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A tragic end to a hardscrabble life

It’s too small even to count as a village in the middle of Germany.

Today, it’s little more than a bend in the road in Sachsen-Anhalt, the Federal State in central Germany bordered by Brandenburg to the east, Saxony to the southeast, Thuringia to the southwest and Lower Saxony to the west.1

It was Kuhndorf then, and Droßdorf today, part of the Gutenborn municipality in what’s called Burgenlandkreis.2 It’s predominantly rural, predominantly agricultural, with the Weißen Elster river running nearby, and with lush green forests throughout — the Droyßiger Forest, the Zeitzer Forest, just to name two.

The nearest “big” town, Zeitz, has only about 28,000 in total population even today.3

A Google Maps satellite view of the area shows it even now to be a simple quiet place, with small hamlets surrounded by those forests.

Google Maps Drossdorf

In the summer of 1880, you’d think it would have been idyllic.

But not for Friederike.

Not in the summer of 1880.

The Legal Genealogist has written about Friederike before, about how this second great grandmother had had a child born out of wedlock in 1855.4

I wasn’t complaining about the child, mind you — he was my great grandfather Hermann, and but for that birth, I wouldn’t be here! But I was complaining about the fact that his mother didn’t tell the Lutheran minister who baptized him who the baby’s father was. Since the only YDNA matches my brothers have are to each other, there’s not much chance of ever knowing who he was…

And I sure didn’t focus at the time on what Friederike’s life must have been like, there in that corner of Germany.

Friederike was born 11 June 1824 in Reußen, Sachsen-Anhalt, and baptized three days later.5 She was the oldest of the children of Friedrich Geissler, a laborer, and his wife Johanne Sophia (Schumann) Geissler that we’ve been able to identify.6

She was 10 when a baby sister died, she lost her father when she was 11, a younger brother when she was 20, a nephew and godson when she was not quite 23.7

She was unmarried and working as a maidservant when her son Hermann was born in Ossig, Sachsen-Anhalt, in April of 1855.8 Whoever the father was, he never acknowledged his son; Hermann never took his name.

In short, Friederike had a pretty hardscrabble life.

It may have seemed things were looking up when she married four years later, to Johann Gottlieb Stecher in Ossig.9 She bore him a son, Adolph Gustav Stecher, in 1860.10

But that marriage didn’t last. By the summer 1880, she was a divorced 56-year-old woman working as a manual laborer.

And she clearly didn’t see the forests nearby as idyllic.

She saw them only as a way out.

Out of a life that had become something she couldn’t bear.

An entry in the Main Register of the Civil Registration Office in Haynsburg (the nearest town at the time with a registrar) tells the rest of the story. Dated 29 June 1880, it reports:

Am sechsundzwanzigsten Juni dieses Jahres Nachmittags um drei Uhr ist im Mühlenholze bei Kuhndorf die geschiedene Handarbeiter Friederike Stecher geborene Geissler aus Kuhndorf erhängt aufgefunden worden.

On 26 June of this year at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the body of Friederike Stecher née Geissler from Kuhndorf, a manual laborer, divorced, was found hanged in the Mühlenholz [woods] near Kuhndorf.

Die Friederike Stecher geborene Geissler war 56 Jahre 2 Wochen alt, evangelischer Religion, geboren zu Reussen, Kreis Weissenfels, verheirathet gewesen mit dem noch in Ossig lebenden Handarbeiter Gottfried Stecher und die Tochter des Handarbeiters Friedrich Geissler und dessen Ehefrau Johanne Sophie geborene Schumann zu Reussen.

Friederike Stecher née Geissler was 56 years and two weeks old and of Lutheran faith. She was born in Reussen, Weissenfels district, and had been married to the manual laborer Gottfried Stecher who is still living in Ossig. She was the daughter of the laborer Friedrich Geissler and his wife Johanne Sophie née Schumann of Reussen.11

The death record hit my desk yesterday,

It’s been hard to get it out of my mind.

What was she thinking, on that last walk in those woods?

Was this just the last final scene in a life that had long been dreary?

Or was there some single overwhelming triggering cause on that day?

Did she welcome the darkness in the last seconds of her life?

Or did she struggle in terror regretting her choice?

It’s been hard to get it out of my mind. And I can’t imagine how hard it was for her sons.

My great grandfather, Hermann, just 25 years old. His half-brother just 20.

What did they think… and how did it affect them the rest of their lives?

A tragic end to a hardscrabble life.

One last walk in the woods.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “One last walk in the woods,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 8 Feb 2020).


  1. See “Sachsen-Anhalt,” ( : accessed 7 Feb 2020).
  2. See DE.Wikipedia (, “Gutenborn,” rev. 3 Jan 2020.
  3. Ibid., “Zeitz,” rev. 14 Jan 2020.
  4. Judy G. Russell, “Friedrike, how COULD you?,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 7 Feb 2020).
  5. Friederika Geißler baptism (1824), church books, Theißen, Saxony-Anhalt, lfd 1299, Bd 6, image 120, film 01884, Staat-Archiv, Magdeburg.
  6. There were other children whose identities we haven’t yet learned — the death record for the youngest child of Friedrich and Rosina, Johanne Rosine, in 1834, stated that she was their eighth child and fifth daughter. See death record, Evangelische Kirche (Lutheran Church), Ossig, Sachsen-Anhalt, Johanne Rosine Geissler (3 Aug 1834); Staat-Archiv, Magdeburg; FHL microfilm 1335488.
  7. Ibid., death records, Johanne Rosine Geissler (3 Aug 1834); Friedrich Geissler (14 Nov 1835); Friedrich Traugott Geissler (16 Dec 1844); Gustav Emil Geissler (15 May 1847).
  8. Ibid., baptism record, Hermann Eduard Geisler (21 Apr 1855).
  9. Ibid., marriage record, Johann Gottlieb Stecher-Friederike Geissler (13 Feb 1859).
  10. Adolph Gustav Stecher baptism (14 Feb 1860), Evangelische Kirche Haynsburg (Kr. Zeitz), Kirchenbuchduplikat, 1799-1874; Staat-Archiv, Magdeburg;
  11. Haupt-Register (Main Register), Nr. 49, Haynsburg; death record, Friederike Stecher (29 June 1880); Standesamt Droyßiger-Zeitzer Forst. Translation by Ute Brandenburg,
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