Great-granddaughter of Lum Ah Chew
Interviewee: Paulette Liang (Great-Granddaughter of Lum Ah Chew)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Date: November 3, 2014
Location: San Francisco, California
Duration: 36 minutes, 2 seconds
00:19 Yu: Okay. Now tell us something about your search for your ancestor, your great-grandfather. Tell us his name and how, what you have learned about him.
00:32 Liang: Well, my, I was working on a family history. My mother was the family historian. She passed on. So I’m left to do it. And my great-grandfather’s name was Lum Ah Chew. And family lore has always known that he worked on the railroad, then he worked on the levees in the delta in the Sacramento Delta, and was a farmer there for over 40 years. And, you know, married, had three children, and so we are his descendants.
01:09 Yu: So he had three children. Could you tell us about them, and then how to relate to you?
01:16 Liang: My grandfather was his oldest son. His, my grandfather’s, name was Chauncey Chew, and he was a farmer, a merchant, labor contractor, basically, you know, was a very well-known person in Courtland, California. And all his children were born there and we’ve lived there, in Courtland, for almost, yes, over 100 years. So I live, I grew up in Sacramento and my grandmother eventually moved to Sacramento.
02:08 Yu: So, it’s on your mother’s side. That is, Chauncey’s daughter?
02:14 Liang: Yes, my mother is Chauncey’s daughter.
02:17 Yu: And her name?
02:18 Liang: Was *Edna Chew.* Edna Lum Chew. Because originally, our name is Lum. It was actually Lum Chew. But because of the transposition, everybody became known as Chews. My mother is always very adamant about the fact that we should always be – no, know – that our Chinese name was Lum.
02:42 Yu: So going back, to the original generation that came to America. Do you know the village that your great-grandfather came from?
02:54 Liang: Yes.
02:55 Yu: Could you talk about his background? How old he was when he came?
02:59 Liang: Okay, well, he actually, his family, migrated from, uh, Fukien to Guangdong. And he came from *Zhongshan Leungdo Shaping Ha* Village. His family had migrated there only two generations before he left in 1860. And he came to California when he was 19 years old. And I have found records of federal census of him being a laborer here in San Francisco in 1860. And then in 1866, he was working for the Central Pacific Railroad. And then in the 18 – 1870 Census Records, he was in Courtland. And the family history has always been that he worked on the Railroad and then he moved to Sacramento delta, helped to reclaim the levees, and then farmed there for over 42 years. And he died in 1906.
04:09 Yu: So you mentioned that his family immigrated from Fukien province. But he always considered himself from Zhongshan, is that correct?
04:18 Liang: Yes.
04:20 Yu: And the dialect is Zhongshan.
04:21 Liang: Yes. Yes.
04:21 Yu: Because a great many people, Chinese from the delta, was from Zhongshan.
04:30 Liang: Yes, yes yes. I think a lot, because of that, they were also very very involved in the Revolution in China, with so much discrimination here that, you know, they, they followed the event in China very closely. And my, both my great-grandfather and my grandfather were involved in the, in the movement, you know, to liberate China. And Sun Yat-sen came to visit them and stayed at their house.
05:04 Yu: Could you talk a little bit more about that? Sun Yat-sen came to stay in Courtland?
05:10 Liang: Yes.
05:11 Yu: He stayed in the home of
05:13 Liang: My great grandfather and my, and my grandfather was very involved in the KMT chapter in Courtland.
05:30 Yu: And you have some documentation from the travels, I mean, the people going back and forth, and you could talk, if you talk about, your father, you said was born in China?
05:43 Liang: My father was, yes. But he didn’t come until 1925 and he actually came as a part of a diplomatic, diplomatic mission. But he ended up in Courtland, teaching Chinese school, because my grandfather hired him to teach Chinese school. And then, you know, he married my mother.
06:08 Yu: So he hired his future son-in-law to teach Chinese school.
06:12 Liang: That’s correct.
06:15 Yu: Good story.
06:15 Liang: Yeah. And my mother also was a Chinese school teacher. When she was 16, she was recruited to teach the younger children because, you know, she was studious quick learner. So she was, you know, she was a Chinese school teacher too.
06:34 Yu: Well could you tell us something about the documents and the photographs you have?
06:39 Liang: Well this is. Oh.
06:40 Yu: Census, you know.
06:42 Liang: Okay. In the 1860 Census, the federal census, he was listed as a laborer in San Francisco. And he was 19 years old. And then I have the, well, this is the 1860 census. And then in 1866, he’s listed as working for the Central Pacific Railroad. In August 1866, he was a cook. And in September 1866, he was still working for a Central Pacific – he was a waiter. So there’s that. And then on the 1870 census, he was in Courtland, by that time, and he was working on the Runyon Ranch, and he was a farmhand. So there he is here. And in the 1900 census, he is listed – he’s 60 years old now, and so he’s listed here. And I also have a document, from, he was a witness for a young person who was, who was I guess, he’s testifying that he was, this young person was native-born. So this interview was conducted in English and my mother said he could read and write and speak English but he was illiterate in Chinese. And then I have his death certificate. So that’s what we know about Lum Ah Chew.
08:33 Yu: Did he die in Courtland?
08:34 Liang: Oh yes. Yes. He, my great-grandmother said he collapsed in his son Sing’s orchard. And he died of myocarditis.
08:51 Yu: There’s some documentation. Could you give us the year of the testimony for the native-born?
08:57 Liang: Uh, 1904. August 2nd 1904. So yeah, he was a very well-known merchant. And actually, he had two wives. My great-grandmother was his second wife. And so there was, his first wife, I think, committed suicide. And they did have one son. So my grandfather had a half-brother but we never knew him.
09:29 Yu: Was it in China? Did he have a wife in China?
09:31 Liang: No, no, no.
09:33 Yu: So he had, oh, but he didn’t have them simultaneously.
09:36 Liang: No, no, no. The first wife died and then he married my great-grandmother.
09:43 Yu: And where was she from, your great-grandmother?
09:45 Liang: She was from, let’s see, where’s she from, I have her village. She was born in 1863 in Sun Village, Hongshan, China. And she came to California when she was 14 years old, in 1877. And she married Lum Chew, my great-grandfather when she was 19, in 1881. And she returned to China twice to make arrangements, you know, for marriages for her two younger sons. My, my grandmother was born in San Francisco on Dupont Gaai, as it was known at that time. And she always said she was long time Calforn [incomprehensible].
10:42 Yu: This is your grandmother, who is the daughter of –
10:47 Liang: My mother’s mother. Her name was Susan Chuck.
10:53 Yu: So it’s on your mother’s side – that the railroad – so that’s
10:56 Liang: Yes. No, my mother’s, her paternal grandfather and maternal grandfather came in 1859 to California. And his name was King Choy Chuck. And he was a merchant in the Gold Country. And his store was dynamited and so they were driven out of the Gold Country. And so he ended up here in San Francisco. And I think in the 19 – one of the censuses – he was listed as the meat dealer.
11:36 Yu: What was he – I’m sorry.
11:39 Liang: A meat dealer.
11:40 Yu: A meat dealer
11:40 Liang: in San Francisco Chinatown.
11:42 Yu: So he sold meat. And you have the address of the store?
11:47 Liang: Yes. Well, not of the store. They didn’t sell meat in the store. They – what they did, I think, was they went to Dogpatch, you know where they had the slaughterhouses, and then the Chinese got the meat from there and sold it on the streets in Chinatown. And he was, he was living at that time on the third floor, the whole, the whole family.
12:15 Yu: [inaudible].
12:16 Liang: Yes.
12:18 Yu: So both sides, you have pioneer, deep pioneer roots.
12:22 Liang: Yes, yes.
12:26 Fong: Do you have any, aside from just knowing that your great-grandfather worked on the railroad, were there any stories passed down about that time? about maybe what he was doing? I mean he was a cook and a waiter, but any other stories?
12:41 Liang: Actually, no. I really don’t know of any other stories about him. My mother never knew her grandfather because he died in 1906, before she was born. And he was just knowing to be an orchard, you know, orchardist, and a very good farmer. He worked for the same family for many years – the Deming family. And the Deming’s were very fond of him and Mrs. Deming sent my grandfather Chauncey to school in Rio Vista, the Saint Joseph Academy. So he, he could read write and speak English quite well, you know, very well. And so in the early 1900s, because he was very fluent speaker, he was, he negotiated, you know, a lot for the Chinese community.
13:40 Yu: As far as the, the first mention of his occupation was laborer. That’s before the railroad. Do you know what kind of work that was?
13:49 Liang: I have no idea what that would be.
13:52 Yu: It’s not in the mining country. It was –
13:55 Liang: in San Francisco
13:56 Yu: It was in San Francisco.
13:57 Liang: Uh huh.
14:01 Yu: And then when he worked as a cook for the railroad
14:05 Liang: Yes.
14:06 Yu: That would be for, do you have a sense or have you heard stories – he cooked for fellow Chinese, he was part of a work crew.
14:16 Liang: Oh I am sure he was a part of a work crew that cooked for Chinese because at that time, the Chinese all cook, you know, had their own cooks and and cook for themselves. So. I don’t know what the Europeans ate.
14:34 Yu: But he was listed on the payroll.
14:37 Liang: Yes.
14:38 Yu: Did, were there any stories about the work or the pay on the railroad? Anything?
14:46 Liang: Only that he was paid a dollar and fifteen cents a day as a cook and only sixty cents – sixty six cents as a waiter. So that wasn’t much money.
14:58 Yu: What year? What year was the waiter? Was he waitering [inaudible]?
15:02 Liang: 1866, in September of 1866.
15:06 Yu: We’re trying to figure out, I’m trying to think of what kind of waiting on tables – waiting – serving food or – this is the first time I’ve seen – heard the occupation waiter in conjunction with the railroad.
15:18 Liang: Oh. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe he was waiting on the European, you know? I’ve no idea. Probably the Chinese didn’t have any waiters.
15:33 Yu: It’s very important to know that he was paid a dollar fifteen a day.
15:41 Liang: Uh, as a cook. Let’s see, where is he. Yeah, they have it as per diem. So, let me see, where is it, Ah Chew Ah Chew, well let’s see here it says he only work 3 days in 1866 as a waiter. And he was paid sixty-six cents a day. So at the end he was paid a dollar and ninety-five cents. And, uh, let’s see, Ah Chew, here he’s listed in the cook. He was paid a dollar and fifteen cents a day, so at the end he was paid ten dollars and thirty-five cents.
16:46 Okay, okay. He was working for the Central Pacific Railroad in August of 1866. He’s listed as a cook and he was, he, I think, oh, the number of days he worked as a cook, it looks like, might have been nine days, and he was paid a dollar and fifteen cents a day. So ten dollars and thirty five cents in all.
17:17 Yu: Are there other listings of Chinese, I’m thinking of the comparable wages, doing other work?
17:24 Liang: Uh,
17:26 Yu: And how much they were paid?
17:29 Liang: You know, on this, on this ledger, only, there were only the Chinese waiters. Everybody else here is European.
17:45 Yu: And what kind of work were they doing?
17:55 Liang: Well, okay, here’s a Europe – here’s a non-Chinese name. He was a cook, he worked 31 days and he was paid fifty dollars.
18:05 Yu: So he was paid a lot more than
18:09 Liang: Than the, than the, than the Chinese cooks. And, uh, these are all non-Chinese names and I don’t know what, it says drifter, but outfitter? Maybe it is outfitter? They were paid a dollar fifteen a day. Oh. I guess these might have been outfitters, they called them, and they were paid a dollar fifteen a day.
18:49 Yu: So it’s the same as a cook. A dollar fifteen?
18:52 Liang: Hmm hmm. Let’s see. It’s sort of hard to read.
19:08 Fong and Yu: It’s okay. Yeah. We get the idea. And also, that, that, you always heard, that your great-grandfather worked on the Railroad.
19:18 Liang: Always. Oh yes, always.
19:20 Yu: So this is just, uh, maybe one page of his work assignments he might have done. We don’t know how much other work he has done for the railroad.
19:31 Liang: Yes, no, I don’t know. I guess, there might be other records in the Railroad Museum, but I’ve never looked them up. I’ve, I didn’t really look any further than these that I found.
19:46 Yu: Where did you find those?
19:48 Liang: At the Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
19:51 Yu: Oh, I see.
19:52 Liang: They have the actual ledgers, but I never, I couldn’t Xerox them at the time, because they were so large, but now they’re online. Sue found them. So that was great.
20:09 Yu: There might be others.
20:11 Liang: There might, there might be. But I think I did find a record of him in Nevada City in 18 – was it something – between 1866 and 1870 and Courtland. So he may have gone up to the mines from there, who knows. So.
20:34 Fong: Who’s the payroll, payroll – it’s the Central Pacific, right?
20:38 Yu: No, yeah, it’s Central Pacific Railroad.
20:41 Fong: And I think off camera you mentioned that your, I forget who it was, went back, sent money back or went back in those time to China.
20:47 Liang: My great-grandmother.
20:49 Yu: This is the husband, the wife, wife of the –
20:52 Fong: So if we could get this story on camera.
20:55 Liang: Oh, my great-grandmother. I think I gave you that information, right?
20:59 [unclear] 21:04 Liang: Oh, okay. When she went back, let’s see, when did she go back. Well, she went back twice, to arrange marriages for her two younger sons. And, well, when she was there, she arranged to have three houses built for her three sons in their village. And the houses are still standing, people are living there. And when my mother, you know, went to see the her village or her ancestral village, they asked her for the deed. But, we’ve been here for a hundred fifty years and nobody has a deed. So, so the houses are still standing, and I guess in the village temple or wherever the records are kept, they know who owns the house.
22:10 Yu: The Lum family.
22:11 Liang: Yes.
22:13 Yu: Now, did the sons go back and stay there in the houses that mother built for them?
22:20 Liang: I don’t think so. I think she had the houses, I think she went and arranged the marriages. And then they came back within a year.
22:30 Yu: With the brides.
22:31 Liang: Yes, yes.
22:35 Yu: So you think that they felt they wanted to make their future, their lives in America?
22:41 Liang: Well, my mother always said that dis – discrimination was so intense against a Chinese at that time that they thought that maybe their future would be in China, you know, a new independent China. And you know, because, her, her older sister went to UC Berkeley, graduated from UC Berkeley – couldn’t get a job, at all. She ended up working at the national, the national dollar store, with a degree from UC Berkeley. So, you know, education didn’t guarantee you much of anything in those days. But my grandfather was a very progressive person. I mean, he believed in educating his children, he established, you know, the first Chinese School in Courtland, and you know, and he was, he thought that education is very important.
23:44 Fong: That’s a good point.
23:47 Yu: The fact that he was the son of a railroad worker who could read and write in English.
23:55 Liang: Oh yes, he could. Yeah. And, well, well, my great-grandfather was a railroad worker – was illiterate in Chinese, but he could read and write English. Because I guess he had to learn how to read and write English because he had to work for English-speaking people.
24:12 Yu: But still, the tie to the village was very strong.
24:15 Liang: Yes.
24:17 Yu: And the fact that his wife would say, you know, that my husband’s village is our village.
24:23 Liang: Uh huh. Yes. And to have homes built there, in case you eventually had to return home. Because I think of the Chinese Exclusion Act, no women, nobody was allowed to come. So that’s, she had to find wives for her sons, so what was the choice.
24:46 Yu: And the year that she went back, what year was that?
24:50 Liang: Uhm, she went back, I think, 1912. Let me see. I don’t think I brought any of her. Let me see if I have anything, that I bring anything of hers.
25:06 Yu: [inaudible].
25:08 Liang: She went before, uh, 1912 also. How did she go? I don’t remember. I do have those records though.
25:20 Yu: I was thinking about Exclusion Law. So she’s China-born.
25:26 Liang: Yes.
25:28 Yu: but with her American-born children. Did she stay in China or did she come back?
25:33 Liang: Oh she came back, both times. I mean she testified that she leased 93 acres of land and – which her sons farmed and owned two houses in Sacramento Delta. So I’m sure.
25:49 Yu: [inaudible].
25:51 Liang: Yes. So, and she was quite a formidable woman. She would take my mother to San Francisco on the steamboat from Courtland. She said they would get on at night and arrive in San Francisco in the morning and go shopping.
26:10 Yu: Can I see your pictures?
26:11 Liang: Oh yes. There she is.
26:16 Yu: And you mentioned you have some of her clothing and jewelry?
26:20 Liang: Yes, my mother had all of those. I have her – the earrings that she is wearing, the pin, and, what do you call it, the headband. I have. As well as her earrings and her bracelet. And some clothing.
26:41 Yu: How long did she live?
26:42 Liang: 64. She was 64 when she died. So you know, she lived a long time for those days and so did my great-grandfather. He died when he was 64. And they’re both buried in Franklin Cemetery up by Sacramento.
27:00 Yu: You said your great-grandfather?
27:03 Liang: Yes.
27:04 Yu: Not the railroad worker.
27:04 Liang: Yes.
27:06 Yu: So you knew both of them?
27:08 Liang: No. He died in 1906.
27:11 Yu: Oh, 1906, I see.
27:13 Liang: But they were both, they’re both buried in Franklin Cemetery and all my mother’s, you know, siblings, her parents are all buried there. And every year we do Qingming [Tomb Sweeping Day] there.
27:31 Yu: Good. good. Something about your generation and your father’s generation. I mean, you mentioned your father believed in education.
27:45 Liang: My father did?
27:46 Yu: Yeah.
27:47 Liang: Yes he did.
27:48 Yu: And did you go – you went to college?
27:51 Liang: Yes. Oh, yes, I went to college. I graduated from San Francisco State, in 1965.
28:00 Yu: So he was influenced strongly by his father?
28:04 Liang: My father’s father was a doctor in China. He, actually, my father’s side of the family, goes back 28 generations. So we can, his, his father studied for the imperial exams and he didn’t pass them so he became a Daoist monk, and then decided that was, you know, not very responsible for his family, so he came back and he was a doctor in his village. And he sent both his sons to a western school in, I guess, it was on the coast. And then my father’s brother, they were both active in the, in the, you know, KMT, and, uh, my uncle, my father’s older brother went to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek, and was a government official, and he was very known, very well-known calligrapher. Because when my children participated in the roots program, and they went to China, and went to my father’s village and, you know, it’s sort of, the house is still standing.
29:43 Yu: What village is it?
29:45 Liang: Uh, ÊI can’t remember I have to look it up.
29:48 Yu: Which part? Is it Toishan or Zhongshan?
29:51 Liang: Uh.
29:53 Yu: *Hoiping*?
29:55 Liang: My father’s village is to the west of Guangzhou. So something in the mountains. It is still a rural village and I think that our driver said he was quite unusual to see a village still like that in China today.
30:15 Yu: So how did your parents meet?
30:17 Liang: Well, they met in Courtland because my father was hired by my grandfather to be a Chinese school teacher.
30:23 Yu: He must have liked him.
30:26 Liang: Well, he was one of those Chinese intellectuals, you know. But my parents were divorced. So in those days *raises eyebrows*
30:42 Yu: So you were born in Fresno. Were you born in the Chinatown or just the -?
30:47 Liang: No, at the time my father was teaching Chinese school in Fresno, so I was born in Fresno. My, my father and mother were living in Fresno and well, I move back to Courtland when I was about 3 years old. Our house got – we were, we were visiting my grandmother, at Christmas – and the house got completely burglarized. I mean, they took everything. So my mother moved, you know, when we move back to Courtland to live in the family house, with me and my two brothers.
31:26 Yu: So all the things from your great-grandparents stayed in Courtland, is that right? Like the, you were talking about the pictures and her clothing and –
31:40 Liang: Oh yeah, they were all – they were all in Cortland. When I was a child, you know, in Courtland. I mean, the house is still standing. My grandfather’s house – that was built in about 1918, but you know, it’s still, it’s still there.
32:01 Yu: Do you have – do you have your brothers and sisters? How many in your family?
32:06 Liang: I have three brothers and sister. My sister passed 3 years ago but I have a pair of twin brothers – they’re a year younger than I am and then I have a younger brother, ten years younger than I am.
32:21 Yu: But you are the family historian now.
32:22 Liang: Yes. And I have 18 first cousins. My mother’s, on my mother’s side. So there are quite a few descendants.
32:37 Yu: Perfect.
32:38 Liang: was a purchasing agent for Sun Yat – for the KMT, and he bought airplanes to, you know, for the fledgling [unclear] air force. And that, the barn where the airplanes were kept was burnt down. So all the planes were destroyed. And they think, you know, it was an imperial agent. Of course, he lost all his money, because he was a very, you know, he was a very wealthy man – I mean I have his records and the business papers for his general store and he put in $6,500 as the manager of the store, and everybody else put in $500.
33:35 Yu: He put in $600?
33:36 Liang: $6500.
33:39 Yu: What’s his name, just to be clear?
33:40 Liang: Chauncey Chew. Chauncey L Chew.
33:44 Yu: Now, the name Chauncey, is it an English name or something taken from Chinese?
33:50 Liang: No, it’s an English name because Mrs. Deming who is – who my great-grandfather worked for – named him Chauncey. And she was also the one who had him sent to school in Rio Vista. It’s a Catholic school and it’s Saint – St Joseph’s Academy and, and, I don’t know, some of the, I think the documentation, if you left the country you had to prove that you were native born. So my grandfather went to Mexico and had to, you know, had to have documentation to prove that he was native-born so he has, what you call, witnesses and they had to be Americans, I mean, white Americans, Caucasian Americans.
34:53 So, actually, that’s how I found out that my grandfather had two – my great-grandfather had two wives. Because my mother always said that my, her grandmother was a second wife, but – and no corroboration. But, one of the witnesses for my grandfather said, “oh yes I knew Ah Chew, you know, he had four sons.” I had no idea. And he says, “yeah, one was by his first wife. I think she committed suicide and then he married this second wife who have these three boys.” And he asked things like, it was really interesting, “how,” you know like, um, “how do you know that Chauncey was native-born?” He said, “well, I know because we went to see him when he was born. He was the first Chinese baby we ever saw.”
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