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?
The story reads:
“Henry’sfather 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)
- 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.