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A City of Families

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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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Photo courtesy of Jacquelyn Branneky

Remember the general store on Little House on the Prairie? Branneky Hardware started out like that. “C.C. Branneky General Merchandise was the meeting place for locals to shop and share stories,” Jackie Branneky says... Read more

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Courtesy of Patricia von zur Muehlin

We asked you about your own family histories, and Patricia Konert von zur Muehlen contacted us to point out the long tradition of “German immigrant women or their daughters working as housekeepers for wealthy families in the city.” Read more

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Courtesy of Ronald Busch Reisinger

It all started as a chastening about our tortured attempt at a Busch family tree... Read more

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Courtesy of Bob Sutton

In 2015, John B.C. Lucas died peacefully, 91 years old, surrounded by family. Educated in Catholic schools, he’d worked as a fine arts appraiser, and for many years also chaired the Fire Protection District of Normandy. Read more

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At first, Josef Glik sold his merchandise from a horse-drawn wagon. After his son Morris was born, the family moved to St. Louis, and he became a clerk in a bricks-and-mortar clothing store... Read more

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Photography courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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The Olin name pops up all over the place—in engineering schools across the country, on a golf course in Alton, at Wash. U.’s John M. Olin School of Business, Olin Library, and Olin Residence Hall… Who are these Olins? In the late 1800s, Franklin... Read more

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Alison Nash decided to become a doctor when she was in eighth grade, but she swore she was not going to become a pediatrician. Her father, Homer Nash Jr., was a pediatrician, her Aunt Helen was a pediatrician, and their father had been a general... Read more

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When a world-weary John Danforth said he thought the relationship between religion and politics should be studied more, he likely wasn’t the first person to have that idea. The difference was, in 2010 the Danforth Foundation gave $30 million... Read more

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The Bates boys were sons of Quakers from old Virginia stock, earnest and sober. Frederick became the Secretary of the Territory of Missouri, and later its second governor. He wrote the first book published in St. Louis, a rather dry and already... Read more

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