Joseph Geissler: Birth and Baden

Joseph Geißler is my fraternal great-grandfather. He’s the man all the Geiszler descendants in Columbus, Ohio want to learn about and see if there’s any way we can crack his brick wall open a bit. I have found that by writing a narrative about an ancestor, it helps me to analyze what I know, what I don’t know, and what I may be able to discover.

Each week, I’m going to share my research into Joseph Geißler’s life. First I will share what I know about Joseph in a chronological story format. After that overview is finished, I’ll share some of the analysis of other research and theories that have been tossed about. Hopefully, some of the theories will then ultimately die out, while others might shed new light and connect me with new leads for Joseph.  Check out the end of this post for links to other posts in the series, as they become available.

Let’s get started.

The German immigrant to Ohio, USA named Joseph Geißler was born about 1836 in Baden.i In the 1830s-40s, The Grand Duchy of Baden was a crescent-shaped wedge that wrapped around the Kingdom of Wurtenberg, touched the Grand Duchy of Hessen and the Pfalz which was part of the Kingdom of Bavaria, and shared its western border with eastern France.

Where My Ancestor is From
From Wikipedia: Baden as it stood from 1806 to 1945: Peach is
the Grand Duchy of Baden. The brown section is France. The pink is the
Swiss Confederation.

The precise location of his birth city is currently unknown. The key rests in the fact that he was Catholic in America, not Lutheran like his wife. More discussion of his name and origins will be discussed later.

It is believed that Joseph immigrated to the US in the 1850s. He could have been as young as 14 to as old as 17 if the 1836 birth date is to be believed as his naturalization process was completed in 1858.ii, iii This process required a period of 5 years having lived in America before the process was completed. Thus, his arrival year would have been about 1853 at the latest. What made him leave his homeland for America? Perhaps the answers lie in the history of Baden.

History of Baden

The area of Baden was a part of the Margraviate of Baden, a historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire, from as early as the 1100s.iv

This southwest German State shared a northern border with the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Grand Duchy of Hessen-Darmstadt. To the west, and practically throughout its whole length, the River Rhine separated the Grand Duchy of Baden from the Bavarian Rhenish Palatinate and Alsace in modern France. The southern border separated the duchy from Switzerland. The eastern border wrapped in nearly a crescent shape around the Kingdom of Württemberg, the Principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and partly by Bavaria.v

In the 1500s, Germans began to question their loyalty to the church in Rome and things escalated when Martin Luther appeared on the world stage and the Lutheran church broke off. Many Germans were divided along religious lines.

The Holy Roman Empire began to crumble in 1803 and was ultimately dissolved in The Margraviate of Baden became the Grand Duchy of Baden. Nine years later, the German-speaking countries decided to join together for economic benefit following the dissolve of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1815, Baden was one of these 39 states to participate in this loose association.

The Grand Duke of Baden at the time of Joseph’s birth was Leopold von Hochberg whose reign began in 1830.vii Leopold was associated with the Lutheran faith in Karlsruhe. His Lutheran faith does not seem to have been a source of conflict with his subject, unlike other historic Protestant vs Catholic fights of kingdoms around Europe.

Political Unrest in Baden in 1848-1849

Leopold was interested in the liberal ideas of his time and his Grand Duchy was known to be the most liberal German states during his reign. “Liberal ideas” were formed in the Age of Enlightenment and generally rejected the ideas of a state religion, hereditary privilege, divine right of Kings, and absolute monarchy.viii From 1815 and through Joseph’s life, there was a movement in the German states to create one unified German into one great whole.ix The main push for this unification and liberal policies stemmed from the middle-class. The middle-class failed to align themselves with the working-class that sought better living and working conditions. As such, this revolution would have a fatal rift in the uprising that would become their downfall.x

Apparently, Leopold held liberal tendencies, Baden was the first state in Germany to have popular unrest.  After the news of Paris political revolt in March 1848 reached Baden, some mansions of local aristocrats were burned by unorganized peasants. Demonstrating his liberal leanings, Leopold granted concessions to his subjects in 1848. Nevertheless, agitation bread fear and the government increased the size of its army and requested aid from the neighboring German States to contain the potential riots. Joseph would have been 12 when the revolution broke out in his homeland.

Meanwhile, the revolutionary leaders of the 39 German-speaking states had attempted to unify the uprising into a larger movement that would lead to a great end. Thus, a group of men met in May 1848 at the Frankfurt Assembly to draft plans for unification and lasting reforms. The Wikipedia article about this assembly summarized the impotence of this organization.

The Assembly members were highly motivated for reform, but the major divides among them became obvious and inhibited progress; for instance, advocates of Grossdeutschland versus advocates of Kleindeutschland, Catholics versus Protestants, supporters of Austria versus supporters of Prussia. The major conflict that caused the collapse of the Assembly was the stand-off between demands of the moderates to write a democratic constitution and liberals’ reliance on negotiation with reactionary monarchs to produce reforms. The various interest groups began to gather outside the Assembly to decide on their tactics.

Revolts continued in 1849 as the Assembly struggled to form a republican government was frustrated. In May 1849, Leopold was forced to leave Karlsruhe, the capital in the northern part of Baden, with the outbreak of uprisings along the Rhine. Provisional governments were established in Baden, and neighboring Palatinate. Baden’s provisional government had the support of the public and the army to create a constitution and a democratic government. Palatinate was not so fortunate.

Despite the Baden provisional government’s strength, it was crushed by the Bavarian army by May 1849. After the unrest was put down, Leopold returned to Karlsruhe. Some historians say that he acted with great forbearance upon his return to power. However, many liberals and revolution leaders fled to London and Switzerland. The royal rulers of the German states began censoring and persecuting their subjects, highlighted by the “Federal Reaction Resolution” of 23 August 1851, which eliminated many of the liberal advances Germans had previously achieved. The monarchs were upset and instead of restricting hereditary privilege and absolute monarchy, things became worse. Additionally, unity between the 39 states became a battle between the two strongest factions: Prussia and Austria.xi

This revolution triggered a wave of 2 million Germans leaving their homeland over the next 20 years.

Joseph’s naturalization process was completed in 1858 when he was around 22 years old. The naturalization process generally took about 5 years from start to finish. He would have been 17 when he started the process in 1853. If he, and his family, arrived in America during the early 1850s, he was likely in Baden at the time of the revolutions and was a part of the migration from the homeland.  The only question is where would he go and did he travel alone?

i. “U.S. Census Population Schedule, 1860” database, FamilySearch; (http:/, Census Place: Prairie, Franklin, Ohio, Post Office: Alton, Ohio, Page: 214, Family Id: 928, Joseph Gusler; NARA microfilm publication FHL 803962, Roll: M653_92. Digital images of originals housed at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.. FHL microfilm. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
ii. Joseph Keizler, court docket for citizenship (1858), Franklin County, Clerk of Superior Court, September term AD 1858, vol.  , p. 223.
iii. oseph 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
iv Wikipedia contributors, “Margarviate of Baden,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  (accessed November 10, 2014).
v. Wikipedia contributors, “Grand Duchy of Baden,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  (accessed September 10, 2011).
vi. Wikipedia contributors, “Holy Roman Empire,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  (accessed November 10, 2014).
vii Wikipedia contributors, “Leopold, Grand Duke of Baden,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,,_Grand_Duke_of_Baden (accessed November 10, 2014).
viii Wikipedia contributors, “Liberalism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 10, 2014).
ix Wikipedia contributors, “Pan-Germanism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 10, 2014).
x Wikipedia contributors, “German revolutions of 1848–49,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  (accessed September 10, 2011).
xi Scriba, Arnulf. “The Era of Reaction and Nation Building.” Lebendiges Museum Online. Trans. Stephen Locke. 6 Sept. 2014. (accessed November 14, 2015.

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.

7 thoughts on “Joseph Geissler: Birth and Baden

  1. The 1860 census gives Joseph's age as 30, implying a birth year closer to 1830.
    The same census gives Caroline's age as 20, implying that she married at about 16.
    They are living next to a Mack household which more than likely contains Caroline's kin (parents or aunt/uncle).
    Joseph's real estate is valued at $200, much less than other's on the same page. This land could have been given to the young couple by the bride's family.

  2. Could you maybe either email me or create a little tutorial as to how you make "things" (I'm not sure what to call them) like your Geissler Genealogy: Birth and Baden image? 🙂

  3. I have some ancestors who immigrated from Baden to Ohio about the same time period! And, I totally agree about writing… it helps you figure out what you have, put it in order, see what you don't have & even sometimes see what you have that you didn't realize you had! 🙂

  4. Dana… I saw your request while at RootsTech in SLC. I think a little tutorial would be simple enough. I'll email you when it's ready, but to be honest. It might be the first part of next month. I have four classes to prepare by the end of February that is taking ever spare moment. But, you're idea is on the "To Write" list.

  5. Dana… that's so cool that we have similar ancestors!!!! Yes, writing things out have helped me see the gaps and find what I didn't realize I had. This process also helped me realize more about the history of my ancestor and put him into context. That's pretty awesome.

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