Jottings: Family reunion
February 5, 2001, I married into the Hoffman family. They, Deutch (German), had settled in Pennsylvania prior to the Revolutionary War. In April my bride Marlene and I journeyed into an unfamiliar area in search of her family roots.
The countryside was adorned with spring newness and the sun spread its warmth. On a rural road near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, known as Amish Country, we parked in the shade of a huge tree. The large farms, the dress of the folks, young and old, and the horse drawn carriages affirmed we were near our destination.
The invitation read, "This 156th Anniversary will be observed with an appropriate program prepared by the Committees of the Hoffman Church congregation and the Hoffman Family Reunion Association.
"Descendants of John Peter Hoffman should bring a lunch, using the lawn about the church. The road from Loyalton is 1 1/2 miles from Uniontown, and passes the Hoffman Monument and the old homestead of the Pioneer Hoffman's. Come and commemorate the building of the Church, and the memory of the men who fought in the battles for our freedom."
Our exploration placed us in the vicinity of our search, but we couldn't locate Uniontown. It wasn't on our map, and directional signs were absent. After several false starts, I decided to break the code that all men adhere to, I would ask for directions.
Upon entering a general merchandise store, a teenage girl neatly dressed in Amish attire greeted us. "We are lost and need directions," I stated. "Can you tell us how to get to Uniontown?"
"I've never heard of it," she replied.
How about the Hoffman Reform Church? I queried.
Her reply was the same, "I've never heard of it. Maybe my mother will know."
Her mother responded abruptly, "There aren't any Hoffman's around here or a Hoffman Reform Church." That was the end of the conversation.
We had driven from Washington D.C. only to reach an impasse. Discouraged, we started back.
At the only gas station in the area we spotted an aged man with a long graying beard, dressed in well-seasoned overalls. He was standing beside a pickup of equal age pumping gas into it. Maybe this is our opportunity, I thought.
I asked him, "Do you know where Uniontown is?" "Thar ain't no Uniontown anymore," he replied. "They changed the name years ago," he added. I asked him if he knew where the Hoffman Reform Church was. "Yup," was his reply. "Couple miles up that road," he said and pointed with his free hand. "Only church up there," he concluded as he turned his head away and topped off the gas tank.
After driving several miles up the road and failing to spot the Hoffman Monument, the homestead of the Pioneer Hoffmans, or an old church building or a cemetery, we turned around, and found a modern church building. A close observation located a corner stone on the building that read, "Hoffman Reform Church established 1771, rebuilt 1958."
Suddenly, we noticed an old cemetery across the street. It had fallen to disrepair with ancient markers that stretched for acres. Many had fallen over and some had been propped against trees. It appeared that recent efforts had been made to restore the cemetery.
We began our search for Hoffman gravesites and discovered individual Hoffman gravestones and groups of those who served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War and all the rest since.
We had finally found the Hoffman Family reunion. The invitation, dug out of family archives, was for Sunday, October 2nd, 1927, some 74 years ago. Marlene was like a child in a candy store flitting about the cemetery from monument to headstone finding names and dates. The original church bell was on a stone mount. It had survived the fire of 1958, leaving scars and portions melted away.
After hours of searching the cemetery and obtaining rubbings from many of the gravestones, we had completed our mission. We could report back to the family that a lifetime dream to visit the Hoffman Reform Church established in 1771, had been fulfilled and we had attended a family reunion, though a little bit tardy.
Frd Benton is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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