A somewhat unusual event in the Lutheran church books seems to be the baptism of a child whose father at this time was already deceased or for a longer time absent.
Obviously this circumstance caused unusual arrangements.
Usually the baptism of a child brought the father as well as several neighbors and relatives in the role of witnesses to the office of the Pastor. Of course testimony was a purely male business. But things changed as soon as an absent father was involved.
In these cases the first witness was always a woman. Of course not the mother who just had given birth to the child. In most cases the first witness was the mother in law or the mother of the child's mother.
Even more surprising are cases in which not only the first but all of the witnesses turn out to be female.
A touch of uncertainty seems to stick to this special kind of baptism. An uncertainty that is hard to understand today.
A widow who (after 6 to 7 legitimate children) gave birth to a child three months after her husband had died cannot automatically give reason for doubts. Also a young mother whose husband had to join the Russian army for a long time is beyond doubt as soon as her mother in law doesn't doubt her son's fatherhood.
Obviously a female first witness was not necessary in the "normal" cases of illegitimate births and unknown fathers. Of course, sometimes it was the midwife who took over the way to the Pastor. But in most cases it was the father, who brought the illegitimate child of his daughter or the farmer who registered the child of his farm girl.
However the closely related female witness was more like "bringing in the big guns". Only in very special cases this seems to have been necessary and appropriate.
Was it the uncertainty about the fatherhood alone which kept the male witnesses at distance?
Was female testimony considered as somewhat non-committal?
Or did the male relatives and neighbors make a point of never testifying the fatherhood of someone they could not talk to, whereas the female relatives considered the interest of the new born child and took over the action?
)* The statements in this article are based on findings in numerous church books. Of course this is a subjective impression and cannot be proved for all cases of absent fathers. - JD