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National Grandparents Day

It’s National Grandparents Day today, 9 September 2012, in the United States. All over the country, if grandchildren are wise, they’ll be picking up the telephone to call their grandfathers, sending flowers to their grandmothers.

Would that The Legal Genealogist could do either, for any of my four grandparents.

Two — my father’s parents — I never knew. Both were dead before I was born. I knew my mother’s parents well; my maternal grandfather lived until 1970, and my maternal grandmother until 1995. Being able to pick up the phone, to send flowers… it would be a dream come true and it hurts knowing it can’t be done.

And among the many things that hurt this National Grandparents Day is knowing that I don’t have — and may never get — the maternal (mitochondrial, mtDNA1) and paternal (YDNA2) haplogroups for all four.

Maternal Grandparents

We’re okay on my maternal grandparents’ sides, thanks to the willingness of various kin to be tested.

Clay Rex Cottrell, 1898-1970

My maternal grandfather Clay Rex Cottrell was born 20 April 1898 in Iowa Park, Wichita County, Texas, and died 21 September 1970 in Richmond, Virginia.3 His son, my uncle, has been YDNA tested so we know that his haplogroup was R1b1a2. Clay’s mother was Martha “Mattie” H. Johnson Cottrell, and we will soon know her mtDNA haplogroup. A second cousin, a great granddaughter who descends from Mattie through daughter Maud and granddaughter Ravia, has been tested and we’re just waiting for her mtDNA results.

Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, 1898-1995

My maternal grandmother Opal E. (Robertson) Cottrell was born 21 August 1898 in Eagle Lake, Colorado County, Texas, and died 15 March 1995 in Charlottesville, Virginia.4 Her nephew, son of her brother Ray, my first cousin once removed, has been YDNA tested so we know that the Roberston YDNA haplogroup is J2. And I’m the stand-in for the mtDNA side: I am the daughter of her daughter, and our mtDNA haplogroup is H3g.

Paternal Grandparents

But the German side is a real bottleneck — we’re only batting 25% there.

Hugo Ernst Geissler, 1891-1945

My paternal grandfather Hugo Ernst Geissler was born 24 March 1891 in Bad Köstritz, Thüringen, Germany,5 and died 13 January 1945 in Chicago, Illinois.6 My brother, his grandson, has been YDNA tested so we know that his haplogroup was E1b1b1a1b. But there is no living direct-line female descendant of Hugo Ernst’s mother, Emma Louisa (Graumüller) Geissler, to test for his mtDNA haplogroup. Of her five daughters, two had no children and three only had sons and no daughters. We can only hope that, one day, we can locate a direct-line female descendant of Emma’s mother, Auguste Wilhelmina (Zimmermann) Graumüller, or another representative of that line.

Marie (Nuckel) Geissler, 1891-1947

My paternal grandmother Marie Margarethe (Nuckel) Geissler was born 9 February 1891 in Bremen, Germany,7 and died 12 April 1947 in Chicago, Illinois.8 As far as we know, Marie had no brothers who lived past childhood; her father Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel was an only son; and while he certainly had male cousins who we hope had sons, as yet we don’t have the Nuckel YDNA haplogroup. Marie herself had only one daughter, Marie, who died as an infant in Bremen.9 We know she had sisters, and at least one sister had a daughter, but we haven’t yet located records of that sister or her daughter. We’re hoping the recent changes in German privacy laws will help there.

So there’s a double moral to this story.

First, pick up the phone and call your grandparents today. Send flowers. Love them. They’re gone too soon.

And second, get them — or kin who represent them in the lines of descent — DNA-tested now.

Time is running…


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA,” rev. 30 Jul 2010.
  2. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 23 Jul 2011.
  3. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 70-026729, Clay Rex Cottrell (1970); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  4. Va. Dept. of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell (1995).
  5. Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 69 Nr. 21 aus 1891, Baptismal Record of Hugo Ernst Geissler; digital image in possession of JG Russell.
  6. Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate No. 1145, Hugo Ernst Geissler, 13 Jan 1945; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Springfield.
  7. Bremen birth certificate, attached to visa application, Form 255, 4 December 1924, Marie Geissler; photocopy received 2004 via FOIA request by Judy G. Russell from U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).
  8. Ill. Dept. of Public Health, death certificate no. 12011, Marie Geissler, 12 Apr 1947.
  9. Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875-1939” (Funerary Records of Bremen from 1875-1939), Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen ( : accessed 8 Sep 2012).
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