Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “john holdorf”

John and Caroline Holdorf, m.1868

John and Caroline Holdorf tree

John and Caroline Holdorf of Goulburn, NSW


Florence Stacey (Florence Holdorf) 1878-1908

My father never met his grandmother, Florence Stacey, who died in 1908, many years before Dad was born (1933). Writing about his family background in July 2013 Dad noted:

My father was Charles John Stacey Holford, born July 7,1899 in Goulburn… He lived in Goulburn until his mother, Florence Caroline Holdorf (Stacey) died April 8, 1908 of typhoid fever, three weeks after her youngest son (Eric) was born… I know little about my grandmother except that she came from another shopkeeping family (the Staceys) in Auburn St., Goulburn. She was very beautiful, but was apparently treated badly by my grandfather who had a bad temper. She is buried in a prominent position in Goulburn cemetery where my grandfather is also buried beside her.

In an email from Dad, dated 6 December 2014, he again says:

I was told my grandfather had a bad temper and gave his wife a hard time. My grandmother was a sweet, gentle, sensitive woman so it must have been hard for her.

I have often wondered about Florence Stacey, the first born of George and Mary Stacey of Goulburn. Who was this sweet, gentle, sensitive and beautiful woman who married my great grandfather when she was just 20? What was her childhood like, how did she meet Charles Holdorf and why did she marry him? Was their life together really as hard for her as my father seems to suggest? What does it mean that Charles had a bad temper? What was life really like at the dawn of the twentieth century in the small rural community of Goulburn, NSW?

Florence was the first of nine children. Her father George Stacey had arrived in Australia from England in 1869, having left his home town of Bedford when he was only 16. Why he left is uncertain, but his early life had not been easy. The 1861 England census records him living with his father and his younger brother as lodgers with another family in central Bedford, in a road along which I have driven a number of times over recent years without the slightest idea that an ancestor of mine had lived there 160 years ago. So George Stacey at age 8 was motherless, a common experience for children in Victorian England, in a time when medical care was neither very effective nor universally available, and when women died often from the complications of childbirth. When he was 16 he left England forever. His father remarried and moved to London. What kind of contact they had after that is uncertain.

George somehow came to Goulburn where in his mid twenties he married Mary Atkinson, a girl a few years older than him from Berrima, NSW. According to his funeral notice, “[George] opened business as a grocer in the old Emu Stores adjoining the historic Emu Inn… Twenty years later he moved into his own store a few doors further along the street and for 22 years he carried on business there.” The following is a photo dated around 1905 of the new Stacey store in Auburn Street, which was sent me by Vicki Holford Reevey, another descendent of the Holdorf line. The wording on the facade clearly states that the business was established in 1882. At the time of taking this photo, the building was just three years old.
Stacey's circa 1905
The three men in the photo are from left to right Florence’s oldest brother Percy, born 1880, her father George Stacey, who was by the time of this photo 52 years of age, and one of the Holdorfs, though I am unsure which one. Vicki thought it was John Holdorf, but he died in 1898 so that cannot be the case. It seems most likely that it is Charles Holdorf, the first born of the ten Holdorf children, the one who Florence married. Charles was born in 1869 so would have been 36 at the time of this photo, seven years after he and Florence had married. According to my father, Charles was a travelling salesman for McMurtrey’s Shoes, but before he married he lived with his parents above their store, which was also in Auburn Street and was a drapers and general grocers store.

It is possible that the two families were close. Charles was nine years older than Florence but they grew up in the same little community, in the young town of Goulburn, and both were the children of shopkeepers in Auburn Street. Charles parents were German immigrants, while Florence’s father was English, married to a native Australian. John Holdorf (born 1828) was 25 years older than George Stacey (born 1853) but their respective wives were much closer in age (Caroline Holdorf was born in 1847, Mary Stacey in 1850) and may well have been good friends. Caroline was also probably a good deal more “Australian” than her German husband John: she was 9 when she arrived in Australia, but John was 28. But despite the difference in their ages John and George did have one thing in common: they were both masons, members presumably of the same Goulburn order of Oddfellows.

Charles was the first son of a prominent shopkeeper in Goulburn, Florence the first daughter of another. They tied the knot in 1898, when Florence was 20 and Charles 29, the same year that Charles’ father, John Holdorf died, aged 70, leaving his mother Caroline (who was only 52) a widow. Interestingly, John’s funeral notice records that a wreath was sent by Miss FC Stacey, though none from other Stacey family members is mentioned. Florence, just 19, was presumably already engaged to Charles.

Florence and Charles lived in Goulburn and had five children, the first of which was my grandfather, born in 1899. Charles was a travelling salesman and a part time soldier. Florence was at home raising the family. She died on 8 April 1908, after they had been married 10 years, 3 weeks after the birth of Eric, her fifth child. Grandpa was 9 years old. The five children and their father, Charles Holdorf, moved to Sydney after Florence’s death, where they lived with their grandmother, Caroline. Caroline was 62 years old in 1908 and had already raised 11 children and now she had to raise Florence and Charles’ five as well.

Florence is buried in Goulburn Cemetery. She never saw her children grow up. Her husband Charles lived out his remaining days in Sydney initially with his mother who cared for the children when he sailed off to Europe during WW1, where he served in Egypt and France. He returned to Australia and changed his name to Holford. His five children grew up and married, one by one. His mother died in 1924. Charles himself died in 1954, after being a widower for 46 years. It is hard to know why he treated his beautiful young wife badly, but one thing seems certain, she was the only woman ever to capture his heart. When Charles died his body was returned to Goulburn, where he is buried beside his wife.

Nineteenth century Germany

In an attempt to understand where my German ancestors came from, I have tracked down this useful map from Wikipedia. There was no Germany as we know it in the nineteenth century, rather a confederation of German speaking kingdoms and duchies (the German Confederation or Der Deutsche Bund). On the map below it is Holstein in the far north and Bavaria (Bayern), in the south, which are of interest. Prussia was between them, and the superpower of Austria to the south. Johann Holtorf (later John Holdorf) left Bad Bramstedt, Holstein in 1856, when he was 28 years old. Caroline Fischer, who John would later marry, left Harheim, Bavaria, in 1854, when she was 7 years old. She travelled with her parents, Gottried and Viktoria Fischer, and her three younger brothers, Charles, Heronimys and William. Both Johann and the Fischer family sailed from Hamburg.

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The Holtorf family of Bramstedt

The following is an undated version of an article posted here previously, but which was inaccurate on a number of counts. The information now contains my understanding of the Holtorf family as of today’s date, 20 September 2014. Such are the joys of family history research. The story changes as new information comes to light and old information is re-interpreted. I should add that the information following is based on various papers in my father’s possession, but none of them is an original source, in the sense of being an official document or historical record. Rather they are notes written by previous researchers from my family, but since none of the documents is signed or dated I am unable to go back to the person(s) who wrote them to ask what their sources were. The only reference to original sources that these notes contain is that they were taken from Lutheran Church records. Such records are not the easiest to access for an English speaking person like me, since they are not online, and they are in old German. This means that to view the original sources requires a visit to the area, a person skilled in reading and translating old German, and, above all, plenty of time. None of these are straightforward. If anyone happens to stumble over this blog and has more information I would love to hear from you.

My grandfather’s grandfather was named Johann Holtorf when he was born in 1828 in what is now the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. When he was 28, in 1856, Johann migrated to the British colony of New South Wales in Australia, where he changed his name to John Holdorf and became naturalised as a British citizen. He married Caroline Fischer, another German migrant (but from southern Germany), and together they settled in Goulburn and had 10 children. At least one of their children (Charles Holdorf, their first born) changed his surname to Holford, and from him came my father’s family.

Johann himself was also one of ten children, five of them his full siblings, and four of them half-siblings. His parents were named Claus Holtorf (1791-1874) and Margarethe Köhnke (1789-1835). His mother died when Johann was 7 and two years later in 1837 his father remarried Elsabe Lentfer, who had four sons.

Bramstedt in the 1800s
Bramstedt, where Claus was born, was a market town in the Danish Duchy of Holstein. At the time of his birth Holstein, though ruled by Denmark, was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It became part of the German Confederation after the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, and then as a result of the Schleswig wars of 1848 and 1864 it became, together with Schleswig, the neighbouring duchy to the north, it passed out of Danish hands completely, and became part of the newly formed nation of Germany. Claus, as far as I know, spoke German, as did the majority of people in Holstein. However, the ruling powers spoke Danish. Whether this was an issue for Claus or not I don’t know. The concept of nationalism was growing through the nineteenth century and no doubt everyone had an opinion about their own identity and where they belonged. But there was no nation of Germany then, so it wasn’t simply a question of “Am I German or am I Danish?” The Holtorfs (who were previously Holtorps) had always lived with this identity – German speaking in the Duchy of Holstein, ruled by Denmark. That this was now being questioned by some people may have had little relevance to them. Their lives were lived at a village level, and the machinations of dukes and princes were perhaps interesting but not their first concern.

Claus Holtorf
Claus, Johann’s father, was a shoe maker and timber warden. He was an only child, and his father was also a shoemaker on a farm. He could trace his ancestry back at least 100 years, and all the ancestors came from the Bramstedt area. The records I have go back to 1688 when Claus’s great grandfather was born in Kampen, Duchy of Holstein, a small village which now barely exists, some 8 or 10 kilometres south of Bramstedt.

As far as I know Claus was born and grew up in Bramstedt, a market town about 40km north of Hamburg. However, his father was apparently born in Bimöhlen, a village a few kilometres to the east of Bramstedt. Johann married in 1817 when he was 26 years old. His first child, according to my records, was born a few months before he was married.

Margarethe Köhnke
Margarethe was Claus’s first wife. She was born in 1789 in Wiemersdorf, where her father was a “small farmer”. Her first child, Anna, named after Claus’s mother, was born in March 1817, when Margarethe was 28 or 29. Margarethe married Claus in late May of the same year.

The next three of Margarethe’s children, Claus, Hans and Wilhelmina (Minna) were born, according to my records, in “Gross Aspe.” I have wondered where this might be. More of this in my next blog article. However, her 5th and 6th children, Johann (my ancestor) and possibly Andreas, were born in Bimöhlen, the same village that their grandfather was born in. The family appears to have moved at least twice, first to “Gross Aspe,” and then to Bimöhlen. Margarethe died in 1835 when her youngest child was just 3 years old. She is said to have died in Aukathe, which I have not been able to locate. There is an area of Bramstedt called Aukamp and I wonder if this is the place.

Elsabe Lentfer
Claus remarried in November 1837, 2 years after Margarethe died. His second wife was Elsabe Lentfer. They married in Bramstedt and the four sons they had together were all born in Bramstedt. So it would seem that the bigger town became the home of the Holtorf family after 1837. I have no other information about Elsabe, but I do know that one of her sons died at or shortly after birth, and another was drowned at the age of seven. A third appears to have died childless at a relatively early age, perhaps in his twenties. Only her third child, Jakob appears to have survived.

What became of the Holtorfs of Bramstedt?
Johann, my ancestor, migrated to Australia when he was 26 years old, in the 1850s, as I have already mentioned. Although I have no details, it would appear that four of the other children also left Germany at different times. Both the girls, Anna and Minna married German men, but may well have moved to England at some stage, though whether they died there I am not certain. Andreas, Johann’s little brother apparently migrated to America. The only one of Elsabe’s sons to survive past his twenties, namely Jakob Holtorf, migrated, like his older half-brother, Johann, to Australia. What became of him I am unsure.

Of the two remaining brothers, Claus (the firstborn son) and Hans, only Hans appears to have had any children. What became of Claus I don’t know, but Hans is said to have remained in the Bramstedt area, where he married and had four children. On his father Claus’s death certificate (1874) Hans and his wife Catharrina Behnk were living in Weddelbrooks Damm, which is just to the west of Bramstedt.

The closest German relatives I have would therefore be descendants of Hans, if there are any.

Bad Bramstedt location

Bad Bramstedt location map

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