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Musings on a Mother’s Day weekend…

There is such a difference between the two sides of The Legal Genealogist‘s family.

On my mother’s side, going up that maternal line, sure, I know the names of my mother, grandmother, great grandmother, second great grandmother, third great grandmother and even fourth great grandmother.

But I also know their stories. At least some of them. The circumstances of their lives.

For the four generations closest to me, I even have their photographs, and get to share them again tomorrow, Mother’s Day, here in the United States.

And then there’s my father’s side.

empty paternal tree

The Germans.

German born, bred and raised, every last one of them as far back as I can trace. Only my grandmother even stepped foot on the North American continent and that not until she was grown, married, with a child.

I can trace that side farther back:

• My father’s mother, Marie Margarethe Nuckel (1891-1947).
• Her mother, Juliane Margarethe Smidt (1864-1907).
• Her mother, Johanna Henriette Hüneke (1840-1919).
• Her mother, Dorothea Mahnken (1808-c1900).
• Her mother, Mette Pingel (1777-1844).
• Her mother, Gesche Seeger (1745-1822).
• And the woman I believe was Gesche’s mother, Ahlke Rosenbrock (1713–1762).
• And if I’m right about Ahlke, then her mother Ahlke Kahrs (c1690-1728).

In most of these cases, because of the combination of German civil registration and church records, I could add in the places where they were born and lived, when and where they married, the names, birthdates and birthplaces of their children, and — in all but the persistently frustrating case of my third great grandmother Dorothea (Mahnken) Hüneke — the dates and places of their deaths.

But I know almost nothing about them.

I never met any of them — not even my grandmother, who died before I was born.

And I don’t even have a single photograph beyond my grandmother herself — not even of my grandmother’s mother Juliane.

Nothing — not one word — of this long line of women survived to be passed down to the children of Marie’s one surviving child. I didn’t even know Marie’s mother’s name until I started doing research into my father’s side of the family. Given how closed-mouthed my father was about his side of the family, I suppose I should count myself lucky that I have any information even about Marie.

I have to believe some of that lack of information is because the lives in at least the more recent generations were cut short. My grandmother Marie was just 56 years old when she died in Illinois in 1947. She didn’t live long enough to sit, surrounded by her son’s children, and pass down the stories. Her own mother Juliane was just 43 when she died in Bremen, Germany, in 1907, long before the first of her own grandchildren was born.

Yet I can’t help but look at that long list of the women in that one line of my father’s side of the family and wonder what lies hidden behind those names. The triumphs. The tragedies. The sorrows. The joys.

What did their voices sound like? Did their hands dance when they spoke? What made them proud? What were they afraid of?

I would settle, at this point, even for having a hint as to what they looked like, if somewhere, somehow, an image might survive to be shared.

All I have, on this Mother’s Day weekend, is a sense of loss.

I look at lives cut short.

And mourn the stories cut short as well.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Stories cut short,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 7 May 2022).

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