Friday, February 1, 2013

Henry Hoffman: Family Stories, Part 1

The Hoffman Family News was usually four pages printed each month from December 1998 through December 2002. Since then I’ve put out two or four pages each year. I have the blog version of the newsletter at for updates to research finds and items of interest. News of living family members remains in the print version that only goes to family members.

The newsletter and blog have served as a record of research on this family of Swiss immigrants to Illinois. In 2009 I decided I wanted to begin piecing the story together so we could all see the ancestral family members in a unified way. I wrote a little on the Hoffman line but soon bogged down. Over three years later this is my new start on providing ancestral Hoffman stories. During this February I’ve joined a challenge ( to write every day. I set a word count goal of 500. That seems rather ambitious, but we’ll see how it goes. Some of the time I will be writing on other projects. I am currently finishing an article on my Williamson family that I plan to submit for publication.

Today the first Hoffman immigrant takes center stage. Heinrich Hoffmann was a citizen of the community of Oberglatt in Canton Zurich even though he never lived there. Oberglatt is still a small town a little north of the runways of Zurich International Airport. Dick has translated some historical information on their website ( including some interesting tidbits about the bridge over the River Glatt.

In Illinois Heinrich gradually changed to the English version of Henry and dropped the second “n” at the end of his surname. Two sources told of the location of the family before they Switzerland. Henry’s youngest brother, John Hoffman, has a biographical sketch in a Carroll County history. In it he named the place from which he came. He came to the U.S. in 1864 with other family members included his widowed mother. She is buried in a rural cemetery where Henry and some of his sons were later buried. Her tombstone, engraved in German, also tells the place she was born: Oetweil, Ct. Zurich, Schweiz. The current spelling of the name of the community is Oetwil am See. That was all that was needed to begin finding the family in Swiss records.

The Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) has microfilmed records all over the world. They have an extensive collection of Swiss church books. They loan copies of the films to the many Family History Centers around the world. We spent many hours pouring over church records hand-written in old German script, some of them over 400 years old. Most are the registers in which pastors recorded baptisms, marriages, burials, and sometimes confirmations. The Reformed Church in Canton Zurich was the protestant denomination founded on the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli and governed by the Zurich Synod. The synod required additional records that are of enormous genealogical value. One type, haushaltungsrodel (household list), had a listing for every family in a parish and included ages or birth dates for a man, his wife and his children. Earlier population records (1633-1767) have briefer entries, but with family units together. Today digital versions of the microfilms are created and put online with free access.

Finding Henry (actually Heinrich Hoffmann) in records of Oetwil am See was easy. They also pointed to his place of citizenship where many more records were of great help. The location of his family between the marriage of his parents and the births of some of the younger siblings in Maur, a little north of Oetwil, is still a mystery. Tomorrow will bring more details about Henry Hoffman.