Joseph Geissler – Is Analyzing A Surname Helpful?

Joseph Geißler Descedants

Growing up a Geiszler meant that I had a somewhat unique name. There was no question of who someone was talking about when they referred to Devon Geiszler. No true if your name was Jennifer or Jennifer Smith.

Additionally, there were few, if any, Geiszlers in Texas compared to Jones, Davis, or Martinez. The only other Geiszler’s I knew of lived in Columbus, Ohio. So, if you ran into an Ohio Geiszler and asked if they had relatives in Houston, Texas the answer would be yes. Not, “Well, there are a lot of folks with the last name Lee…”

Now, there were others with the last name Geissler, Gusler, Gutszler, and so on in Texas and Ohio. Naively, I couldn’t believe these folks were even remotely related to me. Additionally, I automatically assumed someone with the “z” in their name must be kin.

Once I started doing genealogical research, I discovered that there were more Geiszler spelling variants. I could not rule out the possibility of a relationship if someone did or did not use the “z” in their last name or if it wasn’t entirely spelled the way we’ve adopted our spelling.

By only looking for the ‘correct’ spelling variation I was not accessing records of use to my ancestors. While discovering many name varieties, I thought researching the origin of the Geiszler name would assist my research.

An Answer to an Old Query

After the turn of the century, I was investigating genealogical forums. I found Geisslers, but no Geiszler surname forums. This unexpected discovery supported my then held belief that there were not many of us floating around in the United States of America, or else we were all in hiding.

My 2001 post in the Geissler forum looked something like this:

I can’t seem to find a Geiszler family forum. All I know about mine are we’re stubborn old goats! 😉  

Anyway, if Geiszler fits here, will someone please tell me how the “z” became part of the name?

Ha! Isn’t that priceless? I have learned to write better forum posts for specific information, or at least I like to think I have. The sad reality is that it took nearly 6 years before someone answered my query in those old forums. Talk about the need to be patient!

Anyway, the late Kyle Geiszler had this to say:

The S set (ß) is the original letter in for the “sz” or “ss” or “s” or “z” although the “s” or “z” alone is also generally an Americanization of the name. Anyways from what I have found of the “Geiszler” family everyone who I have ever found that spells it that way are somehow my relative. 

The correct spelling in Germany for my last name is Geißler, and the ß (esset) is literally and S and Z smashed together in the Latin form. Modern translators will spell it Geiszler or Geissler (ß can be translated as two S’s.) It is Americanized as Geisler and translators have misspelled the cursive writings for years in the original documents which accounts for the hundreds of other variations

From that eye-opening experience 9 years ago, I have learned much about the Geißler surname and found many records that I wouldn’t have found without knowing the different ways I could spell my maiden name. As such, I was able to create a list of variations about Joseph Geißler who was the subject of my recent blog series.

Below is a quick overview of Joseph’s name variants:

  • Gesley  –  marriage license 1856
  • Geissler – occurrence of the name on marriage record 1856
  • Geißler – granting wife permission to join St James Lutheran Church (c 1856)
  • Guisler – plat maps from 1858
  • Keisler  – naturalization papers in 1858
  • Gusler – 1860 US Census
  • Keezler – Civil War Draft of 1863

The most correct version of the name is the one where he signs personally on behalf of his wife. Examining his signature further demonstrates why the name variations could occur.

Joseph Geiszler signature in St James Lutheran Church
Joseph’s signature in the  St James Lutheran Church
of Norwich Township, Franklin County, Ohio

His does not look like Joseph Geißler.  A person fluent in German, transliterated and then transcribed his signature to the Geißler.  Another time Joseph wrote his name was on his marriage license obtained at the Franklin County Courthouse.

Joseph Geißler Marriage License Signature
Signature from Marriage License
dated 18 March  1838

So, for all future research and charts, I used the name Joseph Geißler, to describe my three times great-grandfather.  For this series, I have used Joseph Geissler in the title because the ß causes problems in coding these posts. 

I remember in 2001 how various genealogy websites would push the origin and meaning of surnames. Which is why I went searching for a Geiszler forum back then. I even wrote about the Geißler origin, spelling, and meaning previously. Recently, my blogging buddy Jenna Mills shared some surname resources on her blog Desperately Seeking Surnames.

Suggested Name Origin

As I was compiling the Joseph Geißler story, I revisited across the name origin research and wondered if it was of any value and if I should include it in Joseph’s biography once complete.

Geißler is traced to Switzerland, Bavaria, and Austria which is great, but Joseph was from Baden. How does knowing his last name is of Swiss, Bavarian, or Austrian origin help me locate his ancestors? Baden is located to the west of Bavaria and Austria on the eastern border of France. That’s still a large geographic area. 

Since my 2001 query, I reviewed my mothers’ research that she did in the middle 1970s. I discovered this transcription of Joseph’s naturalization records and an unattributed note about the man’s name origin. 

Penny Geiszler’s 1976 research notes about Joseph Geisler, her husband’s 2x great-grandfather.

Is Joseph from Stuttgart?

The naturalization certificate has since been discovered, and this transcribed information is accurate. However, the note at the bottom puts forth the possibility of the name originating in Stuttgart (which should be Stuttgart) and my mother hoped to find him there. 

Stuttgart is located in Württemberg, not Baden, where Joseph claimed was his native land on his immigration record.ii Baden is a neighboring geopolitical entity to Württemberg to the west. (Today, Baden-Württemberg is one combined entity making research even harder with the region being larger. But, in the 1840s/1850s, Baden and Württemberg were separate, and Stuttgart aligned with the northern portion of the Baden territory. Is this a clue to search the northern part of Baden rather than the southern? 

I’m not certain where mom found her Stuttgart reference so I’m not sure if it should be believed or followed. (Sorry mom. Wish you had taken better notes back then.)

Is Joseph from Karlsruhe?

Another family theory suggests Karlsruhe as the city of origin. Karlsruhe was a hotbed of political activity in 1848, and the place where many who supported the German Revolution would be killed or fled.

Joseph is believed to have immigrated to America around this time. If he was from Karlsruhe which is geographically near Stuttgart, then there is weight to both theories. But what if both arguments are completely false and Joseph’s from southern Baden?

Is Joseph from Freiburg?

A Geiszler cousin visited Germany and included the Baden region on his visit. He found many people with the surname Geissler in Freiburg, which is in the southern portion of Baden. Freiburg is located near the border with France. If Joseph was born there, he could have departed from a French port more easily than Bremen. Perhaps I could find a passenger list from Le Havre. But, just because the last name is common in an area now, does not mean that’s the place of origin for Joseph in 1836. Does it?

Is Joseph related to the 1780 Geißlers Immigrants?

Kyle Geiszler, who was mentioned above, discovered that some Geißlers left the Germanic homeland and moved to America in the 1780s. They seem to have settled in Pennsylvania, a neighboring state to Ohio.

The possibilities of Geiszlers in a neighboring American state is exciting. What is also intriguing is that these immigrants were from Stuttgart, Germany. Was this the reason my mother found the phonetic origin from this location? Could the connections result in family ties? Or could that 1970s clue be a dangling carrot from the wrong rabbit trail?

If Joseph was related to these Pennsylvania Geißlers one can vividly imagine Joseph and his family in Baden receiving letters from their early immigrating relatives. Their kin may have provided pointers and recommendations about settling the new world and helped Joseph find a place in neighboring Ohio. However, there is a 50+ year difference between Joseph’s birth and this immigration. That’s a lot of planning ahead for Joseph’s family.

Was Analyzing the Surname Helpful?

The theories of Joseph’s origin and the surname research placing the name in Swiss, Austria, and Bavaria are making my head spin. So, I come to the question… does searching the origin of the surname help my research progress? Or am I hunting for an original the way people search for Coats of Arms and discover they’re fake?

Truthfully, the answer for me is no. Researching a surname’s origin had not brought me no closer to opening Joseph’s brick wall than before I started. Knowing the name comes from Bavaria / Austria / Switzerland, or Stuttgart does not help me trace Joseph’s family from Ohio back to Germany. Nothing concretely leads me to connect the man I have documented to the places of origin that are found in a surname dictionary, no matter how well established it may be.

Knowing the last name may be an occupational title of goat-herder, or a royal army man also helps little.

Inspiring False Visions?


Knowing when Joseph came to America. I believe he was fleeing Germany following the failed 1848 rebellion that retained the Germanic monarchy. My mind can imagine Joseph, a lone man in Ohio, separating from his family in America to protect each other from the past. Or, was he sent on ahead to pave the way for his family to follow?

With the name origin having a possible royal line tie, that would explain cousin theories that Joseph was connected to Prussian aristocracy. If this rumor was true despite it introducing a new location not previously mentioned, Joseph was on the run but had enough money at age 22 to purchase farmland in 1856 when no relations were around.  Is the Prussia aristocracy rumor true? Or could the money have come from his father-in-law who settled on farmland beside Joseph? Or could Joseph have received money from his parents as they died on the journey? Or did he receive money from his parents back in Baden who would follow after he set up a home?

What is true?


The only firm clue I have, assuming he wasn’t lying and didn’t change his last name, is that Joseph denounced his allegiance to the Duchy of Baden in 1858. His census records indicate he was born in about 1836 in this home country. His church participation records place him in the Catholic faith. And that’s about it.

Thankfully, I didn’t begin investigating these theories without more solid leads. I could have found a Joseph Geißler and built a lovely family tree, only to discover this was not my relation at all.

Would I do it all over again?

Besides making a notation of the family rumors (including the origins), I don’t think I would have spent much time trying to find the meaning of my maiden name. I would advise new researchers to worry less about what the name meaning and focus more on your documentation.
Use name origins sites only for possible name spelling variations. As you find differences, you can curate those names into a list to use when you can’t seem to find more relations.
i. Dictionary of American Family Names Edited by Patrick Hanks
ii. Joseph Keizler, certificate of naturalization (1858), The State of Ohio, Franklin County, Clerk of Superior Court, September term AD 1858, Joseph Keizler, Certified in Columbus, On 11 October 1858. Document in possession of David G. Geiszler of Columbus, Ohio. An electronic copy in possession of Devon Geiszler Lee.
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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