finding your roots

My Father’s German Family

Gloria Schwartz Christine March 20, 2012

I was 15-years old when learned the name of my father’s deceased mother, Minnie Monighoff.


William Monighoff

William Monighoff

Almost forty years later (1999), armed with this clue, I found Minnie’s father, William Monighoff on’s 1890 Newark, NJ, City Directory, living with his daughter, Minnie, and her husband, Rudolph, my grandparents. William Monighoff was born in Germany in 1820, and he was the youngest of eleven children. He emigrated from Germany just after his 19th birthday in 1839, and he is my earliest ancestor to set foot on American soil.

No oral history survives regarding William Monighoff, but in 1850 he was a grocer in Manhattan where his eldest children were born, later he moved to Newark, NJ, where my grandmother Minnie was born in 1867.

In the 1855 death record of William’s baby daughter Marianne, I found the name of William’s birth village, allowing me to track five generations of William’s ancestors who lived in the agrarian Bishopric of Paderborn in Westphalia, Germany. And carved in William’s weathered limestone grave marker is the village name Siddessen.

Where did this odd sounding German name Monighoff originate? William’s ancestors were mostly farmers who farmed the land owned by the local Benedictine Monastery, thus the name Monighoff means the “monk’s fields”; monig= monk, hoff=farming field.

This journey through time and history gave me a connection to my father’s family that I never anticipated, both to my ancestors and to almost 100 living cousins that I would have never known had I not researched my father’s German family.

The attached image is of William Monighoff (1820-1892), taken in 1877 when he was 57 years old.

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  • Lynn

    April 12, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I always find it interesting that in old photos from this era, you rarely see individuals smiling. Everyone always looks somber and serious.

    Nice story!

  • dolores

    April 27, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    One of the best things that came out of Gloria’s search; I posted looking for a relative, she emailed me, we met and now we have a very nice relationship, cousins to the end!

    As to folks not smiling, the camera back took longer for the picture and possibly the subject didn’t have teeth?

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The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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