The Hoffman Family History

By Eric L. Hoffman

Our ancestors were Germans. Of this we can be sure of, for neither mother nor our father had any relatives belonging to any other nationality than the German. Our great grand parents on our father and mother's side of the family migrated from Germany to Russia. That is all our parents knew about them. We can however be sure that they were farmers or else had been working on farms while they live in Germany, because that is the kind of work they did after they emigrated to Russia.

It is sometimes asked how it came about that there were so many Germans in Russia. It is a custom among monarchy forms of government that they not marry a commoner. So back before Kaiser Wilhelm's time - the heir to the throne in Russia married the sister of the heir to the throne in Germany. After the two princes became rules in their own countries - Germany and Russia as a result were on very friendly relations with one another. The Russian Czar noted that farmers in Germany were in general more prosperous than those of his own country. So he suggested to his brother-in-law that he allow some of his people to emigrate to Russia, and that by so doing - the Russian natives might copy some of the better ways of farming from the Germans. The German Kaiser approved the idea and as a result of thousands of Germans migrated to Russia.

The Germans who moved to Russian no doubt had their own personal reasons for leaving their fatherland. At this period of German history there were only two classes of people - the very rich and the very poor. The rich owned all the property and the poor were not much better off than slaves. The only difference between ordinary workers and slaves was that the laborers were free to go anywhere they wished with no assurance of finding conditions any better than any where else. There were many reports of laborers being beaten for not doing what the managers thought should be done.

The Germans were well received in their new homeland in the Ukraine of Russia. They were given the same rights as Russian natives - that is, the right to own land. This went on for quite a while until there was a fairly large colony of Germans in Russia. Then it was said that a high-ranking officer of the French army made a tour through Russia, and he made the remark:

"I see you have a lot of Germans living in your country. Now if you should ever have a war with Germany you will have the enemy well established behind your back."

After this the rights of the Germans were very restricted. They were gradually barred from owning land. They could rent but not be the owners. Only citizens could own land. None of the Germans were citizens and were considered German nationalists, but they were required to serve in the Russian army. Nearly all the Germans were Protestants. In order for anyone to become a citizen it was require of him that he join the Russian Orthodox Church, which was the state religion. It was required of anyone that he must have been faithful follower of the Russian church for a period of twenty five years before he could become a citizen.

At the time when our father and mother lived in Russia there was only a small locality where non-citizens could own land - and that was in the Zhitomer area - which was about 75 miles west of Kiev.

More and more friction developed between the Russian natives and the German people as time went on. The Muzhiks would say,

"German devils go home across the border to Germany where you belong".

The Russian government did not want the German people to leave. No permission was given them to immigrate to any other country, especially to America. They were however, allowed to go on visits to Germany. It was known that anyone was planning to go to America, no permission was given to board the train. So whenever a German family decided to leave they told the officials at the railroad station they were going on a visit to Germany. At the time when our folks left Russia there were no quota restrictions in America on how many immigrants were allowed to enter. So there was no waiting period for anyone who wanted to leave Russia.

Our parents did not have any written records to show precisely what part of Germany their parents or grandparents had come from. There is however a fairly certain way of knowing where their former homeland had been. Many years ago travel was rather restricted on account of model of travel. So the people of many parts of Germany developed their own form of the German language. The people of West Germany spoke the Low German. The northwest, the Saxony or Sachse, and those of the central part of Germany spoke the High German. There of course are other dialects. I only mention those three because these are the ones our ancestors used. The High German was the official language and was taught in all the schools, but each community stuck to their own form of German when speaking to anyone of their own group. Our mother's parents spoke the typical High German. The Lehmans spoke Low German, and great grandfather Hoffman - the Saxony or Sachse according to our dad. Dad's mother was a Lehman. She was a great aunt and also grandmother of Gus Lehman. So the German our dad spoke was a mixture of Low German, Sachse and perhaps a few other German dialects. Mother told us when she and dad got married, she tried to stick to the High German when carrying on conversation with her new relatives, but that she soon adopted the Hoffman form of German in order not to sound different. We used to refer to refer to ourselves as "deutsch fehrdarvers" or in other words - "German language spoilers".

Great grandfather Christian Hoffman was born in 1807 in Saxony Germany. He passed away in February 1878 at Greenwaldt, a farm village near Zhitomer, Russia. Dad never mentioned his grandmother. So it is to be assumed that she may have passed on before he was born or else when he was too young to remember her.

Grandfather Samuel Hoffman way born in 1832 near Piatrokov, Poland - about 85 miles southwest of Warsaw, Poland. It is not clear how long he lived in Poland. Perhaps not very long, as they were on their way from the interior of Germany to the Ukraine of Russia. He got married to Julia Lehman - a sister of Gus Lehman' grandfather. They lived in Romansdorf - a farm village near Radomysol, about 50 miles west of Kiev. This is where all their children were born. They had seven children: Gottlieb, Gottfried, Ludwig, Caroline, Julia, Reinhold, and Julius. Ludwig Hoffman (our father) was born in 1865 on May 20th in Romansdorf - near Radomysol, Russia.

The oldest of dad's brothers - Gottlieb - passed away at Greenwaldt in Russia when he was in his early twenties. All of the others with the exception of Reinhold immigrated to America. Reinhold perished during the Stalin purge when a million people starved to death in the Ukraine. His son Edward fled to Germany during the early days of the Russian revolution. He eventually came to America, his destination being Kenosha, Wisconsin where his Uncle Julius Hoffman lived. He later moved to Florida where he passed on. As far as we know, he was the only survivor of our uncle Reinhold's family.

Gottfried got married to Caroline Fietz. They lived most of their lives at Gillett, Arkansas. Caroline got married to Ludwig Lehman, Julia to Frederic Lehman, and Julius to Louise Lehman.


Grandfather Daniel Radtke was born in 1825 in Central Germany. Grandmother Fredericka Radtke was born in 1837 probably in the same locality as our grandfather. They no doubt were married while still in Germany. We do not know what year they left Germany.

We do not know very much about our grandparents on our mother's side. We can only theorize, or as one might say, "put two and two together" to find an answer. Mother said that her father was often referred to as "der Herr" and that he was a close friend of the king of the province in which he was living. Great grandfather had been a Roman Catholic but changed over to the Lutheran church. The King then made him a gift of a Bible printed in gold letters. In the German government of those days there were many kings, and the Kaiser was over them all. A king held the same office as a governor does in our own country. "Herr" in the German means the same as mister or master in the English. But a "Herr" during the days of our grandparents was really a "somebody", who was to looked up to by the common people. I heard this talked a lot by others who had lived in Germany. A commoner was usually addressed in the informal or you (du, in German). When the workers of the owner of a large farm or estate spied their master coming on a tour of inspection they quickly passed the word around that the "Herr" was coming so that none of their fellow workers would be caught standing around and not working. So - and, as our mother said that her grandfather was spoken of as "der Herr" it is to be assumed that he was well to do and the owner of a large estate. It is also quite natural that he came in contact with those of the upper bracket of the government such as the King of the province of Germany where our great grandfather Radtke was living.

Now comes the other part of the story. According to our mother her grandfather fled or skipped from Germany into Poland and from Poland to Russia changing his name a few times to avoid detection. It did not seem clear to our mother why this was done. So we can only guess or theorize, why? During the time of our great grandfather Radtke there was quite an upheavia1 going on inside Germany. The people were clamoring for a more democratic form of government. The Kaiser and a few of his henchmen were making all the laws. Not even the so-called rich had a voice in the government. It was coming to a climax at last and the people were demanding a change of some sort. Some of the people got too radical or too demanding for a quick change, and as a result it came to a showdown with the government. A lot of people then fled from Germany to other countries for fear of being cast into prison. I know of a family Tigerton, Wisconsin whose parents fled from Germany for that very reason. So I just can't think of any other reason why our great grandparents fled from Germany than that he too may have been among that group of people who were demanding a change in government. As I said before, he had fled to Poland. There was however no Polish government at that time. Part of Poland was under Germany and part under Russia. Items to be assumed that he and his family did not linger long in the German Polish sector but went on to the Russian part of Poland.

The family now was very poor; they had to start from scratch. They had to learn how to work and shift for themselves. To make matters still worse they were caught in a small revolution between Russia and the Polish people. The Poles were trying to free themselves from under the Russian yoke. While traveling through this territory they changed their name to whatever they felt would give them the best protection. They used the name Vssilofski and also Froelich. The latter, we think was the maiden name of our grandmother, for we know that mother had relatives by that name. We feel sure that our grandparents changed to their correct name - Radtke - after they reached safer territory, for we know that mother had first cousins by the name of Herman and Emma Radtke living in St. Joseph Michigan for many years. For more on this story, click here.

Of her other relatives our mother often spoke about her father's uncle. He was a faith healer. She said he was quite successful in this work. People came to him from far and near when bitten by dogs affected with rabies.

Our mother and her parents, and other relatives lived for many years in western Russia in the farm village of Alt Dubish - near the river Styr, not far from Rozhische, about 225 miles west of Kiev. As far as we know this is where all of mother's brothers and sisters were born. Mother was born August 20th, 1868. Minnie (Wilhelmine) was the oldest of the family, after that was Louie, Ernestina, Augusta (Mother), Martin, and Herman.

Mother often spoke about the river Styr. The city of Lutzk was a short distance to the south of where they lived. Big timber was plentiful in that area. Woodcutters from Germany purchased timber from the Russians, which they floated down the river Styr to the Prypet - then via canal through the Prypet marshes and on westward to Germany.

Timber wolves were quite a problem to the people living in that area. Firearms were restricted. Guns could not be bought too openly. There were, however, gunsmiths who made guns for whoever wanted one, all of them muzzleloader shot guns. No rifles. If wolves got to be too troublesome it was reported to the forest ranger. He only had the authority to hunt down and kill with a gun the troublesome culprits. Public hunting in government forest reserves was prohibited.

When mother was 16 years old, she with her parents moved farther to the east to the Zhitomer area - which was about 75 miles west of Kiev. Her sisters, Minnie and Ernestina, and her brother Louie were married by then. As the custom usually is and has been, especially in those days, if one family moved to a new locality - then it set in motion a whole series of movings - which took in most of the other relatives. Minnie's family, the Daniel Kurtzes, Louie and his wife, and Ernestina and her husband all moved to the Zhitomer area to the small farm village of Greenwaldt. Grandmother Radtke passed away in this village in 1890, and grandfather in 1909.

Aunt Minnie and family emigrated to St. Joseph, Michigan. She lived in this area nearly all of her life. Louie immigrated to North Dakota, and - from there he moved to Southern Michigan. He passed on while living at Benton Harbor. Martin had served in the Russian army, and while there he studied medicine as a sideline. He later on settled in Gillett, Arkansas. He used to write out prescriptions for people while he lived there. He passed on at Gillett. He never married. Herman and Ernestina stayed in Russia. What happened to them during the Russian revolution we do not know. Mother never heard from them.

The farmers in Russia, as in nearly all of Europe, lived in little villages. The bulk of the land lay outside of these towns. Each family had a small plot of ground around their home for a garden and a yard or pen for their stock. A herder was employed by the whole village. Each evening he rounded up the cattle and took them out to pasture in the country and brought them back in the evening. The house and barn was a one-unit affair. The family or owner lived in one end of the building and the livestock was housed in the other. There of course was a wall to seal off the stable part from the family living quarters. In the part of Russia where our folks lived the farmers were plagued by horse thieves. So when they built their barns, no doors were made to lead directly into the part where the livestock were housed. The animals were driven or led through a door and across the corner of one of the rooms of the house. Even then the people had to be on the alert lest the thieves might cut a hole through the other end of the building and steal their horses.

The household furnishings were very plain - mostly hand made. A fireplace was used to heat the house and clay ovens for baking bread. Cook stoves as a rule had sides made of brick or clay with cast iron tops.

Farming was of the diversified type. They raised a little of most of the things needed for human consumption; such as rye, wheat, buckwheat, peas, beans, potatoes, but no corn. Garden vegetables were of the usual varieties. Flax was raised quite extensively. After the oil was extracted from the seed the pulp was fed to the cattle. The straw was tied in bundles and then placed in shallow ponds where it was allowed to lay until the stalks were quite soft and brittle. The straw was the taken out of the water and allowed to dry. When thoroughly dry, it was stored in the their barns. Later on when all outdoor work was done the fiber part of the straw was separated from the stalks. This was done by grasping a bunch of flax stalks with one hand and then using a short stick and beating the protruding ends until the pulpy part was separated from the fibers.

The fibers were then thoroughly combed and spun into thread for the making of cloth for clothes. This work was done mostly by the women during the winter months. The men and boys also helped with the separating of the flax fiber from the straw and the carding of the wool. Every family had a spinning wheel or two and a loom for the making of cloth. Hemp was raised and the fibers used for ropes. I asked dad if he ever heard of anyone smoking any of the leaves and flower parts of the plant. He said he never heard of it being done. Most of the people coming from Europe raised a little hemp in their back yard even after coming to America. I remember our folks did and so did our neighbors. I never heard about the danger of smoking hemp (marihuana) until we lived near Branch, Michigan during the late twenties. This is one example where ignorance was bliss. I feel sure had any of our relatives - while they lived in Europe - known about the effect of smoking hemp, some of them might have tried it as an experiment just to see what might happen. It is not hard to visualize the awful result of one such experiment.

Even in mother's day, youngsters had their way of earning pin money. Mother said she used to make baskets and sell them. It was a craft she made use of in her later years. I remember when we lived in Wisconsin, mother made baskets for eggs and also a laundry basket. Most people of these days including our dad were adept in the art of basket weaving.

The young people in Russia during our father and mother's time had very little chance for a good education. A lot of schooling was not considered necessary, especially for the girls. There were no public schools, only church connected ones, and the teachers knew hardly enough than just to teach the bare essentials, such as simple arithmetic, and reading and writing. Our folks went to the Lutheran church. Years later when we lived in Wisconsin, dad got some literature through Rev. Droegemueller that mentioned the minister of the church that dad and mother went to in Russia. So I think the church dad and mother attended while living in Russia was a branch of the Missouri Synod.


The method of farming in Russia was similar to that of other European countries of that period. Grain was cut by hand and tied into bundles and then put in stacks or stored in barns. During the winter months the grain was threshed by hand with a flail. It was at one of these times while grandfather was threshing grain that a flail came loose and struck him on the jaw - knocking out a few teeth and injuring the jawbone. Later infection set in followed by cancer.

The land the family was living on at the time was rented land. Who the owners were I don't know probably the government or the Orthodox Church. People of German nationality could not own land in that locality. Grandfather found out that that they could do so in the Zhitomer - Greenwaldt, west of Kiev area. So he bought a plot of ground at Greenwaldt and moved his family there. He was in good financla1 circumstances at this time. He now was a landowner and had money loaned out on interest. Besides farming he also had been hiring out sawing lumber for others. Sawing lumber was done in the following manner. First a scaffold was set up with cross-poles on top - as high or higher than the man that was to stand underneath. The log was then rolled on top of the scaffold. A special rip saw of about four or five feet in length was used. One man stood on top of the log and the other under it when sawing the log into lumber.

Grandfather's health, after moving to Greenwaldt, was coming to a critical stage. He had an operation on his jaw, but he was nothing bettered. He passed away in September of 1877. Due to the many doctor bills the family now was very poor. They however managed to carry on with the farming and after a few years the boys also hired out sawing lumber for others. Dad said he was fourteen years old when he started to saw lumber. He said it was awful hard work for him. After a day's work he was so tired he was barely able to walk home.

The young family did fairly well. The boys - soon after their father's passing built their own frame barn. We can be sure that the girls did their share too with the farm work and the other work that was customary for women of that period to do, such as spinning yarn, knitting, weaving cloth, and doing their housework. Their mother was a midwife and was home very little. In those days midwifes were called upon more so that doctors of medicine to attend the birth of a child. So dad's sisters had the other duties thrust upon them - that of mother to all the boys in the family. The boys got to be quite handy with carpenter tools. Dad learnt how to make wagons and do black smithing. All of this was a great asset to him and his brothers in later years.


Ludwig Hoffman and Augusta Radtke (our father and mother) got married in October of 1886.

When Reinhold was a year and a half old the family left Russia to go to America, St. Joseph, Michigan being their destination. Our mother's sister Minnie's family, the Daniel Kurtzes, already had left Russia were living there at the time. It was about this time that some of the other relatives also left Russia. It appears they were met by some land agents at New York, who coaxed them to go to Gillett, Arkansas where they had some land for sale - which they were able to sell to them when they got there. These other relatives were the Lehmans, Spitzers, Fietzes, Kurtzes, and Holtzhauers. Whether they all settled in Gillett at the same time I don't know, but they were all there when father and mother and family finally went there too.


I missed finishing the story of our grandmother - Julia Hoffman. She came to America the same time as all of the Lehmans. She lived in with her sons and daughters in Gillett, Arkansas, continuing her work as midwife on occasion. Gradually her duties as midwife were not needed as her daughters and daughters-in-law felt capable of looking after one another. Poor Grandma then felt being pushed in the background.

She passed away while staying with her son Gottfried. I am not sure just when, but I think it was in the spring of 1905.

There is just one more thing I wish to add to my story of our parents. This is the special way some of the food was prepared and served at the table. Saucers, for instance, were not just used to set cups onto. There was a more practical use for them. If the coffee or tea was too hot to drink, then it was poured into the saucer, thus cooling it off in a hurry. Emily Post would have fainted if she had seen us do that. I am sure our parent's special ways of cooking came from their ancestors' way back from Germany, not Russia. The Germans did mingle very little with the Russian people and so did not learn anything from them. I know of other Germans who had never lived in Russia whose ways of cooking was the same as those of our parents.

The following are some of the special dishes and soups. I will give only the ingredients that were used but not the exact amount of each. No recipe was used - that is no copied down one. The one who did the cooking just threw into the kettle the amount of each ingredient to suit him or herself.


Potato Soup

The potatoes were diced and cooked. The water was not poured off. A little flour was then stirred in and cooked a little more to give the liquid a little more body. Clabber mill and some cream was then stirred in and allowed **up some more but not allowed to come to a boil.

Prunes and Noodle Soup

Prunes, dried or sliced apples, and egg noodles are cooked. When finished cooking, sugar and cream to suit the taste are added; also a little milk.

Beet Soup

Beets are cut into strings and cooked. Then milk and sour cream is added.

Beet Leaf Soup

Cook the beet leaves and then add a little butter and milk and cream

Boiled cheese cakes

Roll out egg noodle dough and cut into 4.5 x 4.5 slices. Spread cottage cheese (to which an egg had been added) over these. Then fold over and pinch the edges together and drop into boiling water. When serving pour cream over the cakes.

Boiled Cottage Cheese Rolls

Prepare egg noodle dough and roll out. Take cottage cheese to which egg has been added and spread out over the rolled out noodle dough. Then roll up like you would a jelly roll, place in pan and bake in the oven. When serving slice like you would a jelly roll.

Sweet Sour Cabbage

Shred cabbage and cook. Then add butter, sugar, and vinegar and cook a little more.


(The last page (page 39) of recipes has not been copied).


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