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The absent baptism

Being annoyed at people who were dead before you were born is not The Legal Genealogist‘s suggested (or preferred) mental state when dealing with genealogical records. Brick walls, maybe. When you know the evidence is going to be there, somewhere, well …

But boy am I annoyed at the German grandparents I never met. I mean, really. They have a lot of nerve. Just plain inconsiderate, I say.

Can you tell yet that I had absolutely no luck while I was attending the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) in finding that one critical missing record I most wanted to find at the Family History Library?


You see, I grew up thinking my father was an only child. That’s what he’d said and, I suppose, in most of the ways that mattered to him in his life, it was true. The problem is that it wasn’t quite true. He wasn’t an only child; he was simply the only surviving child.

And oh… oh man… did I ever want to find the baptismal record of his one and only sibling, an older sister, who died 93 years ago, in January 1920, at the age of four months and 10 days.

Marie Emma Geissler was born 10 September 1919 in Bremen, Germany,1 and died at the Children’s Hospital there on 20 January 1920. She was buried at Walle Cemetery in Bremen on 23 January 1920.2

And that is literally all I know about her.

Birth records in Germany are sealed for 110 years. I can’t find an exception in the law for immediate relatives (I’m as immediate as it gets in this family since my grandparents and father are all dead), nor can I find an exception if the person herself is deceased.3 So, as far as I know, I can’t get her official birth record.

Death records, however, are now available 30 years after death, so I should be able to get her death certificate — but anyone who’s tried to pay for an official record from Germany, as I have, knows how hard it is to deal with the fees and bank transfers and and and… Still, I am going to order it or, better yet, go get it myself if I can find some room in both my schedule and my budget.

But the church records of her baptism should be good for the getting.

There’s just one hitch. I don’t know where she was baptized. I don’t even know for certain that she was baptized.

I thought perhaps my grandparents would have had her baptized in the same church where they had my father baptized. So I was absolutely thrilled when I was at SLIG to discover that the church books for the Zions Lutheran Church (Zionskirche) in Bremen, where my father was baptized in 1922, had been microfilmed for the years 1898-1958.

All week at SLIG I had dutifully studied German research techniques (when I wasn’t teaching in other classes or venues, that is). Or I was looking up other records for future lectures. Finally, on my last day there, one day before the 93rd anniversary of Marie’s death, I simply put everything aside, went down to the German floor, found the roll of microfilm and carefully loaded it into the microfilm reader.

The baptisms (Taufen) were filmed in reverse order, newest to oldest. I cranked quickly backwards from 1958 through the 1950s, 1940s, 1930s and into the 1920s. I slowed down. 1929. 1928. 1927. 1926. 1925. 1924. 1923. 1922.

And there was my father. Baptized 12 February 1922. Born 5 July 1921. Father Hugo Ernst Geissler, a locksmith. Mother Marie Margarethe nee (geb.) Nuckel. No godparents listed, darn it, but hey… I’ll take it.4

Still, I already had that information. That wasn’t the baptismal record I was after.

Back through 1921. Carefully through 1920. The winter. The fall. The summer. The spring. March. February. January. Not there.

Back to 1919.

December, nothing.

November, nothing.

October, nothing.

And… sigh… September, nothing.

Now really, Grandma and Grandpa I never met, you couldn’t have had your daughter baptized in the same church where you had your son baptized? You’re going to make me wait until 2029 to see if it was mentioned in her birth registration? Or search through every church record in the entire city of Bremen once they become available, which may not be until after 2029 anyway?

How very rude of you.


  1. The birth date is calculated from her age as reported in her burial record. See “Funerary Records 1875-1939 (Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875-1939),” Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen (Gesellschaft für Familienforschung e. V. Bremen) ( : accessed 25 Jan 2013).
  2. Ibid.
  3. See generally (, “Personenstandsrechtsreformgesetz (Personal Law Reform Act),” rev. 21 Oct 2011.
  4. Evangelische Zionskirche, Bremen, Kirchenbuch, Taufregister Nr. 3 aus 1922, Baptismal Record of Hugo Hermann Geissler, 12 Feb 1922; FHL microfilm 953275.
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