I've got several old records for this family, all births for children of Johannes and Anna Gerdruth. They all seem to explicitly state that Johannes was present at the birth.

The fact that they all say this leads me to think this isn't common for the time, is that true? Given that he was a shepherd, I wonder if it was possibly the distance to help that would have necessitated it.

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6./ d(en) 26 ten ejus(dem) Johannes, des Schäfers Johannei Zaun et ux. Anna Gerdruth ge. Rüppel ehel. Söhl. nat. den 19ten ej. Morgens um 1 Uhr Die Ge- vatterstelle vertrat derVater selbst

From here.

  • 1
    I wonder if being recorded as present at the birth is a euphemism for saying that he acknowledges the child was his, which may have needed doubts dispelled with him being away for long periods.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 22:04
  • Please add your transcription of the entry. I don't see how you are getting your interpretation (although I'm missing some words in my attempt).
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 13:39
  • @bgwiehle - Added
    – Justin808
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


While the father may have been present or nearby for the births of his children, more likely, a female relative or a mid-wife actually assisted. Especially first births were likely to take the expectant mother to her mother's house, even if it was in a different place than the marital home.

Your interpretation of "present at the birth" hinges on the final phrase of the baptismal entry,

"Die Gevatterstelle vertrat der Vater selbst."

But "Gevatter" is an old word for godfather. That is, the father was also the sponsor at the baptism. This was unusual, because the function of a godparent is to assist the parents in the Christian upbringing of their children.

Often who could be selected and number of sponsors (also seen as (Latin) "Testes" [=witness], or (later German) "Pat(h)e") were matters of local custom, and the relationships formed important in the child's future.

  • I wonder if the "lack" of other goodparents indicates lack of (close or extended) family. Traditionally afaik you would have chosen a - preferably financially stable or better off - relative or, if lucky, some "benefactor" with a higher social standing.
    – Stephie
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 21:50
  • Not just extended family -- friends and neighbours, even clergy, (depending on local custom) were often godparents. Even illegitimate children had godparents, although they were sometimes fewer in number and close relatives. I've even seen a couple of entries where one of the godparents (unable to be present) was represented by a proxy. For someone to deny several of his children (according to @Justin808) this support, suggests some unusual beliefs on his part or social ostracism from the community that somehow extended to his children.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 22:03
  • That's what I meant - what we today call "no network".
    – Stephie
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 22:04
  • Oh, and just for fun: I know one case with a godparent-proxy from as late as 1950.
    – Stephie
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 22:05

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