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?]

  • Alright, Mom, she grew up in Oakland, CA. She's a third-generation Californian, like my dad.
  • Her father came to the US in 1912 with his father, as the son of a merchant. Under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese laborers were banned from entering the US, but exceptions were made for diplomats, scholars, students, and merchants, and their families.
  • Even so, it was hard to bring wives to the US under the Exclusion Act. So, Chinese men would often return the China to marry and have children, then bring their children back to the US before they were 15 years old.
[Why 15 years old?]
  • Well, for those Chinese who could claim citizenship as a son or daughter of an American citizen: If they were born overseas, they had to return to the US before turning 15 or they might forfeit their citizenship.
  • We're not sure when great-grandpa first came over to the US, but maybe around the turn of the 20th century or possibly much earlier.

[Sounds similar to your Dad's family. So, where were they from?]

  • Grandpa, Great-grandpa were from the Cha Zhou village in Liucun Taishan 台山縣l六村槎州, which is near Macau and Hong Kong. So, Mom's family is Toisanese, too. When great-grandpa was born, the Chins had been in Cha Zhou since around ~1700 or 7 generations.
  • My great-grandfather's 3rd great grandfathers, Chen Yu Fu 陳遇夫 (1657-1727), and 2nd great grandfather, Chen Ben Shen 陳本深 (1683-1732), founded Cha Zhou Village. They both placed first in the provincial imperial exams, one of only five such father-son pairs in the Qing Dynasty. So, the Chin's of Chazhou were a family of accomplished scholars
Gate to Cha Zhou Village in 1930's - Honoring Scholars Chen Yu Fu and Chen Ben Shen
  • Before Cha Zhou Village, the Chins had been in the larger Liu Cun 六村 (or Six Villages) area for 17 generations, since approximately 1325.
  • My mother's maiden name was Chin, Chan, or Chen depending on what dialect you speak. In Chinese character's it's written like this:

I'll use the Mandarin spelling for Chinese names and places from here on out.

  • Prior to settling in Taishan, the family had been living in Guangdong for 21 generations, or for at total of 27 generations, which was when the first Chens migrated to Zhuji Alley 珠璣巷 in Northern Guangdong from Northern China. This was a chaotic time with many Han Chinese fleeing the north in the face of successive invasions by nomadic tribes from the Central Asian steppes. And differing accounts indicate that the southern migration occurred over many years and at least two generations between 1130 and 1266 with the exact dates uncertain. We do know that the migration started when Chen Feng Tai 陳峰臺 failed to negotiate peace with one of those invading tribe.
but wait there's more, we may also be descendants of Chinese Emperors...
  • Six hundred years before the nomad invasions, the Chen family preside over the short-lived Southern Chen Dynasty (557-589) which had it's capital in present day Nanjing and controlled most of the China south of the Yangtze river. [And even if the Chen emperors weren't our forefathers, they were definitely cousins.] After the Chen Dynasty fell, the Chen family continued to hold powerful, high-ranking positions in the succeeding Sui and Tang Dynasties.

Portrait of Chen Baxian (503-559) - The First Emperor of the Chen Dynasty

Frequency of Chen Surname (as a % of population)

  • Portrait of Chen Shi

    Chen Baxian's 15th great-grandfather was Chen Shi 陳實 who lived from 104 to 187 CE and is the founder of the Ying Chuan Chen family 潁川陳, which based in the Xuchang district in Henan province 河南省許昌區. The family came to prominence at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty during the 2nd century CE, and was among the foremost wealthy and illustrious families during following Three Kingdoms period and Jin Dynasty.

  • Chen Shi moved up through local government ranks through his hard work, firm grasp of right and wrong, and kind governance. He frequently praised others, but took the blame for mistakes or misfortune. He attracted may people from neighboring districts to move to his area because of this reputation.

  • The Chen family's roots in Henan go back at least to 1150 BCE, which was when the Zhou Dynasty emperor Wu Wang, granted the Gui Man 媯滿 dominion over the State of Chen, in present day Henan. Gui Man later became known as Chen Hu Gong 陳胡公. 

Portrait of Chen Hu Gong, the First Marquis of the State of Chen


  • We can trace Chen Shi's family back another 42 generations. Like the Zeng family, those generations also include tales of the taming of wild beasts, virtuous rulers, assassinations, and an exiled prince. Like the Zengs and all Han Chinese, the Chen Family's mythological past starts with birth of the Yellow Emperor in 2,698 BCE near present day Qufu, Shandong.
TL;DR: My mom's family has been living around San Francisco Bay Area for at least 109 years, 700 years in Guangdong and of those, 575 years were in Toisan County.

Before that point in time, my research hasn't uncovered precise dates and locations for the family. We know that the first State of Chen and the home of the Ying Chuan Chens was in Henan Province. So, it would be a good guess to say we've been in Henan a long time, maybe 1,200 to 2,300 years. The Chen family frequently moved in royal court circles, so likely followed dynasties from capital to capital.

That's where I'm from on my mother's side.

[UPDATE 6/18/2018: After additional research I've update the longer version of the Chin family history, Chin Family from Huangdi to Cha Chau Toisan, which fills in some of the gaps and corrects some of the errors.]

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