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Stopping and looking at one short life

The first-born child of Hugo Ernst and Marie Margarethe (Nuckel) Geissler, Marie Emma Geissler should have provided The Legal Genealogist with all the cover for mischief that only an aunt can provide.

She should have provided me with stories about all the mean things her little brother, my father, did to her while they were kids.

She should have given me cousins who could share my love of wiener schnitzel as much as my cousins on the other side share my love of chicken-fried steak.

She should have connected me to the history of our German ancestors and their customs and their ways.

She should have shared with me our roots.

But Marie Emma Geissler did none of those things.

Marie's death, 1920Instead, Marie Emma Geissler breathed her last 98 years ago today.

She was, then, just four months and 10 days old.

Marie’s parents, my paternal grandparents, were married on Valentine’s Day 1918 there in Bremen,1 where my grandmother’s family had lived for generations. Wedding photos show my grandfather tall and stern in his German Army uniform, and Marie radiant in her wedding gown and veil.

This child, their first, was born almost exactly 19 months later, on 10 September 1919, there in Bremen, Germany.2 Her father was working as a locksmith at the time. Both of her parents were 28 years old.

I imagine that Marie had blue eyes as her father and her brother did, though they might have gone on to darken with age to match her mother’s. I imagine that she was chubby and pink-cheeked and almost undoubtedly screamingly blonde. I imagine she was as fair as all her family members were.

And I imagine that both of her parents thought the sun and the moon rose and set for that little girl. That she was loved and cherished and cared for.

And I can only begin to imagine what her parents’ pain was like that day, 98 years ago today, when — at 10 o’clock in the morning at the Children’s Hospital in Bremen — Marie Emma Geissler breathed her last.3

Or when her own father, my grandfather, had to go to the City Registrar’s Office the next day, January 21st, to report her death… and sign the certificate.4

Or when they laid her to rest at Walle Cemetery in Bremen on 23 January 1920, in a Klasse 5 funeral,5 the least expensive and least formal.6

Or when, in 1925, they left Germany with their second-born child, their one surviving child, my father, for a new life in the United States.7

Leaving Marie Emma behind.


My friend and fellow genealogist Rick Fogarty reminded me yesterday, in a Facebook post, that we need to “stop and look at the life of someone who has died.” That especially in the case of the children our families have lost, we can “let their legacy and memory continue…, no matter how short or long their time on earth was.” That it’s our obligation to “do it for those who need their tragically short stories told.”8

You are not forgotten, Marie Emma, despite your tragically short story.

Let your legacy and memory continue.


  1. 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.
  2. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister (Bremen city registry office, civil status registers), Geburten (Births) 1919, Reg. Nr. 2420, Marie Emma Geissler (1919).
  3. Ibid., Todten (Deaths), Reg. Nr. 226, Marie Emma Geissler (1920).
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Funerary Records of Bremen since 1875 (Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen ab 1875),” Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen (Gesellschaft für Familienforschung e. V. Bremen) ( : accessed 19 Jan 2018).
  6. See FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “Germany Funerary Customs and Practices,” rev. 14 June 2017.
  7. Manifest, SS George Washington, 6 February 1925, stamped page 59, lines 4-6, Hugo, Marie and Hugo Geissler; digital images, ( : accessed 12 Jan 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  8. Rick Fogarty, Facebook status update, 18 Jan 2018.
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