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Andrew Heimbigner
Andrew Heimbigner
My Great Great Great Grandfather

Where did the Heimbigners come from?

The Heimbigners have had several changes to their last name since its origination. It is thought the family line may be traced back possibly as far as the 1500’s originating in Neustadt, Erback Germany. Unknown levels of literacy and the movement of the family from Germany to Russia and then to the United States is likely the cause of much of the variation on the spelling of Heimbigner. Records potentially include Hainbuch about 1595, Hainbucher 1639 to at least 1705, and potentially to Heimbuchner by 1741 and to Heimbigner by around 1768. Somewhere in the early 1700’s the family moved to Frank Russia and that most likely explains the largest change in the last name in that period.

Several family members have been instrumental in tracing the family lineage, in particular Nellie Heimbigner and Gary Heimbigner have put hundreds of hours into finding and organizing documentation, it should be acknowledged that much of the information about the Heimbigner family line comes directly from their notes and collected documentation.

The Heimbigner family moved from Germany into Russia during the great migration under Catherine the Great of Russia. In 1763 Catherine the Great issued the second of her manifestos encouraging immigration to her country from Germany in order to colonize underdeveloped land on the Black Sea and on the banks of the Volga River . Catherine, herself a German, had also hoped that the colonists would improve Russian agriculture though the introduction of more modern methods from Western Europe. In 1871 when Czar Alexander II revoked many of their exemptions the family moved first to Canada then into the United States and began farming in Walla Walla, Washington and finally homesteaded Northwest of Ritzville, WA in 1889. The family has been farming the same land since 1903.

The best information dates back to Johann (Jacob) Michael Heimbigner who married Catharina Leonhardt in Frank Russia and had several children, two of which were Conrad Heimbigner born May 12, 1836 and Andrew Heimbigner, pictured above, born November 24, 1844.

These two brothers brought their families to the United States potentially at the same time. It is believed they booked passaged May 22, 1878 from Zhyomyr Russia (located in the Ukraine) on the ship Hebich to Hamburg Germany then on the Wieland from Hamburg to New York arriving May 22, 1878. Since Ellis Island was not open until 1892, they likely arrived through some New York port or other Eastern Seaboard port. From New York Conrad and his family went to Hastings Nebraska as did many German immigrants. They left Hastings in 1892 for Washington State. Conrad married Anna Marie Kiehn and had at least 10 children.

Andrew Heimbigner had three wives, the first of which was Anna Marie Zeiler (Elizabeth) and they had Conrad and Henry, though it is unknown if they had other children before she died in Frank Russia somewhere between 1870 and 1875. His second wife was Anna Maria Gettman, they had at least one child named Anna Maria Heimbigner born October 6, 1875. It is thought Andrew and Anna Maria Gettman divorced. Andrew married his third wife Maria Katharina Gettman (his second wife’s cousin) in 1883 in Frank Russia and had at least nine children, four of which (Katie, Frederick, Martin and Daniel) died in the flu epidemic of 1902 and were buried in Odessa Washington. Though the first two children were born in Frank Russia, the rest were born in the United States.

It isn’t entirely known how Henry Heimbigner came to the United States. It is possible he came with his brother Conrad; however it is unknown what ship he took to the United States. It is also thought that he landed on the East Coast and came across on the Canadian side of the border. The story goes that the family sausage recipe developed over time as Andrew worked in several sausage making factories on his way west, finally coming south into the United States either in Washington or in Nebraska and eventually made it to Walla Walla before settling in the Odessa area. It has also been said that Henry and Conrad C. Heimbigner came to the United States with their father Andrew and Uncle Conrad and families. Henry was about 16 years old and Conrad was about 21. They came west settling in the Bickleton area and stayed for one harvest then moved to Walla Walla and later to Adams County.

When Henry was old enough to homestead at the age of 21 he moved from the Odessa area in 1891 to where the railroad was selling land for $4 an acre. He settled on 160 acres of land about 12 miles North West of Ritzville in the Packard area that was thick with tall bunchgrass. With the help of Jacob Bastron they broke out the first 30 acres with an old “footburner” plow and a team of horses. He then went to Walla Walla to work in harvest to make enough money to come back to his farm and plant his first crop. After his first two crops were sown they were almost entirely eaten by squirrels before the grain could be harvested. Yields averaged between three and five bushels per acre and for most of his farming career he was usually pretty happy with about 5 bushels per acre. Henry recalled once that the squirrels were so numerous that they would run underfoot as settlers walked in their fields preparing soil for more crops. Though the first two crops had been destroyed he and Bastron still pulled the plants from the ground to feed the animals the stems and roots over the winter. Over time farming transitioned from mowing and raking the wheat before threshing to shocking the stacks and then putting them directly in the thresher. Mostly wheat, oats, barley, and hay for the cows are the crops that were grown on the farm.

After the third year Henry married Katherine Koch (born October 20, 1873) from Kolb Russia November 26, 1894 in Ritzville.

Henry received his US citizenship November 7, 1897 and Homesteaded in Ritzville June 1, 1898 near Packard Washington. Katherine Koch was the daughter of Franz Koch and Katharine Margaretha Oestreich who came to the US in 1887 possibly via New York. She was one of a total of 12 children, 8 of whom died early in life including a baby that died aboard ship.

By his fourth year farming Henry finally had a good year with 30 bushel an acre yields of bluestem wheat bringing in 70 cents a bushel in 1894. He was able to pay his debts and buy three horses, a gang plow and a wagon. From then on he farmed independently. Henry saved so he could build the farm, continuing to expand until he had built up to two sections and 80 acres.

Henry and Katherine (Koch) Heimbigner had 9 children (Lydia, Emma, Herman, Nellie, Frank, Edna, Andrew, Hattie, and Chris). Due to his health Henry retired and moved the family to Ritzville in 1916 and rented the land out for five years. Unfortunately Katherine Koch died in 1918 in Ritzville during a flu epidemic.

Henry married his second wife two years later, Mary Wagner Amend on April 14, 1920. She already had nine daughters from her previous marriage (Katie, Lizzie, Lena, Mary, Mollie, Charlotte, Katherine, Martha and Pauline Amend). Mary had been widowed in 1917 and had come to Ritzville to visit. She was introduced to Henry by George Schloessler. They were married two weeks later.

- Compiled by Renee Heimbigner with use of Gary, Nelly and Hersch Heimbigner's historys.

© Jim Heimbigner