Discover Picayune’s history and more at the Hilda Hoffman Memorial Archive
Published 10:25 am Friday, February 10, 2023
As time goes on, memories of the past tend to fade away. The Hilda Hoffman Memorial Archive Inc. (HHMA) is a place meant to pause the present time and rewind the clock for nearly 100 years. HHMA is a non-profit organization devoted to preserving and the promotion of one of the largest private collections of genealogy and family history information in the State of Mississippi.
Before we dive into this small library that looks like any old house located just 30 feet south of the City Hall building, let’s talk about Hilda Formby Hoffman.
Hoffman was born on May 9, 1918, in Picayune MS. She died on July 4, 2010, at the age of 92 and is buried in New Palestine Cemetery. as a teenager, she grew interested in genealogy which led to a long life interest in the people of her home town county. She attended East Side Elementary and Picayune high school, which is now referred to as Picayune Memorial high school. Hoffman began a lifelong pursuit of genealogy and family history research when she was 16 years old. After graduating Hoffman worked in local businesses. Hoffman was a civilian courier for the Navy during World War II, she had special training to learn codes and signals, before being placed undercover as a courier of secret documents, her official title was “File Clerk.” She married a man by the name of Emile “Jim” Hoffman and were together for 44 years. They worked together for years on their research and would provide information to all that seek it for no charge. Her dying wish in 2010 was that her vast collection be housed in Pearl River County and made available to the public for family research and education.
In 2011, Mrs. Hoffman’s friends and Helen Alexander Clunie donated a building located at 301 Willian Avenue in Picayune to house the extensive collection. Today the Helen Clunie Heritage Library is the seat of a thriving family history archive and genealogy learning and research center for southern Mississippi.
Today that library still remains at 12 years old, with a periodic collection, cemetery index, birth announcements, memorial walls, historical display, educational workshops, archeology books of southern Mississippi, historical maps, and more. A four-year volunteer member of the library, Les Burns is a man who appreciates history. He’s a retired Picayune resident who worked in the newspaper industry in Picayune as a junior press printer.
“She has left us a ton of stuff that to me means a lot and I’m hoping there are more people that will appreciate it as well,” he said.
One man who appreciated Mrs.Hoffman’s work and historical research is Picayune Mayor Jim Luke who’s been president of the libraries Board for two years.
The library has enough information in stock that will have one reading for hours. “It’s hard not to pick up one of these books and not learn something before you leave,” said Burns. The library has a lot of artwork as well, it can be mistaken as a museum of its displays, artifacts, and photos but in a sense that’s the library’s purpose, to display history. Hilda also left behind some of her handwritten notes and research for others to see. “She dug deep, into her work,” said Burns. There are rooms filled with boxes of information, it’s a very real visual and sort of home of Hoffman’s work and dedication over 76 years of finding and stamping Pearl River Counties’ history onto paper.
The best way to experience it is to experience it firsthand. The Helen Clunie Heritage Library is open Monday – Friday from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. for free. Or become a member of HHMA for a $25 annual fee. The benefits of becoming a member are listed below.
- Connect with others who share an interest in genealogy and local family history;
- Attend educational seminars, workshops, and HHMA events;
- Receive quarterly mailings of the informative Archive News;
- Enjoy free computer access to Ancestry.com and Family TreeMaker;
- Receive assistance with genealogy queries and developing family trees;
- Preserve your family history and documents in a protected archive;
- Support a family heritage resource with benefits for generations to come.