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A Rabbit Hole Extraordinaire

I’ve been hoarding a couple of files of treasured ephemera for years, but the timing has never been right to page through it. The files have been safely tucked away for future reference and recently they were unearthed.

Mr. Ng Poon Chew
Mr. Ng Poon Chew

The interesting thing is that my recollection is that the files contained information on Chautauqua and Christian Missionary work. Someone it completely eluded me that all the documents centered around one specific person. But this was back in the day before smart phones and easy cross internet searches. The era when you had to go to libraries to look things up. You know - the old days…

Fast forward.

It turns out these files are historical gold. Well, perhaps not of huge intrinsic value. All of the pages contained in these two files center around Ng Poon Chew, a Chinese American of great note who lived in San Francisco Bay Area from the late 1800s until his death in 1931.

He has a lot of firsts, but he was the first Chinese Presbyterian Minister and the founder of the first Chinese language Newspaper outside of China. Ng was adviser to the Chinese consulate general in San Francisco and vice-consul for China. He was also known as the Chinese Mark Twain. He left a legacy of intriguing family as well. More on that as I have it.

What am I going to do with all of this?

Mr. Ng Poon Chew documents
Documents of Mr. Ng Poon Chew

I’m not quite sure. First, I need to get the documents stabilized in plastic and binders. Second, I’m going to research every scrap of paper. I will set up a spreadsheet and date each document labeling the people of note. Then I’ll research those people. I have a long standing love of genealogy and history, so I expect that will help me.

At the moment, I intend to write a work of fiction set in the period. It might be romantic fiction, it might be literary, but I expect it will be historical fiction.

I have a feeling my MC might be a worker at the newspaper but I need the muse to spur that forward. I might choose a white main character peeking into Chinese American society. I know I don’t want to write from the Ng Poon Chew point of view. I couldn’t do that justice.

Letter to Mr. Ng Poon Chew
Letter to Mr. Ng Poon Chew

The great thing is that Ng Poon Chew had a lot of friends. He was well regarded and esteemed by many. I want to look at events and see what I can piece together around him. He traveled a lot and his traveling may make the net which holds the story together.

There’s a ton of history wrapped around these documents. The Chinese Exclusion act of 1882, the 1906 Earthquake, the evolution of San Francisco’s Chinatown… If do write this story I see interviews ahead of me and a lot of extra reading. Material is scarce on the internet and the research I’d need to do will likely be at the scholarly level.

What it will be is fun. A lot of work, but fun.

Stay tuned.

Documents and photos related to Ng Poon Chew
Ng Poon Chew photos

(PS. After I get the papers organized I’ll donate them to the California Museum Archive, if they wish to have them.)


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