Oral History

chsa logo

The Chinese Historical Society of America
965 Clay Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

We are currently conducting interviews in collaboration with the Chinese Historical Society of America

Welcome to the Chinese Railroad Workers of North America Project.

The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project website is subject to Stanford University’s standard Terms of Use (http://library.stanford.edu/about/terms-of-use). Images and other materials housed in the database are  individually copyrighted, and are subject to use restrictions based on the requirements of copyright holders.  Please consult with the copyright holder for the individual item for permission to reuse.



The Project is seeking out descendants of workers on the Central Pacific – as well as people who were associated with the railroad, such as suppliers of food and herbal medicines. We hope to find out as much as possible about each individual, but we also want to relate the saga of their descendants in the U.S. and China. We have conducted interviews with several family members, and we hope to provide edited videos of the interviews. We have just begun and we have a lot of work to do searching for descendants, interviewing, compiling, editing and writing narratives of each extended family. This will take some time, but for now here are two brief accounts of a railroad worker as told by descendants. More to come. And please contact us if you are or know of a descendant of one of the Chinese workers on the transcontinental railroad.


Descendants of Eng Mun Dom (We Wen Tan)

According to Olga Eng Chin, her grandfather Eng Mun Dom (We Wen Tan) worked on the railroad from California to Utah. He came from the ancestral village of Munlow, where all the Engs came from. After working he returned to China with the equivalent of $10,000, which was viewed as a fortune. People in the village clamored around him to hear the story of his wealth. He built a house in Munlow village with a special type of wood, an ancestral house well known for its architecture and quality of construction.  He did not return to the U.S., but sent son   in 1893. His son moved to the Midwest, and after working as a laundryman founded a series of Chinese restaurants in Chicago, including one which was the largest Chinese restaurant in the U.S. at the time,  Ho Sai Gai.  Three of his great grandchildren, Paula Lum, Sonya Lum Seng, and Don Chin, graduated from Stanford. Other Engs also worked on the railroad, and many ended up settling in Oklahoma.

Interviews with Pamela Chun, Florence Eng Lum, Sonya Seng, Karen Lee, Madeline Dreith, Paula Lum.

Descendants of Lim Lip Hong

According to Andrea Yee, her great grandfather Lim Lip Hong was born in 1843 in an area called Four Dragons Road in  Cheuk Sui village, Hoi Ping County, Kwantung Province. He arrived in California in 1855, and died in the 1920s. He came across the Pacific on a junk with his uncle and 12 relatives. It took six months to get across. The boat got stuck with no wind, a dead zone, in the middle of the ocean. Quite a few tried to commit suicide. He worked on the transcontinental railroad, and after its completion settled in Virginia City, Nevada, for a decade. He later lived in Carson City, Nevada, and Deadwood, South Dakota.  Around 1883 or 1884, he homesteaded in Potrero Hill in San Francisco, married, and had 7 children. He died there in 1920. His family is aware of 400 of his descendants.

Interviews with Andrea Yee, Richard C. Lym, John R. Wong, Kitty Wong Okamura.