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A life story discovered and lost

I might have called him Uncle John, this brother of my grandmother.

Maybe Uncle Johann, or even Uncle Jo.

It’s hard to say now how his name would have been pronounced by the relatives who, like The Legal Genealogist, grew up speaking English and not his native German.

What nicknames we might have used.

If we’d ever had the chance to know him.

If he had lived.

Johann

I might have asked him — that Johann Nuckel — about his childhood in Bremen, as the oldest child of my great grandparents, Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel and Juliane Margarethe (Smidt) Nuckel.

I might have asked him if he had any problems as a boy because his parents were married on the 25th of October 18841 and he — well, he was born not even three months later, on 12 January 1885.2

I might have asked him about the dark days of his childhood, as his parents buried one child in 1892,3 when he himself was just seven, and another in 1893,4 and another in 1896,5 and another in 1898.6 And then lost a child through stillbirth in 1904.7

I might have asked him about any schooling he’d gotten, and what it was like to be a factory worker there just after the turn of the 20th century.

I might have asked him what led him to the recruiting office of the Bremen military in 1905. It may have been that he had simply reached the age when he could be conscripted for two or three years of active military service, and he may just have been reporting for duty. He may have tried to enlist for one year of active service followed by six years of reserve duty, rather than the longer conscripted service.8

I might have asked him what he did in the German military after that day in 1905 when he was there in that recruiting office. If he actually was serving or waiting to be called or…

And I definitely would have thanked him for going into that recruiting office on that day in 1905. Because it was there, in that recruiting office, that his actions led to the creation of the one document I’ve seen so far that tells me I even had a great uncle named Johann.

One document that proves he was the first-born child of my great grandparents. That he was my grandmother’s brother. Because this one document — the recruiting commission alphabetical list just now digitized by Ancestry from the Bremen State Archive — names his parents: Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel and Juliane Margarethe (Smidt) Nuckel.

It’s always a sweet moment when a new resource gives you another branch — even a twig — to add to the family tree.

But so many of these moments in my father’s German family are so bittersweet. If there is any thread that ties that family together, it’s the thread of early death.

And this Johann is not an exception to this family rule.

Because the same document that puts Johann Nuckel in my family tree takes him out of our family story as well.

Just below the entry for 1905 is another entry for 1906. “Gestorben an 17 Februar 1906,” that entry reads. “Sterbeliste Nr. 813.” He was just 21 years old when he died on the 17th of February 1906.

Maybe I’d have called him Uncle John, this brother of my grandmother.

Maybe Uncle Johann, or even Uncle Jo.

It’s hard to say now what tales he’d have added to our family story.

If we’d ever had the chance to know him.

If he had lived.


SOURCES

  1. Bremen Standesamt (City Registrar), Heiraten (Marriage) Nr. 713/1884, Nuckel-Smidt, 25 Oct 1884.
  2. Bremen Ersatzkommission, 1874-1914, Alphabetische Liste des Aushebungsbezirks Bremen – Geburtsjahr 1885, Bd. 03 L-R, entry for Johann Nuckel, Ancestry.com citing Staatsarchiv Bremen.
  3. “Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875 – 1939” (The Funerary Records of the City of Bremen, 1875-1939), book 1892, page 59; online database, Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen (http://www.die-maus-bremen.de/index.php : accessed 30 Jan 2015).
  4. Ibid., book 1893, page 451.
  5. Ibid., book 1896, page 117.
  6. Ibid., book 1898, page 234.
  7. Ibid., book 1904, page 871.
  8. See generally Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “German Army (German Empire),” rev. 7 May 2016.
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