Surname Saturday - Gesizler Family

Lineage of Joseph Geißler of Baden
who immigrated to Franklin County, Ohio

My father is a descendant of a German Catholic immigrant that made his way to Franklin County, Ohio perhaps in the 1850s. The immigrant's name was Joseph Geißler. Additional posts about Joseph include:

This post focuses on the surname Geißler and much of the family lore and the published speculation about the last name.

What is the Meaning and Origin? 

A variety of resources, many with suspect sources, put forth the idea that the Geißler surname has a Swiss origin. The meaning is supposedly related to a goat herder. One source speculated that Geiß translates as "nanny goat" in German, giving weight to the origin and meaning. Goat herders not only tended goats but products from goat milk.

Another origin source says the name is a Bavaria / Austria name associated with the personal name Giselher (Gieseler). Giselher is from gisil meaning ‘offspring’, ‘pledge’, ‘noble offspring’ and heri meaning ‘army'.i

How do you say the last name Geißler?

The G in German might have various sounds depending upon who is saying the name. It can have a familiar English /g/ sound or a harsher /k/ sound. I have seen documents from my immigrant ancestor with a 'G' as the initial letter and a 'K'. This could explain why Joseph's naturalization documents have a K rather than a G.  As one can see, the 'G' and the ß from Joseph's last name can create much confusion in the English speaking new world.

Next is the vowel combination of 'ei'  The German pronunciation is long i.  The English pronunciation tends to be long e.  Geesler?  German ie is long e.  English ie is long i. Most Geiszlers that I have met say the "I" sound... almost like the first syllable is "guy" rather than "Gee"

According to Paul Joyce German Course at the University of Portsmouth,  "A double 's' (written 'ss' or 'ß') is always pronounced as an unvoiced English 's' in words such as 'seal' or 'self'. This sound is written 'ss' when the preceding vowel in a word is short. It is written 'ß': after a long vowel e.g. 'Fuß', 'Maß', 'Spaß'"

For the most part, the Geiszlers in Ohio pronounce the name: "Guys - lure."

Spelling Variations

Wouldn't it be easy if the Geißler had only two variations? Well, that's not the case. In the name Geißler, the  strange looking letter that resembles a "B" with a leg on it is referred to as a German Beta or the eszett. When Germans were describing how to spell their names in English, the middle letters have often become 'ss' or 'sz' as it sounds like the letter name of eszett.  The Geiszlers on the lineage above have had various spellings until it finally locked into Geiszler by Henry's death in 1931.

The last name can be spelled as: Geiszler, Geissler, Keisler, Keiszler, Guysler, Gysler, Gesley, Geiss, Geisler, Geisen, Geisnger,  Gessler.

The Rumor

Several Geiszler 'cousins' have shared emails with me over the year and suggested that the Geißlers were in the Prussian aristocratic class. When things deteriorated for the gentry, the Geißlers fled.

Now there may or may not be truth to this idea. What I do know is that there was no 'real Germany' as a unified country in the 1830s-1850s when my immigrant was born and then sailed to America. In the early 1800s, many Germanic people hoped to create a unified country with democratic rather that royal government. In 1848, uprisings began throughout the German-states to overthrown the princes. The princes won and for a time worked with the rebels towards reformation, but soon many rebels were being arrested and persecuted. Disappointed Germans then began leaving their homeland.

If Joseph was linked to aristocracy it could explain how he had the initial money to purchase land in Franklin County, Ohio at such a young age. However, those who fled were generally merchants and educated individuals, and sometimes the poor class, which was generally below the aristocratic tier of society. In other words, the mass emigration in the 1840s and 1850s were primarily rebels or rebel sympathizers. For my particular ancestor, I'm inclined to believe Joseph was a part of or related to a rebel and needed to find a new home quickly to save his skin. He could still have been born a part of the aristocracy, but it currently can't be proven.


Further Reading:
Discovering A Signature for Joseph Geißler


i. Dictionary of American Family Names Edited by Patrick Hanks
ii. Joseph Keizler, certificate of naturalization (1858), The State of Ohio, Franklin Count, 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. Electronic copy in possession of Devon Geiszler Lee.

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