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 Hoffmann 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 and engendered a life long quest to add meaning to who they were; that their life did not replicate the fate of their bodies.
In the 92 years that graced her time on this earth, Hilda spent much of it resurrecting timelines and histories of families and their public (and sometimes private) dealings on this earth. 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, was 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 made 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, where she met and married her husband, Emile James Hoffmann.
The Navy enrolled Hilda in special training to learn codes and signals before placing her undercover as a courier of secret documents. (According to Hilda’s nephew, Lt Col. Lourie N. Formby III, this story is fictitious.) Her official title was “File Clerk.” Her husband was also placed in undercover operations by the Navy. Hilda told of several interesting 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. On delivering secret documents to Canada, she met Winston Churchill and his son and when 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 huge archive.
Hilda Formby Hoffmann passed away on July 4th, 2010 and is 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, TX, and with the help of Helen Clunie, from Hattiesburg, another of Hilda’s close friends, they were moved from Hilda’s residence to a metal storage building for safekeeping.
On October 29th, an organizational meeting was conducted to discuss formation of a non-profit organization entitled: Hilda Hoffmann Memorial Archive Inc. By-Laws were discussed and affirmed and officers chosen: Sara Sheldon – Chairman, Helen Clunie – Treasurer, and Don Wicks – Secretary. Incorporation papers were filed with the state of Mississippi and registration as a non-profit received on December, 23, 2010. IRS forms will be filed in 2011, however we are considered non-profit by the IRS, without filing, until our income rises above $5000.
Hilda’s collection was moved from the metal storage building to a temporary safe climate controlled facility in Hancock County until arrangements can be made to find a place in Pearl River County. After the organization was formed, membership was pursued and as of 3/20/2011, we have achieved a membership of 45 and are hoping to be at 200 by the end of 2011. We are now looking for a rent free building to lease in Pearl River County.
Donations can be made directly to: Hilda Hoffman Memorial Archive Inc. at any First National Bank, but for now we would prefer for you to join us as a member. Please fill in your contact information on our membership application and mail to P. O. Box 162, Picayune, MS 39466. Our web contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.