for walks when they were old enough, but William was still too small. 

William's recollection conflicts with his parents' and siblings' immigration transcripts from 1918, 1936, and 1937 and others public records which indicate that Gay Bin died in San Francisco on January 17, 1916, and that his remains were sent back to China.*

Gay Bin 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.


*Death Certificate #3073. Family Search.

National Archives.

Chin Family Genealogy (Jiapu).

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 with Pak Yick's youngest son, William, to the U.S. aboard the SS President Coolidge. Meanwhile, Edward was sent to Shanghai to study. After arriving at the Port of San Franciso, Mee Shew was detain at Angel Island immigration station for a medical examination and to await the determination of her legal status to enter the United States.

On July 7, 1937, Pak Yick and Mee Shee attended a lengthy interview session before a board of special inquiry consisting of two inspectors, a clerk, and an interpreter at the Angel Island immigration station. At the end of the inquiry, the Chairman, R. W. Hanlon, made the following findings:

  1. The alleged husband accompanied the applicant to the United States and was admitted as a returning merchant.
  2. There were a few statements on which they lacked agreement but it is not believed that this factor would discredit the general favorable showing made. He believed that the evidence should be considered as reasonably establishing that the claimed relationship exists.

Chin Pak Yick & Tso Mee Shew in 1937

Hamlin moved that Mee Shew be admitted if and when cured of a hookworm infection that had been identified during her medical examination. The other inspector seconded the motion, and clerk concurred. After being detained on Angel Island for 23 days, Mee Shee obtain her medical release on July 12, 1937 and was admitted to the United States at 12:10 PM the same day.

HONG Chew Yook (1870-1941) and CHIN Shee (1880-1963) - 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 seven years old. Yin Ming married CHIN Shee 陳氏 and took the married name Chew Yook 稠毓, returning to U.S. on June 18,  1888 aboard the S.S. Zambesi.

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 Chew Yook was a native-born American citizen. On February 20, 1989, he was released and 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. He may have in fact been born as early as 1869.

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 23rd day of the 6th month of the 26th Year of the Emperor Guang Xu (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 1913, 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 investigated. After the initial interrogation, Hock How's application 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 Char Jew 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 Char Jew Village 六村槎州 in Toisan County, Guangdong 廣東省台山縣 at turn of the 18th century.

Char Jew Village Gate
1936-37 Photograph by William S. Chin


September 13, 2023: Added to post: photograph by William S. Chin of the Char Jew Village Gate taken on his first visit in 1936-37.

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 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.