Invite to Dinner: the Brother Older than Lee

Joseph Hoffmann Riding Rails

Grandpa (left) during his travels prior to 1933

This week’s #52Ancestors prompt is “Invite to Dinner,” with suggestions of choosing an ancestor with whom you’d most like to dine, sharing a family recipe, or tales of a memorable family dinner. For me, one of the most memorable family gatherings I’ve heard about (and knowing the Hoffmann family, I can only assume there must have been delicious food), was the occasion on which my maternal grandmother met my maternal grandfather. The intriguing part of this tale is not so much the meeting of strangers who would later marry, as the fact that they were in fact not technically strangers, but cousins. Let me elaborate…

Joseph Benjamin Hoffmann was the eldest son and third child (of 10) of Paul and Emma (Slagel) Hoffmann and was born 22 August 1907 in Fairbury, Illinois. Paul’s parents were Jacob Hoffmann and his second wife, Christina Schmidt. Grandpa and his father didn’t always see eye to eye on things, so Grandpa left home fairly young and spent time living in Chicago, among other places.

Meanwhile, Velma Marie Swing had been born 19 February 1917 in Francesville, Indiana. Her father, Albert Carl Swing, was the son of Catherine Marie Hoffmann, daughter of Jacob Hoffmann and his first wife, Annette Meyer. In 1921 Grandma’s family moved to Wing, Illinois, about 11 miles from Fairbury, then to Forrest, only 6 miles from Fairbury. It’s not surprising that the Hoffmann and Swing families were somewhat familiar with each other; Grandma’s grandmother and Grandpa’s father were half-brother and -sister. Apparently Grandma wasn’t thoroughly familiar, however, or she wasn’t all that interested in tracing the tangled web of relatives, as we shall see.

In 1933 Paul Hoffmann, patriarch of the Hoffmann clan, was killed when a train struck the car he was driving. You can read more about that tragedy in this earlier post. His death left his widow responsible for a farm, animals, machinery, and with several of the younger children still to care for: Sam was 16; Paul 13; Ralph 10; and Clyde 7. It appears that Paul, Sr., may not have been the best money manager, and there was fear that Emma might lose the farm and her income. As a result, Grandpa left his work in Chicago to return home and help his mother save the farm.

Sometime after this was the eventful gathering of the Hoffmanns and Swings. Grandma, then around 16 or 17 but already a high school graduate, saw, across the room, a dark-haired man not quite 10 years older than she. She was struck by his good looks but was sure it was no Hoffmann relative – after all, wasn’t Lee, born in 1912, the eldest son? She whispered to her mother to ask who he was…and learned that he was, in fact, a cousin she hadn’t known she had – a Hoffmann brother older than Lee.

Velma Swing Graduation Photo

Grandma, ca. 1933

And the rest is history, more or less. Apparently as the attraction between Joe and Velma grew, and it seemed likely they might marry some day, the two mothers, Emma and Lena, discussed the family connection. Were they too closely related to be encouraged to marry? But they eventually decided that a half first cousin once removed relationship was not one that elicited too much concern. And, as Grandma would delight in adding at the end of the story, “All our children turned out to be very smart!”

 

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