How Do You Spell That?

Is it Poff, Paff, Pauff, or Pfaff? And more importantly which ones are in my family line? To confuse things more my ancestor’s names are George and Frederick. Do a search on ancestry.com for either George or Frederick Poff (Pfaff) and you will find hundreds of names with most of them having their roots out of Germany and Pennsylvania. Add to the confusion that most other people don’t have it clear either as their family trees will have the same married couples in their family line but they are not living in the same place or have the same children. I have found no record or family tree that clears up the mystery.

According to Name Origin Research at surnamedb.com the Pfaff name “is an Anglicized form of the Germanic surname “Pfaeffle”, a derivative of “Pfaff”, from the German “pfaffe”, cleric, parson, or “papst”, pope.” It was used as a nickname for someone who performed priestly functions or for someone whose behavior or spirit resembled a priest or pope.

By the time my ancestors reached Wisconsin the spelling of the name was Poff. My great grandmother, Marcy Poff married Oscar Hanson. Her sister, Kate Poff, married Earl Trotter, my husband’s great grandparents. Their parents Levi Henry Poff and Irene Adair are our “shared ancestor”. Levi moved to Wisconsin from Ashland County, Ohio at the age of 2 with his parents, Jacob Poff and Julia Laubaugh. Jacob was the son of George Poff (Pfaff) and Catherine Dellinger from York County, Pennsylvania. George’s father was also George and from here the line becomes very confusing. Every Poff family during this time period has a George. I can find marriage records for George Poff and Anna Merchant in York County, Pennsylvania and Frederick Pfaff as his father who emigrated from Germany in 1750. But there is nothing to prove this is the correct George in my family line. Other Poff researchers claim George and Anna as their ancestors who migrated from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. Maybe…Maybe not. I am unable to find the records to prove or disprove it either way. If you are a “Poff” “Pfaff” researcher and have some clues to this mystery, I would love to hear from you.

But my “Poff” or “Pfaff” ancestors lived in York County, Pennsylvania during historic times and could have participated in some of these events. In July, 1774 a committee was selected to protest against British taxation and when Boston was blockaded because of the “tea party” they sent financial and military support. Were the Pfaffs cheering in the crowd in July 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was read in front of the courthouse on the center square? Which Pfaffs volunteered for the militiamen by 1778, when by this time 4,621 men had joined. The Continental Congress met in York from September 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778 at which time the Articles of Confederation were written. To meet the needs of the Congress the first printing press was brought to the county. It was used to print the continental currency. Victory came in 1783. Did my ancestors meet Thomas Paine who spent time in York following the war writing some of his articles?

Did the Pfaffs stand on the banks of the Susquehanna River and watch John Edgar test the first iron steamboat? Or watch the coal-burning locomotive perfected by Phineas Davis? Or participate in the “underground railway” that York County helped maintain. Someday I hope to make the correct connections to my family line and their involvement in these events.


“Last Name: Pfaff.” The Internet Surname Database. Web. 19 Apr. 2015. <http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Pfaff&gt;.

“York County History.” Yorkcountypa.gov. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <https://yorkcountypa.gov/about-york-county/york-county-history.html&gt;.