Monday, February 27, 2017

Challenges of Charting Chinese Genealogy

After I had worked on my own family tree for a decade, I began charting my husband Mike's Family Tree. I did this when someone was asked how certain family members were related to others. No one knew, exactly.  

What that led to, in addition to the usual surprises, was an education about the affects of the Chinese Exclusion Act on his family. 

The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. 

This law was not repealed until 1943 - that is 61 - sixty-one years of what was, in the words of Republican Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts "...nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination."  Even after the repeal, there was a quota of 100 immigrants per year from China, until 1964, when the Johnson administration lifted the quotas.    
In addition, interracial marriages of Whites and Chinese was not made legal in the United States until 1948, which affected other members of the family. 

I found that Mike's grandfather Sam entered the US from China through Seattle, Washington, on September 10, 1920, in the midst of this restriction.  He jumped through some hoops, for sure. He didn't want his children to have to go through this experience, so once he was established, brought his wife Law Moy to the United States, and they had their children in Utah and Wyoming.  

Ways around the Chinese Exclusion Act necessitated smuggling, false documentation, and what were referred to as "paper sons" - Chinese sons of American citizens, at least on paper.  Since Mike's grandfather Sam was not an American citizen at the time, this did not include him, but it may have affected some of the documents that were found for other family members.

Sam and his wife Rose set up a restaurant in Rock Springs, and later in San Francisco, building their own rich family history as American citizens. Sam petitioned to be a citizen in 1948, and became a naturalized citizen in 1950.

Sam Chan, in front of his On Rock Lo restaurant, Rock Springs, 1940s.
There were challenges of determining the real ages and names of some of Mike's family members. In some cases, this was a survival tactic.  It was also cultural. As Michael's cousin told me:  "The Chinese sign Last Name, Generational Name, then Name.  This is the order for caricatures in a name.  All of the girls in the same generation have the same Generational Name and all of the boys have the same Generational Name, but it's different from the girls.  So, for instance, all of the girls, who are my first cousins have the same generational name,"Sook" as me.  All the boys have the same generational name as my brother, "Hing".  It's the duty of the male grandparent, from the husband's side to do this, so Paul Tung named all of us."   She added: : "It's tricky trying to define names that are phonetically written in English, because if you use a mandarin dictionary for a Cantonese pronunciation, it won't be correct, and visa versa. The paternal grandfather gives the names."

Thus explains why "Chin" is also "Chan" in the charts.   

Another great challenge for me is that there is very little about Mike's ancestors on the net.  In essence, I am creating the database for his family, in Ancestry, Wikipedia, and other sites, so that others in his family - or future generations - can access that information. This includes data and photos. 

When I added Mike and his American-born family members, my job became much easier.  Documentation is more available.   Though the Wong-Chan chart does not go back further than 5 generations, I am content to leave it at that.  It is a good start for future generations, considering the affects of our country's discriminatory practices had on Mike's ancestors.  My Irish family members faced their own discrimination two centuries ago, so it does seem to be par for the course. Once we are here...we are HERE.     

UPDATE:  After 3 years of doing the "American Quock clan"  family tree, Mike's cousin had the idea to have a reunion of cousins - an event where everyone gathered and celebrated which was NOT a funeral or memorial. The event was months in the making.  On my part, I put together the main "Quock" family tree - the one which showed how the Tungs, Fungs and Wongs of our clan were related - and other trees that family might wish to have displayed.  

The reunion party was a SUCCESS! I was thrilled that family members enjoyed viewing the charts on display, and an album of records, photos, and memorabilia. 


It felt like the culmination of all of that research and hard work was worth it!  I digitized the records, and put them on  USB flash drives for family members who might wish to have a jump-start their own family trees.  I kept the print of the Quock tree for myself, in bamboo-style frame, for my office. 

I think I'm now done with both family's genealogy projects.  Not that there isn't more to discover - but I want to leave that to the next generation, so they can have the fun of discovery.   Well, that, and the fact that my subscription is about to run out! :) 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Two Trees, Many Branches

History is the recorded story of our species - it has always been an interest of mine.  Family history is personalized, and even more interesting.  Native Americans passed their stories down through the generations, written & verbal.  That is a tradition which we all could benefit from.

I believe that each of us is writing the story of our lives.  Every day, we write a new page, until our last chapter. If we are not famous enough to make the history books, one way to achieve immortality is through our genealogical records and stories.

 My parents never talked about their ancestors.  Living for today, which is what most of us have to do, consumed their lives.  There were very few stories about their origins, save for when my grandfather got drunk, and spilled all about our Cherokee great-grandmother (later found this not to be true), or his friendship with Ima Hogg, Texas royalty (possible).  

For almost a decade, I have worked on my family tree, reaching back in some places to the 1100s. There have been fascinating discoveries.  One branch leads to another...etc. I have discovered that I have Revolutionary War ancestors (4 verified direct lineage veterans) and Civil war (3 verified), and many in succeeding wars. I don't think this is because I come from a war-mongering family.  Military records are some of the best-kept records.  

When doing my tree, there were (and are) challenges, but I was helped by so many others related to me who were also keeping records.  Our family, for the most part, has been in the USA for centuries, so it was relatively easy to find information. There is a book about my paternal ancestors called: "Trail of the Haglers", by Travis Jackson Hagler (my maiden name is Hagler), and piles of documentation on,,, and other sites. is a great free site to keep your tree.

It also helps that I have had four DNA tests taken, which are cross-referenced with others who match, and their family connections. This is part of our "DNA Circle".  Right now, I have 29 matches for specific ancestors, through my DNA circle. Example: There is one goes back to Samuel Harrison Bowen, who fought in the Revolutionary War:

I am even part of a study about genetics and inherited characteristics.  After finding so many farmers in my background - on both sides - I figured that my early-to-bed-early-to-rise temperament was inherited.  This is my great-great grandfather James Samuel Bowen (1861-1923), on his farm in Mt Vernon, Texas:

 I think I inherited his sense of style, too. 

You get the idea. I have a riches of documentation, connections, DNA evidence, and photos.  I guess I got spoiled by that, because when I began Mike's genealogy, I was presented with many challenges, some specific to the Chinese culture that I hadn't anticipated. I decided to work on Mike's family tree, when we weren't sure how some family members were related to the others.  

Even though both of Mike's parents were born in the USA, Chinese traditions still hold.  For instance, both of Mike's grandmothers had the name "Shee" in them, which went back to Chinese tradition. I found out that "Shee" just means: "Family of" for women who are married in China and immigrate here. "Ti" is "wife of".  Others whose surnames were Moy (Mei, Moi), went back to the Shang Dynasty, etc. I also found that quite a few members of Mike's family had multiple names.  Name order is reversed for Chinese - surname first, etc.  

It is also Chinese tradition to call elders "Aunt" and "Uncle", whether they were blood-related or not. Sign of respect. 

Since we didn't do that in my European-background family, it took some getting used to.  I had to also separate out the blood-related uncles and aunts, which is necessary for a family tree which traces back to ones' origins, etc.

I also learned a lot about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States. In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress, and signed by President Chester A. Arthur. This act provided an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration.   The effects of that Act on my research is worthy of a blog in itself:

This made it difficult to emigrate to the USA if you were Chinese, but did not stop many - including Mike's ancestors. They had to find ways around the system, to survive here.

Mike's family are some of the most hard-working American citizens I've ever met (or learned about), and many had to fight for the right to stay in this country, one way or another.  They have been resourceful, successful and productive citizens. 

Several of Mike's family served in the military,fighting for the USA., including Uncle Pongee, Uncle Warren, and Uncle Richard Tung. Uncle Richard was honored for his service in the 491st bomb group in WWII; here is a link to an article about one of his experiences during that war:

Another challenge in Mike's tree is that Chinese had to be self-protective when entering our borders, which included many name changes, and discrepancies in the ages and other details of those entering the US. Where I could go back many centuries in my own family tree, I am content to trace back 5 generations in Mike's.  That his parents and many other relations were born here made it easier to find records on them, but the clues vanish as soon as I "cross" the border into China-records territory.

However, I was able to contribute photos and stories to Mike's tree on Ancestry, which were provided by Mike's mom, uncle, and other family members. Mike's Uncle Richard wrote his life story, which was a great resource for filling in a lot of the blanks. These are gifts for future generations. 

Mike's maternal grandmother Rose was an actress in Hong Kong, and also a beloved citizen in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where Mike's mom and siblings were born & grew up. Rose liked to celebrate International Day by shooting fireworks off of the roof of the family restaurant. 
There are many fascinating stories in our families, ones which would make great films. But some family members might not wish certain stories to be made public.  
Types of records used in genealogy include birth, marriage, baptism, death, immigration, pension, draft registration and military, school, news stories, census, voter, Social Security (numbers only provided for the deceased), city directories, and records provided by other relations.  My father's family kept very good records. I was able to scan and archive/upload my Civil War Union soldier 2nd-great- grandfather William J. Bartell's records, photos, and documents, such as this roster of his unit: 

There were also a few Confederates among my ancestors - this from my 3nd great-grandfather Thomas Cox Bowen:

Cemeteries are also a great resource, including photos of headstones of ancestors to add to the tree.  My Bowen grandparents and great-grandparents had the open book theme on their headstones, befitting the "story of life" concept. 

I realize how much the past generations tie into the future.  It is this continuum of life, which flowed through our ancestors' veins, and continues in the succeeding generations, which keeps me going at this crazy "hobby".  At one point, Mike asked me why I was so interested in doing his family's genealogy.  I replied: "Because they're my family, too."