Saving Hilda Hoffman’s legacy to Pearl River County

Published 11:30 pm Saturday, August 21, 2010

Who we are fades into the shadows of ancestral memories, save the piece of granite that marks our presence.

That is, unless a caring soul intervenes. Hilda Hoffman was such a soul, recording the history and genealogy of thousands of Pearl River County residents, and more. Hilda’s fascination with cemeteries at age sixteen provoked queries into the lives and families of those who lay at rest. It engendered a life- long quest to add meaning to who they were; so that their life would not replicate the fate of their bodies.

In the 92 years that graced her time on this earth, Hilda spent much of it resurrecting time lines and histories of families and their public (and sometimes private) dealings on this earth.

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Her dying wish: That her archive be kept close to those she chronicled – Pearl River County – and that they be shared with everyone. Her research, hundreds of boxes of material, will soon be transferred to a safe, climate controlled building in Hancock County for temporary storage where the files will begin the process of being scanned and digitized on compact discs that will be available to interested parties and organizations. Currently, the files themselves are without a home.

But what about this woman who dedicated her life serving the families of others?

Hilda Formby was born May 9, 1918. She attended East Side elementary and Picayune High schools and after graduation, worked in local businesses until she joined the Army/Navy in 1940. This is where she met and married her husband, Emile James Hoffman. The Navy enrolled Hilda in special training to learn codes and signals, before placing her undercover as a courier of secret documents. Her official title was “File Clerk.” Her husband was also placed in undercover operations by the Navy.

Hilda told of several intriguing and sometimes embarrassing situations that occurred during her time in service. One when she had to board a ship up a steep ladder wearing a skirt and another where she had to play the role of a prostitute. While delivering secret documents to Canada, she met Winston Churchill and his son. While she was in New Orleans, a German submarine was discovered and destroyed. After the war, Hilda continued her research into the families of Pearl River County residents and amassed her vast archive.

Hilda Formby Hoffman passed away on July 4th, 2010. She was buried in New Palestine cemetery beside her husband. The collection was placed in the hands of Sara Sheldon, Hilda’s close friend who resides in San Antonio, Texas. Sheldon, with the help of Helen Clunie, from Hattiesburg, who is another of Hilda’s close friends, are keeping the files safe for the time being.

God willing, hopefully in the near future, Picayune and Pearl River County will house a museum and archive fitting to store the colorful history of our city and county. Until then, Sara has opened a bank account to receive donations to such a worthy cause, so that we can begin a funding source to secure Hilda’s and other collections in a safe environment… in a museum and archive of our own. We cannot and should not allow our historic treasures to be lost to storms, attics and uncaring or unknowing descendants.

Donations to the Hilda Hoffman Genealogy Library may be made by mail to the First National Bank of Picayune, P. O. Box 848, Picayune, MS 39466 or dropped off at any branch in Picayune, Poplarville, or Wiggins.

The time for action is now. Please donate what you can to Hilda’s Library to help preserve our history. Those who have passed on deserve as much, and more.