Banaters in St Louis


Dave Dreyer
 


With thanks to my coauthor, Josette Hatter, I recently received a copy of the newly published work entitled "The names of John Gergen"----subtitled "Immigrant Identities in the Early Twentieth-Century St. Louis", by Benjamin Moore (2021, Univ of Missouri Press, $50).   The work tracks the life of an infant, John, born in Gr St Nikolaus. who was brought by his father to St Louis.  The kid was shortly returned to the Banat in the care of a relative and, in turn, back to St Louis by his mother with his two siblings..  The three siblings were left in the care of extended family members (mainly from Billed) and their mother more or less disappears from the picture.
The author carefully documents these events using American records, as well as discussions of  the nature of the Banat community of St Louis in which John  grows up, especially the education system and how it accommodates the German immigrant community.  There is no direct evidence of how John feels about the institutions which shape his development in his new home.  
The author apparently ignores the rich trove of Banat records available from the German Banat community in Germany which would allow some judgement on comparison with that in St Louis.  Did they still celebrate the Kirchwieh, did anyone bring their Tracht to the New World, was Sunday afternoon card playing an institution among the older men?  Among the Banat resources would be the Heimat books which have been published for most Banat localities.   The HOGs of Banat are another possible source of background information.  Many HOGs publish an annual "Kalender". The Billed "Billeder Heimatblatt" is an especially beautifully illustrated and produced annual publication of almost 200 pages.  Between the 2018 and 2019 issues one can count about a half dozen Gergen families as Billed HOG members. What might they have contributed to the story? 
Moore's work likely will be of special interests to St Louis Banaters.
It is not obvious what conclusions the author has drawn from his study.  The frequent changes of address in the same St Louis neighborhood suggest some degree of domestic turmoil.  In short, a stark account of the reviewers experience here in San Mateo will illustrate the problem.  A German immigrate friend (not a Banater) once remarked to me, "My life is such a mess.  My wife is unhappy here and wants to return to Germany.,  My kids say, No way!  We're staying here!  He explained, I don't care, I can live in either place".  After some months I never saw him so they apparently solved their problem. 
With one foot in the old Heimat and the other in a new, far different challenging home, there would have been more then enough opportunity for family discord, not just for him but among the relatives John  lived with. 
These questions aside, Moore has demonstrated the possibilities to reconstruct the relationships among Banaters locally as they settle in a New World locality.  It is easy enough to pick out the Banaters from the U. S. census since they speak German but come from Hungary.  This leads to their records in the passenger ship manifests.  A surprising number of Banater family trees can be found in Ancestry and Family Search.  These can be fleshed out and verified with data from the appropriate Family books which are increasingly available. The details can be built up to provide a picture of the process of the formation of a new Banat community.  This would be impractical for a large place like Chicago or New York but could be work with more modest places like Mansfield, Ohio, Wyandotte, Mich or Harrisburg, Penn.  

Dave Dreyer
  

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