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Thanks to Geneanet, a military passbook from World War I given to his descendant

Posted by Sean Daly on Dec 25, 2023
Soldbuch - front page of German military passbook

We have a heartwarming story to tell about Lauren and Jean-Marc in this holiday season. Thanks to Geneanet’s international community, the Soldbuch — military service passbook — of a World War I German soldier has traveled through time and space and has been given to his great-granddaughter halfway around the world.

It all started last summer, when Jean-Marc Longuet, an inhabitant of Le Havre in Normandy, France, contacted Geneanet and told us: “When looking through my personal archives, I found the military passbook (Soldbuch) of a World War I German soldier. I would like to give it to his descendants. But I don’t know how to do this. I had contacted the Germany embassy a few years ago without a response. Can you help?”

The Soldbuch, written in German blackletter Gothic, was carried by every soldier as a service record. Jean-Marc believes his late father, a World War I veteran, obtained the passbook when Heinrich was taken prisoner of war in July 1918 near Neuilly-Saint-Front in the Aisne département (county) of France; Soldbuch passbooks were often confiscated by French officers when German soldiers were taken prisoner.

Having received a digitized version of the passbook, we discovered the name of the soldier in question: Heinrich Hoffmann, born July 12, 1897 in the village of Battweiler in the Rhineland-Palatinate, near the border of Alsace-Lorraine which was at that time part of Germany. The pay coupons for mid-June through September 1918 are still in the passbook, corresponding to the period when Heinrich was a prisoner.

A page from Heinrich’s Soldbuch, online at Geneanet. A German-speaking employee of Geneanet has translated the booklet for Lauren.
Heinrich was injured in his right foot and received medical care at the Val de Grâce military hospital in Paris. Image: International Red Cross archives

A basic search at Geneanet enabled us to find Heinrich’s trace in seconds, present in several family trees hosted by Geneanet. And luck was on our side: not only did Heinrich survive the war, but he had numerous descendants. A tree at Geneanet by German member Harald Dexheimer provided detailed information about Heinrich’s family, along with an interesting tidbit of information: Heinrich lived on a farm in France during World War II.

After the war, Heinrich and his family left France and settled in Thaleischweiler, a German village just over the border from the Moselle département where German dialects are spoken, and where Heinrich had lived previously. He lived out his life in the village and passed away in 1974.

Heinrich Hoffmann in Germany. Lauren Herbert family archives.

Our search yielded another key result: we quickly found a family tree with the little green dots which signify “Ahnentafel” or “Sosa” — direct ancestors of a Geneanet tree’s root individual (usually the tree owner). Surprisingly, this tree was of an Australian, Lauren Herbert, who is none other than the great-granddaughter of Heinrich! The explanation is simple: Heinrich’s daughter Liesel emigrated in 1957 to Australia where she had a daughter who married an Australian, this couple being Lauren’s parents.

Contact was made quickly, and despite the great distance between Jean-Marc and Lauren, the precious document was hand delivered through a friend of Lauren, Micaela, who was visiting Paris. Jean-Marc made a special trip from Le Havre to see Micaela and we were thrilled to welcome them for this happy event in Paris which proves the role played by genealogy in reuniting families, reviving family ties, and honoring the memory of those who came before us. It’s also a reminder that preserving family memories is essential to remember our history and heritage.

Jean-Marc and Micaela, Lauren’s friend, met in Paris.
Lauren holding her great-grandfather’s Soldbuch.

“Geneanet wrote to me, my friend was in Paris and retrieved the book, and brought it all the way back to Australia for me. This is the only physical artefact I have of any of my Oma’s side of the family! Don’t just upload your DNA on as many sites as possible (if you have it), also upload your tree on as many sites as possible. You never know what information other people may have.” — Lauren Herbert

“I’m in constant contact now with Lauren and Micaela. It’s very strange to have sincere friends on the other side of the world and the gratitude they have shown me is touching.” — Jean-Marc Longuet

This wonderful story is the latest example of the strong community ties of passionate genealogists at Geneanet. We are proud to bring together members of our community around the world and to contribute every day to the preservation of family memories.

If you yourself have made similar discoveries or new contacts through Geneanet, don’t hesitate to share them!


This Is A Great And Motivating Story

What a story and thank you for sharing.
I found in my grandfather, Robert Otto Reinhold Fendler, genealogy book that my mother created a Militarpak, and wondered if you can help me with translation. I remember my mother’s stepfather, who was born in what is now Northern Ireland, and Robert Otto Reinhold talking about their wartime experiences and how they might have fought against each other in WWI. Both grandfathers and father passed away before I started my genealogy research. It looks like he served in 1917 and was discharged in 6 July 1919. Thank you for any help you can give me.

Answer from Geneanet: We suggest you post your request in our forums, for example the English-language Germany section. German genealogy facebook groups can also be good places to get a quick translation, see our article Resources for German Genealogy.

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