Select Hoffman Surname Genealogy

Hoffman in its origins may be German or Jewish or both.

A German Name.  Hofmann and Hoffmann are fairly common German surnames, from hof meaning "farmstead" or "court" and mann "man."  Originally this was a status name for a farmer who owned his own land.  But it soon came to denote the manager or steward of a manor farm. 

German names often changed their spelling according to local dialect.   In German-speaking Silesia (now part of Poland), the spelling was Hoffmann as the local dlalect produced a short "o" in hof.  Elsewhere it could be Hofmann; while in Holland, where the surname also appeared (where it denoted an ordinary worker on a manor farm), the spelling tended to be Hofman.

A Jewish Name.  When Jewish families were obligated to take surnames in German-speaking lands in the early 19th century, it is thought that many who had the role of managing the farms of others adopted the Hoffman name.  

An alternative view put forward is that the name came from the Hebrew name Tikvah (Hope), an abbreviation of the German hoffnung or hope, and thus Hoffman would mean "hopeful man."  Jewish Hoffmans could come from different places in central and eastern Europe as far east as Lithuania and Ukraine.

The American spelling is generally Hoffman, but sometimes Huffman.

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Select Hoffman Ancestry

The Hoffmann surname first appeared in Silesia in the German-speaking world during the 14th century. Melchior Hofmann was a visionary religious leader in northern Germany in the early 16th century (he was to have some 20th century descendants, Karl and Nicholas von Hoffman, in America).  Then there was Friedrich Hoffmann, the physician to Frederick I of Prussia in the early 18th century. 

Today the Hofmanns and Hoffmanns number some 140,000 in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (plus additional Hoffmanns around Poznan and elsewhere in Poland); while there are a further 10,000 Hofmans in the Netherlands.   

  Early Hoffmans in America were to be found in New York state.

New York  There was a Dutch influence on early Hoffmans who settled here.  Martin Hermanzen Hoffman arrived in Dutch New York from Estonia in 1657.  His descendants settled in Ulster county.  Johannes Huffman came in the 1720's and his family later moved to a Dutch area of New Jersey. 

There was also a Hoffman line in Dutchess county, New York descended from a Conrad Hoffman who had arrived there in the 1720's from German Westphalia.  Philip Hoffman, a lawyer from Dutchess county, and his wife Helena Kissam "were among the most valuable members of early society in New York." 

Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoffman was a New York merchant who had married into the powerful Ogden family.  From this line came the Ogden Hoffman lawyers and politicians of the early 1800's.

Maryland and North Carolina  Other early Hoffmans have been traced to Maryland and North Carolina.  William Hoffman ran at paper mill in Baltimore county, Maryland which printed the money that the Continental Army used during the Revolutionary War.  Three Hoffman brothers were pioneer settlers in North Carolina at this time (their story is narrated in F.W. Hoffman's 1998 book The Hoffmans of North Carolina Revisited).

Generally, Hoffmans in America will be either German or Jewish.  One guide for the arrivals in the second half of the 19th century is that if they came to the Midwest (and particularly to the farming states there) they were likely to be German; but if they came to New York they were probably Jewish.

Midwest Hoffmans  Among those Hoffmans who came to the Midwest were:
  • John and Margaret Hoffman from Bavaria who came to upstate New York in the 1840's.  Their son Lorenz (Lawrence) headed west to Carroll county, Iowa.
  • Henry Hoffman who arrived from Switzerland with his brothers in the 1850's and settled in Jo Daviess county, Illinois.
  • Johannes Hoffman who came from Hanover in Germany in 1856, first to Wisconsin and then to Minnesota.
  • and August Hoffman and his wife Louise who came from Prussia in 1857 and settled in Columbia county, Wisconsin.
There were Jewish Hoffmans in the Midwest and William Hoffman's 1961 book Tales of Hoffman writes about growing up in the Jewish community of Minneapolis-St. Paul in the early 20th century.

Ireland.  There were Hoffmans who fled the Rhineland Palatinate in 1709 because of religious persecution and ended up in Ireland.  They were settled in Limerick.  Some later made their home in Kerry.

South Africa.  Johan Bernard Hoffman was a German immigrant to the Cape who arrived on the Vrybeigt in 1744.  He rose to be a person of some standing in the Dutch colony, owning the Libertas farmstead in Stellenbosch.

South Africa by the 20th century had become a home for Jewish Hoffman immigrants.  N.D. Hoffman, brought up in Lithuania, came to South Africa in 1889 and was the founder of the Jewish press there.  Lenny Hoffmann, born into a Jewish family near Cape Town in 1934, moved to London and was one of the foremost British judges of his time.

Select Hoffman Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Hoffman Names

William Hoffman started the first paper mill in Maryland in 1776.
Leonard Hoffmann, born in South Africa, was one of the most prominent British Law Lords of the second half of the 20th century.
Abbie Hoffman was the social and political activist of the 1960's who co-founded the Yippie party.
Dustin Hoffman, the movie actor, broke through to fame with his perforrmance in The Graduate in 1967.

Select Hoffmans Today
  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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