An early Valentine’s Day card to the grandparents I never knew.
Tuesday, February 14th, is Valentine’s Day. And it was on that day, 94 years ago, that my German grandparents tied the knot.
Don’t they look like a happy bunch! I think it must have been against the law or something to smile in a photo back then.
The older couple, seated, are Hugo Ernst’s parents, Hermann Eduard Geissler and Emma (Graumüller) Geissler. Marie’s mother was dead by this time.3 For whatever reason, her father wasn’t in this picture. It’s possible this picture was taken after the wedding, with his family in Thüringen, rather than in Bremen, although I think some of the others are Marie’s siblings (and perhaps a niece) as well as Hugo Ernst’s sisters.
I never knew any of these people. I never met my father’s extended family. Even my grandparents were dead before I was born.4 So I never had the chance to talk to them about what it was like to leave behind everything they knew when they emigrated to the United States,5 settling in Chicago.6 To leave the grave of their first-born, a daughter, Marie, who died in Bremen as an infant.7 To pack up their surviving three-year-old child — my father — and take him across the sea. And to begin again in an entirely new world.
For the longest time, I confess, I didn’t have much appreciation of their immigrant experience. They came over in the 20th century, not the 17th; they didn’t face the terrors of long voyages in small ships. They weren’t the first in the family to come to America; Hugo Ernst had two aunts,8 an uncle,9 cousins10 and even three sisters11 who had come before and were waiting in Chicago when he brought his small family over. Yes, they were leaving the life they had known, but to anyone living in post-World War I Germany even the unknowns of Chicago must have seemed so much better.
Then I took my first trip to Germany as an adult. For the first time, I found myself in the position my grandparents had been in: I was a stranger in a strange land. The language was a struggle. The customs were alien. Even the food wasn’t what I was used to.12
But there was a huge difference between my experience and theirs. I had a round-trip ticket. Sure, I struggled at times. But I knew I was going home at the end of my visit. They were trying to make a home in a new land.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the pilgrims. But it wasn’t a cakewalk either. Their decision to make that new home took a great deal of courage and determination. So when the Ellis Island Foundation set up its Immigrant Wall of Honor, there was only one thing I could do: I made sure their names were added to it.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Hugo Ernst and Marie. And happy anniversary.
- Heiraten (Marriages), p. 41, nr. 5, Geißler-Nuckel, 14 Feb 1918; Kirchenbuch (Church Book), Evangelische Kirche St. Jakobi, Bremen, Heiraten 1911-1930; FHL INTL microfilm 953,273. ↩
- Bescheinigung der Eheschließung (Certificate of Marriage), nr. 135 (1918), Geißler-Nuckel, Standesamt (Registry Office), Bremen. ↩
- “Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen” (Funerary books of the City of Bremen), 1875-1939, database, entry for Juliane Margarethe (Smidt) Nuckel, 30 Jan 1907, Die Maus (Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen) (http://www.die-maus-bremen.de/index.php : accessed 10 Feb 2012). ↩
- Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 1124, Hugo Ernst Geissler, 13 Jan 1945; Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield. Also, ibid., death certificate no. 12011, Marie Geissler, 12 Apr 1947. ↩
- Manifest, S.S. George Washington, Jan-Feb 1925, p. 59 (stamped), lines 4-6, Geissler family, 4; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605. ↩
- 1930 U.S. census, Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 16-598, p. 18B (penned), dwelling 155, family 386, Hugo E. Geissler household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 441. ↩
- “Funerary books of the City of Bremen,” entry for Marie Emma Geißler, 23 Jan 1920. ↩
- For Augusta Paula (Graumüller) Schreiner: 1900 U.S. census, Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 914, p. 71A (stamped), dwelling 210, family 528, Frank Sweiner household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 282. For Anna (Graumüller) Nitschke: 1910 U.S. census, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1272, p. 20A (penned), family 344, Anna Nitckle household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 275. ↩
- 1920 U.S. census, Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1878, p. 3A (penned), dwelling 37, family 53, Amel Gramuller; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 348. ↩
- For Elisabeth Marks: 1920 U.S. census, Cook Co., IL, pop. sched., ED 1789, p. 2A (penned), dwell. 25, fam. 33, Herman Marks household. For Willy and Alfred Benschura: Manifest, S.S. George Washington, 9 January 1924, p. 137 (stamped), lines 15-16, Alfred and Willy Benschura (NARA T715, roll 3439). ↩
- For Hedwig “Hattie” (Geissler) Knop: 1910 U.S. census, Cook Co., IL, pop. sched., ED 1358, p. 7B (penned), dwell. 106, fam. 148, Hattie Knop. For Elly (Geissler) Nasgowitz: Manifest, S.S. President Harding, January 1923, p. 131 (stamped), line 1, Elly Nasgowitz (NARA T715, roll 3244). For Martha (Geissler) Benschura: Manifest, S.S. President Arthur, 19 March 1923, p. 125 (stamped), line 2, Martha Benschura (NARA T715, roll 3269). ↩
- The beer, on the other hand… ↩