Another day at NARA (National Archives) and digging through more files, I hit pay dirt. The ratio of Chinese women to men in the early days of Chinese Sojourners to the Gold Mountain (U.S.) was very small. So, I cannot help wonder what motivated my grand-uncle to bring his young wife, Toy Shee, to San Francisco in 1928. I cannot help wondering what she must have felt as she birthed three children in this strange land. However, I have a feeling that my uncle Don (Louie Hung Don) would have cherished that young family as much as he loved spending time with me and my siblings in the 40’s and 50’s because he was one of the “bachelors” (the thousands of men alone).
What a difference it was reading Toy Shee’s interrogation versus her husband’s! And what a treasure trove of information painting a picture of her life in China. She must have come from a family of substance because ten servants accompanied her as she rode a sedan chair to her wedding. No doubt they were loaded down with gifts for the Louie family as well as all her worldly possessions. She proffered her husband (my paternal grand-uncle), a man she had never met, a cup of wine and paid respects to his ancestors at the family altar. Then, he went to the men’s celebration while she stayed at her new home with the women. A home she’d share with her in-laws and their servant, a young girl who fetched water from a river a few blocks from the house.
How did she feel when her husband returned to the Gold Mountain before their first child was born? How did she feel when he returned, decided to take her back with him but left their first-born with his parents?
A note to fellow genealogy researchers who are new to the Chinese traditions: Toy Shee means that she was from the Toy clan. I do not know what her birth name was. I do not know if a woman took a “married name” as her husband (Louie Kaow/Louie Qiao Wei) did. Her confident gaze speaks volumes to me even though she could not write or even sign her name.
I hope her spirit and/or the children’s will tell me more. Until then, I will enjoy MY grand-nieces and the memories of the day we shared exploring the Korean Market, snacked on fermented blue crabs, baby crabs, ramen, glass noodles and more. I’ll enjoy my extended family (new ‘cousins’ I met while doing research at NARA) as we dig through the documents, the Jiapu, and of course more food.