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Finding the unexpected

So The Legal Genealogist is on the road (again) (yeah, what else is new, I know, I know), this time in Chicago where I have the honor of speaking to the Chicago Genealogical Society today. It’s going to be a ton of fun as we explore everything from 17th century thinking about law and women to 21st century concepts of DNA as part of genealogical research.

But yesterday… oh, yesterday… yesterday I got to do something totally outrageous.

I got to research (gasp) my family.

My father’s family, to be precise.

My German immigrant family that began to settle here in the Windy City sometime back in the late 19th century.

My great grandaunt Auguste Pauline (Graumüller) Schreiner and her husband Herman Franz “Frank” Schreiner were the first to come to America, in 1886,1 and the first to settle in Chicago, by 1888.2

My grandparents, Hugo Ernst and Marie (Nuckel) Geissler — bringing with them their then-not-yet-four-year-old son, my father — were the last to come over, in 1925.3

I never knew my grandparents; both were dead before I was born.4 My father rarely spoke of his family, and the little I knew about what my grandfather did for a living was confined to things like what he reported when he applied for a Social Security number: he was a laborer.5

But yesterday… oh, yesterday… yesterday I learned a little bit more.

Yesterday, thanks to CGS President Stephanie Carbonetti, I got to go to the Newberry Library in Chicago. Although I was a bit like a kid in a candy shop, not knowing what to sample first, I managed to concentrate just long enough to think that one thing I really needed to look at was the Newberry’s set of Chicago telephone directories.

And there it was. Right there in the 1930 telephone book:


My grandfather ran a delicatessen.6

Now I don’t know — I can’t know — what the neighborhood around 1059 North Laramie Avenue or even what the building that housed the deli might have looked like in 1930 or 1931. But I sure know what that location looks like today, thanks to Google Street View:


It’s that building on the left with the green overhang that’s 1059 North Laramie. And to my genealogist-granddaughter’s eyes, it looks wonderful.

I hope my grandfather enjoyed being a shopkeeper. I hope he loved the smell and the feel of the things he bought and sold. I hope that he had an absolute ball during the short time the deli operated.

Because it was a short time. An all-too-short time.

My grandfather couldn’t have known, when he opened the doors of that business, mostly likely in 1929, that the Wall Street Crash that year wasn’t a short-term phenomenon. That its effects would deepen and spread and, eventually, wipe out a corner deli at 1059 North Laramie Avenue in Chicago.

By 1932, there was no telephone listing for the Geissler delicatessen any more. There wouldn’t be a telephone listing for any Geissler again in Chicago until the 1940s.

But for that brief moment, in that small shop, my grandfather ran a delicatessen.

And yesterday… oh, yesterday… yesterday the telephone books in the Newberry Library brought it all to life.


  1. See 1910 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago Ward 29, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1272, p. 71A (penned), dwelling 144, family 346, Frank Schreiner household; digital image, ( : accessed 4 July 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 275.
  2. See Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago, 1888 (Chicago: Chicago Directory Co., 1888), 1508; digital images, ( : accessed 12 Sep 2014).
  3. Manifest, S.S. George Washington, Jan-Feb 1925, p. 59 (stamped), lines 4-6, Geissler family; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  4. Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 1145, Hugo Geissler, 13 Jan 1945; Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield. Also, Ill. Dept. of Public Health, death certif. No. 12011, Marie Geissler, 12 Jan 1947.
  5. Hugo Ernst Geissler, SS no. (withheld), 17 Dec 1936, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore.
  6. Chicago Telephone Directory, Summer 1930 (Chicago: Illinois Bell Telephone Co., 1930), 474, entry for Geissler, Hugo; microfilm, Newberry Library, Chicago.
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