Select Kaiser Surname Genealogy

The Kaiser surname derived from the old High German keiser, meaning “emperor,” which itself came from the Latin imperial title Caesar.  The medieval surname was probably occupational, either for a servant in the Emperor’s household or for an actor who played the part of an Emperor.  It could also have been a nickname for a person with an imperious manner!  Indeed der Kaiser has been the nickname of Franz Beckenbauer, the great player, coach and manager of the German football team.

The Kaiser spelling is most common in south Germany and also appears in Austria and Switzerland.  Kayser crops up in Luxemburg primarily.  De Keyser is the Flemish version, mostly found in Belgium; while Keizer is the Dutch spelling today.  The main American spellings have been Kaiser, Kiser, Keyser, and Kayser

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Kaisers number some 85,000 in Germany today, with a further 15,000 in Austria and Switzerland.  There are 6,000 de Keysers in Belgium and another 6,000 Keizers in Holland.

  Neither Kaiser nor its variant names have been at all common in England (although one Keyser did emigrate from Bedfordshire to America in the 17th century).

A Belgian from Ghent, Polydore de Keyser, made his mark on Victorian London.  He had arrived in London in the 1840’s and soon founded the Royal Hotel that was to become famous.  He ran it until 1887.  At that time he was knighted and elected Lord Mayor of London, the first Catholic to hold that honor since the Reformation.  Jenny Kaiser was a well-known Yiddish actress in London in the early 1900’s.

  The Keyser and Kiser names appeared first in America, followed by Kaiser.

Keysers.  George Keyser who came to Lynn, Massachusetts in 1638 was in fact from England.  He and his son John were tanners.  Later the name became Kezar and a branch moved north to New Hampshire.  However, the main Keyser arrivals in America were of Dutch or German extraction.

Dirck Keyser, from a Dutch Mennonite family in Amsterdam, came to Germantown in Pennsylvania in 1688 at the invitation of William Penn.

"No. 6205 on Main Street was built by Dirck Keyser in 1738.  There is a tradition that this was the first two-story house erected in Germantown.  ‘DK 1738’ was cut in the stones on the front of the house alongside one of the windows.”

His descendants remained in Germantown for many generations.  One branch settled in Baltimore where William Keyser was an executive with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the 19th century.  Peter Keyser was director of the Philadelphia Eye and Ear Infirmary in the 1870’s.  Charles Keyser’s 1888 book The Keyser Family recounted the history

Charles Keyser arrived in Philadelphia from Wurttemberg in Germany in 1749.  He came as a soldier to fight for the British in the French and Indian wars.  Later he made his home at the mouth of the Hawkshull river in Shenandoah county, Virginia.  He died there in 1774.

“In 1876 his grave was opened by Charles Keyser, one of his grandsons, and other Keyser relatives.  The skull, teeth and hair were found to be in a wonderful state of preservation after having been buried 102 years."

Meanwhile Johannes Keyser from Bavaria had made his way to the Schoharie valley in upstate New York around the year 1710.  These Keysers were among the early settlers of what became a German community there.  Indeed, Maria Keyser married its first German minister, the Rev. Peter Sommer, who arrived there in 1743.  On the male side there were three generations of Barent Keysers.  Abraham Keyser was the sheriff of Schoharie county from 1815 to 1819.

Another Keyser line seems to have begun with Joseph Keyser, a farmer at Alexandria in New Hampshire in the early 1800’s.  His descendant Frank Ray Keyser Sr. moved from New Hampshire to Vermont in the 1920’s and became its Supreme Court Justice.  F. Ray Keyser Jr. was Governor of Vermont in 1961 and Ray Sr. had the unique experience of administering the oath of office to his son.  Ray Sr. held cases until he was 90 and lived to be 102.

Kisers.  Many of the Kiser families in America trace their ancestry back to Michael and Mary Kiser from Germany who were married in Bucks county, Pennsylvania in the 1750’s.  Thirty years later they moved to the Shenandoah valley in Virginia.  Many of their descendants remained in Rockingham county, Virginia.  Valentine Kiser migrated to Tennessee and his descendants were to be found in Missouri and Arkansas.  The number of these Kisers today are thought to be in excess of 25,000

Kaisers.  Kaisers did not really start to appear in America until the 1840’s.  They came from Germany and Switzerland mainly and usually headed for the Midwest.  Among their number were: 
  • Herman and Elizabeth Kaiser from Hanover in Germany, arriving in the late 1840’s, who made their home in Clayton county, Iowa.  
  • Gerhard and Anna Kaiser who left the home near Koln in Germany in 1851 for Ohio before finally settling in Washington county, Wisconsin.  
  • Eckhardt Kaiser from Hesse in Germany who came to Walton, Cass county, Indiana in 1854 and started the Kaiser farm there.  His great grandson Russell Kaiser was the town treasurer from 1920 to 1927. 
  • Andreas Kaiser from the Rhine Palatine in Germany who came with his family around 1856.  They made their home in Marathon county, Wisconsin.  He died there in 1897 at the ripe age of 82.  
  • and Lucien Kaiser who arrived with his parents from Switzerland in 1869 to farm in northern Michigan.  
Franz Kaiser from Hesse in Germany arrived in 1872 and made his home in upstate New York.  He was a shoemaker.  His son Henry J. Kaiser, born ten years later, headed to the West Coast in 1906 where he started a construction company.  His business began to boom in the 1930’s when his firm was one of the prime contractors for the giant dams that were being built there.  However, he is best remembered as the shipbuilder of World War Two where his shipyard in Richmond, California turned out Liberty ships in record time.  

Kaiser in America can be Jewish.  An early example was Alois Kaiser from Hungary who came to Baltimore in 1866 where he was appointed the cantor at the Oheb Shalom congregation.  Leon Kaiser, born in Brooklyn in 1884, was a highly esteemed New York educator after whom Kaiser Park in Brooklyn was named.  And Herman Kaiser fled from the Nazis in Germany in 1935 and made his home in Oklahoma.  His son George Kaiser grew rich from oil and banking and is one of the world’s biggest philanthropists today.

  The Kaiser name in Nova Scotia dates from the 1750’s when Johann George Kaiser came to Lunenburg with his family from Hesse in Germany as one of its early settlers.  Kaiser, sometimes Keizer and sometimes other spellings, has remained part of the town since that time.  A descendant Sherry-Anne Comeau has compiled a book of the family history

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Henry Kaiser was an industrialist known as the father of modern American shipbuilding.  He established the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California which built the Liberty ships during World War Two.
George Kaiser
, the son of a Jewish businessman who fled the Nazis, developed his oil and banking business in Oklahoma.  He became one of the richest men in America and is the third most generous in terms of philanthropy

Select Kaisers Today
  • 30,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio) 
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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