Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: No marker for Christian Hoffman

Instead of a tombstone for Christian Hoffman, next to the youngest of the immigrant family, all we have are these pages from the Lucas County Infirmary in Toledo, Ohio.

Lucas County Infirmary, County Home Registers, 1855-1882, (Vol. 1, filmed by Bowling Green State University), p. 88, "Name: Christ Hoffman, Age: 35, Place of Birth: Germany, When Received: July 11, When Discharged: July 12, No. of Days: 01, Township: Toledo, Remarks: Died July 12 th 12 1864 Congestian brain."

Henry Hoffman's brothers Christian and John came from Switzerland with their mother. They arrived in the port of New York on June 25, 1864 aboard the Goeschen from Le Havre.1 Having this information, I was puzzled to find no other records of 25-year old Christian. The sad answer came in Henry's 1889 biographical sketch which states that Christian had died at Toledo, Ohio, from smallpox.2

I couldn't imagine how to verify this death from long ago. At the Western Reserve Historical Society I looked at the books for Lucas County, Ohio, and checked cemetery transcriptions. Then I found a slender volume, an index to the register of the county home infirmary 1855 - 1882. And there was "Christ Hoffman" on a page immediately following the census of residents in June of 1864.3 This did not look like coincidence.

Dick and I later went to Toledo to visit the Lucas County Courthouse. At the Toledo library we viewed microfilm of the original register of the county home and printed the pages reproduced here. Three things seem to be in error: the name is shortened, the age is 35 and the birthplace is Germany. Since the 1889 bio said Christian was in delirium when accompanied there by a stranger from Switzerland, he probably couldn't provide information himself and we don't know if the stranger spoke English. I don't think this could be anyone else.

The entry shows Christian arrived on July 11 and died the next day, July 12, 1864, of "congestian [of the] brain." We don't understand how he came to be left at the home. The family must have traveled from New York by canal or train to Buffalo and then to Toledo on a Lake Erie steamer. There Christian was clearly too ill to transfer to land transportation.

Did they speak English? Did they have money to cover an emergency? And had they purchased tickets for their travel in advance in New York? It is likely that leaving Christian was the only thing they knew to do. Giving the contagion of smallpox and the awareness of it at this time, I wonder if the fatal disease was something else. It could easily have been epidemic typhus which can induce high fever and delirium and had common names such as "ship fever" and "brain fever."

Originally the poor farm, the county home and infirmary had a small cemetery, but it was moved for development. Most graves were unmarked. I hope to find records from the move, but it is unlikely Christian's grave was marked.

1. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897, microfilm publication M237 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives, ), roll 242; Ship Goeshen, 25 June 1864, Christian Hofmann, p. 3, line 100.

2. Portrait and Biographical Album of Jo Daviess County, Illinois: containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of the State, and of the Presidents of the United States (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1889), 780, biographical sketch of Henry Hoffman: "[died] at Toledo, Ohio, from small-pox contracted on the vessel on the passage across the Atlantic. The particulars of his death were never fully known, as he was accompanied to that place by a stranger from Switzerland, who left him there in delirium. from which he never recovered."

3. Beverly Reed Todd, Indexer, Lucas County Home Infirmary Register: Vol. 1, Book 1, March 1855-February 1882 ([Ohio]: Lucas County Chapter, Ohio Genealogical Society, 1994), 42.

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