Anoka County Historical Society: A Family History in Documents

Audra Hilse's picture

The Anoka County Historical Society was fortunate enough to receive an interesting collection of family papers for the Weber family of the Centerville area. The collection is sizeable, and tells many parts of the story of this particular family.

The earliest records in the Weber collection are three baptismal certificates from the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, dated February 22, 1868. These take a little bit of deciphering, since they are written in Latin, but they provide some interesting information. The dates of birth listed on them are from earlier years – 1820, 1848, and 1853 – so we believe that the family was getting notarized copies of these documents from the Roman Catholic Church before they left Europe to come to the United States. Johann Weber was born on May 29, 1820, and his sons Joseph and Johann were born in 1848 and 1853, respectively. They had two other brothers named Frank and Ignatz. Shortly after these certificates were made, the Weber family moved to America, and settled near Centerville, Minnesota.

They were not the only ones. Centerville was known to have a “French” side and a “German” side in its early years, and the Webers may have been drawn to an area that had other immigrants who spoke a language they knew. We have a certificate granting citizenship to Joseph Weber on July 23, 1900, and we know that he married a woman named Anna Marie (Annie). Joseph’s brother, Johann, also settled in the area, and several legal documents in the collection indicate that he later left land to his children. Joseph and Annie had several children as well: Leonard, Jacob, Martin, Theresa, and John. It was Leonard who inherited the farm from his parents, and later (along with his wife, Mary (Flascher) Weber), passed it down to his son Donald, who was the last Weber to own the farm.

Some of the legal documents that trace these ownership transfers tell us another interesting story as well: How did older people plan for retirement in the years before nursing homes and assisted living facilities became common? Donald Weber signed an agreement with his parents, Leonard and Mary, in which they sold the farm to him for one dollar. In return, he agreed that they would be able to live on the farm (have room and board) for the rest of their lives, or were to be paid a monthly stipend of a specified amount, if they chose to or needed to move elsewhere. Interestingly, Leonard Weber had signed almost the exact same agreement with his parents Joseph and Annie when they were ready to retire, and Joseph in turn had signed a similar agreement with his father Johann. This arrangement seems to have worked well for the Weber family, since they made the same agreement over three generations.

Other records in the collection tell us other interesting stories. There are draft cards for Leonard Weber for both World War I and World War II – he was exempted from service both times due to the fact that he was a farmer, which was considered a vital occupation. He and Mary received special rations during WWII for the same reason, and Leonard received the Minnesota Agricultural Award in 1943, in “recognition of your efforts to increase vital war food production.” Being heavily into dairy farming, the Webers were members of the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association, and many of those documents are in the collection. There are records which tell about health problems in the family, including some suffered by Leonard’s brother Jacob, as well as Leonard’s own illness and death in 1952. Later records tell us that Donald and his mother eventually sold the farm, and Donald went on to work for the railroad for many years. He and Mary liked to travel, and family photographs show them visiting many different places over the years. Older photographs show us the Weber farm, livestock, and equipment, giving us a direct look at farming in Centerville in the first half of the 20th century. The most recent photographs show us Donald’s final few years, when he lived in a nursing home.

Donald Weber never married, and had no children. Fortunately, the story of his family can live on here at the Anoka County Historical Society through the items preserved in this collection. The history of the Weber family becomes part of the bigger story of Anoka County and all those who have lived, loved, worked, and died here. This collection tells other stories as well, ones that are still relevant today and into the future: the stories of people who came here from other places, people who farmed, people on the home front during wartime, and people supporting their parents in old age.