© 2020 by Roots & Wings Research, LLC

  • Kristin Wenger

Tomb of the Unknown Baby (#52Ancestors week 17: Cemetery)


My Grandma Lucy (right) and her older sister, Janice – her only sibling, or so I thought…


Family history research is full of surprises. Sometimes the biggest surprises come from the briefest of lives.


Not too long ago, I digitized some photographs of my grandma, her sister, and her parents Harry and Lottie (Nagle) Norbeck to share with my mom’s extended family.


Henry (HARRY) Norbeck married Charlotte (LOTTIE) Sarah Nagle on 16 June 1907.[1]

Their daughter Mary Janice was born in Philadelphia on 11 February 1908.[2]


Lottie with her daughters Janice and Lucille about 1920.

Lucy joined the family on 20 July 1917.[3]


My grandma's family of origin: L-R sister Janice, mother Lottie, father Harry, Lucille


A later photo of the Norbeck family: Lottie, Lucy, Janice, and Harry


The mystery began as I attempted to find out more about my great grandmother Lottie’s childhood in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.

The Nagle Family (alternately spelled Nagel), circa late 1890s

Standing: Lottie (29 June 1883)[4] and her sister Florence Emma (5 June 1885)[5]

Her parents Cyrus and Amanda (Merkel) were married on 19 August 1882[6]

Their youngest child was son Benjamin Harrison Nagle (8 December 1889)[7]


I discovered that Amanda had died when she was 38 years old. As I looked for what might have caused her early death, I found an image of the family’s cemetery plot listing four burials.[8] Sarah Osman was Amanda’s mother (who had remarried after she was widowed).[9] Obviously, I knew who Cyrus and Amanda were. But the fourth person was a complete mystery to me.

A baby named Phaon L. Hahn? The name Hahn was brand new to me. However, the unusual name Phaon was familiar. Amanda’s father was Phaon Merkel, who had also died at age 38.[10] The baby was buried in the family cemetery plot and given a family name, but who was he?


I turned to the church’s death register and found a big surprise.

3. Phaon Leopold Hahn, son of Palmer J. and Lottie S. Hahn[11]

Lottie? Was it possible that my great-grandmother had been married and given birth to a child before she married my great-grandfather?

A marriage application for Palmer J. Hahn and Charlotte Nagle of Quakertown, daughter of Cyrus and Amanda, confirmed the identity of my great-grandmother as the mother of the baby.[12]


That meant my grandma had a half-brother. Did she know that? When I told my mom, she was completely surprised. We theorized that maybe Lottie never spoke of her infant son to her daughters because his death must have been one of the most emotionally painful experiences of her life.


Her first child, born on 11 December 1904, lived for only 10 days. He died four days before Christmas and was buried two days after.[13] Then, just three months later, her mother died of cancer.[14]


Amanda's obituary. Her death came only three months after Lottie's newborn baby died.


That’s a lot of grief for a young marriage to endure. Maybe Lottie and Palmer processed the death of their newborn baby differently and it ripped them apart. We cannot know for sure, but they went their separate ways and both started over again. If they had stayed married, Lottie would have become a widow in her 30s when Palmer died of a compound skull fracture when he was struck by a locomotive engine in his work on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.[15]

Instead, she married Harry. If she hadn’t, my grandma would have never been born. Or my mom. Or me. Or my children. Isn’t it unfathomable to consider all of the events, decisions, and divine guidance across history that it took for you to exist?



Discovering that my great-grandmother had a first husband and baby was more than I ever expected to find in one simple cemetery record. It has given me great empathy for her. What must have it been like to keep something that significant to herself? When she held Janice and Lucille, and later her grandchildren, did she think of the newborn son she had lost?


Harry and Lottie with their first grandchild, Jack, about 1940.


Even though Phaon only lived for 10 days, he has an eternal soul. I can only imagine what it was like when mother and son were finally reunited in heaven! And I am fairly certain that my grandma Lucy was overjoyed to be surprised with a big brother!



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Sources:

[1] “New York, New York Marriage Index, 1866-1937,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 17 April 2018), entry for Harry Worbeck [Norbeck] and Lottie Nagel, 16 June 1907; citing New York, New York marriage certificate no. 17113 (1907).


[2] Pennsylvania, "Birth Certificates, 1906-1910" database with images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 April 2018), entry for Mary Janice Norbeck, 11 February 1908; citing Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Birth no. 29498, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[3] “Lucille N. Groenendaal,” Lancaster Newspapers (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), obituary, 22 February 2011; transcription, FindAGrave.com (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/66014567/groe : accessed 18 January 2018). Also, author’s personal knowledge.


[4] First United Church of Christ (Quakertown, Pennsylvania), “Record of Births and Baptisms,” page 7, unnumbered entries in chronological order beginning 1872, “Lottie Sarah Nagle” born 29 June 1883; accessed as “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : 18 April 2018), path: PA-Bucks > Quakertown > United Church of Christ > First United Church of Christ > image 7 of 245.


[5] First United Church of Christ (Quakertown, Pennsylvania), “Record of Births and Baptisms,” page 8, unnumbered entries in chronological order beginning 1872, “Florence Emma Nagle” born 5 June 1885; accessed as “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : 18 April 2018), path: PA-Bucks > Quakertown > United Church of Christ > First United Church of Christ > image 8 of 245.


[6] First United Church of Christ (Quakertown, Pennsylvania), “Record of Marriages,” page 169, unnumbered entries in chronological order beginning 1872, Cyrus Nagle and Amanda T. Osman, 19 August 1882; accessed as “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : 18 April 2018), path: PA-Bucks > Quakertown > United Church of Christ > First United Church of Christ > image 89 of 245.


[7] First United Church of Christ (Quakertown, Pennsylvania), “Record of Births and Baptisms,” page 9, unnumbered entries in chronological order beginning 1872, “Benjamin Harrison Nagle” born 8 December 1889; accessed as “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : 18 April 2018), path: PA-Bucks > Quakertown > United Church of Christ > First United Church of Christ > image 8 of 245.


[8] Union Cemetery (Quakertown, Pennsylvania), record of interments, page 52, Mrs. Amanda Nagle, section C, lot no. 69, deed no. 243; accessed as “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : 18 April 2018), path: PA-Bucks > Quakertown > Cemetery or Funeral > Union Cemetery > image 114 of 579.


[9] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 April 2018), memorial page for Sarah Ann Kennel Merkel Osman (21 Feb 1847–23 Mar 1901), Find A Grave Memorial no. 102474538; citing Union Cemetery, Quakertown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA.


[10] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 April 2018), memorial page for Phaon Merkel (23 Jun 1837–1 Dec 1875), Find A Grave Memorial no. 134687258; citing Saint John's United Church of Christ Cemetery, Fogelsville, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, USA.


[11] First United Church of Christ (Quakertown, Pennsylvania), “Register of Deaths,” page 514, no. 3, “Phaon Leopold Hahn, son of Palmer J. and Lottie S. Hahn”; accessed as “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : 18 April 2018), path: PA-Bucks > Quakertown > United Church of Christ > First United Church of Christ > image 238 of 245.


[12] "Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950", database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VFWV-ZNM : 25 September 2017), Palmer J. Hahn and Charlotte Nagle, 1903.


[13] First United Church of Christ (Quakertown, Pennsylvania), “Register of Deaths,” page 514, no. 3, “Phaon Leopold Hahn” died 21 December 1904, buried 27 December 1904.


[14] “Death of Mrs. Cyrus Nagle,” The Allentown Leader (Allentown, Pennsylvania), 18 March 1905, page 6, column 6 https://www.newspapers.com/clip/18290740/amanda_t_merkel_nagle_obituary/?xid=637 : accessed 14 March 2018).


[15] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 38385, Palmer J. Hahn, 31 March 1920, Lehigh County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 April 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1966, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.