Methodology Spotlight

Was Tetje Visser abandoned by her husband?

It is not the first time that we say how helpful Dutch population registers are, when reconstructing a person’s life. With help of these registers you can follow your ancestor from book to book, from place to place, and even from country to country. You might come across some very interesting remarks.

Civil registration (Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands), population register 1850-1860, volume 1, ward A, page 6, house no. 4a, household of Harm Middel; “Registers der bevolking [population registers] 1850-1920,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 30 August 2020), image 9 of 646. This image only shows the left page of the register.


At first glance, this page does not look surprising. At the top of the page we see the letter for the ward (A) and the name of the street (Grootemarkt).

The columns provide the following details:

  • reference number
  • family name
  • first name(s)
  • year or date of birth
  • place of birth
  • marital status
  • religion

On line 3 we find Tetje Visser, a married woman, who was born in Groningen on 15 July 1797. She was a member of the Mennonite Church (Doopsgezinden). She lived with Fennechien Meijer, and her husband Harm Middel. This register does not say anything about their relationship, but further research shows that Fennechien (or Fennigje) was Tetje’s daughter.

According to this register, Tetje was a married woman and not a widow. So why was she not living with her husband? The right page of the register gives a indication of what was the situation here.

… continued

This page tells us that the family lived in house no. 4a. So, the full address was Grootemarkt 4a. Nowadays we would write the address as Grote Markt.

The other columns are for:

  • occupation
  • when the person came to live in Groningen
  • date of death
  • when the person left Groningen
  • whether the person had an official residency in Groningen, or only stayed there
  • last place of residence
  • new place of residence
  • changes in marital status
  • remarks

It is not a surprise that only Harm Middel had an occupation. He was a merchant. According to this page, Tetje died in Groningen on 14 April 1855.

What is interesting though, is the remark in the last column. It says: “de man zijn verblijfplaats is niet bekend”. Or in English: the residence of the husband is unknown.

So is that why Tetje lived alone? Did he abandon her?

Grote Markt, Groningen, photograph, 1885-1895 (photo credits: Groninger Archieven, Beeldbank Groningen, document 1785_18132)

Tetje’s marriage

On 25 May 1815 Tetje Visser married Johan Ernst Meijer. She was only eighteen years old (born in Groningen on 15 June 1769, a different date than the population register mentions!), a daughter of the late Johannes Visser (a shipwright in his life) and of the late Elisabeth Melchers. At the time of their marriage Tetje and Johan Ernst already had a child, Bernard Hendrik. [source]

Less than a year later, on 10 March 1816, they became the parents of Fennigje Elizabeth Meijer. She married Harm Middel in Wildervank on 7 May 1838. Marriage records say that her father Johan Ernst Meijer was a teacher, who lived either in Helmhorn in the Holstein area (Germany) [source] or in Kiel near Denmark. [source] That is far away from Groningen!

Tetje died in Groningen on 14 April 1855. Her death record only says that whe is the wife of Johan Ernst Meijer. There is no information about his whereabouts. [source]

When in 1872 Fennigje (or Fennechien) married for the second time – she divorced her first husband – her father Johan Ernst Meijer was dead. The record says he was a teacher of languages, who died in Kiel, Holstein. [source]


We now know that Johan Ernst Meijer was a teacher of languages, who left Groningen and lived in Holstein, Germany in 1838. It is not clear whether he was still alive in 1855, when Tetje died. He died before 1872, when his daughter married. Do church registers from Kiel mention his death?

What do you think happened? Did Johan Ernst abandon Tetje? Fact is that she lived without her husband in 1838 and in 1850, and was probably still alone at the time of her death in 1855. A sad story!

One Reply to “Was Tetje Visser abandoned by her husband?

  1. Als ze niet wisten waar hij was, dan zal hij ook geen geld naar huis hebben gestuurd en kunnen we wel van verlating spreken, lijkt mij. Onderwijzers verdienden in Nederland erg weinig, deden er soms het kosterschap bij als bijverdienste. Ik weet niet hoe het in Duitsland was.
    Vroeger was een scheiding ook niet gemakkelijk te verkrijgen, dus als je een andere vrouw tegen kwam met wie je je leven wilde delen, dan kon je naar het buitenland vertrekken en je daar als echtpaar voordoen. Het kan allemaal.

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