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Marriage first, except …

Okay, The Legal Genealogist would like to try to get something across to the family.

My family.

Really, guys, it’s supposed to work like this: you meet, you fall in love, you marry and you have kids.

In. That. Order.

There’s even a jump-rope rhyme we all learned, right? “Johnny and Janie sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Janie with a baby carriage.”

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I know this isn’t always the order of things, particularly not in my mother’s southern U.S. family where, at least once in every generation, we can find some Papa with a shotgun and/or one of our seemingly-typical eight-pound six-month preemies.1

WillyAnd it seems that even in my father’s oh-so-rule-abiding German family, I can see an occasional lapse, particularly because it was expensive and sometime difficult to marry in Germany.

So I can be bitterly disappointed to discover that the only recorded parent of my great grandfather Hermann Geissler when he was baptized in Ossig, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, in 1855, was his mother — Friedrike Geissler.2 Not because of any issue with her infidelity — Friedrike did give him a stepfather a few years later3 — but because to this day there’s no record I’ve been able to find of Hermann’s biological father nor of any siblings.

And it really wasn’t a surprise to me to see the same sort of thing on my paternal grandmother’s side — things like the birth of Anna Adelheid Lahrs in Bremen on the 4th of December 1832, to my then-unmarried third great grandmother Beta Lahrs.4 Her birth was recorded under her mother’s surname; she was legitimated by the marriage of her parents less than a year later, in August 1833.5 That legitimization was not recorded until 1860 when she herself went to marry.6

So I get it. Sometimes the order is like this: you meet, you fall in love, you fool around, you have a kid — singular — and then you get married.

But it looks like one of my German grandfather’s sisters didn’t get that memo either.

A fellow genealogist, German researcher Ursula Krause, is rounding up some records and doing some boots-on-the-ground work for me in Germany right now and, yesterday, a document landed in my lap.

I’d always kind of wondered about two young brothers who emigrated to the United States together, arriving at Ellis Island on 9 January 1924. Alfred and Willy Walter Benschura both said they were the sons of my grandfather’s sister Martha Pauline (Geissler) Benschura.7

There’s just one little problem here.

• Alfred said he was born in 1904.8

• Willy said he was born in 1905.9

• But Paul Benschura and Martha Pauline Geissler didn’t marry until the 31st of July, 1906.10

So maybe one of them was wrong about the year…

Um… no.

Willy’s birth record is the record that landed in my lap yesterday. He was definitely the younger of the two… and, sure enough, he was born on the 6th of May 1905. There’s even a marginal note where his father Paul acknowledged him as his own the day he and Martha married … a year later … in 1906.11

Now at the top of the out-of-wedlock leaderboard is still one of my southern U.S. kin — my fourth great grandparents William and Ann (Jacobs) Battles had five kids before William’s first wife died and he was free to marry Ann.12

But it sure looks like my German grandfather’s sister Martha may come in second in that category.

There’s an old joke I heard long ago about the old mountain man who called all his many children to his bedside as he was dying. “Your maw and me,” he said, “we was mighty poor when time came to get shackled. Couldn’t afford no way to town, nor that license neither. So, well, your maw and me, we never did get married.” And with that he died. The children all stood silently looking at each other until the oldest son finally said, “Well… why don’t one of you little bastards say something?”

I love my family.

I just wish one of the little bastards would have said something!


Image: The marginal note legitimating Willy.

  1. You notice I’m not naming names here. I will simply note that one member of my generation is bigger than I am.
  2. Evangelische Kirche Ossig (Kr. Zeitz), Kirchenbuchduplikat, 1799-1874, Staatarchiv Magdeburg (Church book duplicates of the Lutheran Church in Ossig, 1799-1874, State Archive, Magdeburg); Taufregister (Baptismal Register) 1855 nr. 4, Hermann Eduard Geisler; FHL microfilm 1335488.
  3. Ibid., Heiraten (Marriages), Johann Gottlieb Stecher-Friederike Geissler (13 Feb 1859), FHL microfilm 1335488.
  4. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Geburten (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, births), 1811-1875; Anna Adelheid Lahrs, Geburten 1832, Reg. Nr. 1275 (7 Dec 1832), p. 629; FHL microfilm 1344155).
  5. Ibid., Heiraten (marriages); Gerd Nuckel and Beta Lars, Heiraten 1833, p, 249; FHL microilm 1344189).
  6. Ibid.; Johann Jacob Kung and Anna Adelheid Nuckel, Heiraten 1860, p. 37; FHL microfilm 1344200).
  7. Manifest, S.S. George Washington, 9 January 1924, p. 137 (stamped), lines 15-16, Alfred and Willy Benschura (NARA T715, roll 3439).
  8. Naturalization petition 71107, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Alfred Benschura, 11 Feb 1929, approved 23 May 1929; FHL microfilm 1468268.
  9. Naturalization petition 171783, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Willy Walter Benschura, 13 Sep 1938, approved 14 Dec 1938; FHL microfilm 2131354.
  10. Marriage record, Paul Alfred Benschura and Martha Pauline Geißler, 31 Jul 1906; Ahnenforschung Familie Geissler u. a. in Gera, Stadtarchiv, Gera, 22 Jun 2009.
  11. Gera Standesamt, Geburten (Gera registry office, births), Willy Walter Geissler, Geburten 1905, Reg. Nr. 557 (6 May 1905).
  12. See Judy G. Russell, “Picking your Battles,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 11 Dec 2015).
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