Why Newark? or How to research your Newark ancestors

by Glenn Geisheimer


Why a web site on Newark? I’m asked that question quite frequently. Maybe it’s because my ancestors lived there for over 100 years. I don’t really know.

As I noted before, I was oblivious to my roots for most of my life. My family was very small, the only Geisheimers that I knew were my brother, mother and father. I had two sets of cousins but they were my father’s sister’s family and my mother’s sister’s family, so their names were different. My paternal grandparents had died previously, leaving only my maternal grandparents. Four Geisheimers, that’s it. From time to time I would run across someone who had heard of someone else named Geisheimer, but I never ran across one. In fact, to this very day, I’ve never met another Geisheimer face to face.

One day, about 15 years ago, my cousin and his wife came to my mother’s house to discuss family history. I attended but didn’t pay much attention. At that time I had my father’s attitude of let the past lie. It wasn’t until 5 years ago that I became interested in finding my roots. My cousin’s family had done extensive research into the Geisheimer name in Germany so there wasn’t much digging to do there, just read their research. What I did embark on was researching my father’s roots in Newark and my mother’s father’s family in Newark and before Newark. My mother’s maternal side had been in the United States since at least 1700 and came from Haggerstown, Maryland. She used to joke that they were a mixture of English, French, Indian and Hillbilly. I’ve done some research in that area and found that they were probably mostly German with the exception of a Huguenot branch. The Huguenots were French Protestants who were members of the Reformed Church established in France by John Calvin in about 1555, and who, due to religious persecution (including death), were forced to flee France to other countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some things never change.

Ok, where to start. I decided on the Geisheimers in Newark. I knew from my cousin that three brothers came to and lived in Newark, another stayed in Philadelphia. For anyone who has done German research, you’ve probably run across the problem of every son having the same first name. In my case it was Frederick. Frederick Hugo, Frederick Herman, Frederick Otto and in Philly, Frederick Ludwig. What they did upon arriving in the US was to reverse their names so everyone had a middle name of Frederick and a different first name.

The first step was the Newark City Directories. Newark started to publish directories in 1835/36. The ones from that date until 1850 are on microfiche. The ones from 1851 to 1935 are on microfilm. The directories go until the 1960’s. The ones after 1935 are hard to find and a lot of years are missing. You can find these directories at the Newark Library, New Jersey State Library, Alexander Library at Rutgers New Brunswick and the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark. Varying amounts of information can be gleaned from the directories, such as occupations, addresses, and spouses and in later ones, moving locations. From these I was able to track where the brothers lived and their occupations. Herman made segars and owned a confectionary store on Orange Street. He was also involved in city government from time to time as a Weights & Measures officer. Otto made segars and Hugo worked for Ballantine as a driver. Hugo also had a go at starting a trucking company but he gave that up.

As I followed my ancestors through the city directories the inevitable happened, the listing stopped. Of course this meant that they had died that year or the year before. Where were they buried? That was easy, my mother said my grandfather and grandmother were in Fairmount Cemetery. If they were buried there then maybe my great-grandfather’s brothers were there also, so off to Fairmount Cemetery I went. Luckily, Fairmount Cemetery is still an active cemetery with over 600 interments per year. The other two large non-denominational cemeteries in Newark are Woodland Cemetery and Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Newark had other cemeteries but they were long closed (see my section on Newark Cemeteries). Woodland Cemetery is basically abandoned and Mount Pleasant Cemetery only does a handful of interments per year. What I found at Fairmount Cemetery took me by surprise. Fairmount Cemetery is very open to research and I was able to get the alphabetical interment books and go through them. Geisheimer children and lots of Geisheimer children, 14 in all. Whose were they? They must have belonged to Herman and Otto, since I knew that my grandfather only had one son and a stepson. I did find Otto and his wife there but no Herman or his wife. Where did they go?

How am I going to figure out all these interments? Birth and death certificates are the answer. That meant a trip to Trenton. The New Jersey State Archives there yielded answers. Herman had eleven children, five survived to adulthood. Otto had 7 from his first wife, all died and 2 from his second wife, only one survived. These statistics were not strange to that era in Newark. Of the 7 surviving Geisheimer children, four were males. I knew of my grandfather but what of the other 3, where were they now? And where are they and Herman and his wife interred? How am I going to get those answers?

Herman and his wife were easy to figure out, newspaper obituaries. Early Newark newspapers did not have many obituaries. It seems that they started to be universally in fashion towards the late 1800’s. The Newark Evening News yielded the obituaries and accompanying articles on their deaths. Herman committed suicide by gunshot to the head when he was 80 years old. His wife died a more conventional death 11 years later. They were both cremated. No wonder why I couldn’t find them in any cemetery.

That left Herman’s children to find, three females and two males. The articles I found showed that two of the females had married and the three other children still alive. The 1915 Newark City Directory showed Herman Jr. moving to Chicago. A friend of mine suggested trying to find the wills of Herman and his wife. They may yield some clues. I found both wills at the Superior Court of New Jersey Records Management Center in Trenton. Herman’s will yielded no clues but his wife’s unlocked most of the family mysteries. From that will I was able to figure out that two daughters married into semi wealthy families, Herman was described as a wayward son, and Fred was left the bulk of the estate to care for his retarded sister.

Since I could no longer follow Fred in the city directories I had to figure out how to find his death date. Luckily, he left a will and it was in Trenton. The will showed his date of death and while Fred never married (he lived his life taking care of his retarded sister), he did have a female companion. She was left all of his estate to take care of his sister and to continue to pay the premiums on the life insurance policy he had on his brother Herman so in the event of Herman’s death, the money would be there for his burial. Did the female companion carry out his wishes, I don’t know. I haven’t been able to figure out that mystery yet. Where was Herman Jr.? That and all other information on him from the time of his moving to Chicago is still undiscovered. What happened to the retarded sister, I don’t know? These mysteries remain to be solved. The only thing that I am sure of is Herman’s line has died out in this area. I don’t know if wayward Herman Jr. had a family.

Well, if you have gotten this far, you’re probably wondering what happened to Otto’s family. Otto’s surviving son, August, had a son that he named August. He, in turn had two sons, John and Glenn. These two sons are roughly the same ages as my brother and myself. The strange thing about this is that from all accounts that I have found, August never knew my father, his second cousin. But yet they both named their second son, Glenn. It’s strange, but true. I’ve never met John or Glenn. Hopefully, one day I can meet John. Glenn passed away in 1994 at the age of 42.

Why did the four brothers come to the US? There’s no way of really telling. But I did get a clue at Fairmount Cemetery. Otto’s children were all buried in one plot. The plot wasn’t owned by Otto, it was owned by a Charles Kolb. Charles Kolb was the brother’s uncle and came to the US before the brothers. Did he send for them? I’ll never know.

Ironic footnote:

I’ve put a lot of work into making an Internet presence. Besides this site, I also have a personal site with genealogical information on it. It’s been on the net for many years and in every search engine. Besides the web sites, I’ve hosted many mailing lists. With all this presence on the Internet, my biggest break came by snail mail, from a person who doesn’t have Internet access:

The four Geisheimer brothers who came to the US from Stuttgart, Germany were part of a family of 19 children. My cousin had traced all of them but one, a male. We’ve never been able to find what happened to him(the other males had died in childhood). During the summer my mother received mail from Germany. It turned out to be the descendant of the missing male, a German cousin. This brother remained in Germany when his four brothers came to the United States.


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