My grandparents, Jacob & Lena (Zimmerman) Willems, were step-brother and step-sister in a marriage my family says was arranged by the Mennonite Brethren Church. Grandma's father, Heinrich H. Zimmermann (1866-1934), was a widower with 5 children, whose wife, Maria Dyck Zimmermann (1861-1905), died soon after the family arrived in Canada (1903) from a Mennonite colony in what is now Ukraine. Grandpa's mother, Elisabeth Bolt Willems (1858-1943), was a widow with 9 children whose husband, Cornelius Willems (1885-1902), died two years after the family arrived in Saskatchewan in 1900 from Mountain Lake, Minnesota, the place where the family settled after emigrating from a Mennonite settlement in Crimea in 1875. Jacob & Lena were married in 1909. They moved to Reedley, California in 1919.

There is an even earlier couple important to this history, Gerhard Willems (1820-1900) and Katharina Rempel Willems (1823-1875), Cornelius' parents. Their story reaches back to the early years of Mennonite sesttlement in the land they knew as South Russia, a story of migration from the North Sea to the Black Sea, from Eastern Europe to North America.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Heinrich H. Zimmermann (1866-1934) Genealogy

            The letter my great-grandfather Heinrich H. Zimmerman wrote to the Zionbote (17 May 1905) was the beginning point for all the genealogical research into his family that I’ve done.  Given that letter, Tim Janzen at the 2006 Mennonite Genealogy Workshop at Tabor College, Hillsboro Kansas, was able to pull up a surprising amount of information.  The first thing he pounced on was the name of HHZ’s grandfather, Jacob Dever.  Dever is an alternate spelling of the Dutch name “de Veer” (De Fehr, Defehr, Devehr, Fehr).  It turns out one of Tim’s grandmothers was Margaretha De Fehr (b. 1873), and he thought our family lines were probably connected.  Tim then spotted the name, Anna, HHZ’s sister.  Since first-born daughters were named after their mothers, Tim said that we can be pretty sure that the first name of HHZ’s mother was also Anna. 

            So now we had another full name to use in our search Anna Dever/Defehr, daughter of Jacob Dever/Defehr, and Tim found her in the Molotschna School Records for 1853-55:  Anna, daughter of Jacob DeFehr,  Prangenau, age 11, who missed 23 days in the summer of 1853: 11 days in November 1854.

            HHZ’s obituary gives Prangenau as the name of the town in the Molotschna where HHZ’s family moved when he was 4 ½ .  And there he was, Jacob Devehr of Prangenau in the 1858 Census for the Molotschna Colony as well as in the 1864 List of Families Intending to Settle in the Kuban Colony! 

            I quickly jotted down the information Tim gave me while he turned his attention to the name Heinrich H. Zimmermann.  HHZ does not give the first names of his parents in the letter he wrote to the Zionsbote. However, given Mennonite naming practice, Tim said that it is almost certain that HHZ’s father’s first name was also Heinrich.  HHZ was the first and only son.  He would have been named after his father, an assumption confirmed by the use of “H” as his middle initial—(each child was given the father’s first initial as a middle initial).  Searching his various data-bases Tim made a hit in the Benjamin H. Unruh Immigration Records:  a Heinrich Zimmerman born in 1817 with a son Heinrich born in 1843.  The dates were right: the Heinrich born in 1843 would have been 23 in 1866, the year HHZ was born. 

            As I quickly jotted down the page numbers in the Unruh book of Immigration Records, Tim packed all his material and rushed off to another appointment, this one with his wife at a quilting shop.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            To read the records Tim Janzen found, click on the Ancestry: H.H. Zimmermann “Page” in the column on the right.  Included are Mennonite Encyclopedia articles on the Dever/Defehr and Zimmermann names as well as the information in GRANDMA on the Dever/Defehr family which now, thanks to Tim, reaches back to early 1500s Netherlands.

©Loretta Willems, April 12, 2013