Mary Coffee

Mary Hoffa (pronounced “Hoffee”) in a playful mood during the California tripMary Hoffa (pronounced “Hoffee”) in a playful mood during the California trip


When I first heard her name, I misunderstood it as “Mary Coffee”, and that’s how I thought of her during my youngest years, probably at least until I started school. I’m not sure just when I learned that her name wasn’t “Coffee” but it was probably when I was about six years old, I would guess. Her actual last name was “Hoffee”, I was told, but even that wasn’t correct.

When I found out that her name was spelled “Hoffa” but was just pronounced as “Hoffee”, I can’t be certain, but it may have been on that California trip, when she was explaining it to our relatives out West.

James, Edna, and Mary on the California tripJames, Edna, and Mary on the California trip

By the way, this shift in the pronunciation of vowels is not that uncommon. The entire English language did it back in the 1400s when, for example, the pronunciation of long ē changed from the way we now pronounce long ā to its current pronunciation. This is affectionately known as the Great Vowel Shift, and it’s one of the reasons that English seems so different from other European languages, most of which pronounce long ē correctly. And remember that Tom Dooley fellow that the Kingston Trio used to tell to hang down his head? He actually spelled his name Dula. You can look it up.

But I digress.

Mary Hoffa (pronounced “Hoffee”) was my grandfather John Troutman’s sister, making her my great aunt. Again, I’m not sure just when I became aware of the actual relationship, because we didn’t spend much time with the Troutman side of our family. I remember stopping in at Mary’s house in Womelsdorf occasionally when I was quite young, but only for very brief visits. I’m not sure if I ever met her husband.

Detail from the 1920 census showing the “Hoffy” spelling. Click to enlarge.Detail from the 1920 census showing the “Hoffy” spelling. Click to enlarge.

It wasn’t until the California trip when I was 16 in 1965 that I actually got to spend any time with her. She turned out to be a sweet, kind woman. And after that trip, I only ever saw her again two times; at my grandfather’s funeral two months later and my grandmother’s the following year.

When I began investigating our family history I came across the 1920 census, which contained a couple of surprises. First of all, the name on the census record was spelled “Hoffy”. Had they changed the spelling at one time, only to change it back later on? Probably not. In those days the census taker came around and wrote everything down manually, so there are lots of spelling and other little errors like that strewn throughout the census records. The census taker probably simply wrote the name down the way he heard it.

The second surprise was on the following page. There was a George A. Troutman, 17, listed as a servant in the household. Say what?!

Detail from 1920 census showing George Troutman listed as a servantDetail from 1920 census showing George Troutman listed as a servant

Could that be the same George Troutman that we would visit out in San Diego 45 years later? Was he really a servant in Mary and Harry Hoffa’s home? Short answers are yes and probably not.

Mary Susanna Troutman was born in 1890 to George Troutman (1851-1918) and Sarah Ann Dubbs Troutman (1857-1921). Mary had a total of six siblings, one of them being my grandfather John, and another being William Troutman, born in 1879.

William and his wife Annie Mary Strohm Troutman (1881-1966) had a total of seven children, but William died in 1916, the same year as his youngest child was born. Annie was apparently not able to manage more than one child on her own, so the others were sent to live with relatives (actually two or three of the children had already died, so there were only three others by this time, George being the oldest). George was sent to live with Mary, his aunt.

So why is he listed as a servant? I have no idea. Probably a miscommunication between Harry and the census taker. He should have been listed as a nephew. It’s also likely that he did perform chores around the home and well, who knows what actually went on in the Hoffa (pronounced “Hoffee”) household in 1920. The past still holds some secrets.

Harry and Mary were married in 1908 and had a total of eight children, although it looks like at least two of them died quite young. One of them, Laura Firestine, worked in Elco’s cafeteria when our class attended school, but I had no idea who she was.

Harry died in 1960. As I said, I don’t recall ever meeting him, though I probably must have at some point. Mary died in 1980.

Laura Hoffa (pronounced “Hoffee”) Firestine worked on the Elco cafeteria staff. She’s the seventh from the left in the front row.Laura Hoffa (pronounced “Hoffee”) Firestine worked on the Elco cafeteria staff. She’s the seventh from the left in the front row.


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