Immigration Records Illuminate the Story of Angel Island

Written on: August 16, 2010 | 1 Comment

On Saturday, July 31, I boarded a ferry headed to Angel Island to attend a commemorative event marking the 100th anniversary of the Angel Island Immigration Station. The event featured new outdoor exhibits, information booths, and performances relating to the experience of immigrants at Angel Island. I spoke about the National Archives and the Angel Island immigration records that can be found in the National Archives at San Francisco.

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Archivist David S. Ferriero Addressing Visitors at Angel Island
(Photo Courtesy of National Archives at San Francisco)

From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station served as an entry point for immigration on the west coast. The number of immigrants that came through Angel Island are believed to be somewhere between 300,000 and 1 million. The Asian American experience at Angel Island was made very difficult by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and subsequent measures which barred immigrations on the basis of both race and class. Immigrants experienced detention, quarantine, interrogation, and even deportation.

During my visit, I saw the recently restored immigrant barracks, which preserve 200 poems carved into the walls by Chinese immigrants. Their poems reflect the stress of weeks, months, or years on Angel Island.

Actors performed dramatic re-enactments of two stories developed from early Chinese Exclusion-era Federal immigration files available at the National Archives at San Francisco. Daniel Nealand, the director of the National Archives at San Francisco provided an introduction to the stories and served as the narrator.

leung-shee-interrogation

“Leung Shee and the Shadow of Suspicion” Angel Island Interrogation Drama
(Photo Courtesy of the National Archives at San Francisco)

“Leung Shee and the Shadow of Suspicion” was the story of the interrogation of the wife of San Francisco Chinese merchant Quan Quock Wai. She was returning to the United States after several years in China. She was brought before the Angel Island immigration inspector the day after her arrival. After two years of interrogations, accusations, and appeals, she was eventually released. Unfortunately, during that time her husband was killed.

leung-shee-and-quon-quock-wah

Photos of Leung Shee and Quon Quock Wah
(See Citation Below)

“Jung Joong and the Amazing Memory Maze” was the story of an interrogation of a 19 year old who arrives on June 8, 1911 from China. Immigration officials compare his testimony to a map made from his father’s testimony. Below is an example of the meticulous questioning in regard to the placement of houses in their hometown.

What is the name of your home village? Scheck Ho.
About how large is it? About 24 or 25 houses.
Which way does the village face? West.
How many rows are there in the village? Five rows.
In which row is your house located? It’s the third house in the second row, counting from the north.
How many houses are in the first row? Four, including the school.
Where is the school located? It’s the first lot.
How many houses are in the second row? Six.
Are there any vacant lots between the houses? They all join together. There are no vacant lots.

The questioning continues with increasing difficulty about the placement of homes and families in their hometown.¬† The father and son had memorized their testimony so that they matched perfectly. Below is the map created by the Immigration Service used to match Jung Joong’s story to his father’s. Jung Joong was admitted to the United States on June 23, 1911.

china-home-village-map
China Home Village Map Created by Immigration Officials
(See Citation Below)

The National Archives at San Francisco makes available for research nearly 200,000 historical case files for Asian immigrants who came to America via Angel Island. These records constitute a major primary resource for the study of Asian-Pacific immigration. Over the last two decades, we have worked with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation to shed light on previously untold stories and unread chapters in American immigration history found within these records. These stories are crucial for a true understanding of who we are as a nation.

Do you have relatives who came through Angel Island? Have you found immigration records relating to your relatives?

For More Information:

  • Photos of Leung Shee and Quon Quock Wah. Case File #12777/16-4 [LEUNG Shee]. Immigration Arrival Investigation Case Files, 1884-1943. ARC ID 296445. SF District Office, Record Group 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The National Archives at San Francisco.
  • China Home Village Map Created by Immigration Officials. “Exhibit A by alleged father in RE: 47, Tenyo Maru, 6/8/11. [China home village map]“. Case File #15373/5-8 [JUNG Joong]. Immigration Arrival Investigation Case Files 1884-1943. ARC ID 296445. San Francisco District Office, Record Group 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The National Archives at San Francisco.
  • Learn more about the National Archives at San Francisco at http://www.archives.gov/pacific/san-francisco/
  • Learn more about the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation at http://www.aiisf.org/

One Response to “Immigration Records Illuminate the Story of Angel Island”

  1. GrayRiv said:

    Thank you for keeping these vital chapters in American history alive for people to experience. Our immigrant past informs our immigrant present and future. It is important to remember how excluding groups based on race, religion, or national origin has always hurt us as a nation and including has always helped — and continues to define us as a nation.


    (August 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm)