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.

COMMENTS are very welcome. You may reach me by clicking on the "view my complete profile".

Ancestry: Heinrich H. Zimmermann (1866-1934)

©Loretta Willems,  4/12/2013


Part I.  Zimmermann Family Line Records

1).   The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online:  
“Zimmermann family name: Zimmermann, a Mennonite family name found in West Prussia and South Germany, is also regularly found in North America as well….  It is most probable that the West Prussian Zimmermann family was originally called Timmerman (Dutch for ‘carpenter’) and that Timmerman was the form used until the 18th century in the Danzig area.[i]

This article, which cites a long list of places where the name Zimmerman was found in Mennonite church membership lists, makes absolutely no mention of the name Zimmermann among Mennonites in South Russia—which helps explain why the only instance of the name “Zimmerman” in South Russia records that Tim Janzen found is the one below.

2).   *The Benjamin H. Unruh Immigration Records, Die niederlandisch-niederdeutsche Hintergrunde der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19. (Jahrhundert.   Selbstverlag, Karlsruhe),1955, p. 385:

Molotschna, 1845
 Entry # 14, (p. 385): -Heinrich Zimmerman, born 23 April 1817 Elbing: farmer: [moved] to Halbstadt [Molotschna]; died 1892?; married Penner, Anna,  Sörquitten1 [Prussia], born 17 October 1814 Schulwiese2, [moved] to Halbstadt [Molotschna, S. Russia]; died 7 August 1889 Mewe3, West Prussia.

Children: Heinrich, born 10 January 1843; Wilhelm, born 26 February 1844, Arnsdorf [Prussia]; Emilie Maria; born 23 March 1845, Sörquitten [Prussia]; Antonie, born 20 November 1850 Halbstadt, [Molotschna].  

1Sorquitten, Olsztyn, Poland is located sourth and east of Elbing, now Elblag, Poland.
2Schulwiese, Gdansck, Poland is located south and a tiny bit east of Danzig, now Gdansk, Poland
3Mewe is a town in the Marienwerder Kreis, Poland

*(Translated by Peggy Goertzen on behalf of Loretta Willems, 3-16-2009)

Summary Unruh Immigration Records:  The above entry in the Unruh Immigration Records indicates that the elder Heinrich Zimmerman 1) migrated to Chortitza Colony, South Russia in 1837; 2) then returned to Prussia and 3) migrated again to South Russia in 1845, this time to the Molotschna colony.

             The family seems not to have taken root in South RussiaWest Prussia is given as the place of death for Anna Penner Zimmerman (d. 1889)..  Heinrich and Anna Penner Zimmermann must have maintained ties with family in West Prussia.

 Zimmermann Summary

            Heinrich Zimmerman b. 23 April 1817 in Elbing, Prussia, found in the Immigration Records collected by Benjamin H. Unruh, is very likely my great-grandfather H.H. Zimmermann’s grandfather.  His son, Heinrich Zimmerman, b. 10 January 1843 in the village of Sörquitten, West Prussia, would then be HHZ’s father.   Heinrich Zimmermann (b.10 Jan 1843) would have been 23 in 1866, the year my great-grandfather HHZ was born, the year the young father died. Twenty-three years, a short life. 
            The return of Heinrich’s parents to Prussia would help explain why there is no mention of Zimmermann grandparents or other Zimmermann relatives in HHZ’s Zionsbote letter.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Part II.  Dever/Defehr Family Line Records

1).   Molotschna School Records for 1853-1855:  Lists Anna, daughter of Jacob DeFehr, Prangenau, age 11, who missed 23 days in the summer of 1854; 11 days in November 1854.

2). 1858 Census for Molotschna Colony:  #47 is Jacob Devehr of Prangenau.

3).  1864 List of Families Intending to Settle in the Kuban Colony:  “as found in the records of the Guardianship Committee for Foreign Settlers in Southern Russia (fund 6, Inventory 5, File 278) in the Odessa Region State Archives, Odessa, Ukraine.” (Translated by Tim Janzen):

#55 –“Jacob Devehr, age 46, and wife Aganetha, age 56, from Prangenau.   The entry states that they had a “a non-landowners house together with a blacksmith’s shop”.  Their total assets are valued at 635 rubles. [38 out of the 73 families had less (some had nothing); 16 families had over a thousand rubles—some in the 4,000-7,000 ruble range.  Total ruble valuation for all applicants was 53,767 rubles.]

Jacob & Anna Dever/Devehr Summary:

            Anna Devehr, born sometime during the year 1843 in the village of Prangenau, Molotschna Colony, is most likely my great-grandfather Heinrich H. Zimmermann’s mother.  She would have been around 23 when Heinrich was born in 1866.  According to the time framework given in the HHZ letter, his mother died in the year 1881.  Anna Devehr would have been around 38 years old at the time of her death.. 

            Anna’s father was Jakob Devehr, who was born around the year 1818.  Her mother’s name was Aganetha, and according to the age given in the 1864 document, Aganetha was 10 years older than her husband, thus born around the year 1808.  I do not know Aganetha’s family name.  I have no information about her other than what is given above.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


            Everything in GRANDMA[ii] on HHZ’s Zimmermann family ancestry comes from the work done by Tim Janzen in my appointment with him at the Genealogy workshop at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas in 2006.  That is not the case with the Dever/Defehr family.  Thanks to Tim Janzen, my great-grandfather Heinrich H. Zimmermann is linked through his grandfather Jacob Dever to a lineage that reaches back to the time before there were people called Anabaptists or Mennonites.  It goes back to the origin of the De Fehr/De Veer name, to Jan De Veer born 11 Aug 1521 in Veere, Zeeland, the Netherlands.   The name “De Veer” simply means from/of “Veere.” 

Jacob Dever/Defehr Ancestry
(The chart below reads from top-down, from son to father in descending order.)

Jacob DeFehr, b. Abt 1817
m. Aganeta ?
Cornelius Benjamin “Knels” De Fehr, b. 7 Nov 1784, Prussia
m. Sara Reimer b. abt 1784, Prussia
Benjamin De Fehr, b. Abt 1733, Klein Mausdorf, Gross Werder, Prussia
m. Anna Bergen, b. 1736, Prussia
Benjamin De Veer, b. 1696, Danzig, Poland
M .Elisabeth Wiens b. 2 Jul 1709 Danzig
Cornelius De Veer, b. Abt 1663, Danzig Poland
m. ?
Gysbert De Veer, b. 23 Feb 1640, Danzig, Poland
m. Catharina von Roy b. abt 1639, Danzig
*Gysbert Gijsbertsz De Veer, b. 7. Nov 1600, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands
m. Maria van Dijck, b. 31 July 1606, Danzig
Gysbert Jansz De Veer, b. 14 May 1556, Schiedam, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
m. *Deboral Claesdochter Harnasveger, b. 1560 Amsterdam
Jan De Veer, b. 11 Aug, 1521, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands
m. ?

*The GRANDMA ancestry chart for Jacob DeFehr actually goes back further than Jan De Veer, b. 1521.  On that chart is a ­Jakob Harnasveger born between 1480 and 1500 in the Netherlands, who is a great-grandfather of Gysbert Gijsbertsz De Veer  b.7 Nov 1600 in Amsterdam.            Below is Gysbert’s lineage through his mother’s line:    

*Gysbert Gijsbertsz De Veer, b. 7. Nov 1600, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands
Debora Claesdochter Harnasveger b. 1560 in Amsterdam
Claes Jakobszoon Harnasveger b. before 1541, the Netherlands
m. Weyn Pieters, b. bet 1530 - 1540
Jakob Harnasveger, b. between 1480 and 1500, the Netherlands
m. ?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Mennonite Encyclopedia

All the names written in red are included in the GRANDMA ancestry chart for my great-grandfather Heinrich H. Zimmermann.  He is their direct descendant.   There is now a direct link between my family and the earliest days of Mennonite history.

“Dever/Defehr family name:  (de Veer, De Fehr, Fehr, Defehr, Devehr, Dever, Devaehr, Du Verre) A widely ramified Mennonite family of Dutch origin, de Veer has been found among Mennonites in the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, and North America.  The first member of this family was Gysbert Jansz de Veer, b. 14 may 1556, at Schiedam, South Holland.  He was a grain merchant, who ca. 1580 may have settled at Danzig, Prussia, moving back to Amsterdam a bit later, where he obtained his citizenship in 1601, and finally back to Danzig again, where he died on 17 May 1615. One of his sons was Nicolaes (Claes) de Veer (1583-ca. 1650), who was a merchant at Amsterdam and married Margareth Looten.  Other sons of Gysbert were Abraham de Veer, who lived at Danzig, and *Gysbert de Veer (Amsterdam 1600 – Danzig 1646), who was married first to Anna van Buygen (Bergen/), then to Maria van Dijck.  Gysbert de Veer, a son of Abraham and grandson of the original Gysbert, was a cloth merchant at Danzig.  Cornelius de Veer (Danzig 1636- Neugarten 1699), a son of the latter Gysbert had a lace business at Danzig.  His brother, Gysbert, is the ancestor of a Mennonite branch in Prussia, Canada, and Mexico.  A son of Cornelis was the Mennonite elder of Danzig, Isaac de Veer. …

“In Amsterdam the de Veer family came to great wealth. Some of its members were deacons of the church and a few served as preachers…

     “In Prussia the de Veers were found mostly at Danzig, but also at Elbing, Rosenort and Konigsberg.  Among the first emigrants from Prussia to Russia was Benjamin De Veer in 1793.  He settled at Neuendorf in the Chortitza settlement.  Members of this family emigrated from Russia to North and South America after 1874.  Cornelius A. DeFehr[iii] of Winnipeg was a lay leader of the Mennonite Brethren Church.”       
                                                            The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Onlline[iv]


[i] Bender, Harold S. and Ira D. Landis. (1959).  Zimmermann family name.  Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.  Retrieved 09 April 2013, from
[ii] Database: Grandma 7:03: Mar 2013; Grandma’s Window, V2.32. Rev. 1d; Kenneth Ratzlaff, 11/2000, 11/2008, 8/2011
[iii] Cornelius A. DeFehr of Winnipeg:  His grandfather, Abraham DeFehr was a brother of HHZ’s grandfather, Jacob Dever/DeFehr.
[iv] Van der Zijpp, N. (1959).  “Veer, de (De Fehr, Fehr, Fehr, Defehr, Devehr, Dever, Devaehr, Du Verre).”  Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.  Retrieved 15 September 2006 <>