Friedrike, how COULD you?

Now that I’ve been at this blogging business for (gasp) a whole week, I’ve decided that my weekends are a great time for the “and so much more” part of “genealogy, the law and so much more.” There are things I want to say about my own family research and about, well, just things.

Hermann baptism

Ossig 1855

So … At the top of my personal “how COULD you” list right now are the pastor at the Evangelische Kirche (Lutheran Church) in Ossig, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany,and one very particular member of his congregation in the year 1855.

My father’s side of the family is solidly German. My father was born in Bremen and emigrated to the United States with his parents, Hugo Ernst and Marie (Nuckel) Geissler, arriving in New York on 6 February 1925.1 Marie’s family was in Bremen as far back as I’ve been able to trace it so far, and I’ve been able to trace it back quite a ways. There’s a fabulous set of records of births, marriages and deaths called the Zivilstandsregister (civil registration in English) that’s readily available on microfilm for Bremen,2 not to mention the wonderful online offerings of the Bremen genealogical society, Die Maus. From those records, so far, I’ve identified all 16 of my third great grandparents on Marie’s side and 11 of my fourth great grandparents on that side.3

Hugo Ernst, however, was born in Bad Köstritz,4 in what is now the modern German state of Thüringen (Thuringia in English).5 I wish I had a nickel for every time a German researcher has told me that having ancestors from Thüringen is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing, they say, because Thüringen wasn’t much affected in the Second World War and any records that ever did exist should still exist. But it’s a bad thing because the vast majority of records from Thüringen ain’t gonna be microfilmed in MY lifetime. Certainly, nothing has been microfilmed from Bad Köstritz. Heck, Bad Köstritz wasn’t even in Thüringen when he was born, but rather in the Fürstentum Reuß jüngerer Linie (principality of Reuss younger line, in English) from 1806 to 1918.6 It was then in the Republik Reuss (Republic of Reuss) from 1918-1920 and Thüringen only after 19207 (with a 38-year side trip into being part of a district of East Germany when East Germany abolished states in favor of districts8).

Hiring a local researcher produced a wonderful German marriage record for his parents in the Evangelische Kirche of Bad Köstritz. It listed his mother by her full maiden name Emma Louisa Graumüller, the name of her father, Johann Christoph Gustav Graumüller (and the fact that he was a deacon of the church) and the maiden name of her mother Auguste Wilhelmina Zimmermann. And it listed his father Hermann Eduard Geissler, a bricklayer in town.9 Not one single word about his parents. Nichts. The local researcher also found Emma’s baptismal record, the record of her parents’ marriage and more.10 As to Hermann… you got it. Nichts.

I knew the Geisslers had moved to Gera, a city in eastern Thüringen, by 1901.11 And I knew that Emma was still alive in 1925.12 Combining what I knew with what I could find in the city directories there, I found that Hermann lived at one address from 1924 to 1931, was listed at another address with his daughter Agnes in 1934, and wasn’t listed at all after 1935.13 I figured that Hermann probably moved in with Agnes when Emma died and that he probably died around the last year he was listed in the directory. With the help of a good friend who is far more fluent in German than I am, I wrote to the Gera Standesamt (the functional equivalent of the clerk’s office) and asked for Emma’s and Hermann’s death records.

And I got ’em. Hermann’s death record was a bit of a disappointment. It didn’t list his parents. But it did give the exact date and place of his birth: 21 April 1855 in Ossig bei Zeitz.14 And Ossig bei Zeitz is NOT in Thüringen. It’s just to the north in Sachsen-Anhalt. With trembling fingers (okay, okay, mostly with a mouse), I did a quick search in the Family History Library microfilm. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! There are three — count’em, three — rolls of microfilm of church records from the Evangelische Kirche Ossig.15

I ordered all three, waited impatiently for them to arrive, finally got word they were in, broke land speed records getting to the Family History Center, loaded the microfilm with the 1812-1857 records, scrolled carefully to 1855, located the records of taufen (baptisms), ran my finger down the page to April… and there he was.

Hermann Eduard Geisler (only one S and no ß, that goofy German letter that’s usually translated as SS). Born 20 April 1855. Baptized 21 April 1855. Four separate godparents. And in the columns for parents… You know what I’m gonna say already, don’t you? Yup. Hermann Eduard Geissler was the first-born uneheliches kind (illegitimate child) of Friedrike Geisler.16

So… to Friedrike. My dear second great grandmother. How COULD you? I don’t care that you fooled around, dear lady. That’s happened in every one of my family lines right down to the 21st century. But how COULD you be so callous as not to think of your distant descendants? Would it have hurt you to give us the name of the father? And to you, pastor whoever you were (“the local pastor” in the records), would it have hurt you to ASK?

I mean, really.

How rude.


  1. Manifest, SS George Washington, Jan-Feb 1925, p. 59 (stamped, line 6, Hugo Geissler, 4; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 6 Jan 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  2. Zivilstandsregister, 1811-1875, Bremen Standesamt; FHL microfilm INTL 1,344,137-1,344,240),
  3. See Marie Nuckel and her pedigree in my (as-yet unsourced) family history site.
  4. Evangelische Kirche Bad Köstritz, Kirchenbuch, Taufregister Seite 69 Nr. 21 aus 1891, Baptismal Record of Hugo Ernst Geissler (digital image of record in possession of JG Russell).
  5. Wikipedia (, “Bad Köstritz.” rev. 12 Apr 2011; see also ibid., “Thuringia”, rev. 22 Dec 2011.
  6. Wikipedia (, “Reuss Younger Line,” rev. 1 Jan 2012.
  7. Wikipedia (, “Republic of Reuss,” rev. 17 Dec 2011.
  8. Wikipedia (, “Thuringia, History.” rev. 22 Dec 2011.
  9. Evangelische Kirche Bad Köstritz, Kirchenbuch, Trauregister Seite 11 Nr. 11 aus 1879, Marriage Record of Hermann Edward Geissler and Emma Louisa Graumüller (digital image of record in possession of JG Russell).
  10. See for example her baptismal record, Evangelische Kirche Bad Köstritz, Kirchenbuch, Taufregister Seite 110 Nr. 52 aus 1855 (digital image of entry in the possession of JG Russell). Also her parents’ marriage record, ibid., Trauregister Seite 434 Nr. 11 aus 1852, Marriage Record of Johann Christoph Graumüller and Auguste Wilhemina Zimmermann (digital image of record in possession of JG Russell).
  11. Gera City Directory (Adreßbuch der Haupt- und Residenzstadt Gera), 1901, p. 29, entry for Geissler, Hermann, ausseher, Moltkestrasse 42 (FHL microfilm INTL 2158071)
  12. Photographic post card, Herman and Emma Geissler to Hugo Ernst, postmarked 10 Dec 1925; original in possession of JG Russell.
  13. Gera City Directories, 1917, 1920, 1922, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, FHL microfilm INTL 2,158,076-2,158,081.
  14. Sterbeurkunde (death certificate), Nr. 645 (1933), Eduard Hermann Geisler; Standesamt Gera, 31 July 1933 (photocopy provided by Stadtarchiv Gera, 2011).
  15. Evangelische Kirche Ossig (Kr. Zeitz), Kirchenbuchduplikat, 1799-1874 (Staatarchiv Magdeburg); FHL microfilm INTL 1,335,487-1,335,489.
  16. Ossig Taufregister 1855 nr. 4, Hermann Eduard Geisler; FHL microfilm 1,335,488.
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12 Responses to Friedrike, how COULD you?

  1. Barbara Schenck says:

    Totally there with you, Judy. After years (nay, decades) of mystery surrounding my g-grandmother’s birthplace and family in Bavaria, I finally — thank you familysearch — found a first cousin of hers who married a second time in her late 60s in Iowa. She gave her birthplace!

    Of course it was spelled wrong. Pretty seriously wrong. But by tracking her maiden name (also spelled wrong, but decipherable) I got to the birthplace. No records filmed of course. This is, after all, deeply Catholic Bavaria.

    So, I hired a researcher who went to the archives and, yup, got great-grandmother’s mother and her parents and her parents’ parents and several more generations back. G-grandma herself? Nope. Not there.

    Researcher checked a variety of surrounding parishes. Nada. Or nichts, as you say. Finally I said, her oldest two daughters were born in Bavaria in the 1870s, one of them after civil registration. Could you look?

    Nope. Not there. But, she said — and this is the true blessing of having someone who knows the area and the records — there was a hospital in Munich for unwed mothers. Do you think either girl was illegitimate?

    Well, of course, that wasn’t part of the family story, but I said, “Could be.”

    Eureka! She found the older one next time she went to the city. Her baptismal record gave g-grandma’s full name and her birthplace! It also had a godmother for the baby — who happened to be the first cousin whose marriage got me back to the right hometown.

    Armed with the name of g-grandma’s hometown, she went back to Regensburg and went at the records again. This time she found the marriage of g-grandma’s parents, and all of her father’s lines back for another 4-5 generations.

    Sadly, though, g-grandma didn’t name the father of the her daughter, either! Like I said, right there with you, Judy.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Frustrating, isn’t it? You finally find THE record… and the info you need isn’t there. Oh, for just a few hours with a time machine…

  2. What a great story! I have not delved this far yet into my German side – who knows what I’ll find.

    I’m looking forward to reading your blog. You have a great voice!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Wendy! German research isn’t all that different from research in the US… except for the language, and the handwriting, and the customs, and the laws, and…

  3. Carol in Missouri says:

    I have also run into this same brick wall in Alsace, now France, but but also at times German in the distant past. My gg grandfather, born in 1826, and his brother born 5 years later do not show a father’s name anywhere in the civil records. Some of my relatives had research done many years ago by the Bureau de Bischwiller and have mistakenly interpreted the family tree by showing my gg grandfather’s mother married to her brother! Gg grandfather immigrated to the U. S. in 1880 and settled in Illinois. His brother apparently stayed in Europe. I have only told my brother and sister about this info as I’m not sure what the reactions from the rest of the family will be…My father and his siblings are gone, but 1 spouse is still living. I’m fairly sure my father was not aware of this fact as we spoke many times about his family before he passed. Unless I can track down some distant cousins in Europe, I’ll never be able to complete this potion of my family history.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Frustrating, isn’t it? I have GOT to make time for a trip to the archives over there. NONE of what I need to track this back further is on microfilm, darn it!

  4. John Browne y Ayes says:

    Golly Judy:

    Do not be so hard on your poor ancestor. The lack of a paternal name within the registry was not her fault.

    The same happened to me during my own monumental research effort into my own family tree.
    I had gotten as far back to the year 1748 with my fifth great grandfather, his wife, children and their siblings. When I finally got to Rosario Ayes his great granddaughter all I found was that Rosario had been listed as being the head of household and her five children. Things had been going fine until then.

    Being a genalogist and researcher I sat back from the whole dilema and began thinking things out regarding the next step in my detective work.

    I went back to query my relatives. No results.

    I was facing a proverbial genealogical dead end. But I am not one to give up so easily. (Remember, I am half Irish and we tend to be very hard headed when it comes to dead ends. No such thing as limitations in my realm.

    In any case, I decided to begin research her children. Lo and behold I struck the golden vien of genealogy!

    One of her children, Mercedes Ayes had forced the issue of overcoming illegitimacy. She had signed her name to a document that included her father’s surname and her father.

    You have to understand that during the early twentieth century as well as the 1800′s, societal mores were very strict especially when it came to illegitimacy. The Civil Registries in Puerto Rico reflected those mores. And birth records ommitted the paternal name as well as the paternal parents names from the records. It was a forem of imposing “ethical and moral ways of living.”

    In any case, Rosario Aye’s consort was, Vicente Atilano, the Municipal Judge of Salinas, Puerto Rico.
    Vicente Atilano was quite a character, a busy bee who flew from flower to flower leaving behind his broods. In essence, a classic Don Juan. Those types of relationships end up being a researcher’s nighmare. because now you have to sort out those “illegitimate” family members in your family tree and document them properly so you can attach them to, in my case, Vicente Atilano. (He had one legitimate wife and four consorts.

    In my case the United States Census of 1910 also imposed moral issues and Rosario’s children were listed sans pater nom. What a farse, morality. Vicente Atilano was the Municipal Judge enforcing moral issues upon others when he himself was, “immoral.:

    By the way, all his children, Rosario’s children, added his surname to their names later on after they had grown into adults which informed me of a very quiet revolution against the hypocrital mores and ethics of their day.

    Judy, my advice to you is to dig a little deeper, wills and last testaments and any other docs you can find from those children. The golden vien of genealogical information may lie hidden therein.

    John Browne y Ayes, Author of Juan Ponce de Leon, His New and Revised Genealogy.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I sure wish Hermann’s father’s name had been added to any of his records, John. It was not. And trust me: I know what a reasonably exhaustive search is. You are fortunate in your case in dealing with a tradition of both matrilineal and patrilineal names being incorporated into a surname, and what appears to have been a deliberate effort to include the father in the family history. In my case, the German naming patterns — and legal concepts — are very different. There is no extant documentation as to Hermann’s father.

      • John Browne y Ayes says:

        Hi Judy:

        How unfortunate.
        In my research I have come across many potential “dead Ends” and dark family secrets.
        In Spain especially.
        Lots of the nobility and Junior nobility had joined the knightly orders, the Calatrava, Santiago, etc. Many hired genealogists to blur the darkest part of the tree, in many cases omitting important facts within the lineage that were scandalous.

        Here is one I discovered that had been left out of the petition to Join a specific knightly order.

        Titulo Nombre atribuido:
        Legitimacion de Teresa de Valdes, hija de un canonigo de Sevilla.
        Fecha Creacion:
        1478-08-23, (Sevilla) -
        Legitimacion a peticion de Juan de Valdes, canonigo de la iglesia de Sevilla, para Teresa de Valdes, su hija, habida en Mencia de la Cueva, vecina de Sevilla.-Reyes.
        Research Copyright 2008, John J. Browne Ayes

        Translation: Legitimization per the petition of Juan Maria Garcia de Valdez, priest of the church of Seville for Teresa Valdez, his daughter, with Mencia de la Cueva, resident of Seville, Kings.

        This little tidbit of information took me five years researching the archives of Spain. The book of inscription into the knightly order conveniently left out this factoid and in reflection the family tree dead ended with the child of Teresa Valdez de la Cueva.

        Juan de Valdes “left the church” or was forced to leave it because of obvious indescretions . His son also named Juan Valdes became a Captain and fought against Florida’s native population in defense of Saint Augustine.

        There was another conjugal mate of Juan Maria de Valdez, Teresa Gonzalez she sired two daughters from this relationship. Unfortunately there is no document within the archives of their legitimization.

        The conjugal mate of Juan de Maria Garcia, cleric.

        as stated within document number 14531637 was Teresa Gonzalez who was “una mujer soltera”. (a single woman)

        Now I had a contradiction here between the resource documents and the document of Pedro de Valdes Menendez Valdes of the order of Santiago. Who’s lying? I think the family was during the time that inquisition was being made for Pedro’s petition to enter the order of Santiago.

        In any case, even the hidden facts aka the skeleton in the closet can be discovered providing the researcher is dogged in their detective work.

        Upon finding this little gem the door was opened to extend the family tree back to 1387.

        Everything is possible providing the researcher is dedicated and focused.

        Copyright 2010 John J. Browne Ayes, All Rights Reserved, national and International.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          >> Everything is possible providing the researcher is dedicated and focused. <<

          Nice thought, but simply not always true. I wish it were.

  5. John Browne y Ayes says:

    Addendum: Here is one source showing that the children added the paternal surname:

    name:Corso Ayes Atilano
    titles & terms:
    event year:1940
    event place:Assembly District 5, Bronx, New York City, Bronx, New York, United States
    marital status:Married
    race (original):
    race (standardized):White
    relationship to head of household (original):
    relationship to head of household (standardized):Head
    birthplace:Puerto Rico
    estimated birth year:1902
    residence in 1935:Same Place
    enumeration district number:3-627
    family number:210
    sheet number and letter:11A
    line number:14
    nara publication number:T627
    nara roll number:2477
    digital folder number:005458144
    image number:00034
    head Corso Ayes M38Puerto Rico
    wife Olga Ayes F24Puerto Rico
    Citing this Record
    “United States Census, 1940,” index and images, FamilySearch ( M9.1.1/K3T2-X98 : accessed 11 Oct 2012), Corso Ayes, Assembly District 5, Bronx, New York Cit y, Bronx, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 3-627, sheet 11A, famil y 210, NARA digital publication T627, roll 2477.

  6. John Browne y Ayes says:

    Addendum: Second Source showing another child who added paternal surname:

    Given names: Arturo
    Surnames: Atilano Ayes
    Ship arrival date: 26 Jul 1920
    Arrival age: 20y
    Nationality: U,S.A.
    Departure port name: San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Ship arrival port: New York
    Gender: Male
    Marital status: S
    US citizen: X
    Ship name: Ponce
    Collection: New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island) 1892-1924

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