Montag, 7. Januar 2013

The Burial of a stillborn Daughter

I'm really glad when I find that a reverend got his church records straight and neatly mentioned the existence of stillborn children, even if they only appear in the burial records.

We know that when a woman died in childbirth or shortly afterwards, and the child didn't live either, both were often buried together in one coffin. It just seems natural because you feel that there is a connection here.

But what happened to the stillborn children if their mother lives? Have you ever thought about that?

Usually, it took about three or four days until the burial took place. I noticed pretty early that stillborn children were often buried earlier, in most cases the next day or sometimes two days after they were born.

Take a look at this entry. It's the burial record for my 7x-great-grandmother Catrine Elisabeth (Wegener) Damman (1685-1756).

Source: Archiv der Evangelischen Kirche von Westfalen, Bielefeld, Sterberegister Kirchenbuch Werther (Landgemeinde), 130/1756

"130. d. 23. Nov. ist des alten Joh. Henr. Dammans Ehefrau Catr. 
Elisabeth Wegeners begraben. at. 72 Jahr. In ihrem Sarge ist auch 
Herman Henr. Habighorst todtgeb. Töchterl. mit beygesetzt."
Translation:

"130. On Nov. 23, the wife of old Joh. Henr. Damman, Catr. Elisabeth Wegener, 
was buried. 72 years old. In her coffin the stillborn little daughter of 
Herman Henr. Habighorst was also laid to rest." 

As far as I know, Catrine Elisabeth (Wegener) Damman and Herman Henrich Habighorst were not related. Of course, in a small town like Werther everyone is somehow related to everyone, but I haven't found a connection between the two families that would explain why the little girl's body was put to rest in Catrine Elisabeths coffin.

When I first read this, I was horrified. A story like this sounds creepy, doesn't it? Imagine you've just died, are put in a coffin and then someboday comes up and says: "Oh, there's still room for that stillborn child the Smith family had yesterday!"

I really thought a lot about this entry. I was sad for the Damman and the Habighorst families, of course, especially for the Habighorst family. Catrine Elisabeth had at least had a life, and this little girl didn't even get that chance.

I have no idea if the Damman family had to give their consent that the child was buried in Catrine Elisabeth's coffin. Who made the decision? Did the family know about this at all?

The more I tought about it, the less chills I got.

Of course, this practice was performed due to practical reasons and I assume also due to certain financial reasons.

But I can also imagine that somehow, the relatives left behind on either side were consoled by the thought that their loved ones wouldn't be alone. Maybe it was a bit of consolation. 

At least I hope so.



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