Actor Jamie Chung recently uncovered her family tree in the latest episode of PBS’ “Finding Your Roots.”
The San Francisco native, whose father owned an American hamburger restaurant, learned about her grandfather’s immigration journey and traced her ancestry to the 1300s.
Delving into her grandfather’s immigration file, Chung learned that he applied for a visa at the age of 73, unable to speak a word of English. When host Henry Louis Gates Jr. asked if her family ever talked about how they felt when they arrived or if they were ever homesick, she replied no and explained her grandmother didn’t speak English well either.
No, we don’t talk about those things in our family. I think we’re just very proud people. And I think they keep a lot of things to themselves. And I don’t think they allow themselves to be vulnerable, not even with family. I’ve seen certain cracks of that, certain moments, but they’re very private people.
Tracing Chung’s family history hit a roadblock when researchers struggled to locate records of her grandfather’s rural Korean village called Chohyeon-ri.
A breakthrough eventually came when they found her family’s clan name “Chung San” in his immigration documents.
Clans in Korean society have maintained written genealogies called “jokbo” for centuries. Thanks to that, researchers traced her lineage back nearly 200 years.
Chung was then astonished to learn about her great-grandparents and an ancestor born in 1841.
“I’ve never heard of these names before,” she said. “These dates are kind of mind-boggling. And to know that our family has a jokbo is pretty incredible. I mean, I couldn’t even fathom our history going back that far.”
The Chung San jokbo documented the family’s lineage as far back as Chung’s 18th great-great-grandfather, named Chung Geum-gang, who lived during the 1300s.
He held a high-ranking role in the Korean government, comparable to that of a deputy prime minister.
To attain such a role, Gates Jr. explained it is likely he took a national exam to determine his position in society. Such exams were conducted outside in a palace courtyard, where candidates had to sit on the ground and write in classical Chinese.
“What do you make of this saga, this journey from the 14th century AD to a rural village to a restaurant in San Francisco selling Tony’s hamburgers all the way to you?” Gates Jr. asked Chung.
“It’s totally flipped my perspective of my family, of my family history,” she replied.
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