Hear from our members about what inspires their family history research and what membership means to them!
Inaugural Chairperson 2014-2016
I am a 4th generation Californian and a 6th generation Chinese American who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. I knew little of my family background and was quite isolated from most of my extended family who did not live in California. What inspired me to start researching my family history was a family reunion in 1998 which was the culmination of some diligent detective work by my cousins.
At this gathering, the long-lost Hawaiian and Chinese branches of the descendants of Tong Yee A'ii, my 3rd great grandfather, met for the first time, almost 150 years after he emigrated from Zhongshan, China, to Hilo, Hawaii, in 1850. As an only child, to meet so many new cousins and to learn about the long and notable history of Tong Yee's descendants was a momentous life-changing experience!
We have had several reunions since, where each time, I learn more about our ancestors that inspires me to discover more about their lives. Most importantly, these reunions have been a gift of connection, a sense of belonging, both to a heritage that I can be proud of, and to be of a part welcoming extended family.
I am now helping to develop a website for my Chinese-Hawaiian ohana. This is a place where our histories, our stories, and our reunions will be documented. Our hope is that it will inspire family members, especially the younger generations, to learn about their rich history and to appreciate the significance of family ties.
I am also doing research on my maternal side. My mother and aunt were stage performers before they moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting careers during the "talkie" era. They, along with my grandmother, appeared in many movies during the '30s and '40s. My grandfather, Edward L. Park, played the role of Charlie Chan in Behind That Curtain (1929). He is considered the first and perhaps the only Chinese actor who played Charlie Chan in a film.
The CFHGSC was founded at the time that I was discovering so many remarkable stories about my family but did not know where to go from there. What this organization has provided me is a collective wealth of genealogical information and a great group of people who support each other because they have similar goals regarding the discovery and preservation of their family stories.
I believe that one important reason to document our family history is to bestow it as a legacy for our children and other descendants. However, I also believe that an equally important purpose of telling family stories is to lend credence to history by adding personal and real-life testimonials to the dry facts of history, especially as they are presented in history books. In fact, our ancestors' struggles in the face of racism and anti-Asian laws as well as their many contributions as Chinese living and working in America are NOT represented well in history books. So, the stories that we uncover become even more important for the historical record, and perhaps more importantly, give us insight about how the past influences the social climate and events of the present day.