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The one I never met

He was born 128 years ago tomorrow.

A father twice over.

A grandfather eight times over.

A great grandfather 13 times over.

A great great grandfather 11 times over with a 12th on the way.

And he only ever saw three of those descendants in his lifetime.

He buried his first-born child when she was just four months old.

He raised his one surviving child to adulthood.

And he died when that surviving child’s first-born child was just five months old.

He was a man to whom The Legal Genealogist owes her very existence.

And a man I never met.

My grandfather. My father’s father. Hugo Ernst Geissler.

He was born at 6:30 p.m. 24 March 1891 in Bad Köstritz,1 a town then in the Principality of Reuß jüngerer Linie and now in the district of Greiz, in Thüringen, Germany. Its total population in 2016 was fewer than 3,600 people.2

He died 13 January 1945 in Chicago, Illinois, of cancer, at the age of 53,3 years before I was born.

I know he spent his earliest childhood there in the village where he was born. The family moved to Gera before he was 10.4 I don’t know, yet, what his schooling was, but we have a photo of a young boy in uniform and I have to wonder if perhaps he wasn’t in some sort of military school. He certainly was living in Bremen, miles from his Thüringen family, by 1911, when at the age of 20 he registered for military service and, by 1912, was serving in the German army.5

Hugo Ernst Geissler

Hugo Ernst Geissler, 1891-1945 (highlighted, second from left)

He was in the German Army — a gefreiter — probably closest to a private first class — during World War I. Because of records losses suffered during World War II, there are no real surviving records of his military service.6 But from photos that have been handed down in the family, we know that he served in the Grenadier-Regt. König Friedrich I (4.Ostpreußisches) Nr.5 (Danzig) XVII Armee Korps, and in the Danziger Infanterie-Regt. Nr.128 (Danzig; III Bn Neufahrwasser) XVII Armee Korps. His term of service continued to perhaps as late as 1918 (he wore a German Army uniform at his wedding in February 1918).

He met my grandmother Marie — or so the story goes — in a beer garden in Bremen. They were married on Valentine’s Day 1918 in Bremen. He was shown on his marriage record as a machinist living in Bremen.7

He and Marie had a baby girl, Marie Emma, who was born in September 1919 and died just four months later, in January 1920.8 Their only other child, my father, was born in Bremen in 1921.9

In 1925, Hugo Ernst gathered up his little family and took them to America on the SS George Washington; they landed in New York on 6 February 1925.10 He went west, to Chicago, where he had kin.

And there he worked, hard, in hard-labor jobs, all the years until his death. Except for a few brief months when he ran a delicatessen in Chicago,11 he was a coal foundry worker and day laborer the entire 20 years he spent in Chicago.

Listing all these details, it may seem like I know a lot about my grandfather.

The truth is, he’d be an utter stranger to me if he were sitting across from me having a cup of coffee this morning.

I don’t know a thing about what he was like. What his eyes looked like when the light hit them. What made him laugh. If anything at all made him cry.

I don’t know if he shaved every day or let the stubble grow when he didn’t have to go to work.

I don’t know what his favorite season was. If he loved or hated the snow.

I don’t know what his favorite meal was and if there was anything he wouldn’t eat.

I don’t know if he ever regretted coming to America.

I don’t know if he was at peace — with himself, with the world he’d made — when he breathed his last.

And yet I still do have this wistful sense from everything I know about the man that I would have liked him.

He made people laugh. He’s the one in the photos playing with his son in the lake or in the park or on the playground. He’s the one who’s smiling when everyone else in a photo has that German immigrant poker face on. He’s the one even my father’s first wife enjoyed being around.

And he’s most assuredly the one I wish I had been able to know.

Even if just long enough for a cup of coffee and a chat…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The one I wish I’d known,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 23 Mar 2019).


  1. Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 69 Nr. 21 aus 1891, Baptismal Record of Hugo Ernst Geissler (digital image of record in possession of JG Russell). Also, Standesamt Bad Köstritz, Geburten, No. 23, 1891, Hugo Ernst Geissler.
  2. Wikipedia DE (, “Bad Köstritz,” rev. 28 Feb 2019.
  3. Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 1145, Hugo Geissler, 13 Jan 1945; Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield.
  4. Adreßbuch der Haupt- und Residenzstadt Gera, 1901, p. 29, entry for Geissler, Hermann, ausseher, Moltkestrasse 42.
  5. Alphabetische Liste des Aushebungsbezirks Bremen – Geburtsjahr 1891, Bd· 03 G-H; Bremen, Germany, Military Lists, 1712-1914, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2019).
  6. Wikipedia DE (, “Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv,” rev. 11 Dec 2018.
  7. 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.
  8. Standesamt Bremen, Geburten, Nr. 2420, 1919, Marie Emma Geissler. Also, ibid., Todten, Nr. 226, 1920, Marie Emma Geissler.
  9. Standesamt Bremen, Geburten, Nr. 2888, 1921, Hugo Hermann Geissler. Also, Evangelische Zionskirche, Bremen, Kirchenbuch, Taufregister Nr. 3 aus 1922, Baptismal Record of Hugo Hermann Geissler, 12 Feb 1922.
  10. 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 22 Mar 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  11. See Judy G. Russell, “The delicatessen,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Sep 2014 ( : accessed 22 Mar 2019).
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