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The earliest known ancestor I was able to locate is Jacob Westerhof (1749-1826), who died on December 16, 1826 at the age of 78 (per his death announcement), which would make his birth date about 1748 or 1749. I was unable to locate the names of his parents or any of his siblings. Jacob married Barbara Deutelius (marriage date unknown). They had three sons: Jan Westerhof (1790-1858), born on November 8, 1790, Petrus Deutelius Westerhof (1792-1883), born on June 3, 1792, and Jeene Westerhof (1795-1884), born on January 21, 1795. Jacob was a schoolmaster in the small town of Windesheim, a few miles south of Zwolle, the capital of the province of Overijssel, in the Netherlands.

A Brief Early History of Zwolle and Windesheim, Netherlands

The city of Zwolle was founded around 800 AD by Frisian merchants and troops of Charlemagne. In 1294, Zwolle became a member of the Hanseatic League, and in 1361 joined the war between the Hanseatic League and Vlademar IV of Denmark. In 1324 and 1361, regional noblemen set fire to the city. In the 1324 fire, only nine buildings escaped the flames. Zwolle’s golden age came in the 15th century – between 1402 and 1450, the city’s Gross Regional Product multiplied by six. Zwolle became one of the centers of the Brethern of the Common Life, a monastic movement. Three miles from Zwolle once stood the Augustinian convent in which Thomas a Kempis spent part of his life and died there in 1471.

An offshoot of the Brethern of the Common Life, the Congregation of Windesheim was a congregation of canons regular, of which this location was the chief house. It played a considerable part in the reform movement within the Dutch and German Catholic Church in the century before the Protestant Reformation. In 1386, six of the Brethern erected huts for a temporary monastery at Windesheim, and in March of the following year commenced the building of a monastery and church. They would follow a monastic life as if they were an enclosed religious order. The canons in Windersheim followed the example of newer Orders, such as the Carthusians and Dominicans, and adopted a more centralized form of government. When the Windersheim Congregation reached the height of its prosperity towards the end of the 15th century, it numbered 86 houses of canons and 16 nuns. Those who survived the Protestant Reformation (they still numbered 32 in 1728) were suppressed at the end of the 18th or beginning of the 19th century. The rise of Protestantism augured the decline of the Windershiem canons. As Calvinism spread through the Netherlands, support for the canons dwindled. There are practically no remnants left of those original buildings in Windesheim.

Some Protestant writers have claimed the Windesheim reformers, such as Johann Busch (1399-1480), as forerunners of the Protestant Reformation. This is a misapprehension of the whole spirit of the canons of Windesheim; their object was the reform of morals, not the overthrow of religious dogma. Their conduct, which preferred exile to the non-observance of an interdict published by Pope Martin V, exemplifies their sprit of obedience to the Holy See. The events of the French Revolution in the late 18th century also worked to end the existence of the Windersheim Congregation.