For a very long time, and on most online trees, Irene Charitas is listed as the wife of Johann Michael Mueller who was born about 1655 in Zollikoffen, Switzerland and who died in 1695 in Steinwenden, Germany. Her last name is listed as Charitas, but it isn’t. Charitas is Irene’s middle name.
At this time in history, in Germany and the Germanic speaking Protestant regions of Europe, females were given two names, a first “saints” name and a second name by which they were typically called. Irene is quite unusual for a Saint’s name and Charitas is very unusual for a middle name. So unusual in fact that I’ve only seen it one other time, ever.
Charitas is a Latin word meaning charity and “for the love of God.” Charitas, or charity, is one of the 7 virtues.
We don’t know where Irene was born, but what we do know is that we first find her as Johann Michael Mueller’s wife in Steinwenden, Germany, shown above and below, when she gives birth to the first child recorded to this couple in the church records in 1685. Could this couple have lived there, or had children elsewhere, previously? Of course. Could they have had other children that were baptized in a different church? Yes. Michael was born in 1655, so if Irene was his age, they could have married by about 1673-1675 and had another 5 children or so before they appear in the Steinwenden records. But did they? We’ll never know for sure, but there is no evidence today to suggest such.
Unfortunately, the only part of the original Steinwenden church that survives today is the bell tower.
Sometime in the early 1680s, the Mueller family arrived in Steinwenden from the Zollikoffen area near Bern, Switzerland. It’s likely that Irene’s family was among the same immigrant group – but we just don’t know and to the best of my knowledge, no research has been done on that topic. Furthermore, the Johann Michael Mueller family could have made an intermittent stop along the way that we are unaware of. In other words, Michael could have married Irene Charitas anyplace between Zollikoffen and Steinwenden.
I’m not quite sure how Charitas became her last name on the internet. Perhaps it’s an assumption based on the fact that her middle name is an unfamiliar name and someone assumed it was her last name. In any event, it’s been that way for years now and I’m hopeful that records from the actual church can help reduce or eliminate this misinformation. I’m currently in the process of having the church records retranslated by a professional German genealogist, just to be sure.
When our cousin, the Reverend Richard Miller visited the church in Steinwenden in 1996, the church historians and a German genealogist prepared a summary of the church records involving Johann Michael Mueller, shown below.
In all of the birth records of children born to Michael, Irene Charitas was his wife, and Charitas was not her birth name. If the child born in 1685 was their first, then Irene Charitas was likely born about 1665, give or take a couple years in either direction.
Recently, Richard sent me the original record of Johann Michael Mueller’s birth from the Steinwenden church. It’s the second to last entry, below.
Needless to say, I can’t read this, on two fronts, the language and the script, which is why I’m having this and the other records retranslated.
The next we hear of Irene is a church record for a confirmation of Irene Charitas Schlosser, a daughter of Conrad Schlosser, of Steinwinden. Often, children were named after their godparents with the idea that the Godparents were relatives and they were the appointed relatives responsible for the religious education of the child – and whether spoken or unspoken, it was also expected that if the parents died, the Godparents would raise the children – or at least the one(s) named for them. Unfortunately, in the age of marginal medical care, no antibiotics and an era where every pregnancy was high risk, that happened all too often. So, it appears that Conrad Schlosser’s daughter was named for Michael Mueller’s wife, Irene Charitas.
It’s likely that Irene was in some way related to Conrad. She could have been his sister or aunt or a favorite cousin. Or, Conrad could have been related to Johann Michael Mueller. One way or another Conrad trusted Irene enough to name his daughter after her, making Irene Charitas Mueller the first in line to raise her namesake should something happen to Conrad and his wife. Additional research on the Schlosser family church records is in order.
The first record on this transcriptions says that Jacob Ringeisen of Schweitz was “serving for his cousin” Michael Muller.
In other words, even though the daughter was named for Irene, Michael’s wife, Irene wasn’t present, possibly due to pregnancy herself, and apparently neither was Michael. However, Michael’s cousin in essence represented Michael and the couple’s commitment at the baptism.
Of course, now this makes me ask just how Michael and Jacob were cousins, and was it through marriage via Irene Charitas? It looks like we may have yet another family connection hint. So often in these old church records there is so much more buried in the details that is missed if all you get is a translation of the actual “event.”
In genealogy, always, always, more questions.
Irene Charitas’ life was short. She probably died before she was 30. There are no more known records of her, at least not directly.
What we do know is that the last child in these church records is born to Irene and Michael in 1692. This is the only one of the six children she bore that lived. This is an incredibly sad story that seems to stretch beyond just “bad luck.”
|Child||Birth||Death||Age at Death|
|Johann Nicholas Muller||June 5, 1685||June 6, 1685||1 day|
|Johann Abraham Muller||July 9, 1688||1696||Less than 6 months|
|Samuel Muller||April 30, 1687||April 30, 1687||Shortly after birth|
|Catherine Barbara Muller||June 7, 1688||June 21, 1691||3 years, 2 weeks|
|Eva Catherine Muller||April 24, 1691||June 29, 1691||2 months|
|Johann Michael Muller||October 5, 1692||1771||78 years|
Looking at these children’s deaths, I find the month of June, 1691 particularly heartbreaking. Clearly, something contagious was occurring and both of Irene’s children died, 8 days apart. I wonder if the church records reflect a rash of deaths within the village. Just 11 months later, she would bear her 6th child. I bet those months between June of 1691 and May of 1692 were living Hell for Irene, between the sorrow and grief of losing her children and the uncertainly of the one she was carrying.
Fortunately for me, Johann Michael Mueller, the second, born in 1692, named after his father, did live, as he is my ancestor.
Johann Michael Mueller Sr. died in Steinwenden in 1695, just three years later. For some reason, from 1692 to 1695, there were no more children born to Johann Michael Mueller and Irene Charitas – nor to Johann Michael Mueller and anyone else.
Why is this important? Because another rumor that has been rampant over the years is that Johann Michael Mueller was married to Anna Loysa Regina and that she was the mother of Johann Michael Mueller. At least I was able to figure out where this information originated.
On September 29, 1695, Anna Loysa Regina married Jacob Stutzman in Steinwenden, although I have not seen the original record myself. She is noted at that time as being the widow of Michael Mueller.
For Anna Loysa Regina to be the window of Michael Mueller, that means that Irene Charitas died sometime after giving birth to Michael Jr. on October 5, 1692 and sometime before Michael Sr.’s death on January 31, 1695, just 2 years and 3 months later, allowing Michael Sr. enough time to remarry after Irene’s death and before his own. Remarriage often didn’t take much time actually, given that most people already knew each other through church and it was simply a matter of taking stock of the available spouses and making a choice from the willing and most compatible selection. No, it was not about love but one would hope it was at least about like and that love evolved. Regardless, marriage was a practical matter of survival as men and women needed each other’s assistance in the daily activities of living and raising children. Michael would have had a small child who needed a mother.
Michael and Anna Loysa Regina must not have been married long, because there are no children recorded to she and Michael, but she did go on to have children with Jacob Stutzman, one as late as 1706. Jacob Stutzman Jr. born in 1706, and Johann Michael Mueller Jr., born in 1692, step-brothers of a sort, would in 1727 immigrate to America together.
If all of these records have been accurately translated, Irene Charitas probably died about 1694, possibly in childbirth. In the natural order of things, March or April 1694 would be about 18 months after Michael was born, representing the typical spacing between children. Why no record of her death exists in the church records is a mystery. Perhaps we need to look again, and maybe in the surrounding church records as well.
Cemetery plots in Germany, as is customary in Europe, are reused. In some cases, they continue within the family, with generation upon generation (pardon the pun) being buried in the same location. In other cases, the grave is considered “abandoned” if no one pays upkeep, and the site is reused at the discretion of the church. Gravesites that aren’t abandoned are still reused, but generally by the family and perhaps not as quickly as abandoned graves. While this is very foreign to those of us in the US, if Europeans did not employ some “recycling” burial strategy, the entire continent would be blanketed with cemeteries and there would no room for the living.
Being someone who wonders about everything, I asked at a Dutch church during a European visit in 2014 about what happened if there were still bones in the grave when they set about burying the next person. I’m glad I asked, because I then discovered that those little buildings in or near cemeteries weren’t what I thought. I assumed they were the gardener’s or sextant’s shed, containing things like shovels, lawnmowers, etc. Well, I was wrong. Those little buildings are ossuaries containing the bones of the former inhabitants of graves. The photo below is the ossuary in Wolsum, the Netherlands.
This is truly the final resting place until the bones turn to dust, generally stacked something like cordwood with similar types of bones stacked with like bones on shelves. Yes, seriously. Once moved from the grave to the ossuary, the bones are not kept together as a “person.” This photo is an ossuary in Hallstatt, Austria.
From a DNA perspective, these ossuaries, found in almost all cemeteries, are just torture to me, because I can just see the DNA of my ancestral lines in that ossuary, all mixed in with the DNA of the other families…which are probably mine as well, given that these people married their neighbors in the community for generations. There they are, my ancestors and their DNA, right in front of me, but entirely anonymous and completely unidentifiable. If we knew who they were, we could obtain the Y and mtDNA lineage of every family in the village, including mine!
The bones in the ossuaries are just waiting to finish turning to dust – a process that takes longer than they are allowed to rest in the ground. So a grave in Europe is not a place of perpetual rest, it’s a temporary resting point but not the last stop on the journey. I just can’t help but think what a wonderful scientific study it would be to analyze the bones in an ossuary and compare the results to the DNA of the current village inhabitants, and those descendants who moved away. And yes, you know I’d be in the front of the line, volunteering. You could reconstruct an entire village in the 1700s or maybe 1800s from their DNA – maybe even further back. You could tell who settled there, where they were from originally… you could learn so much. But back to reality….
Not only do we not know where Irena Charitas and her infant children were buried, their dust assuredly shares that location today with several subsequent generations of Germans, most likely not her descendants because her only known descendant immigrated to America in 1727 with his Stutzman step-brother. Irene Charitas’ son Johann Michael Mueller, Jr. never knew his mother or father, never remembered seeing his mother’s face, beaming down at him, so joyous that he was alive. He had no memory of her loving touch. He was raised by his step-mother and her subsequent husband, Jacob Stutzman, after both of Michael’s parents died by the time he was three.
There was no happy ending for Irene Charitas. In fact – it seems that her entire adult lifetime was filled with serial grief, except for those few brief months when she and baby Michael both lived. Irene Charitas’ grief was caused by the births and deaths of 5 children in 5 years, followed by her own death not long after her 6th child was born and survived. Then, the terrible irony. When a child finally lives, she herself succumbs.
I can only imagine the excitement Irene felt about her first pregnancy, followed by the shattering death of the baby. Surely, she would have told herself that it wouldn’t happen again. It was a first birth, probably difficult. The second one would be easier. Just a few months later, she became pregnant again and full of hope, only to have her dreams shattered again with the death of that child. And then again…and again and again, year after year after year. Just five years after that first baby died, she was pregnant for her sixth child. I wonder if she started out in dread when she discovered she was pregnant again, never allowing herself to be excited, to plan, to hope for that baby to live. I could understand how she might feel that way after 5 dead babies in 5 years. I know how frightened I was when I was pregnant for my third child after my second child died.
And then the baby lived but she died. Oh, the horrible irony. Poor Irene. In death, leaving behind her one child that lived. She must have fought the grim reaper with every ounce of her being until the very end. But it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t enough.
I hope that Irene Charitas was able to see, from afar, her son, Johann Michael Mueller Jr. growing up strong, being raised by his step-mother and step-father in a pious pietist home and that it helped sooth her aching mother’s soul.
12-23-2017 Update – We now have a surname and parents for Irene. Click here to read the next article!