Tag Archives: Germany

Discovering My Ancestry: Part 1 – A Difficult Beginning

As I have aged, I have gained a respect and curiosity for those who have come before me. I have become interested in learning about my ancestors. I kick myself now for not being interested when I was young. So many people then could have told me so much, but now that knowledge is lost.

I think I became seriously interested in researching my family’s history after my father and three of my grandparents had passed away. It was the year 2000 or 2001. My only remaining grandparent at the time was my mother’s mother, Sadie (Thomas) Blake. I asked her about her parents but she said she knew nothing and had no interest in knowing anything.

That attitude came from the fact that she and her younger brother, Pat, were put in an orphanage when they were young. She had older siblings that did not suffer the same fate and I assume she was still bitter towards her parents for doing that to her. I don’t know the reason. Perhaps it was during the great depression and her parents were desperate.

I did manage to get some information at that time, although I don’t remember from where it came. I obtained photo copies of several important documents from both sides of my family. These documents had useful information but some also complicated my research.

For example, one document was my father’s mother’s passport. Elizabeth Höffler came to the United States when she was three years old with her mother, Eva. My grandma had told me years ago that she was from Hungary but her passport said she and her mom were both from Yugoslavia. Another problem was the spelling of the last name. The document spells the last name as Höfler in two places, with one “f,” but the signature is “Höffler.”

A couple of years ago I was able to clear up some confusion with the help of a Serbian coworker. She explained that many Hungarians lived in Yugoslavia at the time. She also pointed out that the alphabet is different there and the name was probably translated during their trip out of the country and the spelling was arbitrary. In fact, she said my grandmother’s name was really “Erzabeth” or something like that. My uncle also said that the time was just after World War One and Hungary did not really exist as a functioning country so it is possible that they entered Yugoslavia to get the proper paperwork to leave for America. What throws doubt on that theory is the fact that her Certificate of Naturalization in 1943 lists her as Yugoslavian. Since she was an adult at that time she probably would have corrected that if it was wrong.

Another problem is that Eva left with her three year old daughter but not her husband so I don’t know what her father’s name was nor do I know Eva’s maiden name. Perhaps Höffler is her maiden name and she was never married. My grandmother told me years ago her father was a German diplomat but my uncle said he was a German sailor. In either case, I was told he did not want to come to America and instead returned to Germany after the war.

On the other side of my family My mother’s father’s father was Irish and his mother was German. One document lists her as Tilly Williams and another as Matilda Bouer. Since her married name was Blake, one of those names is wrong or she was married to someone else first, which is probably unlikely since it was a hundred years ago and people didn’t get divorced like they do today, although her previous husband, if she had one, could have died.

These just illustrate some of the problems I had during my early research. It also is typical of geneology research in general. I have since encountered many conflicting documents that have complicated my research.

Another problem I ran into was finding information on my Grandmother’s parents, the ones who put her in an orphanage. In particular, her mother was listed on her delayed birth certificate as Rubina Slaughwhite, born in Marble Mountain, Canada. At the time, Google returned zero results for “Slaughwhite” or for “Marble Mountain” but Google was young at the time and there were far fewer web pages. Today I get 113 results and it asks if I mean “Slaunwhite” which I believe is the correct spelling. That spelling now produces 118,000 results. I also get 25,300,000 results for “Marble Mountain Canada.” What a difference 18 years makes.

I gave up my research for over a decade and when I started looking again I found more than I could have hoped for, at least on my mother’s side of the family. I uncovered many interesting stories along the way that I want to tell in future posts. One of those stories I wrote about a few years ago that you can read here. I hope you will join me for more.