The Groff family was a family of 11 children that lived in Woolwich County. John Huber Groff (1827-1908) was a farmer and was married to Susannah Bauman (1826-1910) in November 1850. They lived in Conestogo where they began having children in the early 1850s, beginning with Moses (1851-1927), Benjamin (1852-1910), Andrew (1854-1911), Nancy (1856-1886), Franklin (1858-1884), Noah (1860-1909), Abraham (1862-1937), Leah (1864-1954), John (1865-1865), Aaron (1867-1941), and Ezra (1869-1935).

In 1861, Moses, Benjamin, and Andrew were attending school at ages 9, 8 and 6 respectively. Nancy was 5 at the time and not in school yet.  They were living in a two-storey log house at the time.

In 1871, more of a description was taken of the family. Both Susannah and John weren’t about to write, John was also not able to read. Only Andrew (age 16) and Noah (age 11) were attending school in that year. Four of the children – Benjamin, Nancy, Franklin, and Abraham – were listed as being of unsound mind. No other remarks are made at this time.


1871 Census of Canada; Source:


By the end of the 1870s, Susannah sent Nancy, Franklin, Noah, and Leah to the Poorhouse on January 22, 1878. She remained in the family home with Moses (acting as the head of the household as he was the oldest child), Madgalena (Moses’ 22 year old wife; 1858-1922), Abraham (25 years old and single), Aaron (14 years old and attending school) and Ezra (12 years old and attending school).


The four siblings, known to the House management as the “Groff Idiots”, that were sent to the Poorhouse had “idiotic” listed as their reason of pauperism. Joseph A. Laird, the future Keeper of the House of Industry, committed the children when he was working in the Reev’s office in New Hamburg


1878 Register of Paupers, Vagrants, and Idiots received at the House of Industry and Refuge; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives


About nine months after the four children arrived at the House, the Inspector of the House tried to have the children removed from the House if no “friends” of theirs could pay for their maintenance. Below is the note written in the Minutes of the Standing Committee.


House of Industry & Refuge

Berlin 4th Sept. 1878.

The Standing Committee met this day –

Present Messrs Chapman, Jaffray, Snyder, [Stuebing], Walter & the Warden –

Mr Chapman in the Chair –

Bills and Claims from No. 491 to No 497  inclusive audited & allowed –

Ordered That one John White of North Dumfries be received into the House as an Inmate, provided Mr. Hugh White of North Dumfries, will agree to pay at the rate of $30.00 per annum, payable semi-annually, for his maintenance whilst an Inmate as aforesaid –

Ordered. That the Inspector communicate with the friends of the [Groff] Idiots with the view to their removal from the House or failing which, that their friends be called upon to pay a reasonable sum for the maintenance of such Idiots in the House –


The four children were sent to the Hamilton Insane Asylum on October 10, 1878 and subsequently sent back to the House just over a month later. Below is the issue written in the Meeting Minutes.


House of Indy & Refuge

Berlin 29th. Novr 1878

The Standing Committee met this day –

Present Messrs Chapman, Jaffray, Snyder, [Stuebling] & Walter and the Warden –

Mr Chapman in the Chair


Ordered – That a proper writing be prepared by the Solicitor wherein Messrs Aron Shantz and – [Good], Trustees holding property for the benefit of John Groff and Children, shall be [bound] if possible to pay a certain sum per annum for the maintenance of the four Groff idiots now inmates of the House – and also binding Trustees to pay the childrens shares of property (on death of parents)


Later that year, the four children were sent to the Asylum for Idiots and Feeble-Minded in Orillia. The children all lived at the asylum for the rest of their lives. Franklin died in May, 1884 from general debility, Nancy died in 1886, Noah died in 1909 from a hemorrhage that he`d been suffering from for a month, and Leah lived there the longest and died in 1954. There is little information about the Groff’s while living at the Orillia Asylum. For more information on the Orillia Asylum, visit our Mental Distress page.


There were a few other Groff’s that stayed in the Poorhouse at some point in their lives. Benjamin, one of the Groff siblings, was the 5th Groff to have entered the Poorhouse on June 10, 1902. He had been living in New Hamburg decades before his commitment. He married Caroline Schmitt (1867-1942) in March 1885 in New Hamburg. Benjamin and Caroline were living together in New Hamburg where he worked as a farmer and then in later years, as a labourer. They had three children together: Matilda (1888-1953), William H. (1900-) and Bleva (1902-). The family of five were living together in 1901 in New Hamburg with two lodgers, Samuel Schmidt and May. A Schmidt. Samuel was working as a stableman while Benjamin was working as a labourer. He had only been working for 9 months in 1901 and he earned $250.00. Just one year later, he was committed to the Poorhouse, no cause was listed.  He stayed for the winter and then was discharged on June 10, 1903. It is unclear where Benjamin went after the Poorhouse and whether or not he returned to his family in New Hamburg. He returned to the Poorhouse on December 23, 1909 with the cause listed as “sick and destitute”. It was also listed that he had been living in New Hamburg for 58 years. He was later discharged on September 1, 1910 and died shortly after on November 7th from dysentry Gangrene of feet in New Hamburg. His wife moved in with their daughter, Matilda, and her family, along with their two other children, William and Belva.

John, the father of the Groff family, also spent some time in the House of Refuge. He was committed on July 13, 1906, the cause not identified. He had been living in Waterloo for 79 years previous to his commitment. He only stayed in the House for 1 month and then was discharged on August 11th. He died a few years later on August 23, 1908 from heart failure.

Below is a family biography for a few of the members of the Groff family.


Groff Family Biography; Courtesy of Brian Lichty, grandson of Moses Groff who was the brother of Irvin Groff


Jacob Eby Groff is the cousin of the Nancy, Franklin, Noah and Leah and has a similar story to his relatives. Jacob was born to Abraham Groff (1829-1885) (brother of John Groff), and Mary Eby (1835-1890). He was the youngest of 14 children: Susannah (1854-1856), Levi (1854-1923), Leah (1856-1924), Ezra (1858-1861), Maria (1861-1923), Lydia Ann (1862-1949), Mathilda (1866-1949), Isaac Eby (1867-1895), Hannah (1870-1949), Emma (1872-1872), Abraham (1873-1958), Benjamin (1876-1876), Jacob Eby (1878-1960). In 1881 the family was living together a few miles North of Waterloo where Abraham was working as a farmer and the youngest children were attending school. A few years later, Jacob’s father died of pneumonia on February 10, 1885. His mother died five years after from nephritis (an autoimmune disorder that affects the kidneys). In 1891, Isaac, the second eldest son, was named the other children’s guardian. They were living beside the eldest son, Levi, and his family. They were also living with their sister, Mathilda, and her husband, Ira Bowman (1865-1935).


1891 Census of Canada; Source:


Jacob was 11 years old when he no longer had either parent to care for him and they were replaced by his brothers and sisters. It is unknown where he was staying in 1901. Jacob was sent to Hamilton Asylum for the Insane on August 18, 1904. It says that he was being supported by friends at the time and that Mrs. Ira Bauman of Waterloo was his caregiver (this would have been his sister, Mathilda Bauman). His occupation was listed as a farmer and his degree of education was “fair”. He led a temperate lifestyle in Waterloo and this was his first time being admitted to the institution. Under the description of his disorder, it stated that he had been suffering from melancholia for 8 years due to the loss of his brother (this was most likely the death of Isaac in 1895 from ulceration of the bowels; Isaac was given custody of the younger siblings and took care of Jacob after their parents died). The apparent causes of disorder also stated that Jacob’s disorder was hereditary. Some of Jacob’s symptoms included: “restless, irritable, ignores friends, will not change clothing”. In the Observation section of his admittance, it is recorded that his “father and uncle were insane”. Jacob remained at the Hamilton Asylum for 30 years before being sent to the House of Industry and Refuge in Waterloo County. He entered the House on May 31, 1932 with another patient from Hamilton, Hellen McConnell. He has “mental” listed as the cause of pauperism. Jacob stayed at the House well into the 1940s but it is unclear if he was discharged at some point and began living with a family member or if he was transferred elsewhere when the House closed in the 1950s. Jacob died on December 1, 1960 in Waterloo.


The last Groff family member to enter the House was Irvin Groff (1887-1946). He was the son of Andrew Groff (brother of Nancy, Franklin, Noah and Leah) and Barbara Ann Block (1859-1896).

Below is a family biography on Andrew, Barbara and their children.


Andrew Groff’s Family Biography; Courtesy of Brian Lichty, grandson of Moses Groff who was the brother of Irvin Groff


Irvin grew up in Wilmot Township close to other family members such as his uncles, Isaac and Abraham. He grew up with his siblings, Minerva (1884-1909), Lydia (1889-1973), Simeon (1892-1978), Elmina (1895-1911), and Eli (1896-1967), and his step-brothers and sisters. Below is a photo of Irvin’s father, Andrew, with his second wife, Lydia Wilheim (1875-1929), and their son, Moses.


Photograph of Andrew, Lydia and Moses circa 1907; Courtesy of Brian Lichty, grandson of Moses Groff who was the brother of Irvin Groff


He began living with and working as a labourer and servant for other families around New Hamburg when he became an adult. He eventually became destitute and was sent to stay at the Poorhouse. He entered the House on November 9, 1934 due to sickness. We don’t know how long he stayed at the Poorhouse, but he died on April 19, 1946. He was buried in the Shantz Mennonite Church Cemetery outside of Baden, Ontario.


Biography of Irvin Groff and his sister, Minerva Groff; Courtesy of Brian Lichty, grandson of Moses Groff who was the brother Irvin Groff


The above image of Leah Groff from 1924 is courtesy of her Find A Grave page.