The illegitimate, doubly baptized, incestuous orphan

Sometimes you read records and you wonder how much bad luck one person can handle. While doing research for a client I came across the following baptism in a transcription of the Roman-Catholic baptismal records for Venlo in 1750-1760:1

St. Martinus Church, Venlo

St. Martinus Church, Venlo. Credits: Cultural Heritage Service (CC-BY-SA)

13 november
Anna Elisabetha
conditionaliter rebaptizata est
filia spuria Andreae
Ketels et Gertrudis Podor qui sunt
consanguinei in secundo
consanguinitatis gradu: susce-
perunt Jacobus Podor et Anna
Elisabetha van Cauwenbergh

As all Roman Catholic baptismal records, this one is in Latin. It translates to:

13 November 1751
Anna Elisabeth was rebaptized conditionally, illegitimate child of Andreas Ketels and Gertrudis Podor who are blood relatives in the second degree of blood relationship. Was presented to the baptism by Jacobus Podor and Anna Elisabetha van Cauwenbergh.

OK, that’s a little easier to understand but still full of technical terms. Let’s break it down.

First the ‘rebaptized conditionally.’ When a child was in distress during labor, and it was feared that it would not survive the birth, a midwife would sometimes insert a sponge into the birth canal to baptize the child while it was still alive, in the hope of saving its immortal soul. It was uncertain if such a baptism performed by a lay person ‘counted’ so any child who survived was baptized again by a real priest. But since no child could be baptized twice, the second baptism was done under the condition that the first was invalid.

The ‘spurius’ reference tells us that Andreas Ketels and Gertrudis Podor weren’t married. They could not be married anyway, since they were related in the second degree and the Roman Catholic church forbade marriages up until the fourth degree unless the couple acquired a dispensation. And the way they counted wasn’t in the couple’s favor either: they would count the number of generations to the common ancestor (unlike today where they count the number of parent-child relationships in between two people). Anna Elisabeth’s parents were related in the second degree, which meant that they shared grandparents. In other words: they were first cousins. But in the Catholic Church, even third cousins would have needed a dispensation.

The sponsors were Jacobus Podor, probably a relative of Gertrudis Podor (or both parents), and Anna Elisabetha van Cauwenbergh. The child was apparently named after Anna Elisabetha van Cauwenbergh so she may have been a close relative, perhaps the child’s grandmother.

What does all this mean for poor Anna Elisabeth? Her parents were “kissing cousins,” who could not get married because they were too closely related so had her out of wedlock, and she almost died while being born.

What happened to Anna Elisabeth?

As she was not a person of interest, I did not research what happened to Anna Elisabeth but I am curious to find out if she survived and made something of her life after her bad start. I quickly checked some indexes but did not find out what happened to Anna Elisabeth Ketel. I did find out that Gertrud Podor, the child’s mother, was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery three days after the baptism of Anna Elisabeth.

If any of you know what became of Anna Elisabeth Ketels, please leave a comment. I would love for the story to have a happy ending after such a tragic start.


  1. Unidentified transcriber, “Venlo RK dopen 1750-1759 onwettige kinderen en van vreemdelingen” [Venlo Roman Catholic Baptisms 1750-1759 illegitimate children and of strangers], Andreas W.D. Driessen op ten Bulten, GenBronnen ( : accessed 20 January 2015), entry for Anna Elisabeth Ketels, 13 November 1751. 
  2. Unidentified transcriber, “Venlo RK overlijdens/begraven 1751” [Venlo Roman Catholic deaths/burials 1751], Andreas W.D. Driessen op ten Bulten, GenBronnen ( : accessed 20 January 2015), entry for Gertrud Podor, 26 November 1751. 
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate diploma in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Thank you for the explanation of a conditional baptism. i have seen this term on church records & wasn’t clear on just what it meant.

  2. I learned in February that there was a period in England with the Anglican church that midwives were permitted to baptize infants too. I don’t know if it was conditionally or not. I’ll have to find out.

  3. In an emergency, anyone may baptise a baby in danger of death. As quite young children at a Roman Catholic primary school we were taught how to do this. The Roman Catholic Catechism states: “In case of necessity, anyone, even a non-baptized person, with the required intention, can baptize, by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula.” This Catholic practice was carried over into the Church of England. It is quite common to see entries in English baptismal registers marked PB. This indicates that the child had been privately baptised, normally because they were not expected to live. The baptism could be performed by anyone in attendance at the birth – not just a midwife. If the baby did survive, it was usually received publicly into the church at a later date.

  4. Doris Waggoner says

    In the 1990s in a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, a Roman Catholic nurse baptized a baby who she felt would probably not live. Somehow the family learned of the baptism, perhaps when the nurse presented them with a certificate. The family were Jewish, and since Jews do not baptize children, they sued the hospital and the nurse. A major local newspaper did an investigation, and learned that this particular nurse was in the habit of doing this kind of baptism, without asking the family, even when the baby wasn’t in immediate danger of dying. The hospital wasn’t Catholic, but the fuss caused them to fire the nurse, and make a financial settlement with the parents. The infant thrived. I worked as a chaplain in this hospital a year or so later, and the nurses were now more careful. They would try to call me or another chaplain in to do the baptism in cases such as you describe, but only if the parents requested it.

    In Norway, in the time period you’re discussing, some of my ancestors were baptized at home the day of their birth or the next day, then rebaptized in church a few days or weeks later. While the church records show both dates, typically they don’t give reasons for this home baptism followed by church rebaptism. One can only guess that the home baptism, mostly in winter, is because the child is near death, and when the baby’s stronger, it is taken to church to be baptized again. There doesn’t seem to be an indication that the child can’t be baptized twice. By the time records were kept, around 1600, Norway’s state church was Lutheran. Apparently the issue of rebaptism didn’t arise, as several of my ancestors show up with home baptism followed by church baptism.

    • Stephanie Taylor says

      My father was born in 1926 in Wiltshire, England. He was born tiny, very premature and not expected to live. The Nurses at the hospital baptised my father, naming him Albert Desmond – the Albert being his father’s name – which they obviously knew – but the Desmond was apparently after one of the nurses’ boyfriend! I gather my grandmother was not conscious at this time. His parents were annoyed about the name, since they had agreed that they would call him James. Everyone knew my father as James, all his life, and very few of his friends would have known that his real name was actually Albert Desmond.

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