Tinloy – Chinese family dates to Gold Rush | TheUnion.com

Tinloy – Chinese family dates to Gold Rush

Alice Tinloy Yun has vivid memories of Grass Valley’s Chinatown, where her grandmother would take her to visit friends and where she studied Chinese writing after school.

“The houses were just pinewood, plain wooden shacks, really, said Yun, 76, who lives near Grass Valley.

The dirt streets would get muddy whenever it rained, recalled Yun, whose family first set roots in Nevada County more than 100 years ago.

Yun’s great-grandfather, Kan Tinloy, emigrated to Nevada County from Canton province in southern China during the Gold Rush. He eventually settled in Grass Valley’s Chinatown, where he opened the Quong Chong Co. general store store in the late 1880s.

Kan Tinloy eventually returned to China, where he died, Yun said. His son, John Tinloy, who was born in China and came to America after his father had sent for him, took over the Quong Chong store, which he ran until the 1920s.

In 1912, John Tinloy was “the most influential individual in local Chinatown,” according to an article published by the Nevada County Historical Society in 1972. Patrick Tinloy, one of his great-grandsons and Yun’s nephew, wrote the paper while he worked on his master’s degree in history. Patrick Tinloy now teaches high school in Oakland.

Quong Chong – and other Chinese stores – served as a grocery store, meeting place, bank and employment bureau.

“First (the stores) supplied the local Chinese with traditional foods and artifacts,” Patrick Tinloy wrote. “Quong Chong sold herbs, winter melons, roast pig, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, dried fish, rice, abalone, mushrooms and other delicacies.”

People also came to the store to relax, play mah-jong, buy lottery tickets, trade stories, or smoke opium, Tinloy wrote.

Recent immigrants from China visited the store to learn where they could find a job.

The store was also an informal bank. Many Chinese farmers, distrustful of the traditional banks, brought their earnings to the store for safekeeping, Tinloy wrote.

John Tinloy moved his family out of Chinatown to buy five acres in Glenbrook Basin in the early 1920s, Yun said.

The Tinloys raised fruits and vegetables to sell to merchants in and around Grass Valley.

John Tinloy and his wife, Chen Shee Tinloy, had two children. Edward, Alice Tinloy Yun’s father, was born in Grass Valley in 1889. Edward Tinloy graduated from Grass Valley High School and attended several colleges, including the University of the Pacific and Western Reserve in Cleveland. Edward’s sister, Annie, left Grass Valley after her marriage, Yun said.

Edward Tinloy’s first wife died in childbirth in 1919. Two years later, he traveled to Hong Kong to meet Alice Chen Shee, as part of an arranged marriage, Yun said. They married in 1921.

The Tinloy and Chen families were originally from Nam Long, a village along the Pearl River estuary, south of Canton, now known as Guangzhou.

Upon his return to America, Edward Tinloy opened The Unique, a women’s apparel store on Mill Street, which he and his wife operated until 1969. Edward died in 1971 at age 81.

Alice Chen Shee Tinloy, who died Oct. 29 in Grass Valley at the age of 96, learned to speak English while helping customers at the store, Yun said.

Yun, nicknamed “Little Alice,” was her parents’ first born. Her childhood was happy, she said.

“My father always kept me well dressed,” Yun said, adding she was also given piano lessons and dance classes.

Three brothers were born after her. That led her grandparents to say that she had brought “good luck” to the family, Yun said.

The Tinloy farm was sold in the mid-1930s, and the family moved back to Grass Valley to a house at the corner of Bank Street and Colfax Avenue. John Tinloy opened Tinloy Grocery across the street to keep busy. He managed the store until his death in 1944. His wife died in 1949.

Alice Yun is the only member of the Tinloy family left in Nevada County. Her two surviving brothers, Edward and Frank Tinloy, live in Oakland.

Yun spoke a Cantonese dialect at home with her grandmother, who cared for her while her parents worked at The Unique. Yun didn’t learn English until she entered Mount Saint Mary’s School at age 5. Her grandmother, who was born in China, never learned English, Yun said.

Yun and her husband, Edward, both graduated from Grass Valley High School in 1940. Edward Yun then served in the U.S. Army during World War II. The couple married in 1947, after earning degrees in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley.

They moved back to Grass Valley, where Alice Tinloy Yun helped her parents at The Unique, sold classified advertisement for The Union, then worked for 12 years as a records secretary at Nevada Union High.

Yun and her husband, who worked at his family’s grocery store before entering the real estate business, said they have faced no discrimination in Grass Valley. The Yuns raised three children and have seven grandchildren.

Alice Tinloy Yun is very proud to be a member of a pioneer family and of her heritage.

The Chinese helped build the railroads and brought supplies to Nevada County, she said.

“They were just part of the community,” Yun said.


A plaque on Bank Street reminds visitors that Grass Valley1s Chinatown was once a thriving community. The neighborhood disappeared in the 1930s, after most Chinese families moved away. There were 2,160 Chinese in Nevada County in 1860. That number rose to 3,003 in 1880, before dwindling to 632 in 1900.

Click here to see the Tinloy family photo album:


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