Vetter, Hummel, Mautz, and Heck: The German Lutheran Side of the Family from Bessarabia to North Dakota and Beyond
Schmaltz, Dr. Eric J. "Vetter, Hummel, Mautz, and Heck: The German Lutheran Side of the Family from Bessarabia to North Dakota and Beyond." January 2010.
My heritage not only claims German Catholics from Russia (modern Ukraine), including the Schmaltzes, Fischers, and Bullingers, but also German Lutherans from Bessarabia (present-day Romania), notably the Vetters, Hummels, Mautzs and Hecks. Though the Vetters and Hummels practiced the Lutheran faith, a small number of them later joined the Congregational Church in America. Oddly enough, though both sides of my family lived in separate villages divided according to religious denomination, they were located in relative proximity to each other in southwestern Germany, the Black Sea region and North Dakota, eventually converging with the union of my parents in 1970, John Schmaltz (b. 1949) and Kathy (Vetter) Schmaltz (b. 1949), in Washburn, McLean County, North Dakota.
The following information is intended to supplement the various family photographs posted on the website of the North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection in Fargo. Several years ago, I compiled and edited some of the Vetter, Hummel, and related family memories, those collections of stories from my maternal grandfather’s side of the ancestral tree (Otto Vetter, 1907-1991). Since many of their recollections might be of historical interest to those who are not necessarily members of this family, I felt it especially important to preserve these stories in some kind of formal publication, to put them on the public record where future generations will more likely find them, long after I have left the world stage. These recollections may be found in my article that appeared in the official journal of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS) based in Bismarck, North Dakota: Eric J. Schmaltz, ed., “‘The Pick of the Litter’: A Bessarabian-German Family Remembers Growing Up in North Dakota,” Heritage Review, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sept. 2003): pp. 17-36.
In many respects, I had the easy part in this compilation effort. Indeed, by the time I did my work, the Vetter and Hummel family memories were already written down, the photos taken. This branch of the family started this record-keeping process as early as the 1970s. Most of these records were kindly provided to me in the mid-1990s by my late great-aunt Mrs. Stella (Vetter) Lindsey (1928-2003) of Elk Grove, California. I also wish to thank my late first cousin once removed Mr. James B. Vetter (1929-2009) of Los Gatos, California, for his valuable assistance in more recent years.
The Vetters came primarily from Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany. According to family records, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Vetter (1763-1815) and his wife Eva Christina (Eberhardt) Vetter (1772-1831) moved to Prussian Poland around 1799 or 1800, before moving on to Bessarabia by 1815 (only recently annexed by the Russian Empire). Their son Johann Georg Vetter (1781-1862) is our direct ancestor, and his wife was Katharina (Golder) Vetter (1782-1868). It appears that they all worked their way eastward during the turbulent era of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815).
Like the Vetters, my Hummel, Nitschke, Rempfer and Schmidt ancestors spent about the first decade and a half of the nineteenth century occupied as farmers in such communities as Gombin, Kutto (Kutno?), Luisenau, Solzfeld, and Strur/Holland in Prussian-held Poland. These Lutherans, too, had emigrated from southwestern Germany into Eastern Europe during the Napoleonic period. Once they established themselves in Russian-controlled Bessarabia after 1815, they eventually populated the new German villages of Alt-Postal, Beresina, Borodino, Dennewitz, Klöstitz, Sarata and Wittenberg.
My German Lutheran ancestors worked chiefly as farmers. My great-grandfather, Gottfried Vetter II (1884-1952), the son of Gottfried Vetter I (1863-1924) and Otilia (Mautz) Vetter (1863-1919), was born in the ethnic German settlement of Klöstitz, Bessarabia (then a part of the Russian Empire, today in Romania), not far from the Black Sea port city of Odessa. My great-grandfather journeyed to the United States with his parents and two sisters in April 1902, arriving at New York Harbor on the passenger ship Kronprinz (Crown Prince) from the great port city of Bremen, Germany. They then passed through the inspections at Ellis Island and took the train directly to central North Dakota. They homesteaded about eight miles north of the community of Coleharbor in McLean County.
My great-great-grandmother Otilia (Mautz) Vetter’s parents—Philip Heinrich Mautz (1837-1911) and Karoline (Brost) Mautz (1839-1908)—immigrated from the village of Sarata, Bessarabia, in September 1902 to the United States as well. They were already in their 60s when they embarked for America. At the end of October 1902, they traveled from Liverpool, England, on the passenger ship Pretorian, landing in Quebec, Canada, in November 1902. From there, they settled in North Dakota.
At the turn of the last century, the northern prairies of the United States also welcomed my great-grandmother Mary (Hummel) Vetter’s (1889-1955) family, the Hummels and Hecks (her Heck grandparents came over several months later). Also hailing from the ethnic German village of Klöstitz in Bessarabia, one branch of Hummels migrated at the same time and on the same ship with the Vetters from Bremen, Germany, arriving at Ellis Island in New York in April 1902. Another line of Hummels, my great-great-great-grandfather Gottlieb Hummel I (1838-1925) and his wife Dorothea (Nitschke) Hummel (1841-1934), as well as a couple of their children, departed from Russia in December 1902, traveling on the passenger ship Assyria from the great port city of Hamburg, Germany, to Halifax, Canada, arriving after a one-month sojourn in early 1903. Gottlieb I and Dorothea were well into their 60s upon leaving Russia. They, too, settled in North Dakota.
My great-great-great-grandparents, Johann Heck I (1839-1914) and his wife Dorothea (Ziefle) Heck (1839-1934), and granddaughter Helene Eisenbeis, whose mother had died, left Russia in November 1902. Upon their departure, Johann and Dorothea were about 63 years old. They took the passenger ship Assyria from the port city of Odessa (now in Ukraine). In December 1902, they docked at Halifax, Canada, and from there migrated to North Dakota. Johann took the oath of U.S. citizenship on June 9, 1908 (the U.S. naturalization process takes five years).
In the case of my Heck, Mautz and Nitschke ancestors, it is interesting to observe that only one generation had passed between their migration from Germany and Prussian Poland to Russia and their journey from Russia to the United States.
In January 1906, my great-grandfather Gottfried Vetter II (1884-1952) married Mary (Hummel) Vetter (1889-1955) in Coleharbor, McLean County, North Dakota. To this union, sixteen children were born, fifteen of whom survived into adulthood: Albert Vetter (1906-1988); my grandfather Otto Vetter (1907-1991); Elsie (Vetter) Gehring (1909-2002); Emil Vetter (1910-1992); David Vetter (1911-1970); Reuben Vetter (1912-1983); Hilda (Vetter) Sievert (1914-1959); Arnold Vetter (1915-1994); Wilbert Vetter (1916-1967); Gottfried Vetter III (1918-1964); Raymond Vetter (1919-2012); Odelia (Vetter) Sievert (1921-1991); Adala Vetter (July 1922-Aug. 1922); Benjamin Vetter (1924-2000); Estella (Vetter) Lindsey (1928-2003); and Rev. Kenneth Curtis Vetter (b. 1933).
In 1918, my Vetter great-great-grandparents, Gottfried I and Otilia, sold the farm to their son, Gottfried II, and moved to Lodi, California, where they retired and are now buried. Indeed, in the early decades of the twentieth century a sizeable Germans from Russia community arose in the Lodi area. In 1942, my Vetter great-grandparents retired from farming and moved to nearby Garrison, McLean County, North Dakota, where they are now laid to rest. At the time of his death, Great-Grandpa Vetter had amassed over 1,200 acres of land, including the old homestead and the old Fort Stevenson, which is southwest of Garrison. After the 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took all but 380 acres for the creation of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy. The windmill was all that remained of the original homestead.
After more than a century, the many descendants of these immigrant families are dispersed across the United States and beyond.