#52ancestors No. 4 – A family or not?

52ancestorsYesterday’s #genchat was “Capturing all the details: one document at a time”. And btw. YESTERDAY because I am ahead of time across the pond 😉

Due to these inconvenient timezones (worst invention ever ;)) I couldn’t take part but I took it as an invitation to screen through my notes and stumbled over the following death entry (transcribed from the churchbook Mustin and translated into English):

Day of the Death: December 25, 1857

Day of the Funeral: December 28, 1857

Helene Louise Christine Möller, daughter of the carpenter in Dechow Matthias Gottlieb Möller and his deceased wife Magdalena Dorothea née Bett (or Beck or Beth – I admit, I couldn’t decipher it for sure), not married

cause of death: typhus

age: 38 years, 5 months

You might ask yourself now why I thought this plain entry to be odd enough that I would stumble over it?

Well, it was the “not married” which caught my eye. Because I have six children for Helene and my 3rd great grand uncle Franz Joachim Hinrich SCHAPER from Mustin in my database.

It wasn’t uncommon in the area that time to have one illegitimate child before the wedding, but six?

Everyone who wanted to marry had to apply for a wedding license and something like a right of domicile. Those were granted by the authorities of the duchy. Problem was: without the right of domicile you wouldn’t get a wedding license.

Every magistrate could grant (or not grant) this right at their own discretion. And more than one applicant wouldn’t get it without a bit of money changing its owner.

Just to give you some numbers:

In the duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin every sixth child born between 1849 and 1863 was illegitimate.

1851 there were 260 villages where more than 1/3 of the born children were born to a single mother and 79 villages where ALL children were born illegitimate.

But instead of helping their people to settle down, on May 3, 1856 the grandduchy Mecklenburg-Schwerin passed a law regarding the “punishment of bawdiness”.

Giving birth to a child without being married was one case for punishment. If someone would press charges against a single mother she was a risk to pay a fine between 3 and 20 Thaler. Just a comparison – the price for an average sized bread was 0.04 Thaler. The single mother was the “Stuprata” – the disgraced and she was the one responsible for being dishonored. Therefore she had to face court and pay the fine. The father could go on living his life without any responsibilities of course.

That was a quick excursion into “marriage history” of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. But those rules held true for many other duchies and kingdoms, too.

Coming back to “my” Helene. Could it be that she gave birth to six children between 1844 and 1856, living with their father like a family (which they were of course) and die of typhus and neither the father of her children not the children themselves would be mentioned in her death entry?

So, I checked every single birth entry for the children and yes, it was true. All of them were titled “illegitimate”  – and another btw. I think no child in this world should be called illegitimate!

I think it is heartbreaking that not even in her death entry the authorities acknowledged that she had children and that they had a father.

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14 thoughts on “#52ancestors No. 4 – A family or not?

  1. Loved how you gave the history behind the “crime of illegitmacy”. It is very sad that the government did not help out their citizens. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure I will find the same when digging into my husband’s group from various locations of the German Empire.


    • thank you for stopping by and I am glad you liked the post. And I would actually wonder if you wouldn’t have at least some children born before their parents’ wedding in your husband’s family tree 😉


  2. BTW no overlap on this post! very confusing. I also just recently found that one of my grand uncles was illegitimate and actually his parents, who later married, may have been first cousins!


    • it wasn’t really uncommon in those days when first cousins married. Often to keep property in the family when there were only daughters. Today the thought is a bit odd, though. Although it is not illegal, at least not in Germany. But odd..


  3. Pingback: January 25 – Jochen Ludewig Carl Schaper | Barbara Schmidt

  4. Very interesting! And I agree that no child should be called illegitimate.

    I have two certificates I would like to acquire copies of from Hamburg, one is in the Archives, the other I am unsure of which office it is currently in. Do you know of someone who would be interested in helping me with this? It looks like you do lots of German research. 🙂


  5. Barbara, if you haven’t read it, Warren Bittner’s article in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, “Without Land, Occupation, Rights, or Marriage Privilege: The Büttner Family from Bavaria to New York” (NGSQ September 2012) is a wonderful discussion of the social history of late 18th and early 19th century Bavaria that resulted in illegitimacy in the family he writes about. I recommend it highly.


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