The Sound of Music: The Real von Trapp Family

Posted March 19, 2015 by Amanda | No Comment

Fifty years ago, the award-winning musical The Sound of Music premiered on the big screen. Even today, the musical story based on the real von Trapp family, continues to delight and entertain audiences.

von Trapp family

The real von Trapp family / Library of Congress

The film starred Julie Andrews as the governess, Maria, and Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp. The filmmakers took some creative liberties with the story, changing some facts to dramatize the family’s eventual flight from their home country. In reality, the family would board a train out of Austria before making their way to the United States. Not as cinematic as a hike over the mountains, but still interesting to follow in historical documents.

Georg von Trapp, 1910s

Georg von Trapp, 1910s

Unlike the movie, the real Maria first came to the von Trapp household as a tutor for one of the children. She had been recovering from scarlet fever and doctors recommended she receive some fresh air to help improve her health. The decision was made to send Maria to the home of Captain Georg von Trapp to tutor one of his daughters, who was bedridden and recovering from an illness.

Eventually, Maria came to take care of all seven of the Captain’s children. Seeing her loving relationship with his children, Georg asked Maria to be his wife. She sought guidance back at the abbey from the Mother Abbess, who told her it was God’s will to marry the Captain. In her biography, Maria stated:

“I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children. I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.”

The couple married in 1927, 11 years before the family left Austria. They would have three children together, bringing the total number of von Trapp children to ten. Their names were Rupert, Agathe, Maria Franziska, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna, Martina, Rosmarie, Eleonore, and Johannes.


The Trapp Family Singers / Wikimedia Commons

While in Austria, the family had become a popular singing act at festivals. After the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, life became increasingly difficult for the family. Their performances became their main source of income after the loss of their wealth in a banking crash. Guided by their priest, Father Franz Wasner, they became known as the Trapp Family Singers. Once Georg declined to join the German Navy, the family fled to Italy. The family continued to tour and sing together.


Maria von Trapp’s certificate of arrival into Niagra Falls, New York, 1942 / U.S. National Archives

In 1942, the von Trapps arrived in the United States and eventually settled in Stowe, Vermont. They opened the von Trapp Family Lodge, which is still run today by the youngest von Trapp, Johannes.


Maria von Trapp and daughters / Library of Congress

In 1944, Maria and her stepdaughters, Johanna, Martina, Maria, Hedwig and Agathe applied for U.S. citizenship. Georg never filed to become a citizen, while sons Rupert and Werner became citizens by serving in World War II. Rosmarie and Eleonore received citizenship from their mother and the youngest, Johannes was born in Pennsylvania.


Maria von Trapp declaration of intention / U.S. National Archives

Georg died of lung cancer on May 30, 1947. In 1949, Maria published her book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was made into two successful German/Austrian films. The book was later adapted into the hit Broadway musical The Sound of Music, which led to the widely popular film. Now, fifty-years after its premier, The Sound of Music remains one of the most beloved films in cinematic history. Do you remember watching it?

If you’re interested in learning more about the real von Trapp family, join The Sound of Music project on Geni!

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Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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