A City of Families

History can be changed by a single individual—whether genius, saint, or nut. But in St. Louis, where families stay put for generations, entire clans shape our destiny.

A while back, the East-West Gateway Council conducted a study, using 2010 census data, and found that nearly 70 percent of metro area residents were born in Missouri or Illinois. “In other words,” D.J. Wilson wrote, “they were born here, and they stayed here.” St. Louis had the sixth-highest percentage, of 35 similar metro regions, of homegrown residents.

That makes for some PBS-worthy sagas, because each generation is standing on the previous one’s shoulders. Money’s inherited and stays put. Family friends crisscross generations. People know one another’s names. And we all know the St. Louis dynasties, with their cat’s cradles of alliances and marriages and their long philanthropic lists of needs met, beauty created, and institutions anchored.

If those families had not settled here, weaving their individual stories into the city’s larger story, St. Louis would be a different place.

We were picky about these family trees—they had to be at least three generations high and each one mighty in its own way. Yet we still only reached the edge of a forest.

It’s a beginning. If you miss a family that should be on the list, well, this is a work in progress. (Share your own family stories and suggestions here.)

It’s also a fun game, tracking the names that recur and intersect and the affinities that hold for a century. Sometimes traits skip a generation and re-emerge. Sometimes a fortune softens the heirs’ drive, and we get a little playtime. Sometimes, though, that fortune makes the extraordinary possible. 

And then everybody feels the difference.

Pictured top right: The second, third, and fourth Joseph Pulitzer, in front of a portrait of the first by John Singer Sargent.

➡ Mapping the progeny of the Busch family

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