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What the pages don’t quite say

She was born, the records tell us, at 5 p.m. on 11 August 1857, at home at Buntenthorsteinweg Nr. 113 in the City of Bremen, Germany. Her father, Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers, was shown as a 36-year-old laborer; her mother, Metta Huthoff, was shown as age 37. She was given the name Metta Margarethe Sievers.1

HarlingAnd she died 84 years ago today, most likely in Bremen; she was buried in Bremen’s Riensberg Cemetery on 23 April 1931.2

She was, the funerary book reports, 73 years and eight months old at the time of her death, and that matches a birth in August 1857.

So… what else do we know about this woman, this second great grand-aunt, this very much younger sister to The Legal Genealogist‘s own second great grandmother Marie Margaretha Sievers?

The answer is: painfully little.

We know she was the eighth of nine children born to her mother Metta Huthoff Sievers, and that she married a man named Johann Harling at some point after the year when microfilmed versions of Bremen’s civil registration records stopped being available.

And that’s it. My immigrant father never spoke of his family, not even much about his parents, much less more distant relatives like this. There are no photographs, no artifacts, no family accounts of any kind.

But perhaps one other record that is available today tells at least something of the story.

That record is the Bremen City Directory — the Bremer Addressbuch — digitized by the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Bremen.

As you can see in the image above, Metta was a widow in 1930, living at Nordenhamerstrasse 48: “Harling, Joh., Wwe., geb. Sievers” (Harling, Johann, widow, born Sievers).3

Working backwards, we see that in 1925, the same woman was shown living at the same address.4

In 1924, perhaps she was already widowed. There was a Johann living at Bagtstrasse 58, and a Johann at Stedingerstrasse 36, but also a Frau Johann living at Meer 126.5 Both of the men continued to be recorded in the 1925 directory, but there was no “Frau Johann” in 1925, only the “Joh., Wwe. geb. Sievers” (Johann, widow, born Sievers).

If that’s our candidate, then she was widowed long before that 1924 directory. That Frau Johann is recorded in 1922-23,6 in 1920,7 in 1918.8

But in 1917, we see a laborer named Johann at Meer 126,9 the same laborer who was there in 1915.10

The records don’t tell us what happened to Johann. He’s not recorded in the city burial books. And when you put a likely death in 1917-18 together with no burial in the city where the family lived, where Metta was born, where she was buried… you have to wonder what happened here.

Reading between the lines of the City Directory, do we have a hint at a war-related death here? An old man, to be sure, nearing 60 if not 60 already at the time. But alive in 1917, gone in 1918, and not buried in the city cemeteries.

Sigh… I really need a research trip to Germany…


  1. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Geburten (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, births), 1811-1875, Metta Margarethe Sievers, Geburten 1857, Reg. Nr. 1336 (14 Aug 1857), p. 671; FHL Film 1344168.
  2. “Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875 – 1939” (The Funerary Records of the City of Bremen, 1875-1939), book 1931, page 342; online database, Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen ( : accessed 17 Apr 2015).
  3. Bremer Addressbuch 1930 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1930), II: 126; digital images Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Bremen ( : accessed 17 Apr 2015).
  4. Ibid., Bremer Addressbuch 1925 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1925), II: 276.
  5. Ibid., Bremer Addressbuch 1924 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1924), II: 271.
  6. Ibid., Bremer Addressbuch 1922-23 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1923), II: 254.
  7. Ibid., Bremer Addressbuch 1920 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1920), II: 234.
  8. Ibid., Bremer Addressbuch 1918 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1918), I: 214.
  9. Ibid., Bremer Addressbuch 1917 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1917), I: 213.
  10. Ibid., Bremer Addressbuch 1915 (Bremen: Carl Schünemann, 1915), I: 211.
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