Rare, Once-Lost Pioneer Chinese Immigrant Docs Go Online

Apr 30, 2012

Rare, once-lost historic records about pioneer Chinese immigrants to the Northwest have found a new life online. The digital archive is hosted by Oregon State University. A Chinese-American civic group hopes the document trove can help families locate ancestors gone missing early in the last century.

This document collection includes names, dates and places where the remains of Chinese immigrant workers were systematically dug up across Oregon. This actually was a custom across the American West decades ago. Mostly bachelor Chinese laborers wished for their remains to be returned and reburied in their home villages.

These documents show how the bones of more than 550 workers never quite made it home, mainly because of the outbreak of civil war in China in 1949.  "There are many families I am sure back in China who had ancestors who came to this country and they never returned home for one reason or another," says Marcus Lee, a board member of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in Portland. "They never heard from them and to this day they have no idea what happened to them."

The Chinese disinterment document publication is an unusual collaboration between the OSU Archives, Portland State University, the Chinese community and public radio, to which these records were originally donated by an anonymous source.