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110 years apart

It’s funny how it seems that family events tend to pile up on particular days. In my family, we’re heavy on birthdays in one fairly short time period in March (and no, not all of them — or even most of them — can be explained by a bunch of June brides).

Among the living members of the family, we positively pile on in early May birthdays. (And we’re impatiently awaiting yet another early May arrival this year, with bets being taken on whether the young’un becomes the fourth immediate family member to share one birthday.)

Poking around in my database, the 19th of January is one of those pile-on dates. And two events on that day hit home in a big way.

Martha’s birth. Hugo’s death. Aunt and nephew. My great aunt and my father. Both on the same day, one hundred and ten years apart.

And, together, teaching me a lesson when it came to documenting their deaths.

Martha Pauline Geissler, daughter of Hermann Eduard Geissler and Emma Louisa Graumüller, was born on 19 January 1884 and was baptized on 17 February 1884 at Bad Köstritz,1 then part of the tiny German principality of Reuss jungerer linie.2

She married Paul Benschura in Gera, the capital city of the principality, on 31 July 1906,3 after the births of both of her sons (Alfred, on 16 May 1904, and Willy, a year later on 6 May 1905).4 She and Paul were divorced in February 1923.5

Martha arrived in the United States only a month after her divorce. She was listed on the ship’s manifest as a 39-year-old housewife, 5’6″ tall, blue eyes and blonde hair.6

In 1930, she was living in Chicago with both sons; she was shown on the census as head of household, age 46, widowed, a seamstress in a furniture shop.7 In 1940, she and Alfred were living on Lill Avenue in Chicago; she was shown as age 55, an alien, who’d lived in Germany in 1935.8

Martha didn’t make it to the 1950 census. She died at Cook County Hospital in Chicago on 17 June 1949.9 She was 65 years old.

Martha’s baby brother was my grandfather Hugo Ernst Geissler, and my father Hugo Hermann Geissler was her nephew. His parents, my grandparents, had met and married in Bremen, Germany,10 and my father was born there in 1921.11 They came to America in 1925.12

My father was a nine-year-old schoolboy living with his parents in 1930,13 and an 18-year-old college student enumerated in his parents’ household in 1940.14 He married three times, divorced twice (my mother was wife and divorce #2) and fathered a total of eight children between his first two wives.

And on 19 January 1994, 110 years to the day after his aunt Martha was born (and 19 years ago today), he died of a massive heart attack at his home in Utah.15

Now it’s odd enough to have two such important family events occurring coincidentally on the same day, especially given the fact that this was a ridiculously small family by the standards of my mother’s boisterous and prolific clan.

But what really struck me as I was puttering around in the records for this blog post was the difference in the reliability of the information included in the documentation of the deaths of these two family members. Remember: they both died in the 20th century, well after mandatory death recordation began. If anything, the assumption might be that Martha’s death record might be suspect — she died much earlier than my father — but my father’s more recent death record should be reliable.

And that assumption would be dead wrong.

I’d have been just fine accepting almost every bit of detail from my great aunt Martha’s death certificate. The death record says the information came from hospital records, and I can only assume that she herself provided most of the data because it’s spot on with other evidence. It has her birthdate and parents listed correctly, and the only information with even a small issue is the birthplace: the death certificate says Hoestritz (the umlauted o being replaced in English with oe), instead of Koestritz.

But my father’s death certificate? Oy… There are no fewer than four errors in the facts provided by his third wife — two of them fairly minor and two that would give future genealogists running fits. The death certificate gives his middle name as “Herman” (it was Hermann — double n at the end), his city of birth as “Bremem” (it was Bremen, n and not m at the end).

Then it goes on to misidentify both of this parents. It lists his father as “Herman” Geissler (that was his grandfather; his father was Hugo Ernst Geissler) and his mother as Marie “Nukla” (she was Marie Nuckel).

Talk about a lesson for a modern-day genealogist: recent doesn’t necessarily mean reliable.


  1. Church Records, Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 34 Nr. 4 aus 1884, Baptismal Record of Martha Pauline Geissler (digital image of record in possession of JG Russell).
  2. (, “Reuß jüngerer Linie,” rev. 12 Dec 2012.
  3. Ahnenforschung Familie Geissler u. a. in Gera, prepared by an archivist at the Stadtarchiv, Gera, 22 Jun 2009.
  4. As to Alfred, see Naturalization petition 71107, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Alfred Benschura, 11 Feb 1929, approved 23 May 1929; FHL microfilm 1468268. As to Willy, see Naturalization petition 171783, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Willy Walter Benschura, 13 Sep 1938, approved 14 Dec 1938; FHL microfilm 2131354.
  5. Ahnenforschung Familie Geissler u. a. in Gera.
  6. Manifest, SS President Arthur, March 1923, p. 125 (stamped), line 2, Martha Benschura, 39; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 28 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3269.
  7. 1930 U.S. census, Cook County, IL, population schedule, Chicago, Ward 43, p. 116(B) (stamped), sheet 20(B), enumeration district (ED) 1579, dwelling 173, family 538, Martha Geissler household; digital image, ( : accessed 9 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 484.
  8. 1940 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago Ward 44, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 103-2827, page 40389(A) (stamped), sheet 11(A), household 248, Martha Benschura and Fred Benschura; digital image, ( : accessed 31 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 1010.
  9. Illinois Department of Public Health, Death Certificate 18330, Martha Benschura, 17 Jun 1949, Bureau of Vital Statistics & Records, Springfield, IL.
  10. 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. Also Bescheinigung der Eheschließung (Certificate of Marriage), nr. 135 (1918), Geißler-Nuckel, Standesamt (Registry Office), Bremen.
  11. Birth Certificate, No. 2888, Bremen; filed with Application for Certificate of Derivative Citizenship, No. 11A-2840, 3 Feb 1943; USCIS, Hugo Hermann Geissler Naturalization file no. A-47700.
  12. Manifest, SS George Washington, Jan-Feb 1925, p. 59 (stamped, lines 4-6, Hugo, Marie and Hugo Geissler; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 28 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  13. 1930 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago Ward 16, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 17, page 223(B) (stamped), sheet 18(B), dwelling 155, family 386, Hugo Geissler Jr.; digital image, ( : accessed 5 Apr 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 441.
  14. 1940 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago Ward 13, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 103-867, page 1,429(B) (stamped), sheet 61(B), household 52, Margarite M. Geissler; digital image, ( : accessed 2 Apr 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 947.
  15. Utah Department of Health, Death Certificate, no. 143-94-000152, Hugo H. Geissler (1994); Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Salt Lake City.
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