More about unwed mothers: #germany #general

Roger Lustig

Peter Cohen asks:

I do not know if it applies to 1840, but there were times when
authorities in some German cities attempted to control the Jewish
population by only allowing the oldest son to marry. This was largely
unsuccessful because the Jews were not terribly concerned about civil
marriage, as long as they were religiously married. But, this resulted
in a lot of "illegitimate" births because the parents were not permitted
to marry in a civil ceremony.

David Lewin comments:

Are you certain about "only allowing the oldest son to marry" ? I know
of only the head of the family and the oldest son allowed to earn a
living, but never heard of marriage prohibition.


As with most questions of this sort, not only the date but the place
must be specified. In 1840, only those parts of Germany west of the
Rhine plus Nassau and perhaps one or two other small principalities had
civil marriage at all.

The prohibition on marriage may not have been stated as such, but was
essentially the case in places where only one son of a resident could
establish himself as a resident, taking over his parent's residence
permit, so to speak. Since marriage was as much a property transaction
as a blessing of a union, establishing oneself and marrying went hand in

In the event, Bavaria (the Palatinate excepted) was notable for
continuing the restrictions on sons' establishing themselves until 1861.
Most other states had abolished such rules some time before.

Roger Lustig

Princeton, NJ USA

research coordinator, GerSIG


My GGGM Maria Schnurmann (maiden name) lived 1800 to 1881, in Schmieheim, Baden, and is buried in the Schmieheim Jewish cemetery.  She is not listed in the town records as having a husband.  If she had been married to a man also named Schnurmann I would expect to find that in the town records, which seem accurate in all respects.  She had three children so it seems to me unlikely she was an unwed mother three times over.  Could she have married outside the Jewish faith?  If so, would that have not been recorded?  Is there any other reason she might not have a husband recorded in the town records?

Michael Braverman