Evaluating a Family Story for Accuracy

In genealogy, we encounter stories that seem amazing, but we have to stop and ask, are they true?

The death of my 3rd great grandfather, Joseph Geißler, could be a legend handed down through the generations or it could be true. How would you go about deciding what is fact and what is fiction?

Joseph Geisler of Columbus, Ohio's death story.

Death story about Joseph Geisler in Margie Wasson’s scrapbook in her handwriting.

The story reads:

Henry Geiszler

“Henry’s father was on horseback and rode into Fort Hayes. Guard yelled Halt. He only spoke German and as the story went didn’t understand. So the guard shot him and he died. His widow married a Billman and loved on a farm in Georgesville. As a boy, this is where my dad visited and remembered his grandmother driving her horse.”

The first step would be to determine the names of all the people.

  • Henry Geiszler’s father is indeed Joseph Geißler.
  • Joseph’s widow is Caroline (Mack) Geißler Billman.
  • She married Michael Billman
  • The Billmans did have a farm Georgesville, Franklin County, Ohio.
  • “My Dad” is Margie Wasson’s father George Joseph Geiszler, son of Henry Geiszler (of this writing). “His Grandmother” once again is Caroline Billman.

So, the 2nd great-granddaughter of Joseph Geißler is writing the story down about his death, along with a brief mention of her father’s trip to the 2nd great-grandmother’s second husband’s farm. Confused much?

How would you prove/disprove the death story?

How do I prove or disprove that Joseph was killed outside Fort Hayes because he was German and told to halt but didn’t understand?

First, I hope you’ll recognize that “halt” is the same in German and English.

If Joseph was told to “halt” he would have understood the command. Why would someone make up this story about not understanding a word that has the same meaning in

Second, you have to learn about the fort.

Fort Hayes was not in existence in 1863. Columbus had the Camp Chase before Fort Hayes and it had the Columbus Barracks before that. There is inconsistencies in the story so what is going on?

What is the lesson?

As a teacher, I can’t reveal the solution to the story, even though you might want it. If I did, you won’t focus on the lesson.

No matter what story is handed down through the generations, even if it is written, DO NOT accept without vetting the story.

It’s entirely possible that Joseph was killed in miscommunication episode with the soldiers preparing to protect Columbus during the Civil War. However, this could be a cover story for an uncomfortable demise.

No matter the end result, I hope you’ll evaluate all information, including family stories and legends, to find the truth.

And, I hope you’ll keep and record the family stories. There are fascinating details behind the story that is passed down that is also part of your family history.

6 thoughts on “Evaluating a Family Story for Accuracy

  1. Thanks for sharing your husband's family history tidbit. I bet you're so glad to have those scraps of paper. And the accuracy. Yee-haw! I think there may be truth in the legend, but what it is will need to be deciphered.

  2. First thing is did was translate "Halt!" into German. It's "Halt!" so if that is what the guard actually said, he couldn't have been shot because he didn't understand. Something else must have been happening.

  3. Interesting fragment of family history. My husband's grandfather left scraps of paper with names and dates…90% of which turned out to be accurate. So it's very possible this family legend has basis in fact, even if the details aren't completely accurate. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 Online Resources eGuide