Family history

Posted on 23 September 2009 at 9:16 am in Personal Stories, Writing.
The Hoffmann family

The Hoffmann family circa 1915 - Gerte, Jeanette Mansbach (my great grandmother), Edith (on lap: my mother), Joe, Susi, Lina (my grandmother), Hugo

Learning about my family history has always been an interest of mine. When I was born my grandparents were dead already, so I didn’t get the advantage that most kids have of having family stories shared from two generations past. My parents weren’t much for sharing stories of their childhood, unless you questioned them. This was not something that I tended to do when I was young.

The exception was my father sharing all of his sports exploits with us. It wasn’t until I was much older and started looking for some verification of his claims of playing soccer for a German National team that I discovered that most of his stories were less than truthful.

Most of the information I’ve gathered unfortunately came after my parents had already died. The unfortunate loss of a great source of information.

I got the genealogy bug after my mother passed away and I inherited all of the letters that she had accumulated over her years in the U. S.  She was born in Felsberg, Germany and came over to the United States in 1934. My father was born in Kassel, Germany and came over in 1938. I have over 200 letters written to my parents (mostly to my mother) from friends and family in Germany from the years 1934 – 1948. The difficulty is that all of them are written in German, a language I neither speak nor read.  To make it more difficult they are mostly written in old German Script (Suetterlin), a style that was no longer being taught as of 1941, meaning that most Germans nowadays can’t read them. I continue to search out elder people of German descent to help me periodically translate a letter or two. I have a long way to go.  I recently discovered a 94-year-old woman living in Atlanta, Georgia that wrote some of those letters to my mother. In speaking with her on the phone, she said she would try and translate some of the letters she wrote. My father-in-law also has translated a number of documents and some letters for me, but I don’t get to see him too often.

Most of the research that I’ve gleaned so far has been through services like www.ancestry.com and www.jewishgen.org. Some of those services are free, others cost money.

My first task was to discover when my parents came to America. The Internet has been a great help. I’ve found partial access to passenger lists for both of my parents and others. When my family took a vacation to Washington, DC in 2000, I spent some time at the National Archives looking up and copying the Passenger lists which included my parents. A few years later, my niece also did some research and procured for me more passenger lists about my uncles, aunts, and grandparents.  What is interesting about passenger lists, is that some of them give you additional information and leads. I discovered who picked up the immigrants as they landed in the United States and who was the closest relative or friend from their sending port.

Through these connections I have more names to research. I also have lists of names and dates in old prayer books from my father.  It has only been recently that I’ve had those pages and all of the letters photocopied and stored on my computer and in the cloud (cyberspace) so that I can work with them without having to risk damaging them. Being very old, some are pretty brittle.

Doing genealogy work is like being a detective. You find a name you don’t recognize, that is someway connected to you and then you hunt down information about who that person is. This will then give you  more names and the hunt continues.  In some instances because I’ve posted my family tree on some sites, I get information from others that are connected to me that are doing their own family trees and my tree grows, only adding more mysteries to solve.

Someday I will have to go to Germany and find those tombstones that I have addresses for in Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin. I will have to do more research in the National Archives and the Holocaust museum in Washington. I will find out who Siegfried Neuberger, from Baltimore, MD was (He is the cousin of my uncle (which would also be of my father) that picked up my uncle when he arrived in the U. S.) and how he is connected to our family. I will find out about the Heilbrun’s that moved to England and those that remained in Germany only to die or survive as part of the Holocaust. Then there are the Abraham’s that moved to Australia and the Sommer’s (relatives of my Grandmother on my father’s side) that also exist somewhere. The searching never ends.

I’ve done some work on my wife’s side of the family. She’s a Mayflower descendant (John Howland) and a descendant of Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (Everardus Bogardus). But that is another story.

1 Comment

  1. Ellouise - September 23, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks for your comment on my blog – and the story of your journal-legacy. We understand each other. I see by this wonderful post we have even more in common. I came to Storytelling through genealogy – a wish to tell the stories and encourage others to find and tell theirs. What a terrific photo you have posted – three generations – makes it a treasure! As you describe – genealogy is pure Agatha Christie – that’s part of what hooked me. I am also interested in the story you say you will tell later about your wife’s Dutch connections – I am now working on mine – also from New Amsterdam -Hoed which became Hood. You know how it goes with Genealogy I am sure – one small world story after another. Ellouise

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