Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It figures that we come from wine making country

I've always been a bit intrigued by Mom's grandpa, Gerhard Henry Geisen.  He was born in Covington and, from what Mom has told me over the years, was an "upstanding" businessman who owned his own butcher shops and also had rental property.  From the few photos I've seen of him, he seemed as if he was rather serious.  But I think that of most people in photos from the late 1800's, so that might not be anything to go by.

But somehow I also had and have the idea that maybe Gerhard Geisen wasn't so "serious" all the time.  Mom told me his mustache would scratch her when he gave her a kiss.  So this was a grandpa who loved his grandbabies and wasn't "standoffish."  Mom was only 7 when he died, so she doesn't have a lot of specific memories of him.  And unfortunately, I can't ask any of Mom's siblings.  She's the only one left (as she describes it).

Mom also showed me a photo of Grandma Elsie that was taken when Grandma was probably 12 or 13 (1903 or '04).  The setting was the Geisen backyard on Holman St. in Covington, and Grandma was acting out scenes from certain plays.  Just thinking about this makes me smile.  It was so Grandma.  She loved a bit of drama (not in her personal life, but she loved being the center of attention from time to time).  But this photo wasn't just a spontaneous photo that her dad or mom took.  It was taken by a professional photographer.  Mom and I discussed how this photo session must have come about.  Grandma would've bugged her dad to hire a photographer to come to the house and take these photos.  Mom and I both agree that it would have taken some time to talk him into it, but he finally relented.  He loved his Elsie so much (and I assume got a "kick" out of her shenanigans) that he finally got a photographer to come out to the house and do this.  And as Mom pointed out to me, can you imagine how much money Gerhard Geisen paid that photographer??!!  But thank God he did.  We have this precious photo. :)

In the beginning of my search, what I knew about Gerhard Henry Geisen (outside of just the few family stories) was that he was the second son (and second child) of his parents, Gerhard Heinrich Geisen and Maria Susanna Schmitz Geisen.  He was born in Covington, KY, as were all of his siblings.  That indicated to me that his parents were probably married in the US.  He married Margaret (Maggie) Apolonia Pistner in 1881 in Covington, and they had 10 children (one who died when she was 4 years old, and their youngest was stillborn).  

I also knew that my great grandparents are buried in Mother of God cemetery with a few of their children, his parents, and his eldest brother and his wife.  That caught my eye.  Why were the parents and brother (and his wife) buried in plots owned by the second son?  I'm still not sure of the answer, but I have a couple of ideas.  I think it came down to the fact that my great grandfather had the money to buy all the plots and also because he was the designated "responsible" one of his siblings.  And I can't help but think of the burden that he must've carried (if my hunch is correct).

Thinking of my great grandfather naturally led me to wondering about his parents.  I knew they were both German and were both immigrants.  But where did they come from?  Grandma Elsie was no help since she never talked about her family's history to anyone!

I thought I at least had information concerning my great, great grandmother, Maria Susanna Schmitz.  Over a year into my obsession, Mom called and asked me if I'd be interested in Maria Susanna Schmitz Geisen's funeral card!  I swear she does this just to rile me up.  There's no other explanation for it (she's done this sort of thing more than a few times).  Gosh Mom, I don't know.  Do you think I'd like to see a 120 year old funeral card for my great, great grandmother??!!!  She swears she's only trying to be helpful.  LOL!

I almost started crying when I read it.  Now I knew her exact date and place of birth!  I knew she was Catholic, so now I could try and find her baptismal records.  And through that, I could find her parents. I was on the hunt!  I googled to find Catholic churches in Düsseldorf in the early 1800's and sent some e-mails to them.  I also tried to find the archivist in that diocese whom I would need to contact.  I received a couple of replies from churches to tell me that they could not find any baptismal record for my great, great grandmother.  Hmmm, interesting but not discouraging.  I had a few other options.

I had also found a mention about my great, great grandfather in a book that was published in the early 1900's (HISTORY OF KENTUCKY, VOL. 4, 1922, Pg. 224).  It stated that he was born in Alsace-Lorraine.  Never saw that one coming.  At first, I was nervous that I may actually be French, but then I calmed down and realized that no dude with the name of Gerhard Heinrich Geisen could be French.  I was still German. :)

As excited as I got over this new lead, I quickly became just as frustrated.  I couldn't find any information concerning the Geisen family in that part of the world.  I also wasn't getting anywhere with finding Maria Susanna's baptismal document, so I put these two ancestors "away" for a little while.  

After I got back from my trip to Haselünne and after I found the graves of Maggie Pistner Geisen's parents, I decided to start to try and find some info on the Schmitz and Geisen families again.

I cleared my head and went to and entered my great, great grandfather's info (again). And guess what?  I think I found him!  As a matter of fact, I'm quite positive of it.

There was a Gerhard Geisen, born in 1819, in Klüsserath, Germany!  Well, I knew that "my" Gerhard Geisen was born that same year, but I had never heard of this German town.  A German town which just happened to be rather close to the Alsace-Lorraine border (a detail I learned with the magic of Googling).

Googling has become one of my best friends.  And it led me to a charming little town on the Mosel River.  A town that makes wine.  How perfect is that for my German family! :)

But I didn't want to get too excited.  This may not be my guy.  I had a Salt Lake City layover soon after my discovery and ran to the genealogy library.  I pulled the microfilm for the Catholic church records for the town (that diocese has released their records to libraries--not all dioceses do this).  I not only looked at the baptismal record for Gerhard Geisen (the info I found on FamilySearch), but I also looked for any marriage or death record(s).  If I found a death record, then I would know I was barking up the wrong tree.  No marriage record and no death record.  OK, this might be promising. :)

I also noticed A LOT of other Geisens, and through these fabulous records, I was able to add a few more generations to my tree.  But I also noticed a lot of people with the last name of Schmitz.  I didn't think too much of it since it's a pretty common German name.  But I've got to say that the favorite name I came across was "Napoleon Schmitz."  My heart ached for this guy.  I assume he got beaten up constantly and never heard the end of jokes.  Perhaps I empathized with him since I was called "Marti Farty" throughout my entire grade school experience. 

I found Gerhard's immigration info (28 May 1846 into NYC) and also found him sporadically listed in Covington City directories.  

Since I had him pinned down, I decided to concentrate on finding out where his wife came from.  I thought I already knew the answer, so I hoped to find some Catholic church or civil records for Düsseldorf on FamilySearch.  I typed in her info and hit enter.  And I was thrown a curve ball!

Wouldn't you know, I found a Maria Susanna Schmitz who was born on 06 Dec 1833 in................ Klüsserath!  These 2 lovebirds came from the same freaking town in Germany!!!!  I'm going assume that they weren't dating while they were both living in Germany since she was only 12 when he emigrated.  I can only take one Casper the Casanova type in my tree. :)  I also have no idea why her funeral card states that she was born in Düsseldorf.  Did the family first move from Klüsserath to Düsseldorf and then immigrate to Covington?  

As luck would have it, however, I had another SLC layover and grabbed that Klüsserath microfilm again and checked my Schmitz family this time (how happy am I to find out that Napoleon Schmitz is a distant relative!).  And I found all of her siblings and parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.  I also found their immigration info on Ancestry.  

She, her parents and brothers and sisters arrived into Boston on 19 May 1853.  And Maria Susanna and Gerhard married at Mother of God Catholic church in Covington in January of 1854.  Grandpa worked fast!  Good for him.  He was 34 and married a 20 year old from his hometown.  How sweet is that!

They moved to the Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, and I can completely understand why.  It would've reminded them of "home."  The same hills, it was situated on a waterway, and everyone was German.  Maria Susanna's parents and siblings lived nearby, too.

I'm very blessed to live very close to the cities my people immigrated to, and I love it when I discover connections which link the past to the present.  I had never heard of the Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, but once I found out exactly where it's located, I had to smile.  Both my nephew Brandon and niece Carolyn had their wedding receptions in Devou Park, which is part of Lewisburg.  At the time of those beautiful family celebrations, I had no idea that we had such a connection to that spot.  It was lovely being on top of that hill and looking across the Ohio River at Cincinnati.  And now I wonder if our Geisen and Schmitz families sometimes hiked up that same hill and looked at that big city of Cincinnati.  Granted, the lights and buildings wouldn't have been the same.  But the awe would've been.  It's as if the Communion of Saints of our ancestors is always with us. :)

Gerhard and Maria Susanna were raising their family when tragedy struck.  My great, great grandfather died of consumption 28 Feb 1870.  He wrote his will just two or three weeks before his death, and it breaks my heart that they both knew that his death was coming.  And then, just a couple of weeks later, their 3 month old son, Matthew, died of croup.

She was 36 years old, and within a period of 2 or 3 weeks, she buried her husband and baby boy.  And as if that heartache weren't enough, 6 months later she buried her mother.

She was left alone to raise her children.  Of course she still had her dad and brothers and sisters, but I often wonder how alone she felt. She never remarried, which has always fascinated me.  She was still young enough to have another child or two with a new husband.  A new husband who would have been responsible for supporting Maria Susanna's older children.  But she never did.  Why?  I'll never know the answer to that, but I wonder if it's because she loved Gerhard so much that she couldn't stand the thought of marrying again.  

I was going to cover "Whiskey Jake" and Uncle Johnny in this entry, but I'll leave them for another time.  They'll be worth the wait.  I promise. :)


  1. As always, you manage to bring your ancestors to life :-)

  2. How exciting to be able to conjure up so much information in less than a year's time! I'm jealous. In fact, I'm on the verge of hating you. LOL -- just kidding.

  3. Thank you, Missie. It's easy to write about them since they were so interesting (and sometimes in a "weird" way! LOL!). Wendy, I'm very blessed to live so close to where my peeps immigrated. And I'm also able to go out to Salt Lake often and look through films. And thank God I have their Catholic church records. I wouldn't have even half the information I do if not for those records. Will you send me the link to your blog? I had it, and now I can't find it!

  4. I am so pleased to find another blogger with a Rhineland ancestral line. In addition, you love their social history. That's a home run! My dad's mother's ancestors all came from wine country near the Saar River, not far from Trier, and I love to blog about their time in the old homeland before they emigrated to Wisconsin. Welcome to Geneabloggers, Klusserath descendant.

  5. Thanks Kathy. What's your blog's URL?

    1. My blog's URL is at