Remembering Margarethe

A short life, not to be forgotten

One hundred and seventy years ago yesterday should have been a joyous day for my Nuckel third great grandparents.

1344159.Geb1843.p557Just about 3 o’clock in the morning on 6 September 1843, at home at Buntenthorsteinweg Nr. 26, in the City of Bremen, Germany, Gerhard Nuckel and his wife Beta (Lahrs) Nuckel welcomed their fifth child and third daughter, Margarethe Gesche Nuckel, into this world.1

Her birth was duly registered by her father on the 8th of September, who told the registrar that he was 36 and Beta was 34 and that they’d had the help of a midwife named Luers for the home birth.2

That same birth registration form was where, sometime later, it was duly recorded that Margarethe was baptized on the 21st of February 1844. The pastor’s name is unfamiliar;3 her siblings had all been baptized by Pastor Iken, pastor at the Bremen Neustadt Church of St. Paul’s.

And just one year later, on the 25th of February 1845, when she was just 17 months old, Margarethe Gesche Nuckel died. And it was, again, her father who had the duty of reporting the death to the Civil Registration Office.4

Gerhard and Beta were working class folks. He was recorded as a laborer on every official document of his life, such as his marriage record,5 and the birth records of his children.6 Particularly among working folks, child mortality in this busy city was high. In all of Germany, infant mortality as late as the 1870s ran as high as 30 percent, and the odds of death continued to be high between ages one and five.7

But Gerhard and Beta had been lucky. All four of their first children had survived those terrible early risks. When Margarethe was born, Anna Adelheid was 10; Gerd was seven; my second great grandfather Johann was five; and Betha (or Beta) was almost three. in fact, all four would live to adulthood and marry.8

You have to believe they thought they would beat the odds with this little girl, too. That losing her was a sucker punch right in the heart.

And you have to wonder… you always have to wonder… What was she like, this little girl who played so very briefly in the branches of my family tree?

Was she merry and bright? An active handful until some final illness stole her strength away? Was she blonde or brown-haired? Blue-eyed or brown? Was she doted on by her older brothers and sisters?

Did she have a streak of mischief, this toddler in that busy household? Was she plump or skinny? What toys did she have, perhaps passed down from her older siblings, handmade by her mother or father?

Was she an early walker, or still wanting to crawl more than walk? What words was she saying? Was she saying “mama” and “dada” — or whatever was the equivalent for a German baby of that time?

And it breaks your heart, doesn’t it, to wonder if those were the last words she ever said as she slipped away and out of our family’s history so early in her life…


  1. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Geburten (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, births), 1811-1875, Margarethe Gesche Nuckel, Geburten 1843, Reg. Nr. 1125 (6 Sep 1843), p. 557; FHL microfilm 1344159.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Todesfälle (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, deaths), 1811-1875, Margarethe Gesche Nuckel, Todten 1845, Reg. Nr. 195 (26 Feb 1845), p. 97; FHL microfilm 1344223.
  5. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Heiraten (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, marriages), 1811-1875, Gerd Nuckel and Beta Lars, Heiraten 1833, p 249; FHL microfilm 1344189.
  6. See e.g. Margarethe’s birth record and the birth record of my second great grandfather Johann Nuckel. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Geburten (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, births), 1811-1875, Johann Nuckel, Geburten 1838, Reg. Nr. 232 (13 Feb 1838), p. 114; FHL microfilm 1344157.
  7. Kenneth Hill, “The Decline of Childhood Mortality,” Johns Hopkins University ( : accessed 6 Sep 2013).
  8. Gerd married in 1856. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Heiraten (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, marriages), 1811-1875, Gerd Nuckel and Anna Margarethe Kruse, Heiraten 1856 p. 126; FHL microfilm 1344199. Betha married in 1858. Ibid., Johann Heinrich Friedrich Gercken and Beta Nuckel, Heiraten 1858 p. 519; FHL microfilm 1344200. Anna Adelheid married in 1860, ibid., Johann Jacob Kung and Anna Adelheid Nuckel, Heiraten 1860 p. 37, as did Johann. Ibid., Johann Nuckel and Marie Margarethe Sievers, Heiraten 1860, p. 282.
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12 Responses to Remembering Margarethe

  1. Celia Lewis says:

    How incredibly worrisome to have children knowing such terrible odds of them living! The records you have found are so detailed… but no details of who she was as a little person. My youngest granddaughter is 16 mos old just now, and I can see her chasing after her older siblings, playing peekaboo, crashing towers of blocks, giggling… Imagine.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s so hard to look at these records, Celia, and not be grateful down to our toenails when we look at our own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews at that age and know that ours most likely will live when those earlier children were at such risk.

  2. Emily says:

    I also feel the need to remember those whose lives ended too soon after their lives began. The story of German infant mortality that breaks my heart is that of Gottfried Gugeler and Christiana Klein of Wangen. They must have wanted to name a daughter Christina Heinrika Gugeler. They had five baby girls with that name, but only the fifth lived long enough to marry and have a family. All the other died before their first birthday.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      That’s just heartbreaking, Emily. I have a similar, but not quite as persistent, story in this same Nuckel family a couple of generations later. My own great grandparents gave up trying to name a child Carsten Hinrich after the second little boy with that name didn’t make it.

  3. Mary Ann Thurmond says:

    Certainly the children in our families who lived shortened lives leave mysteries in our family trees. We will never know anything about their personalities in their early lives, just as we will never know what “might have been” had they matured to adulthood. And I, personally, know of very few families who escaped this heartbreak. It is amazing to me when I come across a family where all of the children grew to adulthood because it happened in so few families that it seems “abnormal.”

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Too true, Mary Ann! Which is one reason I’m so struck by our own Robertson family. Gustavus and Isabella had 11 children that we know of, and looking at the birth years, there’s not a lot of room for any others. And every last one of those 11 lived to adulthood. Stunning. (Good genes!)

  4. Leigh says:

    What a lovely post, I often wonder about the children who died young in my family tree. It is good to acknowledge them.

  5. There are a very few writers where I frequently have to stop and read a particular sentence over several times to savor it, because it is so beautifully written. Judy Russell is among those few.

  6. What a thoughtful post! Thanks for sharing. One of the most poignant stories of a child gone too soon that I’ve uncovered in my research is of the infant daughter of an immigrant family. It was said that the father stained her tiny coffin with the juice of wild raspberries, and her mother lined it with material from her best dress. The parents then planted a tree to mark the grave, but were crushed further to find the tree trampled by cattle. The father eventually fenced the area and it became what is now Elm Grove Cemetery near Tabor, South Dakota.

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