Sometime around the year 1884, my great-grandfather Heinrich Zimmermann left the Kuban where he had been living with friends and returned to village of Sergeyevka, the village where he and his sister Anna had lived with their mother and step-father until their mother’s death three years previously. Sergeyevka was in the Fuerstenland Colony. Fuerstenland was one of the daughter colonies of Chortitza, the original place of Mennonite settlement in South Russia. It was created in the 1860s to ease the problem of landlessness in the old colony, to provide farms for its surplus population. But as it turned out, the colony had another valuable resource—access to the Dnieper River, the major shipping route between the Black Sea and Russia proper, necessary for the factories that made their appearance in the later part of the nineteenth century. The Mennonite Historical Atlas[i] mentions a Niebuhr factory, which made farm machinery, as well as two flour mills, “one of which was in Sergeyevka,” but the flour mill was not the only industry in the village. There was also a foundry. It was because of the work available in the industries in the village that Heinrich Zimmermann moved to Sergeyevka, work that would allow him to support a wife and children.
Maria Dyck Zimmermann (1861-1905)
“[The Lord] gave me a wife, namely Maria Dyck from Rosenbach. She was pious and lived in the fear of God, but was also unschooled and also was afraid of those who had learning.” H H. Z (Zionsbote 7 May 1905)
“Her mother was a very good natured person, I know that. She told me several times I looked a lot like her mother, because her mother had a high forehead.”
Mary Willems Davis
“Well, she said that her grandmother came from Prussia and she was a feisty thing.”
Rosella Willems Noble
I know even less about Maria Dyck’s family. Rosie and Mary remember Grandma saying that her grandmother came from Prussia, but family records give no names for her parents. However, the Dinuba MB Church membership list, under the entry for Heinrich Zimmerman, states that Maria’s father’s name was Johan Dyck. I have not yet been able to find the name of Maria’s “feisty” mother, though it may well have been either Maria or Helena since Mennonites in Russia usually gave the name of the mother to the first daughter and the name of the grandmother to the second daughter.
What little else I know about Maria Dyck Zimmermann comes from the l905 letter to the Zionsbote written by her husband, Heinrich Zimmermann. In that letter, Heinrich states that his wife was from Rosenbach. The map of Fuerstenland Colony in the Mennonite Historical Atlas shows a village named Rosenbach on the upper Rogachik River about 13 miles inland from the village of Sergeyevka. Rosenbach was one of the six original villages in the colony, which was established between 1864 and 1870. Maria’s family may have been one of the original families to settle there, but since she was born in 1861—a date that precedes the founding of the colony—she was probably born in the mother colony, Chortitza. Heinrich also says that Maria was “pious” and “unschooled”. Her lack of schooling and fear of learned people may well have been the result of poverty. I would guess that her family was at the lower end of the economic and social ladder.
Mary: “I think, really, they were quite well to do in Russia. Her dad worked in a –what was it? I thought maybe it was a foundry, but Jack seems to think it was construction. I wouldn’t be surprised because he did that kind of work, making things.”
HHZ’s letter does not mention what kind of factory he went to work for in Sergeyevka. Mary remembers my dad saying that he thought that their grandfather Zimmerman worked in construction in Russia. Construction work would fit with Mary’s and Rosie’s memories of their Grandpa Zimmerman working as a carpenter when he lived in Reedley. They said he built fine cabinets and painted flowers on them. However, Mary also thought it might have been a foundry where her grandfather Zimmerman worked in Russia, and I have found a reference to a foundry in Sergeyevka.
An article on Herman Abram Neufeld (1860-1931) in the online Mennonite Encyclopedia states that Neufeld worked at a foundry in Sergeyevka from 1883 till 1890, at which time he became an itinerant MB minister eventually becoming “one of the outstanding leaders of the MB conference in Russia.” That connection between the foundry and the Mennonite Brethren Church fits with a section of HHZ’s letter in which he tells of the events that led to his marriage to Maria and the conversion experience that resulted in their joining the Mennonite Brethren.
“For several years then I wandered the paths of sin. I also joined the Mennonite church at that time, but I was not dead. The spirit of God always tormented me and wanted to convert me, but I did not have the power to overcome. Then I was thinking of marriage. That seemed very difficult, for I knew how things had gone at home. I knew no other council than to take refuge in the Lord, for he could help me, and he did, too, and gave me a wife, namely Maria Dyck from Rosenbach. She was pious and lived in the fear of God, but was also unschooled and also was afraid of those who had learning and wouldn’t come along to meetings. That was a great blow for me. Then the dear Lord took hold of my master Johann Martens to the extent that he could not be silent, had to [“abbitten”?] us, his workers, but I was hard and didn’t want to believe him. That was in the morning. By noon I was conquered by the strong man and I had no appetite. My dear wife wouldn’t give up until I told her that Martens wanted to be saved and [I asked her] whether we didn’t also want to. She said yes right away and so we began to pray, she at home and we in the factory. There were other souls who began to cry out to God and the Lord and it was a joy for the dear brothers and sisters to help us and to pray for us.
“In particular there was a Brother Jacob Janzen there, of whom I am still very fond. It is too bad that he no longer writes. He taught us a lot and prayed with us much and it pleased the Lord to make us poor sinners rich and he gave us peace and forgiveness and then we were baptized in the year 1892 and taken into the community of the Lord. We lived through many blessed times, but also storms, and yet the Lord knew ways and means to keep us as his children. We lived 11 years in faith in Serjegevka.”
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Mennonite records show that HHZ was baptized twice—the first time on 29 May 1890 when he joined the Fuerstenland Mennonite church and the second time on 31 March 1892 when he and Maria joined the Mennonite Brethren. This event in their lives set the family on the path that led up to the marriage between Helena Zimmerman and Jacob C. Willems, my grandparents, but that is a future story. First I must get both the Zimmerman and Willems families to Canada, the place where Grandma and Grandpa would meet and start their married lives.
[i] “Mennonite Historical Atlas, Fuerstenland Mennonite Settlement”: “Fuerstenland was founded between 1864 and 1870 as a daughter colony of Chortitza. The land, south-west of a bend of the Dniepr River, was rented from the Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevitch, originally for one and a quarter, then gradually up to 14 rubles per dessiatine. Each of the original six villages …had from 18 to 35 farms. On or after 1874 a total of about 1,100 people emigrated to Manitoba, settling in the West Reserve. In 1911 the Fuerstenland population was 1,800…“Besides the usual agriculture, industry in Fuerstenland included two flour mills, one of which was in Sergeyevka, and a Niebuhr factory in Olgafeld.”