From Drenthe to Drenthe: Jan Timmer

Jan (pronounced like the word ‘yawn’) Timmer was born on the sixth of November 1847, in Zuidbarge, Emmen, in the northeastern Dutch province of Drenthe. [1]  At the age of 17, he was serving in the Dutch military.  Following that military service, he sailed to the United States along with at least four of his siblings: sister Jantje arrived in northwest Allegan County, Michigan in about 1868 and later married Peter VanderSlik, sister Grietje, wed Cornelius Kruithof in her new home , sister Annegeen ‘Anna’ married Dirk Verhage and lived in nearby Jamestown, as did sister Hendrikje, who wed Fredrick ‘Fritz’ Roelofs.    [I have seen his actual military and immigration records one time, on a visit to the Timmer Centennial Farm but today, I need to relocate them and get some digital images of what remains.  Please let me know if you know of their location. Federal census records indicate that all sisters arrived around 1868.]

Jan arrived in the United States at the age of twenty-one, just three years after the conclusion of the American Civil War.  In 1870, he was working as a farm laborer for Garret Hooker in Overisel, a village just to the southeast of Holland, in Allegan County.[2]    Two years later, on October 26, Jan made his first two purchases of land in Ottawa County.  Jacob Meyer and his wife, Jetje were paid $10.00 for a four-acre piece of land in northeast Zeeland Township.[3]   On the same day, Jan paid $1000.00 (approximately $19,231 in today’s money) to Bastiaan VerHage and his wife Johanna, for forty acres of land in the same Section 1 of Zeeland Township (the SE1/4 of the SE1/4) [4]

The young immigrant finally owned his own land; he must have believed that he was then ready to establish his own home.  That home was built on a small hilltop, on the north side of Quincy Street, just west of 48th Avenue.   The next documented event in his life occured on the nineteenth of October 1875, when Jan married Roelotje Meijer (anglicized to Rhoda Meyer) in the nearby village of Drenthe.[5]  Rhoda was born to Dutch immigrants in the nearby farming area of Overisel.  Rhoda’s parents, Hendrik Meijer and Aaltje Boerman were among the first Dutch settlers to arrive in Ottawa County just thirty years earlier.

In less than a year, the newlyweds gave birth to their first child, my great-grandfather Hendrik.  A total of eight children were born to the couple over the next 16 years:

Hendrik ‘Henry’ (1876-1951), who married Ida DeZwaan in December of 1897,

Aaltje ‘Alice’ (1877-1942), who married Marcus Brower,

Harm (1880-1949), who married Caroline Wolf in December of 1913,

Dena (1882-1920), who married Henry Ridder,

Hendrikje ‘Hattie’ (1884-1953), who married Gradus Kamps in October 1904,

twin,  Nicholas ‘Nick’ (1888-1945),who  married Fannie VanDellen in December 1910 and

twin, ‘Jennie’ (1888-1966), who married Frederick Ensink in April 1914,

Geert ‘George’(1892-1961), who married Henrietta Kuipers in 1916.

front row, L to R: Hattie, Rhoda, Jennie, Nick and Jan.  Back row: Alice, Harm, Hendrik and Dena.  taken c.1891, before George was born
front row, L to R: Hattie, Rhoda, Jennie, Nick and Jan. Back row: Alice, Harm, Hendrik and Dena. taken c.1891, before George was born [8]



Early in their marriage, they remained connected to Rhoda’s community by attending the Drenthe Reformed Church but in 1880, they transferred membership to the Jamestown Reformed Church which was located closer to their home. [6]   The non-population census of that autumn reveals the makeup of their farm:  five ‘milch’ cows and two calves, one horse and two swine.  They cultivated a variety of grain, including wheat, Indian corn, hay, oats and barley.  One acre was set aside for potato production and ten acres remained a woodlot. [7]

 Jan’s wife, Rhoda died on 6 March 1905 of  influenza complications [I am still trying to decipher the doctor’s handwriting].  Five years later, Jan was discovered dead in his bed of heart failure at the age of sixty.    The couple are buried next to each other in the Zutphen Cemetery.  ♦


The farm established on that land remained in the family for another one hundred and thirty years.  Elsie and John A. Timmer were the last of the family to own the house.  I attended the farm sale and sadly said “goodbye” to a real piece of my family history.

As a child, I often joined my parents to visit with some of the cousins of my Grandma Rhoda Timmer Abel.  Most Sunday afternoons, we drove over to my grandparent’s farm in Georgetown Township.  Sunday was a day for family and friends to drive out and visit with other family and friends; a day to catch-up.  The Kamps’ and the Brower’s often came to their home.  I would play on the floor, behind the corner chair and above the big, floor vent which released a steady stream of warm air.  The men would smoke cigars and everyone would talk at once.  Although I do not remember their visits, the names of the Ensink’s and the Ridder’s were very familiar to me, too.

Many members of this large Timmer family continued in the farming tradition and remain in Ottawa County.



[1] “BS Geboorte,” database, Drents Archief , : accessed 2 Jan 2015, entry for Jan Timmer, Zuidbarge (Emmen), 17 Nov 1847 record.

[2] 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., Overisel, Allegan, Michigan; Roll: M593_660; Page: 310A; Image: 623; Family History Library Film: 552159, 2009.

[3] Jan Timmer’s Quit-Claim Deed, 7 September 1872; Michigan, Ottawa County, Register of Deeds, Jacob Den Herder, Notary Public, no 94, 1872, Grand Haven.

[4] Jan Timmer’s Warranty Deed, 7 September 1872; Michigan, Ottawa County, Register of Deeds, Jacob Den Herder, Notary Public,, Jacob Den Herder, Notary Public, Grand Haven. no 96, 1872. Grand Haven.

[5] Ottawa County, Michigan, Record of Marriage Index, 5:122, Timmer-Meijer, 1875.

[6] Evelyn Sawyer, transcriber. “Drenthe Reformed Church Members, 1847-1882,” database. The USGenWeb Project: Michigan: Ottawa County,,, entry for Aaltje and Hendrik Timmer, 1880, Jamestown, Michigan.

[7] Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA : Operations, Inc., 2010. Census Year: 1880; Zeeland, Ottawa, Michigan.

[8] Jan Timmer and family, photograph, ca 1891, digital image. I gained access to the image on, Originally posted by Mark VanAllsburg, 16 January 2011. The location, condition, and characteristics of the original are not known.

One thought on “From Drenthe to Drenthe: Jan Timmer

  1. Bob says:

    very cool…well done! I enjoyed reading the history, and imagining the incredible journeys that became the lives of these folks!

Comments are closed.